Sunday, November 6, 2016

Au revoir à la Polynésie Française

It was our last day today, and our plan of taking a catamaran cruise to Marlon Brando’s atoll island of Tetiaroa was stymied by the boat's being full – so at least we had a lie-in and saved some money (because boy! that's expensive).
It’s a local thing to descend on the hotel for Sunday breakfast, so the terrace restaurant was busy with family groups and little kids feeding bread to the fat goldfish in the pond. A ukulele/guitar trio serenaded us from the landing as we ate our crèpes and croissants – very French Polynesia. Not to be picky, but you can, I find, have enough of the ukulele after a while. It’s not what you would call a subtle instrument.
At the shopping centre beside the hotel there was a small market in progress, car-boot style, where you could buy a parsley plant, a pearl bracelet or a puppy; and next to it the SuperU supermarket with tempting French goodies like Roquefort and pork rillettes, and also NZ Tip Top icecream in 4.5 litre buckets which we never see. Probably just as well.
We took a round-island VIP Tour with Dave in the afternoon, which filled five hours very nicely. Dave is Hawaiian, but has lived here for 27 years and is an excellent guide, very knowledgeable about history, geology and culture, and also pleasant company, happy to chat about anything. Following the narrow ring road around the coast, we passed black sand beaches, narrow valleys giving glimpses up into the mountainous interior, along cliffs and through farmland and plantations; and stopped at a number of points of interest, like the cool and dripping grotto where everyone, naturally, ignored the bossy sign.

The marae we visited first had some creepy stories about human sacrifice – not just the ritual eating of slaughtered enemies, but of members of the tribe too: like the man honoured with climbing into a hole to hold the foundation stone in place while the walls are built around it – and then buried alive in there. Though the gardens around are green and lush, the stones are black basalt, the stumpy statues have grim expressions and it’s not a place to linger.
The gardens further along are, though, full of bright, fragrant, exotic flowers and fruits, growing luxuriantly but neatly kept: gingers, heliconia, lotus flowers and many more. Besides the shady grotto we also visited a feathery waterfall, but the best watery performance was at the blow-holes, where a loud sudden roar accompanied each powerful spray of water from a tube beside the path: very startling, and good fun.
Finally, we stopped at a point beside a lighthouse built of milled coral blocks, and visited the memorials of Capt. Cook – who viewed the transit of Venus from here in 1769 - and the Bounty, which linked with our visits to Nantucket and Townsville, as well as my stopping, as a 3 year-old en route by ship to England, at Pitcairn Island. Connections, people!
The day ended with a delicious dinner at the rather sumptuous Intercontinental Hotel’s Lotus restaurant, built over the water where lights shone down on the hopeful fish continuously circling in vain as I polished off every morsel of my scallop risotto and chocolate dessert. It was a very fine way to finish our week in Tahiti: classic French Polynesia, showcasing the best of both elements. 

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