Early this morning we docked at this beautiful tropical island in the city of Papeete (pronounced Pa-pae-ett-ae because the Polynesians sound every syllable). The word ‘city’ is an exaggeration as it is probably smaller than most of our towns. But Tahiti is the largest of the 130 islands which make up French Polynesia and the next time I see the Olympics I will watch out for the “Society Islands”, of which Tahiti is a part. It is certainly remote – 4,100 miles from Los Angeles, 3,800 miles from Sydney and in the South Pacific, so not exactly a hop, skip and a jump from the UK.
Of course, Tahiti is known for the famous people who have lived here. Captain James Cook started the trend in 1769 and in 1788 William Bligh stopped by in HMS Bounty to collect breadfruit for the slave plantations in the West Indies. He stayed too long, his men enjoyed life with the happy-go-lucky Tahitians and the day of departure was not greeted with any enthusiasm. Hence the legendary mutiny and the departure of a group of beautiful Tahitians who sailed to the Pitcairn Islands with Fletcher Christian and his crew (having dispatched Captain Bligh and his supporters in a long boat). Moving on a year or two, Gaugin, Somerset Maughan and Rupert Brooke all chose to live on Tahiti.
You realise that it is a tropical island when the craggy volcanic mountains (covered in lush vegetation) peek in and out of low cloud and steam appears to rise from the tops of the trees. The beaches, with their black volcanic sand, remained in the sunshine as we toured the island. The surf was spectacular although the undertow is fiercesome and sea swimming is only recommended for strong swimmers.
We were taken to Point Venus where the early navigators landed and there stands a rather spectacular 75 ft high lighthouse. It is also the spot where the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty (with Marlon Brando) was filmed. We were taken to see the Arahoho Blowholes where waves force themselves through a tunnel in the rock so water then spurts out at the top of the cliff.
But by far the most spectacular part of the tour was a visit to the Faarumai Falls. The first waterfall is set in a lush green valley and we were able to climb to the point where it cascades from a great height into a deep pool. The noise was deafening, the rocks were slippery with the spray but the reward for perseverance was a breathtaking view.
Lunch included local specialities such as poisson cru (raw fish marinated in lime juice and topped with coconut cream, onions and oil) and fafa (spinach served with young suckling pig). But the local breadfruit (a bit like potato but drier and sweeter) served as fries was a gastronomic experience in its own right. Fabulous.
Even the locals say it is expensive here and my goodness they do not exaggerate. The unit of currency is the French Pacific Franc but American dollars are very welcome. The island specialises in the sale of black pearls, which are really beautiful. However, family and friends should not hold their breath… the shop’s credit card machine had broken!! The local market hall (where you cannot barter) actually had some hand made ‘grass’ skirts but, sadly, I couldn’t think of an appropriate occasion to show up in one.
The locals are delightful and the children especially are spectacularly beautiful. For anyone with ambition to live in the middle of nowhere, this is indeed a ‘nowhere’ worth considering.