Tag Archives: Pacific

Tahiti – and not a grass skirt wearer to be seen

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The beaches, with their black volcanic sand, remained in the sunshine as we toured the island.

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.

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Preparing to go fishing…

1F0EA0D2-3731-4544-BA34-921914A96BB3Of 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.

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There she blows…
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Ginger Plant
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But by far the most spectacular part of the tour was a visit to the Faarumai Falls.

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Chasing waterfalls!

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.

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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.

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Easter Island – early Easter but I didn’t land!

 

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image.pngOne of the things I had looked forward to on this trip was today’s visit to Easter Island. Sadly, for me, it was a disappointment, simply because we were not allowed to set foot on the island and had to make do with a ‘sail-around’.

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It is certainly not the most accessible place I have visited and I could see that the harbour was about the size of the ship’s theatre.

Rocks with waves lashing over (on a really calm day) also indicated that the ship’s tenders would have trouble, but the real decider was that the islanders didn’t want us!! That I could understand. Unlike places such as Stonehenge, they have not protected their wonderful statues and people are free to walk around them, touch them, etc. Imagine 2,000 passengers (and probably most of the 1,000 crew as well) trampling all over the sites which contain the island’s famous several hundred figures (moai).

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19CD9B43-765F-43BD-8AE0-54C6163D4B1F.jpegLike many islands in this region of the world, Easter Island is volcanic (now extinct). The moai were carved from the volcanic rock and some of the island’s ‘red’ rock was used to further decorate the statues with ‘top knots’, some of which still survive. Some statues stand, some kneel and some sit. Some are half buried by deposits of soil and minerals washed down the hills during bad weather (cyclones are known to hit the island). The early statues tend to be smaller but as the Polynesian islanders became more proficient, the later ones were much larger.

Interestingly, this small island boasts an airstrip – and it is not just any old airstrip either. During the time that America was regularly sending up space shuttles which might have been coming down to earth in the Pacific area, there had to be somewhere in the middle of this vast ocean where they could land. Easter Island fitted the bill. Normal flights take place about twice weekly to Fiji and Peru but as far as I know, they were never hosts to a returning space shuttle. They have recently built a couple of hotels and people actually come to Easter Island for a holiday. It must be a real “let’s get away from it all” kind of place and certainly not attractive to internet users if my experience was anything to go by! Satellites serving the South Pacific must be fewer than in other parts of the world and ten minutes to send an e-mail felt to me just a little slow!

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“… site for ‘Brown Boobies’!”

 

Photography today was also a bit of a test. The Captain got as near as possible but long lenses do not always produce clear pictures. An additional complication was that the moai all face inland, so you could only photograph the front view at an even greater distance and from an angle. Ah well. We heard fascinating stories about the island’s ‘bird men’ period when young men climbed down the sheer cliffs, swam off the rocks to one of the smaller islands (now a bird nesting site for ‘Brown Boobies’) a good mile away, collected one bird egg, swam back and climbed the cliff face. The egg was presented to the tribal elders and the first man back with his egg intact became the tribal leader for one year. If the egg broke, he had to go back and do it all again.

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We spent a good couple of hours sailing right around the island before heading off once again into the sunset. In a few more hundred miles we will find the famous Pitcairn Islands, still home to direct descendants from the crew of The Bounty. Meanwhile, calm deep blue seas, hot sun and warm breezes have been with us and, amazingly, the days simply fly by in the middle of this vast ocean. Often we are too far from land for any bird presence but have been entertained on occasions by flying fish… to say nothing of the ship’s company and guest entertainers.

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Round the Horn

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I thought this morning that we were going to be in for some stormy weather but, as the day progressed, calm descended on the seas and we approached “The End of the World’ in totally flat waters.

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The cold was biting as the wind blew straight off the Antarctic unimpeded by land, but what an amazing experience.  The commentator told us about the thousands of lives that had been lost where the oceans meet and seas of up to 100 ft have swept ships onto rocks or simply swallowed them.  I thought about the single-handed round the world yachtsmen and women who have gone through these waters in dire conditions whilst we stood out on deck fearing no threat whatsoever.

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The most southerly lighthouse on Horn Island had no role to play today.  We launched a tender and crew members took our papers to the island to record our passage.
An interesting piece of information was also broadcast… any sailor rounding Cape Horn was entitled to put one foot on the table at dinner time.  If he had also rounded the Cape of Good Hope, he could put two feet on the table! I wonder how many people we will see with a foot on the table tonight?!

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Whilst I am very grateful not to be sailing into the teeth of the Furious Fifties, in many ways I am sorry not to have seen the storm lashed seas predicted for me.  My photos are rather tame.  There are vicious rocks to be seen and you can imagine the wicked currents which can pull ships towards them, but this calm millpond with a gentle wake must be the Captain’s dream.  We have sailed right around Horn Island and done a ‘Cook’s Tour’ to see if we could see the puffins, penguins, sea lions and whales (which make their way to the Antarctic at this time of year).  We didn’t see any but neither did we see any icebergs, which can be an additional hazard.

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I am still left feeling, “Wow, what an experience” and am so privileged to have had the opportunity.  Now heading North for Ushuaia and the currents have caught up with us causing the ship to rock and judder.  Perhaps a night of heavy seas after all or merely rock ‘n’ roll?