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Pictures of our French Polynesia trip
(Island of Tahiti - Society Islands: part 1)
Part 2: Island of  Tahiti
Part 3: Island of  Moorea
25th Anniversary of "being on the road" in Tahiti

  French Polynesia Map           Tahiti Map         

                             Map of
                           the Pacific
latest picture taken: September 15, 2009
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01  Coming from the Cook Islands,
we land on August 11th, 2009, 2.30pm
with Air Tahiti in Papeete. Compared
to the price, its in-flight service was so-so
 02  We enjoy the view over Papeete,
the capital of French Polynesia, from
the nearly 2’000ft. high Belvédère
lookout (Fare Rau-Ape)
03  Liliana and Emil pose for a picture
at the Basin of Queen Tomare IV in the
“Assembly Park” (Assemblée de la
Polynésie française) in downtown Papeete
Who does not associate the name “Tahiti” with romance? To whom does this island not conjure up longings and dreams? Who does not identify it with paradise on earth? When on August 12th, 2009, we enter the office of our shipping agent – the “Swire Shipping Agencies” in Papeete – and are greeted cordially by Thierry, the young managing director, we are full of pleasant anticipation. He is representing the freighter line “Greater Bali Hai”, which transported our containerized car since Vanuatu across the Pacific (FijiSamoa / American Samoa – Tahiti and on to Tonga). Finally our long cherished dream to visit the heart of Polynesia with our LandCruiser is coming true. After all, we have the written agreement from the customs authorities in our hands that they will accept our Carnet de Passage. We are convinced that nothing should go wrong. Indeed, customs clearance is a breeze, and when afterwards we are sent to the traffic department, we think it to be a mere formality issue.
04   Thunderclouds accumulate
behind the Catholic Cathedral
(Cathédrale Notre-Dame de
Papeete) in the heart of Papeete
 05  A monument commemorates
the Mutiny on the „HMS Bounty“
at “Point Venus” in the Mataval
Bay near Mahina
06  The lighthouse at “Point Venus“
was designed by the father of the
Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.
RLS, who died 1894 in Samoa,
worked in summer 1866 in the
office of his father in Papeete
How wrong can one be! When we sit across from the responsible office lady named Cecile, Thierry – who is coming unselfishly along with us through the whole red tape – suddenly also makes a troubled face when he hears the conditions for our LandCruiser to be allowed to circulate on Tahiti’s roads. Taking as a model the case of a Chinese consul, who brought in 2002 his car for six months to work on the island, she asks for a normal registration procedure too, with all the bells and whistles, which includes also a tax of CFP 2000 per day (= more than US$23!). Intending to stay three months on the islands, this would add up incredibly. Is Tahiti, the place of our dreams, ending up in smoke at the very last moment? Because one thing is clear: It is impossible for us to fulfill the requirements to adjust our car to French Polynesia’s own local specifications. Therefore, if no miracle occurs, we will have to divert our container with a heavy heart on “Greater Bali Hai’s” next vessel to a new destination. Where this would be, we still would have to decide.
07  Spreading happiness: Two
Tahitians wearing traditional hand
woven girdles of fresh flowers
 08  “Tiki”in the «Musée de Tahiti
et des Îles». Tikis are sacred
sculptures in Polynesian culture
09  The souvenir shop at “Point
Venus“ near Mahina is built
the traditional way
Yes, and once more one of the incredible coincidences occur that have come to our rescue more than once on our long journey – we can hardly believe it: Due to the lack of campsites in Tahiti, we surfed in the internet during our 9-day-stopover in Rarotonga on the Cook-Islands for an affordable accommodation – not an easy task in one of the most expensive parts of the world – and we found Astrid’s family place in Mahina, 6 miles north of the capital Papeete. Though the price of CFP 6000 (= US$70) per night for her bungalow with a separate entrance is hefty, for Tahiti it is considered cheap, unless one is prepared to sleep somewhere in a dormitory. We booked for two nights hoping to have by then the car released from the port.
10  Public beach of black volcanic
sand at “Point Venus“ near Mahina
 11  Enjoying a game called
“Petanque“ at “Point Venus“
12  A peaceful picture: A loaded
outrigger and canoes tied-up
at “Point Venus“ near Mahina
Our choice turns out to be the biggest lucky strike at all. Not only are our hosts very nice, we also like our bungalow with own bathroom, decorated lovingly with Polynesian decor, an open sea view and the tropical plants surrounding it. What turns out to be a real asset however for us is that Astrid and her husband Marc know also a member of parliament: The President of the Commission for International Affairs, Catherine Tuiho-Buillard. On Thursday evening, when the negotiations with the traffic department seem to go totally out of control, they contact her. Friday morning – we are just having breakfast – Astrid calls us excitedly: “The problem is solved, the Minister of Transport has given the OK, I just got a phone call from Catherine” – what a great boost!
The setting sun adds a special charm to ”Point Venus”
It is astonishing how again and again we happen to meet the right people at the right time who are then also spontaneously willing to help us. “The angels seem to watch tremendously over us”. Yes, there are really many terribly nice people all over the world! To cut an already long story short: Astrid is driving us immediately to Mrs. Cecile at the road traffic department (STT - Service de Transports Terrestres) who turns out to be a lot more cooperative in allowing us now to drive out of the port. Next week, we ought to purchase a local license plate, she instructs us, while still not letting us off the hook. We then would receive the “grey card”. When she wants us to surrender our original vehicle license (title) in exchange, we refuse simply and she does not insist any further. At the end, somehow the whole matter fizzles out and we keep our Swiss license plates.
16  The setting of our bungalow on
a hilltop in Mahina, surrounded by
tropical greenery and a lovely
ocean view is perfect .....
 17  ..... Emil at its entrance
enjoying the panorama .....
18  ..... and the breakfast with
different cheeses is waiting
One hour after leaving her office we are with the help of Thierry at the port to release our “best travel buddy” from its 16th cage. What a great relief again to find our LandCruiser once more unharmed, when they open the container. This time, we were not so sure about it, because heavy damages on the container itself show that it must have gone through really rough times. Shortly afterwards, the port gate opens and we joyfully drive out: In our 25th year of traveling, we finally reached the island of our dreams: Three beautiful months of discovering French Polynesia are now lying ahead!
19  Below the roof of the bright and
breezy Papeete market hall everything
is put up for sale: Exotic flowers, fresh
meet, pastries and vegetable .....
 20  ..... papaya, banana,
pineapple .....
21  ..... hand woven straw hats and
bags as well as traditional craftwork.
At many stalls however, currently
the buyers, i.e. tourists are missing
At the first ATM, a little bit of our euphoria evaporates. We can only cash 30’000 CFP (= US$350) and learn that the Maestro Card remains now blocked for the six following days, at least for cash withdrawals! Really strange! With this small amount, we are not going far, all the more that alone the port charges for our container is already 60’000CFP (= US$700). And, of course, we cannot pay our private accommodation with credit cards, because none is accepted. Getting cash becomes a real problem. Obviously it is assumed that the rich tourist pays everything by plastic, hence there is no need for cash. After a long search, Banque de Polynesie gives us CFP 100’000 (= US$1’165) with our Visa card at the counter, but again the card remains unusable for the following six days. When, after expiration of this term, we want to cash again the same amount, it does not work anymore at all. In an unfriendly manner, we are told that we have to check with our bank, and then nobody is taking care of the matter any longer – service is a foreign word. The tourist office, where we complain about the lack of customer service and the complexity of the problem of getting cash, sends us to the head office of the same bank. Interestingly it starts functioning again. This tourist unfriendly banking system and the lack of interest in assisting are really upsetting us. Surely this does not help either to revive Tahiti’s current 30% decline in the tourism sector.
22  The island of Moorea, the
jewel of French Polynesia,
is looming across the sea
 23  A crown with majestic mountain
towers in the interior of Tahiti:
Mt. Te Tara O Maiao,
called Diadème (4.334ft. high)
24  The North coast at Pt. Tapahi
is dotted with small beaches
of black volcanic sand
But the initial difficulties are soon forgotten and the charm of Tahiti takes more and more possession of us: The bizarre mountain peaks, the dense jungle, the exotic flowers and colorfully blooming trees, the women with a fresh Tiare blossom tucked behind their ear or even a floral wreath (lei) on their head, the peaceful Polynesian way of life. We cannot blame the men of the “Bounty” who mutinied against captain William Bligh as he forced them to leave this “paradise”. Each morning, when we open the door of our rented bungalow, we enjoy the white-yellow Frangipani flowers, the deep read and purple Bougainvilleas, the rustling palm leaves, the wide view to the open ocean and the presence of the brown-beige finches that settle in swarms on a Bougainvillea branch beside our breakfast table. And a mere five minutes drive away is “Point Venus”at Mahina’s Matavai Bay, where we love to spend the evenings on the black sandy beach and watch the sun set besides the razor-sharp mountain scenery of Moorea, the sister island. “Point Venus” is not only a favorite place for locals to swim, sunbath, surf, picnic, play “Pétanque” (Boggia), practice canoe racing or take their dogs for a walk. It is also a place, where history was written.
Luxury tropical vegetation and narrow lush green and steep valleys, topped by dramatic mountain peaks is the scenery,
which shapes the picture of Tahiti and fascinates us
25  Valley of Papenoo
 26  Tahaute Valley at Mahaena
27  At the East coast, about halfway
between Hitiaa and Faaone
The name of this small peninsula was given by Capt. James Cook, who in 1769 built an observatory to monitor the transit of Venus across the face of the sun in an attempt to calculate the distance between the sun and the earth. On March 4th, 1797, the first members of the “London Missionary Society” put foot on this small headland, and lately a monument was erected to commemorate the legendary “Mutiny on the Bounty”, whose task it was to bring breadfruit seedlings from Tahiti to the British West Indies as a food source for the African slaves working on the British plantations. The still working white lighthouse – the only in Tahiti - was designed by Thomas Stevenson, the father of the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, who died in Samoa. It adds to the special charm of this attractive corner.
28  At Tahiti’s East coast nature
is still widely untouched:
Papeiha River at Pk 45 (milestone)
 29  A tiny island with palm trees
and a white sandy beach. Who
does not dream of it?
(Motu Nono in the bay of Taravao)
30  We climb towards the viewing
plateau of “Tahiti Iti“ (Little Tahiti) -
the smaller peninsula in the Southeast.
View towards the main peninsula
Tahiti Nui (Big Tahiti)
Beneath wide blue skies, we start from our peaceful base in Mahina at the North coast in Southeasterly direction to our first circumnavigation of Tahiti’s main island “Tahiti Nui”. It has a ring road of only 75 miles and belongs to the Windward Islands. After having experienced plenty of potholed roads during previous destinations (particularly in Vanuatu, Fiji and also Samoa), we have nearly forgotten how smooth roads can be, allowing also Emil as the permanent driver to enjoy the luxury of the tropical vegetation and the mountain panorama unique to Tahiti. Narrow lush green and steep valleys, topped by dramatic mountain peaks, is the scenery that most of all shapes the picture of Tahiti and most of all fascinates us.
31  Looking from the viewing platform
of “Tahiti Iti“ towards the Isthmus of
Taravao and the mountain panorama
of the main island “Tahiti Nui“ .....
 32   ..... and the turquoise
shining ocean in the
South with the reef
33  Climbing to the Taravao plateau
on 2’000ft. altitude, we encounter
an atypical picture of Tahiti:
A pasture with well fed cows
Now and then we pass neat villages, almost hidden behind breadfruit and mango trees and the richness of exotic flowers and blooming trees. Joggers, cyclists or families on foot cross us. The encounters are friendly, but a kind of reserved. We miss the bright smiles that accompanied us in many of the poorer Pacific islands. The road snakes mostly along the coast and the small sandy beaches invite us to stop and watch the buzz of activity of the many surfers. Surfing has always been a popular sport in Polynesia. In comparison to the other Pacific islands, where every inch of land is privately owned, we enjoy pulling out anywhere without being asked to pay. All the beaches are public, some offer even showers, toilets and picnic tables – since New Zealand a most welcome amenity.
34  “Tiare Tahiti” is Tahiti’s
national flower
 35  Tahiti’s flora surprises us
again and again with new “exotics”
36  Frangipani is the blossom that
we also automatically connect with
the South Pacific. It carries also the
names of Plumeria respectively Tiare
Tahiti has a size of 403½ sq.mi., an elevation of 7’352 ft., a population of 178’000 and consists of two peninsulas: Tahiti Nui (Big Tahiti) and Tahiti Iti (Little Tahiti). Arriving in Taravao in the southeast of Tahiti Nui, we branch off to Tahiti Iti that is connected by an isthmus. Considering the beautiful weather, we spontaneously decide to make a side trip to the Taravao plateau already today, despite that we intended to save the smaller island, also called “The Near Island”, for another day. Who knows when the sight will be as clear again (the weather is currently not at all Pacific-like, but very moody). The narrow road winds up to an altitude of 2’000ft. Suddenly and unexpectedly a familiar sight takes us by surprise: Green meadows where well fed brown cows munch unhurriedly with their calves, resembling a Swiss pastoral scene.
37  At the Agriculture Show in Faaa,
the women show up with
their traditional head dresses .....
 38   ..... in the vegetable
sector the huge yam
roots catch our eyes .....
39   ..... and in the flower sector
the delicate blossom of
the Tahitian Vanilla bush
Knobby trees, densely draped with Spanish moss, appear in this cooler climate, which is beneficial also for the growth of vegetable. We see fields with carefully planted salad seedlings, fully grown taro (roots) and maize. And amidst them sit mostly simple, but also some neat farm houses. The panorama from the viewing pavilion offers an imposing sight: Stretching below us is the Isthmus of Taravao with the turquoise water of the Pacific Ocean to the South and the deep blue open sea to the East. And in front of us white clouds sail past the majestic mountain scenery of the bigger island “Tahiti Nui”. A lonely chicken keeps us company. We know what it is waiting for and fetch the fresh Baguette that we just bought in Taravao’s supermarket to share it. Wild roosters and chicken, often with cute chicks, wander around freely everywhere looking for food. They do not belong to anybody and can be caught by anyone, we are told.
40  Overwater restaurants are
popular and crowded on weekends
in Punaauia on the West coast
 41  The overwater bungalows of
the Intercontinental (Beachcomber)
Hotel in Papeete belong to the
top end accommodations
42  Enjoying a swim at the wells of
Vaima in Mataiea at the South coast
As soon as we reach the Southwestern side of Tahiti Nui, it becomes obvious that this coast is more densly populated than the Northeast. Being a Sunday, also many families are enjoying their day off. From the permanent eateries and from those on wheels, called “Roulottes”, the smell of grilling and cooking pervades temptingly the air. Firstly, we stop at the wells of Vaima in Mataiea. It seems to be a place where only locals bath. They don’t seem to care much that two huge eels share their refreshing Sunday fun. Quite the contrary: They are feeding them with bread. Paul Gauguin, the French painter, lived in Mataiea from 1891-1893 with his Polynesian wife Teha’amana in the hope to find a world far from any civilization. In 1½ years only, he produced 66 paintings. We love his works. Like no others, they express the exotic charm of Polynesia.
43  Tiki at the Arahurahu Marae in
the village of Paea in the Southwest .....
 44  ..... a site of worship of ancient
Polynesia, consisting of a fenced in
platform of big black volcanic
stones with an altar
45  The Vaipoiri grotto in Maraa South
of Paea in the Southwest: Hanging
ferns, red and pink ginger and lush
plants make it look fairytale like
Shortly after, we come along the three Maraa grottos. With their hanging ferns and surrounded by red ginger and vivid green, they look like a fairytale. In a village more to the North, in Paea, in a forest aisle lies the restored and well maintained Arahurau Marae. It is a site of worship of ancient Polynesia in a shady forest setting, consisting of a platform of big black volcanic stones with an altar, fenced in by a low stone fence. These sacred sites were once scattered around the whole island. Today, most of them disappeared, either they were destroyed or taken back by the jungle. When we come closer to the capital of Papeete, more and more of the unattractive settlements – perched on the mountain slopes – hurt our eyes. They are residencies for the rich, we are told. We are glad when we leave behind the not unattractive, but always congested city with its parking problems and are back in our little “oasis” on the hill near Mahina.
46  View into the mountains (left in
the back Mt. Tahiti) of the Orofero
valley at Paea in the West
 47  Emil, the happy world traveler
48  Tropical vegetation and mountains
are the characteristic features of Tahiti.
The view towards North at the
South coast near Papara
On our island tour, we realized that the police presence is very high and that road checks are common – by the way a remarkable difference to other Pacific islands, especially Samoa, where except from Apia, the capital, there is no police in sight. “Is it necessary here?” we ask ourselves. So far, our LandCruiser is never flagged down. Papeete is a busy city. The times when it was a dreamy South Pacific settlement are long gone. It is especially evident at lunch time, when each restaurant chair is taken regardless of the price. Our hair stand on end while looking at the menu list. Are these European prices we have no idea of anymore?
49  Hotel de Ville (Mairie), Papeete’s
Town Hall, was built in the architectural
style of the Palace of Queen Pomare IV
 50  Cyclists make a break
on their island tour
51  At the “Place de l’Autonomie“ –
“autonomous square” – two flags are
raised: The Tahitian and the French
A plate of Spaghetti Bolognaise costs e.g. 1’500 CFP (= US$17.50), a toast with pâté 1’950 CFP (= US$22.70), a salad 700 CFP (US$8.20). Luckily we can share the kitchen with our host’s family and cook ourselves. Shopping in Carrefour or Champion supermarkets and looking there for specials makes it affordable. And after Astrid reduced the daily rate of our bungalow due to our monthly rate, it becomes acceptable too (instead of US$70 we pay now US$44 daily). It is familiar but still with personal privacy, neat and quiet – except when the dogs bark at night – what they unfortunately mostly do! By chance we are able to receive wireless, what is very helpful for dealing with the necessary bureaucracy and organization of our continuous Pacific island hopping.
52  At the market of Papeete a guitar
seller attracts customers with his songs .....
 53  ..... and a women makes
new garlands from fresh flowers
54  A Tahitian woman is looking
out to the open sea with her son
Continuations from Tahiti: