Thursday, February 10, 2011

Paradise – or as close as it gets

Restless night last night – woke up at ~2am and caught up on e-mails; then again at 4am to a spectacular tropical thunderstorm – lightning and thunder over the ocean. Finally sailed into Papeete, the capital of Tahiti as the rain continued to bucket down. 

Later learned this time of the year is the “wet season” – the hot, humid rainy season (vs the dry season which is the above but cool in the evenings). Because of the ocean currents – el Nino (warm) vs the other one (cool) there is more vs less rain – this year the currents were such that Australia got the el Nino, warm current and rain with floods.

Tahiti is part of French Polynesia and is administered pretty much as part of the mainland. The way the guide (who was really good) described it, the missionary, colonial and present histories of this part of the world have been the usual shambles (familiar to those of us from colonial Africa). Polynesians settled these Islands 1000 years ago and had a transpolynesian religion and culture sharing language, myths and gods all the way from Hawaii in the North, Easter Island in the East and New Zealand in the South. Explorers discovered and rediscovered the islands (because of their inability to fix longitude until the chronometer maps were inaccurate).  Spanish, British (ie Capt Cook) and French (ie Bougaineville) each had their turn.

Once Tahiti was discovered it didn’t take long for the missionaries to come. While they were likely well-meaning and successful (everyone is Christian) they made a special point of destroying the Polynesian culture and way of life. Miserable bunch. They banned surfing (for example) because the surfers wore no knickers (and it was fun). Westerners also brought diseases to the previously unexposed and weapons to the previously unarmed so it wasn’t long before the population dropped from about 250,000 to 20,000 and the Tahitians had a single ruler (who eventually ceded control to the French). The French, amongst other things, conducted nuclear tests on various Polynesian Atolls – brought large numbers of military here plus nuclear fallout plus good economy plus Rainbow Warrior (blown up in NZ). At present there are no more nuclear tests, less military and the good financial times are gone

We went on separate tours of the Island – I did the drive around the entire Island, Merle went on a shorter tour including the Norman Hall Museum. First off, before the tour we all gather in one of the lounges until called. Overheard at this time: “ .. hope this is better than the stupid tour we did on Easter Island, it was designed for folks that were so incapacitated they were on life support…..” Funny.

Tahiti is a beautiful Island, the Mountains at the center are high and rugged with tough hiking and little civilization. The rain causes instantaneous waterfalls and rushing rivers that were spectacular (and apparently slow or stop when the rain does). The entire landscape is green and lush. Tall Palms and trees are everywhere and the flowers are spectacular. Some bamboo plants can grow as fast as 10 inches a day here. The ponds are full of tropical water lilies. The ocean is deep – up to 10,000 feet deep with a rapid dropoff – since this is an extinct undersea volcano with a lovely coral reef and lagoon. On the East coast the swells get big and surfing is great.

Famous people have spent much time here – it is after all paradise! Cook came here to watch the rare transition of Venus across the face of the sun with the aim of measuring the distance of the Earth from the Sun – the astronomers he brought were off by only 300,000 Km – a drop in the celestial bucket. To commemorate this they erected a memorial – the Venus Point lighthouse.

It was built by an engineer called Stevenson – His son Robert Louis Stevenson visited here to see his fathers work, then Samoa (where he died) – he wrote Treasure Island. Gauguin lived and worked here and enjoyed the lifestyle – he had a youngish woman and painted a lot. She was 13 years old. Jerry Lee Lewis of his day. Captain Bligh of the Bounty was here getting his Breadfruit plants – he was much loved but did not return, instead the mutineers who did not fit into the boat he was sent off in and who didn’t want to go to Pitcairn landed up here. They were the ones who introduced the locals to weapons. The Bounty Trilogy and a number of other popular books were written on Tahiti by Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff. Hall was an amazing person – he was American and flew for the Lafayette Squadron (volunteers) of the French Airforce in WW1. 

Obviously, Volume 1 of the trilogy became “Mutiny on the Bounty” the movie. This film brought Marlon Brando here and he loved it so much he bought his own atoll.

On balance, I would too. Buy an atoll here that is. What a place! Its spoiled, yes, but the nature of the place and the people make up for that. Sam, this is a great place to hike and climb.


  1. The place looks gorgeous. I might even be inspired to write an epic novel as well. Too bad you couldn't take in some surfing as well.

  2. Okay, who is taking all these wonderful pictures??? They're really good...and I almost feel like I'm there....sort of. Of course, right off the bat I have to ask if you ran into Marlon (LOL!!!).

    And if you're buying your own atoll, I'd like to be invited for a vacation.
    What an amazing trip you're on...

    Any chance of snorkling??

  3. Yes, great job with the photos noonie-- dad's words with your pictures defintiely give us a flavor of your adventure. keep truckin' to speak :)