A Sacred Island

Trip Start Jul 02, 2009
Trip End Jun 28, 2010

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Flag of French Polynesia  , Society Islands,
Friday, November 6, 2009

I dumped the bulk of my luggage at the airport (the people where I was staying in Papeete were snotty about storing luggage) and caught the flight to Raiatea. Entropy levels were high but at least I'd remembered to bring the (overpriced) Lonely Planet and my battered copy of War and Peace although I'd not booked accommodation.  W&P has accompanied me on a number of ski trips to ensure sufficient reading in the event of the Big Kersplat on the first day.  However, I'd actually started reading it on this trip (on the bus from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn to be precise) and was within sight of the goal.  

The short flight passes Moorea on the way and I got a couple of pics was we flew past.

It's best to sit on the left side of of the plane on this run and I was able to get a number of pics of Raiatea on the way in.

I was planning to dive in Raiatea and figured the best plan was to find the dive shop, book some diving and rely on them to point me in the direction of some suitable accommodation.  This approach has worked in the past and I set off on foot from the airport in the direction of the dive shop.  Unfortunately it was locked securely when I got there.  Apparently there was a cruise ship in and the dive shop people were looking after the passengers.  Public transport is essentially non-existent in Raiatea so I thumbed down a ride into the pulsating metropolis of Uturoa and found a rather unhelpful tourist office (a bit like the first travel agent in Papeete).  Consulting the Lonely Planet,  I found the highly recommended Pension Tepua and thumbed down another ride.

Pension Tepua is indeed an great place to stay and Joe, its impossibly multi-lingual proprietor is an excellent host.  Soon the diving had been arranged and after a swim, I found a hammock and chilled.  The dive boat arrived at the jetty the next day and before long I was doing my first dive for about four years in the Teavapiti Pass.  The dive the following day was particularly good and this was probably a combination of dive site and being more relaxed.  We dived as a group of four and Patrice, the dive master, had to take the other two up after about half an hour because they'd run low on air.  I just hung onto the mooring line and watched the numerous small (less than a metre) sharks that were circling close enough for getting a really good look at their eyes.  This is what diving is about!

Joe has a selection of guest bicycles and diving in the morning left time in the afternoons free for exploring although only the late afternoons because a siesta in the hammock is an essential post-dive activity in these parts.  The first twp of the following pics could easily have been taken in Trinidad and you wouldn't have been any the wiser.  Breadfruit were brought to the Caribbean from the South Pacific by Captain Bligh.  


Joe's guest bikes are OK for short trips (unless of you're exceptionally fit).  For longer range expeditions Joe has a couple of motor scooters and I took one of these around the island.  Marae Taputapuatea was my first stop.

Marae Taputapuatea is the most important archaeological site in French Polynesia.  The marae complex is extensive and I lingered here for almost an hour, trying to imagine what it would have been like when it was operating.

Then it was time to hit the road again and I took some pics of the rugged terrain near the south eastern tip of the island.  The scooter handled well although there was a little trick to getting it started which I've since forgotten.   


Raiatea is almost completely encircled by a barrier reef which breaks the ocean swells.  This means that the water inside the reef tends to be very calm.  Even the smallest islands support a surprising amount of plant life.

I'd hoped to get over to nearby Tahaa but this ended up not happening.  Joe suggested that I take a kayak out to the motus (flat coral islands) for my last morning.  The kayak was 'sit on' rather than 'sit in' and the paddle out to the reef was a a breeze (largely because there was no wind).  Out at the reef there was no current either so I was able to park up just inside the reef and watch the ocean swells crash into to the outside of the reef.  I've aways found the sound of surf very soothing and, if the kayak had been a bit better designed for sleeping on, it would have been a great place for a siesta.  You can see the reef and motus in one of the pics I took form the plane on the flight back.

I took my siesta back at Pension Tepua and (finally) finished War and Peace. I couldn't help thinking that Prince Andrei takes a painfully (both for Prince and reader) long time to die and that Tolstoy really should have dispatched him swiftly at Borodino with a merciful musket ball through the head, in the process sparing a some rain forest.  Needless to say I donated my W&P to the Pension Tepua library and if you may well encounter it if you stay there.  

Just before I went to the airport I got chatting with another guest to happened to be an airline pilot and soon we were talking about air crashes.  Just as well that I'm not a nervous flyer!  I was pleased with the pics from the flight back and was greatly amused that the vomit bag had been labelled for 'chewing gum et autres'. 



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