Monday, 14 January 2013

Papeete, Tahiti December 2012

Our primary purpose for visiting French Polynesia was to go on a cruise but we spent a few days before in Papeete, Tahiti and a few days after on the island of Moorea.  In general, these islands feel like a wilder, more primitive version of the Hawaiian Islands - something before the over-development began in earnest.  We discovered that the economy of French Polynesia has been very effected by both the U.S. and European struggles; many restaurants have simply folded, their French chefs having given up and returned home.  Further, we were present during the rainy season so, although we didn't really lose anything to rain, it was more overcast than we like.  And these islands don't get the trade winds like Hawaii so the air is much more humid and a haven for mosquitoes.  So, if you're like me, you might want to bring insect repellant and certainly something for the bites.  I recommend Burt's Bees Outdoor Bug Bite Relief.  It's a simple solid stick, nothing liquid, so it can be carried in hand luggage and, most importantly, it works.

All that being said, we definitely enjoyed this trip - the islands are beautiful, lush, full of history - a very interesting experience.  I think it is best to start the French Polynesian tour in Papeete.  It's the main city for all the islands and has some fascinating things to see.  We hired a private car and driver to get a sense of our location and our driver, Fifi (yes, that was her name!), was friendly and knowledgeable.

Our first stop was the Paul Gauguin Museum.  Gauguin was a French post-impressionist painter (1848-1903) whose interest in the primitiveness of these islands and their exotic women made it a major focus of his work.  The museum was small and primarily comprised of outdoor structures.  The exhibits were housed in three buildings that covered the artist's life, work and those pieces that were on loan from other museums and galleries.  My husband's favourite Gauguin painting, Contes Barbares (1902), just happened to be there, on loan from Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany.

The grounds around the structures were quite welcoming with benches and beautiful vistas.  It's a well presented museum, keeping with the spirit of Gauguin's inspirations and creations.

Our second stop was at one of two botanical gardens along Papeete's main road.  As expected, lush foliage everywhere but beautifully laid out along simple walking paths.  Tall vine covered trees towered above and ripening breadfruit hung overhead.  There were brilliant colours in the reds and pinks of the wild ginger and we were there just in time for the blossoming of the Chinese Lanterns.  Apparently, this only happens once a year.

The petit waterfall is a focal point of this garden, not far up the path.  The sound of the water was prevalent from the moment we arrived so finding its source was a priority.  It's not a large deluge but it's a lovely, pristine little spot.

Lastly, Fifi took us to the remains of an ancient Polynesian temple, or Marae.  This is not what we westerners think of as a temple.  There is no physical building.  What you see is a collection of stones laid out on the ground in a large area on which priests and leaders gathered and stood to worship and discuss community issues.  In between the stones, stand thin red markers that represent the gods of this sacred area.  At the entrance to this open area stands a very stern looking statue; he appears to be guarding his land.

There are now two sections of bleachers near the stones as the spot is used for community and cultural events today.

We saw several Polynesian sites as well as pearl farms and vanilla plantations on the islands of Raiatea, Taha'a, Bora Bora and Moorea via the cruise so we looked forward to spending some time by the pool when we disembarked in Moorea.  I don't normally discuss the pros and cons of hotels as it usually isn't worth it, however, I want to tell you how beautifully appointed and comfortable the Intercontinental Hotel is both on Tahiti and Moorea.  We were very well looked after in both and their pools are exquisite.  Although I am unable to stay in them, the over-water bungalows are gorgeous, the perfect romantic getaway.

And finally, if you visit the island of Moorea, you must be sure to see Bali Hai.  Yes, the movie was filmed on Kauai but the peak is here.
It's the one on the right

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