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Perfect island paradise

Maupiti

sunny 28 °C
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It was love at first sight. Already from the air Maupiti looked simply perfect: a volcanic island with a high peak surrounded by an emerald lagoon and five rather flat coral islands.

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Despite the short runway on one of the northern coral islands, our landing was very smooth. Consequently, the presence of a large fire truck was only a reassurance and it was not required to take any action. The airport building itself was tiny, not much more than a covered passageway. But the waiting area was exceptional: small benches in the shade of palm trees right next to the lagoon.

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Once we had our baggage, it was only a really short walk over to the boat that should take us onto the main island. Once we, our baggage, a French couple that looked like honeymooners and a few locals were waiting in the boat, we soon realized that the boat also doubled as the postal service boat carrying all air freight onto the main island. And a bit later, we realized that it was also the employee shuttle for the whole airport crew of Air Tahiti – consisting of a total of six people.
The ferry ride was a good introduction to Maupiti and its crystal clear water. Before too long, we arrived in the village and were greeted by Sandra, the owner of Pension Tereia with flower garlands. We loaded our baggage onto her truck and she took us to the pension. She showed us around and we had some coconut and water before heading to the nearby beach where we stayed until after the sunset.

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By that time, we were already more than hungry and keen to have dinner which was to be served at 7pm. And it was simply excellent: for starters we had tuna sashimi with an excellent soy based sauce, followed by steaks of parrot fish with vanilla sauce and rice. And fresh mango from the tree next to the house as dessert. Simply perfect.
Sandra's son then showed us how to open a coconut with a single hit of a hand. Sam tried the technique successfully and we enjoyed the coconut water - at that stage we were too full to have anything else to eat.
The next morning, we had breakfast and were ready to leave at 8:30 for our excursion. Together with Claire and Adrien, the other guests in the pension we wanted to go snorkelling with manta rays and have lunch on a ‘motu’ – a small coral islet next to the only shippable pass into the inner lagoon of Maupiti.
Sandra’s husband Kété was steering the motorboat out into the lagoon supported by Max.

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Eventually we stopped rather abruptly, as there were manta rays underneath us. So we got our snorkelling gear and jumped into the water to have a closer look. The rays were enormous and it was hard to believe that Kété said that these were rather small, as their wingspan can get as big as 7m / 23 ft. Max and I preferred to have a look from the surface only, but Sam ventured down to the bottom of the sea at 5 or 6 m depth to have a look from below. It’s always impressive to see such gigantic animals and how small we humans are in comparison.

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After all of us were back in the boat and Kété’s son headed off with his harpoon to catch a fish for our dinner. And no worries, in Maupiti neither rays, nor sharks or whales are being caught – it’s not part of their tradition as we were told - there are way too many other fish around. And we simply marvelled at the sights around us.

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We then traversed through the only pass of Maupiti connecting the lagoon with the open sea. It is a narrow and rather long pass which is quite dangerous for larger boats. Consequently, in adverse weather the only freight boat coming to the island once per month will not attempt the passage with the result that it will only come back a month later and supplies in the stores might get low.

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Kété did a good job and soon enough we were out in the open sea. The waves were significantly bigger than inside the lagoon and we started making our plans just in case something would happen – after all it seemed that there were no life jackets available on the boat.
While we still wondered why we even went out to the open sea, suddenly Kété alerted us that just in front of the boat he had spotted the fountain of a whale and we got to see the backside of two humpback whales. When we thought already that they had dived down and would not resurface for the next couple of minutes, Kété turned and had us observe a spot and make sure that we had our cameras ready. And he was right: just seconds later one of the whales surfaced, blew air out (which was much louder than expected!) and showed his nice tail before heading down. Wow!

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That was already much more than expected, but we made one more snorkelling stop in a beautiful coral garden.

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After all these impressions, we headed for lunch on the small island east of the pass. And what a great location - just beautiful!

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Just like us, most other tourists on the island seemed to be there. After all, it was Saturday, the only day in the week when the typical Tahitian underground sand oven is put into action. Soon after we arrived, it was ceremonially opened and all the procedures and traditions were explained – in French, without any hesitation or thought about people potentially not being able to understand.

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So I unearthed my French skills to understand that we had pork, mussels and chicken as main courses together with cooked bananas and breadfruit. In addition, there was typical raw fish in coconut milk (which was excellent) and fermented fish with fermented coconut milk. The latter smelled much worse than it tasted. Without knowing what it is, we would have probably rather put it into the ‘cheese’ category than assuming that it is fish. For dessert, there was some kind of fruit jelly once again in coconut milk. All in all, the food was very different from what we know and had a distinct smoky flavour to it from the way it was prepared. Not bad, but it will also never be our favourite food.

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What followed, was not really what Sam and I are keen on: tourist entertainment at its best: it started with a competition in throwing coconuts into a hole 8m / 25ft away. The guests of all ten pensions on the island were to compete against each other. As we did not get into the round of the last three and consequently were done rather soon. While that exercise was actually fun, we both declined the next session of Polynesian dancing. We rather did it like the locals and took a dip in the water to cool off. We even spotted a couple of leopard whiptail rays while doing so.

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The excursion was excellent and we had really enjoyed our time on the trip. But after so much sun, we were glad to eventually to take the trip back home. That was fun as well - some of us had to sit in the back of the truck, including Kété who nicely played his ukulele along the way.

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We played a round of Farkle with Claire and Adrien before dinner, which was fun once again.
Even though Maupiti is small and remote and not nearly as touristy as all the other Society Islands, we were amazed to have excellent wireless internet in our pension. It seems that this luxury is a must have by now for all places hosting tourists. In comparison: drinking water on the island is available at five stations around the island where we often saw people or kids filling their canisters or bottles.

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On our last day in Maupiti, Sam and Claire climbed Mount Teurufaaiu (385m / 1280ft). A steep direct route secured by ropes led them all the way to the top to take in breath taking views of the island from above.

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In the meantime, the rest of us took it easy: we had a late breakfast and played some games. Once Sam was back, we went to the white beach and admired the beautiful water again.
We got food at the snack bar along the beach and soon enough had to leave towards the ferry and the airport.

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There we got the excellent hint from Claire to ask for ‘Maupiti’ stamps in our passports. After all, we had not even gotten any stamps into our passports upon our arrival – we’re in the European Union after all.
Still, the airport was clearly not up to the usual European standards and we simply loved sitting under the palm trees some 30m / 90ft from the landing strip (without any fence or the like in between). When it got hot, we just walked a couple of steps to stand in the clear water of the lagoon.

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With Max we were able to skip the line and get first onto the plane again and only realized when walking up to it that there had not been any security control. Life is beautiful and we decided that Maupiti clearly is a place to come back to one day.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:49 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged traditional mountain island paradise lagoon hike coconut snorkel whale coral manta ray islet oven motu Comments (0)

Staying on a motu (a lagoon islet)

Motu Mahare (Huahine), Papeete (Tahiti)

sunny 29 °C
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Flora picked us up at Franky’s Fare to take us to her pension on the islet of Motu Mahare. We had booked two nights on the motu and three at her place ‘Tifaifai et Café’. On the way, she had news for us: as she was overbooked due to a big birthday party, we’d be staying on the Motu for five nights. For our inconvenience, we’d be paying only four nights though. We were fine with the change in plan – it would not be the first time that the new plan is actually better than our original one.
John picked us up with the motorboat and took us over to the motu where his wife Poe and the three kids waited already to welcome us. They showed us the four little thatched huts we’d be able to use for the next days: a kitchen, a fully screened room that doubles as dining and living room, our bedroom and the bathroom.

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There was just enough time to stroll the 200m through the forest of coconut palms to the beach that faces the outer reef, before the heavy rain started and we retreated to the bench underneath the kitchen roof. Sitting outside watching the rain had a somewhat relaxing effect. The mosquitoes did not – we were constantly swatting them and it was a rather painful experience.
Once Poe, John and the kids had to leave, hunched underneath some rain ponchos on the motorboat, we searched for our mosquito repellent and with that it got a bit better. Retreating into the screened room also helped – there we were safe! That night we gladly appreciated the fact that our beds were fitted with mosquito nets.
But we soon found out that it's not only mosquitoes inhabiting the island. At night, we had to be very careful not to step on one of the many crabs. I was happy not to see the spider myself, except on the picture that Sam took. And as everywhere in French Polynesia where we'd been so far, there were lots of geckos around.

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After a good night’s sleep – enhanced by the constant sound of the waves breaking on the nearby reef – we leisurely explored our surroundings without the risk of a downpour waiting for us. At least there were only tiny clouds dotted on the blue sky. At the beach we were lucky to even spot the fountain and subsequent back of a whale just beyond the reef. The main season for the whales seems to be over, but there are a few whales still around.

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For our next exploration, we used the sea kayaks and paddled around our little motu. The most notable occurrence was a jumping manta in the quiet waters of the lagoon. Other than that, we got an impression of the dimensions of the motu, saw the pass out into the open see with its waves (some of which also filled our kayaks) and noticed where the other few inhabitants of the island live.
After lunch we kept Max entertained with throwing coconuts, playing baseball and hide and seek. Eventually Sam took Max out on the kayak once more – just for getting a bit of exercise. After so much excitement Max slept earlier than usual and had a movie night watching ‘Mother’s Day’.

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The next day, Sam and I enjoyed a very nice and quiet day. Max was busy all day with the other kids in the shallow water of the lagoon. We’d wish to have other kids around more often – that makes life much easier.

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We had been the only guests of the pension until that afternoon Lucie and Jeffery arrived – a very nice Czech / Kiwi couple. And as so often, it was just interesting to see how they are organizing their lives: both being therapists / coaches they do their coaching sessions via telephone and Skype, which allows them to travel and to be in a completely different time zone vs. their client base – the advantage being that they work mornings and evening and have the day off.
On Sunday afternoon, we decided to paddle to Flora’s other pension ‘Tifaifai et Café’. It was just 20 min away on another, but much larger motu. It was a nice outing through crystal clear waters above beautiful corals with lots of fish. And by using the internet there, we knew that there was nothing urgent going on that needed our attention. After a recent Airbnb cancellation, we were more cautious than usual.

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We had one more full day on our motu, which we used to paddle and swim. That was about all we did – after all the intense heat and humidity combined with the ubiquitous mosquitoes did limit our interest in other activities significantly. There was one more place where we had shade and no mosquitoes: the fully screened hut. That’s where we spent most of the other time and that was also the location for our evening game night with Lucie and Jeffrey.

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The next day it was time to say good bye to Lucie and Jeffrey. John and Poe treated us to fresh coconut water before loading the motorboat with our heaps of baggage and taking us to the airport. While we were sad to leave Lucie and Jeffrey with whom we had great chats and lots of fun, none of us was really sad to leave the motu. The five days there had been largely sufficient to explore everything that there was to explore. And the five days had also been long enough to get uncountable mosquito bites. We did count Max’ bites: at 140 we stopped counting…

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The flight to Tahiti with a stopover in neighboring Moorea was quick and soon enough we sat in a taxi on our way to our ‘Fare Rea Rea’ in Papeete.
We went to bed early, as we all were very tired. During the night, it started raining and we continued having episodes of torrential rain all of the next morning. So, on our trip to the supermarket, it was key to get the timing right. In the early afternoon, we were lucky to have a longer period without rain and used that to eat at a snack bar just around the corner from our apartment and to have a stroll into downtown and back. And once more we loved the street art we came across along the way. We had been lucky: only during a short spell of 5min rain, we had to wait in an area protected from the rain. And we were back home just in time before the clouds opened up again.

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Given the weather, we stayed inside for the rest of the day, played games and enjoyed our dinner: it would be a while before we’d get nice French baguette, Camembert cheese and the excellent Tahitian Hinano beer again.
The next morning, we took a taxi to the airport and were wondering if / when we’ll be back and if by then the islands will still governed by France or might potentially be independent.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 03:19 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged kids kayak mosquito coconut snorkel crab islet motu Comments (1)

Kia Orana / Hello Cook Islands

Tupapa, Rarotonga

sunny 26 °C
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Even though we had left French Polynesia, we had another two and a half hours to enjoy Air Tahiti’s service – together with about thirty other passengers of which at least 50% seemed to be German speaking.

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Contrary to previous flights with Air Tahiti of which the longest had been just 35min, this time Sam was lucky: he asked if he could go to the cockpit during the flight and the pilot gave his ok. Once Sam had gotten all his questions about the planes, pilot education and risky situations answered, he left and Max and I were allowed in the cockpit to have a peek as well. Really nice!

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We had already seen a couple of other islands of the southern group of the Cook Islands before finally descending into the main island of Rarotonga. At the airport, we were greeted by nice ukulele music. Immigration was fairly easy and customs clearance more straight forward than expected.

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To get to our accommodation, we had planned to just take the clockwise island bus. As we mentally prepared ourselves for a 40min wait, suddenly a lady stopped next to us and asked us if we needed any help. We explained that we waited for the bus and where we wanted to go and miraculously she offered to give us a lift. Once we were in the car with Angela, we realized that she lived west of the airport and we had to go about 7km east. Out of pure kindness she took such a detour. We were amazed – what a lovely welcome to the Cook Islands. And we were thrilled: being in the Commonwealth, English would be sufficient again to get around easily.

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Kylie, the manager of the ‘Ariana Bungalows’ welcomed us, showed us our new home for the next five nights, the pool and the games room. And she had lots of advice for us on what to do and plan for the next days.

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Max was quite tired, so Sam headed off on his own to go shopping and soon enough returned stocked with typical NZ / Australian food and beer. It is fun seeing how easily the connection to the mother country can be detected, not only via the food. Just like in New Zealand, traffic on the Cook Islands is on the left side of the road. And already when we arrived in our bungalow, we had noticed one more thing that is hard to find outside of Commonwealth countries, the typical English faucets: one for hot and one for cold water. To wash your face with warm water, you need to fill the sink with the provided plug.
The next day we took it easy and spent the day on the terrace of our bungalow and in the tropical garden with its pool.

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Kylie’s husband Marshall husked a couple of green coconuts for us and we enjoyed the light coconut water and their soft flesh. For tea time, we had banana bread to go with our black tea / hot chocolate. A good start into our stay at the Cook Islands.

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The next day we took the bus into Avarua to visit the Saturday market. It was a fabulous place for people watching, for eating at the various food stalls, and for shopping of souvenirs as well as fresh produce.

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We even got treated to a typical Polynesian drum and dance performance. It was fun seeing the girls perform their dances so proudly. And the sound of the drums was the perfect way to get accustomed to the local music.

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As we were in town already, we used the opportunity to get a couple of other things done before taking the clockwise bus back home. Given the nice weather and bright sunshine, the pool was the perfect place to be for the remainder of the day. The only interruption was for tea time and eventually for getting the ‘barbie’ / BBQ ready for dinner.

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The next day, we took a hike to one of the most important marae / temples on the island. From there we continued a hike up the ‘Ikurangi mountain. It had been clear from the start that we would not make the 4-5 hour round trip up to the top, so we did not feel bad about turning around eventually and heading home and taking a plunge in the pool.

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Sam did make a serious attempt to hike the ‘Ikurangi alone the following day. This time he was fully equipped with proper hiking gear. Even though, the route proved to be extremely tough and though thickets of fern and other plants. It did not seem that lots of people are hiking there. While he was able to find the way up, eventually he decided to turn around anyhow: it just seemed a bit too risky to balance along a slippery ledge with significant drops on both sides and no one around to get help in case needed. Still, he liked the hike, the jungle feeling along the way and the beautiful views from the mountain.

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The other nice thing about our hikes were the insights in local life. Seeing the houses along the way, very often with attached decorated grave houses (which seem to be preferred over regular graveyards), the chicken, pigs and dogs and the local fruit trees.

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While we spent the last couple of days a bit of time with writing blog entries and editing photos, we don’t have internet, so we cannot upload anything. That left us with lots of time to read (‘Flight of the intruder’ for Sam and ‘The King’s speech’ for me) and to play Monopoly in the NZ version we found in the game room. Island life as it should be!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:19 Archived in Cook Islands Tagged temple bus mountain market pool hike chicken coconut bungalow Comments (2)

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