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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)

Sandy off road adventures

Francois Peron NP, Denham

sunny 30 °C
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After two days at Monkey Mia with the dolphins, it was time to pack up, as we wanted to head up into Francois Peron NP. Knowing that most of the national park is only accessible by high clearance 4WD, specifically Sam was looking forward to the national park.
After a couple of kilometers, it was time to reduce the tire pressure and off we went on the red sand towards Cape Peron. Along the way, we passed through some gypsum salt pans before the sections with the really deep sand started. Sam had fun, Max loved the excitement and I was glad that I did not have to drive myself.

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On our way north, we stopped at a beach with an excellent view of the adjacent red and white sand dunes. The landscape was simply great.
For lunch, we stopped at Cape Peron (which is named after a French naturalist who explored the area in the early 1800s). As it was really hot and the midday sun was burning down, we enjoyed the shade of picnic area until we were ready to head on. The lizards provided some entertainment while the mountains of small black beetles were rather static.

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Later in the afternoon, we hiked the nice trail along the coast to Skipjack Point. While we saw lots of tracks in the sand of various animals, most of them were hiding in the shade. All except the cormorants, which populated almost the full lengths of the shore.

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At Skipjack Point we were stunned by all the sea life we could observe from our viewpoint. We saw mantas, sharks, dugongs, turtles, cormorants and lots of fish. Wow – we could have stayed there for ages just observing.

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Our camp for the night was not far away. The Bottle Bay campground seemed almost empty and we had the pretty beach just for ourselves. What a beautiful sunset! And how windy…

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The next morning we headed again to Skipjack Point hoping to once more see lots of animals. But we soon realized that with the south easterly wind, there were huge waves coming in. And without visibility, there was no marine life to be seen (even though it was probably there). Still, it was a very pretty sight with the whitecaps in the rough sea.

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Eventually we decided to start our drive out of the national park. Once again we had to pass the sections of the road with deep sand. In one of those sections we were able to just barely pass by a car that was bogged in the sand and had its hood up. But shortly after we had to stop in a section with fairly deep sand ourselves, as there was a bogged camper van blocking the road. Its driver had gotten frustrated by the deep sand and had taken the absolutely wrong decision to try to turn around where the sand was deepest.

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As there were some Aussies already helping the Germans in the camper van, we headed back to the group of girls with the open hood. They had gotten bogged already so often on their way in that their clutch started smelling. The solution was pretty easy: we helped them to deflate their tires to 15 psi. Thanks to the pressure gauge Sam had bought the day before that was pretty easy. Then we told two of them to stay with us and advised the driver to go on to the next intersection and to turn around in the rather firm sand there. And the plan perfectly worked!
By the time this was done, two more cars were stuck in the sand behind them. So, two more times to deflate tires. And this time we also used the sand boards which are part of our 4WD accessories. And at least on the second try both cars were able to get away.

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We had lots of fun in the process, digging the cars out and using the sand boards. On the way out, we took the two girls with us in the car to the next gypsum pan, where their friend waited for them. In other words: we were the only car out of five that did not get bogged in that section!
After a well-deserved stop at Peron homestead to soak in the hot pool, we headed to one of Denham’s campgrounds. Max had already been looking forward for the last couple of days to use the jumping pillow there. And before too long, he met his new friend Charlie, and both raced around the campground on their bikes.

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But also, the playground in town was quite an attraction in itself. Max was happy to meet his old friend Cooper there again. And Sam and I enjoyed the nice setting along the beach and marveled at the excellent playground, which was potentially the nicest one we have encountered so far on our travels.

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That evening we had an excellent dinner at Australia’s most westerly hotel. The old pub served us a great seafood platter, but also Max was very pleased with his fish and chips.

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In principle, we had planned to stay in Denham only for one night before heading south again. But Max insisted to stay another night and soon enough we realized that a day without much sightseeing helped enormously to get our calendars and cards for Christmas done and uploaded. In the meantime, Max jumped endlessly on the jumping pillow, before we headed to the nice playground again.

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That evening we were invited at Max’s friend Charlie and his parents Chris and Debbie. What a nice evening with nice talks and good food! Once more Sam and I were amazed how friendly people are here and how easy it is to get in touch with others.
While packing up the next morning, Max was up at Charlie’s before going for a final round of jumps on the jumping pillow. Other kids are just the best babysitters!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:48 Archived in Australia Tagged sunset coast pub sand west jumping shark playground deep manta pillow dugong bogged Comments (0)

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