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Written by Cathy Siegismund
July 2001

We had a light-wind four-day sail from Makemo to Tahiti. We motored more than we probably had to, but we had enough fuel and wanted to get to Tahiti.


French and French Polynesian Flags

Tahiti, with its capital of Papeete,  is the main island in the Society Islands, an island group in French Polynesia.

Tahiti came into view early in the morning and was a welcome site.


Tahiti and the other Society Islands' topography are a combination of the Marquesas and the Tuamotus. The islands are mountainous like the Marquesas but have surrounding reefs like the Tuamotus. We motored along the end of the island to the entrance to Papeete's harbor. After three months at sea and in the scarcely populated islands, Papeete looked like a major city.

Papeete Harbor

Quay in downtown Papeete

You have two choices if you want to stay near Papeete. One is to tie up at the quay right downtown. This has the advantage of being right in town, but has the disadvantage of being in dirty harbor water unable to swim or run the watermaker. The other option is to motor the five miles inside the reef past the airport to Maeva Beach. This large anchorage is in clear water and off an area of resort hotels.

Five mile motor inside the reef toward Maeva Beach

The channel takes you past the Papeete airport, so close in fact you have to call the harbor authority to get permission to pass each end of the runway. During take-off and landing, the planes can come within 20 feet of the water.

Passing the airport

Plane taking off at Papeete airport

Paddlers practicing in their canoes for the upcoming fête races

Luxury hotel rooms built out over the channel and the Maeva Beach anchorage in the background

Jason and Tam were already at Maeva Beach, and Jason helped us pick out a good spot to anchor. We anchored in 12 feet of water so clear we could watch the anchor set in the sand as we backed down.

We cleaned up the boat and got some rest, then headed to shore, where we caught a le truck (the local privately owned busses) into Papeete, about a 15 minute ride. In town, we got cold drinks and ice cream, window shopped in the many jewelry stores specializing in black pearls, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city.

Large cruise ship off Papeete quay

Moorea in the distance seen from downtown Papeete

In the center of Papeete, is the municipal market which takes up a large city bock and is filled with arts and crafts, restaurants, clothing, and fresh produce and fish market.

Fresh produce and straw hats fill one corner of the market

Fresh flowers of all kinds are available at the market

Tropical flowers are sold on the sidewalk outside the market

One whole exterior side of the market is lined with colorful pareos

We continued to explore the town, eat out at restaurants, and officially checked into French Polynesia. We also were pleased to discover that our letter requesting a visa extension had worked and we had received our extension.

We also got the schedule for all the fête activities. Fête is a month long celebration in French Polynesia that includes dance, art, song and sport competitions. It also includes Autonomy Day on June 29 and Bastille Day on July 14 which have large celebrations and parades. We bought tickets to the opening night song and dance competition.

Our first fête activity was heading into town for Autonomy day. The day's activities was kicked off with a large parade that seemed to include everyone from the French Polynesia President to the local basketball team.

Parade participants wearing French Polynesia colors

More Pictures in the Autonomy Day Parade Photo Gallery

After the parade, Drew, Vernita, Jason, Tam and Ken and I went to the large square down by the quay that has roulettes each night. Roulettes are trucks that convert to portable restaurants with fold out counters and stools. They line the streets and the quay each night in Papeete and offer often quite good and reasonably priced meals. The roulettes offer a wide variety of choices from Chinese, Polynesian, pizza, crepes, etc.

Rows of roulettes are packed each night with locals and tourists

Crowded roulettes with everyone enjoying dinner

Vernita, Drew and Ken having pizza at a roulette

We enjoyed dinner at the roulettes and watched the fireworks over the bay for Autonomy day. We then wandered down the quay where to a small waterfront stadium that had been erected for fête and watched a great free concert of both contemporary and traditional song and dance.

Ken and I unfortunately were laid up with a nasty flu bug which kept us tucked away in the boat resting and watching movies for about a week. We did however, haul ourselves off the boat for the opening night of song and dance competition for which we had purchased tickets.

Official opening of the fête song and dance competitions

More Pictures in the Opening Song and Dance Competition Photo Gallery

The opening night performance didn't end until after one in the morning, and since the le trucks had stopped running, we had to take a very pricey cab ride back to Maeva Beach.

The fête celebrations offered activities every day. One day we headed up an ongoing artisan's fair in the town of Pirae.

The artisan's fair included booths with carvings, hats, shells, quilts, clothing, and a tent with daily competitions and activities.


One booth had a fantastic display of hats

Booth of woodcarvings and tapas

The day we were at the artisan festival we were treated to a dance performance by a local dance school and the Pirae dance troop we had seen at the opening night dance competition. It was great to see the dancers in a small less-formal forum, we were able to sit right on the dance floor and get some great close-up pictures.

Dance school performance

Dance school soloist

The Pirae dancers  we had seen at the dance competition where also at artisans fair

More Pictures in the Pirae Dance Troop Photo Gallery

The Polynesian dancing is really fantastic to watch and we felt very lucky to be able to watch this dance troop up close.

The following weekend we took the bus out of Papeete to a park and museum where they were holding a javelin competition. In Polynesian javelin competitions, the competitors each have ten javelins which are long flexible sticks with sharpened rebar on the ends. The competitors are allotted a certain amount of time in which they throw their javelins at the target. The target is a coconut about 50 yards away and about 50 feet in the air. The competitor who hits the coconut closest to the top wins.

Javelin throwing competition

More Pictures in the Javelin Competition Photo Gallery

Another uniquely Polynesian fête competition we attended was the Fruit Carrier's race. In this competition, the competitors carry between 60 and 200 pounds of fruit and run barefoot around a city block 3 times.

Fruit Carrier's Race

More Pictures in the Fruit Carrier's Race Photo Gallery

We plan to explore Tahiti for another few days and finish up some chores while we have access to the big city. From here we'll head to Moorea and then the leeward islands of Raiatea, Huahine, and Bora Bora.

Tahiti Photo Gallery

Autonomy Day Parade   Dance Competition  Javelin Competition  Fruit Carrier's Race

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