Written by Cathy Siegismund
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.