Frank & I have returned from Tahiti, with memories of air scented with the fragrance of frangipani, soaring jagged mountain peaks and lush green valleys merging into reef fringed waters impossibly turquoise, & crystal clear.
Our most treasured memory however, was the special day when our son Paul married the love of his life, Jenny, in an emotional beach wedding on the nearby island of Moorea shared with Polynesian celebrant, musicians, flowers, and heartfelt vows to affirm their love and committment to each other.
It took us almost 3 days to fly to Tahiti necessitating an overnight stay in both Auckland & Papeete. Arriving at our hotel in Moorea a day after the youngsters had settled into their over the water bungalow at the Sofitel Hotel, some 8 kms away, we decided to visit them on hired bicycles, and that proved quite a challenge after months of inactivity on the exercise front, not to mention coping with traffic on the right hand side of the road!!
We soon learnt that taxis in Tahiti are very expensive, especially when you consider that they double their tariff after 6pm, and don’t like to venture out at all after 10pm! So, the next day, we decided it would be more practical to hire a car! Having lived & driven in Europe over 37 years ago, I was voted designated driver. Luckily, I slipped back into the old rhythm, just as I did with my language skills, delighted that I could still make myself understood speaking French after so long.
Each morning, Frank & I enjoyed exploring the island a little before joining Paul & Jenny at their luxurious hotel that boasted the best beach on the island. We relaxed with the youngsters on their bungalow verandah over the water, or dived into the water to snorkel for hours in the shallow lagoon fringed by coral reefs.
We sampled the local food by choosing different places to eat at night, and were spoilt for choice with the varied French & Polynesian cuisine. I particularly enjoyed the ‘poisson cru’- the local delicacy of raw fish (usually tuna) marinated in a mixture of coconut milk, oil and lemon that was deliciously tender & tasty. In fact I ate nothing but their abundant & delicious seafood for the entire trip!
The wedding day dawned with brilliant blue skies and Frank & I left our hotel after breakfast to drive to the Sofitel Hotel. The four of us spent a couple of hours snorkelling in the lagoon around the Sofitel, then picnicked ‘a la francais’ on crusty baguettes, ham, cheese & champagne before we started to prepare for the wedding.
The ‘boys’ were allowed to stay around the over the water bungalow, with strict instructions that as soon as Jenny was ready to dress, they must disappear to the hotel bar! This way, as designated photographer as well as hairdresser and makeup artist for the day, I would be able to multi-task!
The best laid plans can still go awry! We had left several hours to prepare Jenny’s hair and makeup, but the hair curling seemed to take forever, ( I am rather a novice in the primping department!) and although the end result was voted a great success, we realised that there was little time left for the pampering and preening with all the special cosmetics bought for the special occasion! Plus I needed to take photos of Paul & Frank who were now dressed and ready to disappear, so I dashed outside to take photos and then dashed back to help Jenny.
We stood in front of the mirror with just minutes to complete her makeover. Thank goodness Jenny is neither high maintenance nor does she need makeup to improve her gorgeous looks! Despite being nervous, as she literally threw her dress on, Jenny was laughing at the incongruity of us rushing madly to prepare for the biggest day of her life!! It is just this sort of attitude, that makes everyone who meets Jenny simply adore her smiling, positive, fun-loving ways.
Before we knew it, the staff were at the bungalow in the ‘golf buggy’ to transport me to the wedding venue by the water’s edge, leaving Jenny to make her entrance just minutes later.
The beach setting was exquisite, decorated with palm fronds and bird of paradise flowers, with an archway intertwined with flowers and tulle. There was a Polynesian celebrant (who resembled more a witch doctor in his bright red robes and feathered headdress!), and a band trio strumming and singing Polynesian songs in accompaniment to their guitars and ukulele. Other staff were on hand to help film the ceremony and translate the celebrant’s words.
It was such a simple & yet touching ceremony that reduced us all to tears, (yes, even Paul & Frankie!) with Paul & Jenny sharing their own hand written vows that were both moving & cheekily funny! Frank & I felt so proud & privileged to be the only wedding guests to share this life changing event in such an exotic location with Paul & Jenny. The setting was perfect, & so very romantic. Tahiti was working its magic on us all!
After the ceremony, we were taken back to their bungalow where yet MORE champagne followed, and the obligatory photos of the newly married couple. As the sun set, we wandered down to the beachfront where the staff were setting up for our evening celebrations. Before our main meal, we were encouraged to watch the live entertainment of Polynesian dancing being held in the restaurant area, and when we were shown to a reserved table strewn with flowers near the dance floor, we should have been prepared! Paul & Jenny were given no choice; both were chosen to participate and encouraged to join in the dancing! They did so with great spirit and enthusiasm!
Afterwards, we returned to the water’s edge where we lounged in opulent style, and were served a magnificent private banquet by our own waiter for just the four of us, surrounded by flowers, stars, candles and yet more flowing champagne!! It was a perfect ending to a magic day!
The Tuamotus encompass seven small groups of islands & atolls & are essentially high sand bars built upon coral reefs, forming the largest chain of atolls in the world. In Tikehau, the atoll’s oval-shaped lagoon is 27kms long and 19kms wide, made up of 2 major islands and numerous islets, surrounded by an almost continuous coral reef.
We were picked up & taken by boat to a tiny islet in the southwest corner, Ninamu Resort, (http://motuninamu.com) owned and run by an Australian Chris O’Callaghan with just 6 beautiful cabins built on the water’s edge. Each cabin was totally unique, designed in rustic opulence using coral, shells and wooden flotsam, but fitted with luxurious comforts. There was only one other couple staying and they left after the first night so Paul & Jenny, Frank & I were privileged to have the entire island resort to ourselves!
Well- that is along with the largest protected collection of coconut crabs in the Tahitian Islands- and for anyone who is not aware of my arachnophobia (and let’s face it, these crabs really do resemble a cross between a spider and Alien in anyone’s book!!) this meant I was paranoid every evening as they roamed the island under the cover of darkness!!!!
I mean, I respect that Chris is trying to preserve the total annihilation of these slow, easy to catch critturs that take 35 years to grow to full size and are a sought after delicacy. However, not only do they have free reign over the entire island, but they climb (they are meant to be searching out coconuts to eat!), so why they seemed intent to climb the rafters of the cabins or the main restaurant area, must surely be so they could scare the bejesus out of scaredy cats like me!!! I am just glad they are wary of light, as I would use a human shield (ie: Frank!) to move along the raised timber walkways from our cabin, madly scouring the paths & trees with my flashlight for these illusive monsters!!! Once at the main area where we ate, I would sit with my feet up high so I would not be scared by the stray ‘critturs’ that would wander around the ground. I felt SO brave!!!
Chris went out of his way to show us a good time, taking us out in his high-speed game fishing boat to special locations to snorkel or swim with the mantarays. We watched Paul use the high-tech fishing reel to catch ruby snapper from 300 metres down- a rare and expensive fish that we all enjoyed for supper that night!!
At other times, we swam in the pristine waters just in front of the resort, where a large number of ‘friendly’ black tip reef sharks glided in and out of the shallows hoping for some leftover fish bait.
They were occasionally chased away in a brisk game of tag by the 2 friendly in-house dogs, Chop Chop & Astro who accepted all visitors as family & followed us around faithfully, competently swimming between sand cays or strolling on the coral bombies with equal aptitude. I wasn’t so sure about swimming with the sharks so close, but we were assured that no visitors had ever been attacked!!
One afternoon, Paul & Jenny, Frank & I all waded out through the shallows and followed the sand banks far out into the bay, sometimes having to swim the deeper channels. Our destination was ‘One Tree Island’, a good mile away. It was hot & stormy but we were constantly distracted by shell collecting along the way and checking out all the marine life in the water.
By the time we had reached the tiny island, Ninamu was a small speck on the horizon. After checking out the flotsam & jetsam washed up onto One Tree Island, we opted to don our snorkel & fins and paddle the long way home across the shallow waters.
We enjoyed a well deserved drink on our verandah watching the sunset before sharing another seafood meal by the resident chef Jonathon who created culinary masterpieces from freshly caught fish most days.
Frank & I even managed to fit in a couple of scuba dives on the ocean side of the Motu, in spectacularly clear waters where we saw schools of large reef fish, turtles, eagle ray, giant rass & sharks meander along the coral faced cliffs that plummeted into the ocean’s depths.
All too soon, our time at Ninamu was over and we waved goodbye to Paul & Jenny so they could enjoy a few more days alone on their honeymoon, without the parents dragging at their heels!!!!
Frank & I flew back to Papeete on the island of Tahiti where we spent a couple of nights before returning home to Brisbane. Our last day was spent touring the island’s interior in a 4×4, a lush landscape full of towering jagged peaks and freshwater streams.
Our fantastic guide was a native Polynesian, Keiva who’s family owned the entire valley we travelled through, and he was a wealth of knowledge on the island’s culture, it’s history and all kinds of interesting information on the use of wild plants & flowers for culinary & medicinal purposes.(http://tahitidiscovery.com)
It was a fitting end to an amazing sojourn in this spectacular country, whose charms & beauty had captured our hearts but also in our minds as a destination we definitely wanted to add to our cruising itinerary for the future on board Stars End 2.