We awoke from our wake-up call at 4am to catch a 5:30am flight from Bora Bora back to Papeete, Tahiti. We had only slept 2 hours as we tried to live up our half day in the luxurious Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort. We should’ve been here another night while spending a night in Tahiti, but an itinerary snafu resulted in us spending 1 night at the Pearl Beach while having the entire day to see Tahiti before leaving for LA in the evening.
Still, our time at the Bora Bora Pearl Beach was magical. As a matter of fact, our time French Polynesia was beyond comparison. We sensed our time in paradise was coming to an end, but we still had the opportunity to get the most out of today before returning to reality.
When we checked out of the Bora Bora Pearl Beach, the receptionist noticed our unusual itinerary and short stay.
“You guys worked really hard to come here,” she said. “Only one night stay?”
We smirked as she was partially right in that staying here isn’t cheap. But we would’ve stayed longer if we could.
Anyways, we took a boat shuttle that went straight from the Pearl Beach’s motu to the airport on the motu to the north. It was a bit chilly in the open-air boat, but we could see some sliver of light on the horizon as the sun was going to rise in a few minutes.
The flight took off at 5:30am as scheduled and arrived in the Faaa Airport in Papeete at 7am. During the flight, we tried to figure out what we should do on this day. Finally, we figured we could do a 4×4 tour through the heart of Tahiti Nui – which was the larger of the “dumbells” of the Tahiti Island. Even though it would take all day, our flight back to LA didn’t happen until around 10pm so we had time. Besides, there were waterfalls and we just had to see them.
Once we collected our luggage, the next order of business was to find the pay phone. Then, we looked up our brochure that offered this tour through Tahiti Nui and dialed the phone number. It wasn’t long before Julie talked to the person and we had an arrangement to meet outside the airport building at 8am as someone was going to pick us up. More importantly, she confirmed they were able to accept credit card as we were almost out of our supply of Polynesian Francs.
So we used this time to try to store our baggage. At first, we couldn’t figure out where it was. The signs said it led outside and so we did that. But then, we didn’t know where to go next. We even wasted some Polynesian Francs on a machine thinking it was some voucher or something for baggage storage when it was for parking! Obviously, we needed to improve our French.
Finally, we managed to track down an employee who literally pointed out the correct building to us. And with that, we took our luggage and stored it so we could go on the 4×4 trip today.
At 8am, we saw a big pick up truck with monster wheels on it that had the tour company label painted on its doors. Julie and I anxiously waved to the driver to let him know it was us.
And with that, he picked us up and took us to one of the resorts. I guess we were going to join the rest of the folks on the tour and make the payment.
When we arrived at the resort, the driver told us he didn’t have a credit card machine so he wanted cash. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough in cash. I did have an emergency stash of US Dollars, and his eyes lit up when he saw it. Still, even that wasn’t enough for the 8500CFP per person. Finally, he relented and took my credit card into the resort to process it. And when I got my card back, we boarded a similar truck with 4 other couples. The driver, a different guy by the name of Noah, was behind the wheel. We headed off at 8:30am.
When we made it through the morning traffic mayhem of Papeete and into the suburbs to its northeast, we stopped at a convenience store to pick up snacks and water. It was a good idea since it was hot and humid and we would be out there all day.
Then, Noah proceeded to drive us further east until we eventually turned right into an unpaved road that headed into the Papenoo Valley.
Almost immediately, the road was rough and rugged and clearly suitable only for 4×4 with high clearance. The clearance thing wasn’t an issue considering the size of the wheels on the truck. Still, it was a pretty bumpy ride and it would remain that way for the rest of the crossing through Tahiti Nui.
A few minutes into the valley, Noah stopped to show us some of the flora of the valley. Then, he got back in the truck and continued driving.
By 10am, we had finally got our first look at a waterfall. This one was the Topatari Waterfall, which faced west and was in shadow. Still, it had decent flow considering it was late in their dry season. Soon after this waterfall, there was another one basking in the sunlight of the morning sun.
This one was the Vaiharuru Waterfall. Noah stopped for it.
So we took this opportunity to take photos of the falls and pose in front of it for people portraits. Then, we all hopped back into the truck and continued going further.
The road continued to climb gradually albeit ruggedly. Noah even stopped before a sign in French that he asked me to read. Since I knew some Spanish, I noticed root words that said something about danger. Still, I didn’t know the essence of what was said. Anyways, it was obvious there were perils up ahead if we weren’t equipped. But that’s why we went on a tour, right?
At 10:40am, the 4×4 road started to go by some man-made lake. The waters were clear with a definite shade of green. On the other side of the lake was an attractive waterfall in shadow spilling into it from a west-facing cliff. It was the Puraha Waterfall.
I took some photos of it before Noah continued along the 4×4 road. During this time, he made another stop to demonstrate how whacking a particular tree made this loud echoing sound. It was useful for villagers in the valley to know if something was going on when someone who had something to communicate would strike it.
Not long afterwards, he stopped the truck and we did a brief scramble towards a calm part of the Papenoo River. Noah proceeded to dive in the calm river and invited any one else to join him. Most of the tour did, but Julie and I stayed dry; though I was getting constantly bitten by this big red ants that seemed to be everywhere.
By 12pm, we had arrived at some very remote restaurant called the Relais de la Maroto up near the top of one of the inland mountains right in the middle of Tahiti Nui. I thought it was strange how this restaurant was here because obviously access is prohibitively difficult by the conditions of the 4wd road! Still, there were other tables of people who came from other 4×4 trucks and we all had a pretty satisfying lunch of chicken, fish, and some tropical sauces mixed in with salads all on a serving of rice.
We got a chance to get to know Noah a little better over lunch. It was interesting that he said he attended San Jose State University and was a big NFL fan. It was strange to talk to a Tahitian about something as American as football, but I was happy to indulge him with my own fix of pro sports.
It was 1pm, when we finished the lunch and hopped back in the monster truck. Then, Noah continued driving us deeper into the heart of Tahiti Nui.
Although the day started off partly cloudy with lots of sun, the weather quickly turned and started pouring. Noah briefly stopped to put the tarp over some of the bars attached to truck so us passengers would be sheltered. Then, he continued driving.
As the high clearance monster truck was slowly making its way over some ledges and boulders, Noah stopped the 4×4 and got out. All of us looked at him as if he was going to show up something, but he shook his head as he stared at one of the rear tires.
Then, he said, “one of the wheels is going flat.” Now Julie and I were a little concerned that we were going to miss our flight tonight.
Julie and I looked at each other not exactly sure what to do.
But then, Noah got back in the truck and kept on driving. I wasn’t sure if he was yanking our chain or not, but the truck still seemed to be driving just fine.
Eventually, we would get as high as we would on this road as were at the head of Papenoo Valley. There were a few more waterfalls around. But most of them looked ephemeral or had power lines in the way. Then, we entered a tunnel.
When we got out of the tunnel, we were now looking towards the south end of Tahiti Nui. Down below, we could see a hint of a lake, which was called Lake Vaimahiria. Low lying clouds were still over head threatening rain.
Now, the bumpy start started descending. By 2:20pm, we made it to the shores of Lake Vaimahiria. It was here that Noah told us about eels with ears that were rumored to be in this lake. Still, we didn’t see them and the lake looked eerily calm underneath the dark overhanging clouds.
At 2:45pm, we reached another inviting little waterfall. It didn’t quite have good flow since it was late dry season, but I could totally picture how this waterfall might have been in some of the tourism literature Julie and I had seen.
Not much further down the 4×4 road, we made it to some ephemeral waterfall that dropped into another pool. This pool also looked man-made. Noah proceeded to stop the truck and dive into this pool inviting others to join him. So we spent a few more minutes enjoying this particular spot before continuing the tour.
Continuing further down this side of Tahiti Nui, Noah then stopped at yet another small waterfall. This time, he told the Europeans on the tour that they might have seen this waterfall because it was on some shampoo commercial.
Anyways, the rest of the tour consisted of more driving with a few stops so Noah could show us some plants with medicinal properties as well as others that could be used as dyes.
Eventually, most of us were starting to get fatigued at this point and so the remainder of the day was primarily going along for the ride as Noah rejoined the main road and headed west then north back to Papeete.
During the drive, we could constantly see the ocean. Even though Tahiti had its city in Papeete, we saw the rest of the island had the charm that we embraced in Moorea and Bora Bora.
Finally by 5:30pm, Noah dropped us back at the airport. It was still too early to check in our luggage and we were hungry for a last supper before the flight. So I asked Noah about roulottes, which were basically street vending trucks that sold food cheaply.
Since Julie and I had equated food with blowing off lots of money, we wanted something cheap and roulottes seemed the way to go. So Noah told us to walk down the road back towards town. There was one that wasn’t too far from the airport.
After saying our good-byes to Noah, we walked towards the roulotte as the night started to fall. There were lots of these moths flying everywhere, which was quite unusual for us.
When we got to the roulotte, Julie was less than pleased at how dirty these trucks seemed to be. Still, I was hungry for poisson cru, which was raw fish dipped in coconut milk. We both still remembered the burst of freshness and flavor from the one we had at the Sofitel Ia Ora in Moorea a few days ago. And after I got my relatively cheap dose of poisson cru, I’d say we never had anything come close to the quality of the one we had in Moorea.
I was battling rashes over most of my body, which I suspected had to do with a cockroach on my toothbrush or an allergic reaction to one of the reef fishes I ate, but Julie kept telling me that eating poisson cru from dirty places like these were probably how I got them.
Anyways, Julie passed on the roulotte and we eventually walked back to the Faaa Airport where we regained our luggage and checked them in. As we had to wait for our 10pm flight, we got to buy some last minute souvenirs. After about a half hour delay, we finally boarded our flight.
Fortunately this time, the flight wasn’t nearly as full as it was on the way to Tahiti. We sat near the nose of the plane so when we saw a few empty rows around us, we took the opportunity to sit by the windows and stretch our legs. Since we hadn’t gotten much sleep the last couple of days nor had we showered all day long, we slept like a baby. And with our consciousness fading into REM, so ended our trip that began with two tickets to paradise…