Our hunch was somewhat confirmed when the PA said that we had to abort the first attempt to descend into the airstrip in Moorea due to unfavorable landing conditions. After the second failed attempt at 2:30pm (in which there was some severe rocking in the plane resulting from the scary turbulence though Tahia seemed to enjoy the ride as indicated by her laughter), the plane started to head back to Papeete. However, even the flight back to Papeete was a non-trivial affair as it took longer than 10 minutes to do this leg as perhaps even landing there was not favorable as well!
At 2:50pm, we finally landed back at the Papeete Airport. The plane was being refueled since it wasted a lot of gas from the two failed landing attempts. We had to deplane and walk through the pouring rain back to the boarding area again, where we’d await further news on what should happen next…
- Day 1: WILD RASPBERRIES
- Day 2: CIRCLING TAHITI NUI
- Day 3: LIVING UP TO ITS REPUTATION
- Day 4: THE ISLAND THAT REFUSED TO LET US GO
- Day 5: PERILS OF THE WET SEASON
- Day 6: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED
- Day 7: BORA BORA UNDER THE CLOUDS
- Day 8: TAKING IT WHERE WE CAN
- Day 9: FAMILY FIRST
- Day 10: DO NOTHING DAY
Day 1: WILD RASPBERRIES
Julie and I started the trip with a fair bit of trepidation knowing that we were alone with Tahia. While I knew that when the word Tahiti is mentioned, everyone thinks of paradise. However, having been more-or-less Tahiti veterans (it was my second time and Julie’s third time), I was realistic that we were in the height of the Wet Season and that traveling with an almost two-year-old wasn’t going to be relaxing in the least bit. Nonetheless, this was supposed to be a test trip for us to see what we could do with Tahia as well as take advantage of the fact that Tahia essentially flew free. Couple that with a nearly impossible price to return to paradise and it was just one of those things we had to take advantage of regardless of the timing of the trip.
So first off, we had to bring our larger than normal luggages since we had to bring Tahia’s diapers, non-refrigerated milk, bottles, clothes, flotation devices, and a whole host of other things that only a mother or a very involved dad could appreciate. Then, we took one of those LAX shuttles (annoying since there was no mass transit to go from home to the airport like in many places around the world), and then we had to deal with a very long security line after checking in our large luggages.
That ergo that we decided to brin along instead of the frame pack that Tahia could sit in was probably a good call by Julie since that ergo was reduced in size and could be a carry on or we could let Tahia ride with us wearing the ergo.
After security, we had to do a long hike to gate 111 and then to gate 144 when they changed the gate on us. We could see that Tahia wasn’t sleeping at all this whole time so we were nervous that she might not sleep well on the plane and thereby preventing us from sleeping on the red-eye flight.
But after patiently waiting for our boarding, we then rode a bus that led us to the tarmac where we then boarded a remote gate on the outskirts of the airport tarmac where we then finally boarded our Air Tahiti Nui flight.
Once we were on the plane there seemed to be quite a few things that fell into place for us even before we arrived in Tahiti. For starters, the 8-hour red-eye flight we took from LAX to Papeete happened to be a fairly empty flight. So that allowed Julie and I to spread out somewhat on the row that we got. On top of that, we were given seats facing the front of one of the economy sections so we were able to allow Tahia to sleep on one of those hanging bassinets once we managed to take off.
While Tahia managed to sleep for some 5 hours (which was not bad considering it was on an airplane), the rest of the time, Julie and I had to keep her occupied with some colorful shaped toy buttons that allowed the little girl to identify colors and shapes. We were amazed at how quickly our little daughter was progressing with her learning. Plus, it was one of those Q-times that seemed to be lacking at home since both Julie and I were always busy juggling spending time with our daughter while also tending to other distractions like work.
Anyways, we arrived at the Faa’a Airport in Papeete, Tahiti at 6am. Just like I remembered from 10 years ago (Julie from 5 years ago), we went down the steps and onto the tarmac as we all made our way to the mandatory customs and immigration lines.
While no one looks forward to these immigration formalities no matter where you go to travel, I always smile to myself that at least in Tahiti, they give you a Polynesian welcoming crew complete with ukelele-playing band. However, this time, they also had a vahine (lady) do one of those familiar hula dances (though I’m sure they’re not called hula in Tahiti) where she told a welcoming story through her graceful body movements.
Getting our luggage (always fearful that something would get misdirected or lost) turned out to be a non-issue, but then we had to pick up the rental car from Avis. We were a bit concerned that desk clerk told us that Julie’s on-line reservation didn’t show up on their records (despite Julie’s printout), but I guess since we were in low season (i.e. the muggy wet season) and there were few visitors who self drive let alone spend time in Tahiti island, there was no further drama in picking up our car.
After all the CDW plus a car with working A/C, our rental ended up with something like a ridiculous $160 USD (according to my off-the-top-of-my-head calculations) per day rate. Had we gone with an automatic car, it would’ve costed another $100 USD on top of that! Needless to say we stuck with manual, but after my personal stick shift car died this year and that it seemed stick shifts are no longer commonly sold in the US these days (unless it was one of those sporty rice boy cars), I was kind of happy to be re-acquainted with driving a stick shift anyways.
It wasn’t until around 7:15am or so that we finally left the airport with the rental car after getting the car seat installed and all our luggage into the car. The A/C from the car was weak, but it did work, and it felt like such a relief as we were all a bit of a sweaty mess thanks to the humidity.
After getting lost a little bit (plus feeling a bit naked without a GPS navigation scheme this time) and finding a Banque de Polynesie to exchange some cash for polynesian francs (now with an exchange rate on the order of 88 CFPs to 1 USD instead of around 100 CFPs to 1 USD ten years ago), we eventually made it to the Manava Suite at 8:10am. We were fortunate that they let us check-in early so that eliminated one source of concern – that we would have to carry around our bags until the official check-in time of 2pm.
While we were waiting to check-in and while letting Tahia roam around the lobby for a bit, I was talking with a polynesian lady who said she ran tours of the island. As usual, Tahia was the conversation starter as she was happily getting her hands in places she shouldn’t and then opened up the door to sucking her thumb or fingers after having done so (this time it was the fountain in the middle of the lobby).
When I mentioned that I was planning on visiting Fautaua Valley from Bain Loti, she mentioned that that place wasn’t what it used to be (an ominous sign). Instead, she recommended Tefaarumai, which we had done 10 years ago though we only saw one of the three waterfalls. At least, she assured me that I didn’t need to pay for permission to hike to Fautaua Valley, which was also another logistic issue weighing on my mind prior to the hike.
So with the check-in business out of the way, we spent the next 90 minutes getting settled and discovering how weak the room A/C was. Plus, the refrigerator didn’t seem to work, and that posed a bit of a concern to us as we knew we had to keep Tahia’s milk refrigerated once it was opened up. Meanwhile, little Tahia was quite a handful as she frequently messed with the microwave, climbed on the bed to try to unscrew the lights, and even made it difficult for us to try to feed her milk (as she would spit it out after sucking on the straw).
Nonetheless, there was more business to tend to (like grocery shopping), so at 9:40am we left the Manava Suite and about 20 minutes later (getting a little lost again), we went to a large Carrefour (something we learned to look for while touring in France back in May) and proceeded to start doing our shopping. We didn’t have any coins so we couldn’t put down 100 CFPs to grab one of those shopping carts, and we proceeded to walk in carrying Tahia thinking we probably weren’t going to buy that much water, milk, and other foods.
Suddenly when we were inside the store, a lady said to me, “Monsieur…” and before I could even get in a word, she gave me a shopping cart that she was done using. I made a surprised “Merci…” reply, and with that she was already off.
One of the main reasons why I asked Julie to spend more time in Tahiti island this time around (besides seeing more waterfalls) was to get a better feel for how the locals lived and to get a glimpse of the real modern-day Tahiti. And it’s generous acts like these in our direction that really stick with you.
Anyways, we spent the next 90 minutes or so stressing out a little about trying to find enough milk so Tahia could get her calcium needs plus weighing that against the weight and volume restrictions of inter-island flights since we’d be hopping to Moorea and Bora Bora later on in this trip. Plus, time was starting to work against me as I knew that hiking in the afternoon (for Fautaua Valley; seeing how the weather seemed to be quite nice today) would increase the likelihood of afternoon thunderstorms and flash floods. I knew how fickle island weather could be and I didn’t want to let an opportunity like today slip by.
Eventually after spending a long time shopping, then having a lunch at a couple of the food stands here (with some 540 CFP for 1.5 baguettes and a rip-off 1690 CFP for a plate of duck and rice), we returned to the Manava Suite at 11:50am. I dropped off both Julie and Tahia as well as the groceries, and then I was off on my own to do the Fautaua Valley hike at 12pm.
As anticipated, the traffic was a bit horrendous on the way to Bain Loti (Loti’s Bath – near the trailhead for Fautaua Valley) as Papeete Centre, was jammed as I inched my way along Boulevard Pomare (along the waterfront) and then hanging a right at the large roundabout at Avenue du Prince Hinoi. I suspected that this particular roundabout was the source of Central Papeete’s traffic jams as it also caused many locals to find alternate routes thereby clogging all the side streets as well.
The whole time I was driving, I was not sure which street I was supposed to turn right on to get to Bain Loti. So as I was studying the map in the Moon book during the traffic jam, I could see that getting onto Ave du Prince Hinoi was one part of the puzzle, but the next street I was to pay attention to was Cours de L’Union Sacree.
Fortunately, the turnoff for that street was at a traffic light so I had time to study the sign, which was hard to read, especially when moving. Anyways, that got me up the road out the backside of Papeete and up into the mountains backing the city. The road was pretty much either 30km/h or 50km/h the whole way with heaps of large speed bumps en route. It wasn’t until I saw the statue of Pierre Loti by a car park at 12:45pm, but I wasn’t sure if this was where I was supposed to park or not.
With a lot of polynesians hanging out here (and some blaring loud music with base), I approached one of the intimidating-looking guys to ask if I was at the right place. All that fear and wariness went away when I tried speaking French to the guy and he told me in limited English that I should keep going up the road as there was some signage telling me where to start the hike.
So I thanked him and did just that. After crossing through an open gate with intercom (it looked like I was entering some company property called Polynesie des Eaux or something like that; I think it meant Polynesian Waters or Polynesia of the Waters), I went up a pretty beat up road into a large area full of parked cars plus some discouraging “interdit” (forbidden? restricted?) signs.
I wondered if I was allowed to park here and start the hike so after I walked around looking for someone to talk to, one guy told me to park closer to the trailhead (so as to not take any of the employee spots perhaps) and I guess that was my “permission” to go do the hike? I had read you’re supposed to seek permission with the landowners here, but it wasn’t at all obvious how that was supposed to work.
At first, I noticed some obvious foot trails that seemed to weave through the jungle between the Fautaua River and the 4×4 road I was on. Not sure which trail I was supposed to take, I went ahead and walked on the trail, which was not at all signed though they did have some red-white ribbons to help direct the walking. But after a few minutes of sweating profusely and walking through this maze of false trails and hidden waterfalls, I eventually got to some kind of hydro infrastructure flanking the rushing Fautaua River with what seemed to be a dead-end as far as the foot trail was concerned.
At that point, I backtracked to where I saw the foot trail rejoin the main road and then I followed that main road for what seemed like a very long time (it was already some 45 minutes or so on the trail by this time).
It felt strange hiking on the road as there were frequent areas where signs encouraged you to keep going due to mudslide or rockfall danger. And during this whole time, I still wasn’t sure if I was going the right way or not. So that made the hike seem even longer.
I also noticed there were some structures where I was pretty sure they were hydro related. Judging by the noise that was made in these buildings, I’d imagine there was a lot of water rushing through there. And judging from the graffiti plastering these buildings, I’d imagine they were also targets for practicing ones urban artistry with spraypaint as the brush.
Eventually, I met up with some local Polynesian young dudes chilling out in a group next to the trail. There had to be at least a dozen of them and it was a bit intimidating as I could easily envision getting mugged or something and no one would know about it.
I used this opportunity to ask them, “La cascade, c’est loin d’ici?” (is the falls far from here?) The guys said that it was another 5km away (10km round trip), which seemed to be contrary to the four-hour round trip hike that I thought I had read about in the Moon book or other literature. I also recalled someone saying this hike was “easy.” So I was a bit discouraged at this point.
One of the guys took the initiative to approach me and speak more to me (in French) so at first I couldn’t totally understand what he was saying, but he walked alongside with me and offered to pick out something in the bush for me. I kept thinking to myself that I also had to keep going to finish the hike and not keep Julie and Tahia waiting back at the hotel, and I was not quite sure if what he was doing had something to do with the joint he had in his hand and then carried in his mouth.
After a few minutes of him rummaging bearfoot in the bush, he showed me a handful of what appeared to be wild raspberries. I asked him “Qu’est-que c’est?” (what is it?), and he told me “framboises”.
Eventually I finally recalled that that was the word for raspberries, and then I proceeded to let him have the first raspberry (not sure if he was playing some kind of joke that might get me sick). I told him in French that I was afraid to take one, but after he gladly took one, I then took three.
At that point, my guard was down and I appreciated his act of generosity showing me some of the local edibles growing in the wild and letting me try it. I guess I should know better since the locals here would know best what’s poisonous and what’s edible. It was a moment that let me appreciate how nothing beats the greatest teacher of all no matter which circumstance you’re in – experience!
Anyways, I was then all alone on my hike again. Now with an understanding that perhaps this chase for the Fautaua Waterfall might turn out to be a failure given how late it was getting in the day and how much further I had to hike.
Eventually, I reached what appeared to be the end of the 4×4 road. There was a bridge that crossed the Fautaua River and looked to continue up the mountain. From my pre-trip readings, I assumed that that must be the path to the Fachoda Fort at the top of the falls.
The trail got rougher and required more scrambling along the river’s banks, which also conspired to make me want to abort today’s hike. I could totally see this part of the hike getting flooded and impassable if the river levels rose due to flash flood or just heavy rains in general.
Unfortunately, it looked ridiculously fast and deep (it looked at least waist to chest high). Plus, I felt some rain through the thick jungle canopy and I knew that there was no way I was going to take a chance and cross this river knowing that there would be more of them further up the stream!
So to salvage this hike from jaws of defeat, I decided to go back and cross that bridge over Fautaua River, then go up the grueling ascent on slippery exposed roots and mud up towards what I believed was the Fachoda Fort.
Now instincts told me that views of waterfalls from the top were usually poor, but now that I had nothing to lose (other than worrying about getting locked in at the gate for being out too long), I just kept going to see if fortune might smile upon me before I turn back.
Indeed, the ascent wasn’t easy. It was relentlessly uphill and my heart was beating pretty hard (much like Les Stroud’s near-death experience going down a mountain in Norway). Some progress on the trail involved crawling under some fallen trees and finding ways to go up and over others.
I didn’t realize it at the time but I was a pretty disgusting and smelly mess as I’m sure I reeked of BO plus there was mud on my Keens (and hence my feet and toenails) and my pack seemed to have picked up some of the mud and other squishy things growing on the undersides of trees I had to crawl under.
And just when I was the most discouraged, I finally saw there was a slight opening just past a switchback (fortunately the trails remained mostly obvious throughout), and there it was! La Cascade de Fautaua or Fachoda, or whatever you want to call it.
The view was through an opening in the jungle canopy where I could see some sharp peaks silhouetted against the scene with a very tall plunge of the waterfall disappearing below into the thick jungle bush below. The falls looked like it went on forever, but I could see from the spreading of the spray below in the foliage that the base of the falls was definitely down there (though it couldn’t be communicated well with photos). I didn’t know how tall this waterfall was (I’d later find out from a brochure it was 443ft tall), but those height figures of 1200ft or whatever that was reported in the literature might be gross exaggerations.
I didn’t have measuring equipment (I never have so far) so I couldn’t say for sure how tall this one was, but it looked a lot taller than 100m but I had doubts about whether it was 300m tall.
I spent a few minutes here taking what photos and movies that I could (letting mosquitos take pot shots at me in the process), and I managed to get a second wind to continue on the trail to see if the views would improve or if I would finally see remnants of the Fachoda Fort, which was said to be a strategic lookout post during war times.
Given how hard this hike was, it made me realize just how hardy or adept military folks could be and that it’s definitely something to respect.
However, when I saw that the views of the falls got progressively worse, and I still wasn’t sure if the fort itself was worth continuing on for, I finally turned back (near some wires to hold onto to keep from slipping into the dropoffs below). I’m sure I might regret not seeing the fort and the view from the top of the falls, but at this point, I wanted to go back to the Manava Suite and rejoin Julie and Tahia.
The way back was a slippery affair as I now had to descend the same steep trail I took on the way up. I slipped a couple of times, but fortunately nothing was hurt. However, I knew my arthritic knees would remind me that I was no spring chicken anymore.
After crossing the bridge and returning to the main 4×4 road, I was now on the fast track back to the trailhead. Along the way, I saw the same group of polynesian guys doing work, and they were curious to see whether I made it to the falls or not. I showed them the photos on my camera and told me (and each other) and I made it to the “belle vue.” I told them that I was turned back by the high water (since I told them initially that I was taking the lower approach) but I didn’t make it all the way to the top of the falls.
And with that, I let them resume their work while we exchanged handshakes and thumbs up gestures. I told them “merci” then “maruru” for their help. The hike on the 4×4 road went a lot faster than on the way up (probably because I now had confidence in my steps since I knew the way now), and I was relieved to hear loud blaring music as I approached the trailhead again. There were some locals here playing some kind of ball toss game so I went around them so as to not mess up their game.
It was now time to face the Papeete traffic again as I headed back to the Manava Suite. I thought I might make a quick detour to the visitor center, but it was closed. So anyways, I eventually made it back to our suite at 5:10pm and rejoined the ladies of my life.
I knew I was a disgusting mess, and I could tell from Julie’s reaction that I badly needed a shower.
We then spent the next hour or so getting cleaned up, trying to get Tahia to drink her full cream milk (it was New Zealand milk so we had confidence that it was grass-fed and organic), and letting the staff know about our non-working refrigerator. I used this time to also check out a waterfall that we had just noticed in a gulch that we could see out the back of our hotel room. And when all was said and done, we then headed out to the waterfront in downtown Papeete (Tahua Vaiete, I believe it was called) for some more reasonably priced food and atmosphere.
The biggest stress of going back into town was finding parking. After some 15 minutes of fighting traffic, driving alleyways, and making U-turns, we got lucky finding a spot on a sidewalk between two cars. Julie had to help me a little with the parallel parking, but the bottom line was that it was 7:20pm when we finally stopped the car and could walk.
We had to cross the busy Boulevard Pomare twice at the roundabout before finally getting to the roulottes. Roulottes were roach coaches like those gourmet trucks that seem to be all the rage back home though roulottes have been around for quite some time, but I knew that these roulottes were around 10 years ago when we were last here together, and that they provided a pretty economical way to enjoy local food without the exhorbitant prices found at restaurants or especially the resorts.
We could see right away that there were a couple of cruise ships docked at the port here, and so that meant there was probably going to be a bit of a crowd at the roulottes. Julie, being the Tahiti travel agent, identified one of those cruise ships as the Paul Gaugin, which looked much smaller than the Holland America cruise we took last year in Alaska.
Anyways, we followed the rule of going with the most crowded roulottes, and we ended up with the delicate affair of trying to eat while making sure Tahia doesn’t hurt herself falling over the stools or somehow putting our food on the floor. We ended up with some reasonably priced (especially in comparison to that duck and rice plate we had earlier in the day) poisson cru in coconut milk plus some steak and rice. Tahia was pretty much eating what we were eating on this trip so this was her first introduction to a steak (none of the raw fish though).
We then took a trip back down memory lane from our France trip back in May this year by having ourselves some northern France apple cider (the bottle said it was from Normandy) with a delicious crepe filled with grand marnier topped with Tahitian vanilla ice cream. Yum!
We could see that Tahia was getting tired by the end of it all and so were we. It had been a very busy first day (especially considering we had just arrived here by plane), and when we returned to our room at 9:10pm, all we could do was crash.
Day 2: CIRCLING TAHITI NUI
I awoke at 5am probably due to the 2-hour time difference between LA and Tahiti (we’re in the same time zone as Hawaii). While both Tahia and Julie were asleep, I used the time to compose the travel entry from yesterday. They eventually woke up at 6:15am.
We all took our time getting ready as we slowly drifted into Tahiti time. It wasn’t until 7:45am that we had breakfast, and as we took our time feeding Tahia the American-style brekkie, we’d eventually leave the Manava Suite at 9:05am, which was far later than I would’ve liked.
I noticed that as the morning wore on, the number of clouds increased. The morning started off with some sun, but by the time we left the hotel, it was now really threatening rain.
Julie mentioned that we should change money again as we realized that we were already running out of cash. So we went next door to the Banque de Polynesie, but we saw immediately that the line was very long! Still, the bank wouldn’t be open on Sunday (tomorrow) plus the bank was closed at 11:00am today. Thus, Julie patiently waited in the long line while I tried to keep Tahia occupied in the car (still running with the A/C on). And during that time, it started to pour on and off. Indeed, the Wet Season was being true to its reputation – wet!
It wasn’t until 9:55am that Julie finally returned to the car, but seeing how wet it became, she had us go back to the Manava Suite to get an umbrella and Tahia’s parka. And only after that did we finally start leaving towards Papeete.
Julie then had to pick up some maps from the visitor center on the waterfront in Papeete. I illegally parked and stayed in the car with Tahia seeing how chaotic parking always was in the city center. And it wasn’t until 10:30am that Julie returned to the car and that we were finally off to see the rest of the island.
The ultra late start to the day (despite our desires to be on island time) kind forced our hand and punt our intentions to visit the less-visited Tahiti Iti tomorrow. In the mean time, we were intending to see the major waterfalls that we could reasonably access on our own in Tahiti Nui today.
So after taking a bit of time to fight the traffic and get out of the city (being careful to follow the slower cars and not get caught in the speed traps where we saw a group of non-Polynesian-looking cops in a group of four looking at the cars go by), it wasn’t until about 11:05am when we were finally out of the chaos and into the countryside.
During the drive, a good deal of the scene seemed familiar to us. It was like going back to the days when we took the bus ourselves and looked out the window seeing the Pacific Ocean along the northeast coast. We even saw a pretty busy mart on the inland side of the road that I recalled our guide stopped momentarily to pick up some liquids during the 4×4 tour through Papenoo. Indeed, it was like a trip down memory lane.
We made one stop to try to take in the scene of locals surfing while cars whizzed on by the main road (something we couldn’t do while riding the bus). The presence of clouds definitely muted the turquoise colors of the reefs surrounding the island so we didn’t linger for too long.
Afterwards, we continued the drive and then passed through a rather unfamiliar-looking tunnel. I didn’t recall that tunnel being there from our 2002 trip and it turned out that it bypassed a hairpin turn over the Arahoho Blowhole where the bus dropped us off the last time. Now, after leaving the tunnel, the little car park for the blowhole was hidden just to the left of the tunnel and there was no way to access it the direction we were going and we’d have to U-turn at some point.
Since the blowhole wasn’t a priority on today’s excursions, we continued driving and then encountered large signs indicating “Les Trois Cascades.” We knew that that meant we were approaching the familiar Faarumai Waterfalls, and just before the turnoff to our right leading into the small valley, we saw a pretty view of the top part of one of the large waterfalls from the main road. I didn’t recall last time this view of the falls from this far away, but then again, maybe we didn’t know to look or maybe less land was cleared by the main road back then (so it was harder to see).
In any case, we proceeded to drive the 1.3km inland towards the car park for Les Trois Cascades de Tefaarumai. En route, we noticed that we could see a second tall waterfall that definitely wasn’t the main one (thought it was hard to photo while moving in the car). Could it be the Haamaremare Iti or Haamaremare Rahi (the falls that I missed the last time around)?
By about 11:20am, we made it to the familiar car park. There were a handful of cars already here and the car park seemed a bit bigger than I recalled ten years ago. There was even a mini-shelter where the roof was standing on a pair of large tree trunks.
After getting out of the car, putting on the bug repellant (seeing there were plenty of mozzies), getting Tahia onto Julie’s ergo, and finally embarking on the familiar short walk to the base of Vaimahutu Falls (the first and largest of the three waterfalls), I was a bit disappointed at seeing the red-white ribbons blocking access to the other 2 of the 3 waterfalls just like last time.
This time, I was determined to see them since it was such a short path. There was no way I was going to wait ten years and be denied another shot at seeing these falls. Who knows when I’d be back? So I kept a mental note to come back here when Julie and Tahia got back to the car so they can chill in relative comfort in the A/C of the car.
At the Vaimahutu Falls, we saw there were some locals filming. They had some fancy camera equipment and there was at least one attractive-looking polynesian lady who was the film subject. I wasn’t sure if this was for a magazine, commercial, or billboard, but we let them go about their work and didn’t ask.
As for the falls itself, it was definitely much more swollen this time than the thin twisting waterfall we encounted back in September 2002. Some of the light mist was drifting in our direction so I had to wipe the lens a few times while also trying to wipe off the fog on the lens a few more times due to the condensation from the humidity.
The lighting on the falls vacillated between bright and intense sun and muted brightness from the everpresent clouds. At last we were finally able to re-photograph the falls plus take movies. We noticed there were now a handful more smaller strands of cascades flanking the main waterfall which was also something we didn’t recall seeing the last time.
For a short period of time, Julie and Tahia posed for photos in front of the cascade though it was always a challenge to get Tahia to look at the camera as I snapped away. I don’t think any of the photos turned out very well, but at least we now have a personal pictoral record of this place and time where we were together as a family in one of the most exotic places on earth.
It didn’t take us long to check out this falls and then leave as we saw a lot more people coming to the falls. We even heard some American voices, which was an indication that we weren’t the only Americans willing to do the self-drive through the mean streets of Papeete and out to this part of the island.
Anyways, Julie and Tahia headed straight back to the car as planned. Meanwhile, I did my planned act of defiance and ducked the tape to immediately go briefly uphill onto the walk to the other two waterfalls.
I was at least determined to see where I should be turning back, but as I proceeded further along the somewhat longer path along the alternate stream responsible for the two waterfalls, the more I became aware that it seemed like this trail didn’t really need to be closed (at least my confidence in that assessment grew with each step I took).
Eventually after another 10 minutes or so, I arrived near a footbridge fronting the first of the remaining two waterfalls, which was a very tall cascading waterfall tumbling at an angle as it reached a shallow pool at its base. Meanwhile, I could see part of the other waterfall though it was partially blocked by a lot of foliage so it was hard to photograph well in one shot. The falls were also tumbling at angles away from each other so a very wide angle lens would need to be used so both falls wouldn’t prematurely disappear from the field of view of the camera.
So despite my unsuccessful attempts at capturing the two falls in one shot, I then focused on the immediate falls at hand (trying to use the bridge to steady the camera as a pseudo tripod (which I forgot to bring today), and then I continued walking towards the last of the three waterfalls.
I wasn’t sure which of the two waterfalls was which. Was the first one Haamaremare Iti and the last one Haamaremare Rahi? Or was it the other way around? The first one looked taller but more slender while the last one seemed shorter but much thicker.
When I was finally able to see the entirety of the gushing third falls, I saw that the last bridge was unfinished. Apparently, this was the only reason why the trail was closed and I swore that it probably wasn’t at all necessary to close the trail unless there was more of a rockfall danger at the base of this falls (where it seemed like there was a very inviting swimming hole underneath the vertical cliffs closing in the cove).
The planks laying beside the bridge looked like they were new so I’d imagine that over the ten years between visits, this bridge must’ve been finished then frequently washed away. I found it hard to believe they’d leave it unfinished for a decade (as stuff would’ve surely grown on the wood).
Seeing that I didn’t have the best tightrope walking skills, I decided to go under the bridge and wade across the stream, which was about thigh deep. When I was finally on the other side (hoping the green foliage here wasn’t poison ivy or poison oak), I then took my time taking photos and movies of this pretty cool shorter but impressive vertical waterfall though the swarms of gnats (I hoped they weren’t sandflies) conspired to make me leave sooner rather than later.
The falls looked like it was around 30m tall or shorter though I couldn’t tell if there were more tiers further upstream unseen from down here due to the twisting nature of the stream up above. I began to wonder if both of these waterfalls came from the same stream before they segmented and became two paralleling streams that would later reconvene a short distance downstream of the two bridges here. I suppose if that was the case, it would make sense since I believed these falls would be fed by the same alternate waterfall we noticed from the road just before we got to the car park.
I was eventually joined by another couple who crossed the unbridged stream, and that was my cue to leave so they could enjoy it. They looked like a sunburnt older Caucasian couple and I couldn’t tell if they were European visitors or if they were local.
Anyways, after making one last attempt at taking long exposure shots of Haamaremare Iti from the functioning bridge, I finally headed back to the car where Julie was struggling to get Tahia’s diaper changed and to feed her milk from within the confines of the rental car.
We left the car park at 12:45pm (after the 10-minute struggle to get Tahia what she needed against her own spontaneous wishes). Five minutes later, we made a brief stop at the car park for the Arahoho Blowhole where locals were at the black sand beach here boogie boarding while a handful of others walked on the old familiar road to get to the overlook which looked a little more built-up. At least this time, the blowhole was signposted (unlike last time).
Meanwhile, I also briefly walked along the main road where I checked out the tunnel (a sign here said it was finished in 2011, which would explain why it wasn’t there before), and I also took a few shots of the main Faarumai Waterfall, which I wasn’t able to stop and take earlier.
When I returned to the car, some local was blaring music from his car stereo in which it happened to be Gangnam Style. I guess this instance of K-pop (Korean Pop) really was an international phenomenon because even in rural Tahiti, it caught on!
Finally, we continued on our circle island tour of Tahiti Nui. Now that we continued east then south of the Faarumai Waterfalls, Julie and I realized that we were in unchartered territory as far as we were concerned. Everything from here on out would be new to us.
At about 1:25pm, we stopped on the far side of a bridge over the Faatautia Stream between the PK41 and PK42 markers. The Moon book we carried with us said there was a view of Vaiharuru Falls (not to be confused with the falls of the same name in Papenoo Valley), and as we looked over the homes towards the mountain, we could see there was a pretty big falls where part of its top as well as large chunk of its main drop could be seen.
The view of the falls was actually probably best seen over someone’s driveway but regardless of whether it was from there or the road bridge, there was always foliage blocking the bottommost section of the falls from my line of sight. So I took my obligatory photos and movies and then continued on. There didn’t seem to be an obvious way to get closer to this waterfall but then again I didn’t think with Tahia in tow, there wasn’t a real incentive to go on a spontaneous adventure anyways.
As we continued driving clockwise along the main road, Julie was getting hungry and Tahia was getting increasingly fussy. Since we were approaching Taravao, the hope was that we might find something decent to eat over there for lunch, but we were also aware of the short lunch hours where everyone tended to close at 2pm, which we experienced in France earlier this year.
After a futile attempt at finding this place called Restaurant L’Escale (turned out that a lady at the Total gas station here said it no longer existed), we were given recommendations to try a couple of other places in town though we might be unsuccessful due to the narrow lunch window we had just missed out on. So after finding the two recommended restaurants (Taumatai and Chez Loula & Remi) and being turned away at the latter, we ended up eating at this place called Snack Hibiscus which was basically for a baguette filled with chicken and BBQ sauce at 2:10pm.
Julie and I thought that maybe we might be able to try one of the restaurants here tomorrow when we don’t anticipate the very late start we suffered from today. However, the thought did cross my mind that it would also be Sunday when most local businesses would close.
Anyways, Tahia reluctantly ate her pieces of chicken and baguette while Julie and I quickly chowed down what we could at the same time. The ice cold drinks here were refreshing against the humidity of Tahiti’s Wet Season, and so this was the much needed break before recharging and heading back towards Punaauia where the Manava Suite was.
At 3pm, we finally left Taravao and headed towards the southern and western coast of Tahiti Nui. About 15 minutes later (after passing the Paul Gaugin Museum turnoff), we saw the car park and signpost for the Vaipahi Garden.
While Julie and Tahia stayed in the car (to honor Tahia’s much needed afternoon siesta), I went out solo and entered the free admission garden. After a few minutes of walking, I saw the main waterfall where I recalled a photo on the web where one of the Beattles had posed while visiting this garden.
The falls was a pretty attractive classic jungle waterfall that was some 15m or shorter (the upper tiers if they existed were unseen) flanked by hanging vines and some apparently introduced species of flowers and plants growing alongside the stream. It was the type of waterfall that invited long exposure photographs though I didn’t have my tripod with me (doh!).
After having my fill of the Vaipahi Falls, I went back to an intersection where a sign indicated a start to a much longer walk up the mountain. The signs here indicated that there was a second waterfall, and after I noticed a guide explaining stuff to an English-speaking couple, I asked the guide how far away the other waterfall was.
He indicated that it was another half-hour up the mountain each way (one hour round trip) and that was something I couldn’t do since Tahia and Julie were waiting in the car. Maybe I’ll try this tomorrow time permitting though I was unsure whether that second waterfall would be worth it.
Nonetheless, I was back at the car at 3:45pm. Tahia was still napping, which was a good thing. Now, it was time to head back to town in the hopes of having an earlier dinner to end off the day.
It wasn’t until 4:35pm when we finally returned to the Manava Suite. Somehow I missed the familiar turnoff for Vaihiria Valley (though I wasn’t going to drive that road anyways). That was the outlet of the 4×4 tour through Papenoo Valley, which we did 10 years ago on the last day of our initial tour to Paradise. At least, it was interesting seeing this part of the island with some more obscure hidden waterfalls tumbling down the mountain as well as busy beaches en route full of locals. Clearly the locals were out in the countryside on the weekends.
After TripAdvisoring to see what restaurant to do today, we finally settled on this place called L’o a la Bouche. We managed to secure 7pm reservations since they didn’t open until then (which was kind of late for Tahia), and so the plan was to check this place out and then Les 3 Brasseurs tomorrow since we knew they’d be open tomorrow.
Since we stressed out a bit about parking, we actually gave ourselves an early start to drive back into town while looking for parking. After a frustrating time circling the same blocks over and over again, we finally figured out that this restaurant was hidden away in some small alleyway and we managed to find free parking (free on the weekends thanks to a lady who stopped me from putting money in the P machine) nearby it at 6:20pm.
So we killed 40 minutes walking around towards the Notre Dame Cathedral before finally getting back into the restaurant when they opened their doors. They didn’t have a high chair in there and it was apparent that it wasn’t a very toddler-friendly place. Little would we realize just how much trouble Tahia would be given the circumstances as it seemed like she was dead tired or somehow not happy about being there.
We were enticed by having the foie gras in Tahitian Vanilla and tuna carpaccio though Julie wasn’t too impressed with them considering the price we were paying. Our mains of honey-glazed duck and some kind of grilled moon fish also didn’t seem to impress us though we wouldn’t get a chance to fully enjoy our meal because Tahia was really starting to fuss and create a scene in the restaurant.
In hindsight, we made a mistake feeding her milk during dinner as she didn’t want to eat anything we gave her. We noticed she was starting to cry in her makeshift seat restraint that we used whenever no high chairs were available, and that was the beginning of the end of our stressful meal.
With all her fussing, we’d eventually had to leave the restaurant early with takeaway boxes. I felt bad about the scene that was created in the restaurant, and now we could see why strangers back home complimented us on how well behaved Tahia would be whenever we took her out eating. This was the very first time she was difficult though in her defense it was way past her bedtime and her usual routine.
At 8:40pm, we returned to the Manava Suite. Julie and I lamented the overpriced food thinking the roulottes last night were a far better value. Then again, maybe Julie and I got a little too spoiled with fine food over the years and we just happened to hit one that seemed to have made plenty of TripAdvisor reviewers happy, but we thought they were a bit off in this instance.
And with that, we finished our takeaway food in our room, which was also when Tahia finally decided to eat. Afterwards, we had our much needed showers and teeth brushing, and shortly thereafter, Tahia was dead sleep in her mini tent where we could hear her snoring!
Not long after that, Julie and I followed suit and let our exhausted bodies rest at around 10:30pm…
Day 3: LIVING UP TO ITS REPUTATION
When I awoke at 5:20am, it was raining outside. I had a feeling that it wasn’t a good sign if the day started off right off the bat with some downpours. There was something about this rain that I had a feeling wouldn’t be the short tropical types we had come to know and love. Something about this one seemed to be one of those sticky ones where it might rain all day. I certainly hoped that wouldn’t be the case.
After spending a good chunk of the early morning waiting for Julie to get ready while also trying to feed Tahia her milk, we finally went to have breakfast at 8am. It was still raining when we were having our brekkie, and clearly it seemed like today would be a bad day for panoramic views, which we kind of hoped for given today was our last full day on Tahiti Island.
We struggled to get Tahia to eat her breakfast as she would frequently spit out whatever went into her mouth. So we resigned ourselves to just a partial breakfast for her before we finally left the hotel at 9:05am.
With the intermittently rainy morning, we passed through much lighter traffic in downtown Papeete as we drove the now-familiar roads through town following the Mahina signs. The city seemed a lot more dead probably because it was Sunday where it seemed like the whole island was either on rest or attending service.
At about 9:35am, we made a brief detour towards Point Venus. In addition to a pretty little sandbar lagoon or inlet, there was a black sand beach there as well as a small sandy lagoon where I was able to look across a strait towards a heavily-cloud-covered Moorea as well as parts of Papeete.
Ten minutes later, we left and decided to continue on towards Taravao. This time, we tried to head straight for Tahiti Iti, which we didn’t have time to do yesterday. However, Tahia was fussing in the car until Julie managed to reel in her short attention span with some small puzzles and the iPad we decided to bring along. Eventually, she conked out and slept in the rear-facing baby car seat.
At about 10:45am, we returned to the familiar restaurant from yesterday called Chez Loula & Remy’s. This was a local’s recommendation from that Total gas station who said there were a couple of local favorites specializing in French/Tahitian fusion.
It turned out that this restaurant was open, which surprised us considering how early it was and that it was Sunday. However, their kitchen wasn’t open until 11am. That was ok though because Tahia was still dead tired and she slept with her head resting on our shoulders (we took turns holding her) while we supported her with our arms and chest.
When the kitchen was finally open, we enjoyed a meal consisting of very fresh poisson cru marinated in coconut milk, mahi mahi puff pastry in Tahitian vanilla bean sauce, and some fresh local shrimp in a kind of sweet chili curry or sauce. We both thought it was way better than our L’o a la bouche experience last night and it was way more reasonably priced.
Unfortunately, when Tahia finally woke up from her nap, she was being difficult again. So after Julie and I took turns eating, we had to carry out the leftovers and try to feed her in the car.
At 12pm, we left the restaurant under pouring rain. We headed over to the farthest northeast of Tahiti Iti that we could go. After passing through the village of Pueu, we noticed there were quite a few waterfalls lining the cliffs above some residences all within view of the main road. But under the pouring skies, it was hard to tell if these waterfalls were legitimate or they were merely ephemeral waterfalls aided by a persistent downpour.
At 12:30pm, we eventually made it to a beach somewhere near the town of Tautira where we looked back at the waterfalls spilling behind Pueu Village as well as some sharp peaks looking mysterious against the dark cloudy skies draping over Vaitepiha Valley. It was a shame that the weather was so foul because Tahiti Nui would’ve also been visible from here!
This was our turnaround point and we proceeded to slowly make our way back towards Taravao trying to photograph all those waterfalls we saw en route to get here. We spent some 40 minutes do this, which consisted of trying to find pullouts or shoulders off the road to photograph some of these attractive falls in the pouring rain.
On the way out, I was lured by signs that indicated “Plateau de Taravao” and decided to ascend that short road thinking (incorrectly) that we had to go this way to find the connecting road to Teahupoo, which was where we intended to go next. But eventually after another half-hour of driving on some pretty beat up ascending roads through some pastures with cows grazing on them, we’d get to a shelter that was supposed offer a nice view of the isthmus of Taravao as well as the imposing Tahiti Nui behind it. Unfortunately, the weather was so foul that low clouds pretty much fogged up the scene and this drive amounted to a waste of time.
We didn’t stay up in this plateau for long. At 2:05pm, I filled up gas at Taravao before continuing on towards Teahupoo. It wasn’t until about 2:25pm that we finally arrived at the end of the road at the Plage de Teahupoo. It was here that we saw a handful of locals surfing or boogie boarding in the immediate rocky and black sanded beach. However, we didn’t really see anyone out by the distant barrel breaks at the edge of the reef here.
I had read that surfers here had better know what they’re doing and that you needed a boat to even get out to the reef breaks so perhaps it was this degree of difficulty that kept this place from being overrun with commercialism or tourists and locals alike competing for waves.
Even though there was a bit of mystery to this place as it seemed like it might be worth doing a walk across the bridge to go further east to the Te Pari Cliffs, a sign here said it was private. Plus, the rain wasn’t exactly inviting us to go ahead and do some exploring anyways, especially with Julie and Tahia interested in going back to Papeete.
Next, we started to drive back towards Papeete via the west coast. At about 2:55pm, we made a brief stop for the Paul Gaugin Museum, which Julie was interested in checking out. Meanwhile, I kept company with the napping Tahia.
The rain remained relentless and there was even a fair bit of street flooding on the main road. Given the longevity of this rain, I could see how people say December is the wettest month of the year in French Polynesia (though February is also said to have a valid claim for this title as well).
When Julie returned to the car, she said that the “museum” was a little dilapidated. We had a bit of a laugh when she recounted how one of the employees there noticed how quickly Julie made her visit and asked her, “Is everything ok?”
As we left the Paul Gaugin Museum, we decided to skip the Vaipahi Garden since I had already seen it yesterday. But given the heavy rains, I was lamenting that I took the trouble to bring the tripod today only to be denied because there really wasn’t a whole lot of opportunities to take family photos with it.
The drive under depressing conditions pretty much went uneventfully despite the presence of street flooding and some new potholes being formed as I tried to avoid them. When we returned to Papeete, I noticed the waters at the Taina Marina were red! I knew there was no way this was the reef, and I wondered aloud to Julie whether this was a red tide. Whatever the case was, it made me think twice about letting Tahia go in the water if all this rain and industrial runoff help make the toxic red algae bloom.
At about 4:15pm, we returned to the familiar Carrefour near the Faaa Airport turnout. Julie ran her errands (which was basically getting a more reliable floatie so Tahia would stay afloat without drinking too much lagoon or ocean water).
At 4:40pm, Julie returned to the car though the rain still persisted. About 5 minutes later, we made it back to the Manava Suite. Julie and I were trying to get Tahia’s stuff washed before we headed back out on the town. However at the last minute, Julie decided that we should visit the Intercontinental Hotel which was one place Julie wanted to check out for her work.
We’d eventually head towards the IC at about 6:30pm. When we got onto the IC property, we noticed the large infiniti pool as well as large open area restaurant. We ended up eating at one of the restaurants here, but the food seemed to lack in quality and value considering what we paid.
Once again, Tahia was being difficult during the dinner as she refused to eat whatever we offered her, but when we were about to leave, Tahia finally decided to start eating. Apparently, she didn’t want to be in a high chair anymore nor did she want us feeding her. Instead, she’d rather feed herself.
We’ll see if we stumbled upon something that might work for the rest of this trip. But for now, it appeared that every restaurant we’re going into seemed to bring out the brattiness in her – something that she never exhibited up until this trip.
At about 8:15am we returned to the Manava Suite. Tahia was still in a much better mood and we tended to her hygiene before tending to our own and calling it a day. Outside was still pouring rain and both of us feared that might be just the beginning of consecutive days of downpours, which would thereby ruin our time in both Moorea and Bora Bora (since we’d be leaving for Moorea starting tomorrow). We really hoped that wouldn’t be the case, but given how my fears that today would rain all day came true, it definitely wasn’t a good sign…
Day 4: THE ISLAND THAT REFUSED TO LET US GO
It was 5:30am when Tahia woke everyone up. It had been pouring all last night and it was still pouring when we awoke! This time, the rains were accompanied with lightning and thunder! Indeed, the weather seemed to have gotten worse than yesterday, and we thought yesterday was bad!
So by 6:15am, we were packing for the anticipated flight to Moorea. Tahia was making things difficult by running around the suite causing trouble as usual so progress was intermittent and slow mostly because we were constantly interrupted and distracted from whatever task we had set our mind to only to be disrupted by Tahia’s antics. When we learned that her mindset was on drawing scribbles on the free memo pads given by the hotel, we figured out that just letting her doodle with the provided pencil on those pads seemed to have calmed her down momentarily.
The last three days, Tahia seemed to have been acting up (especially in the restaurants). Julie and I had feared Tahia would be acting up given the unfamiliar routines (or lack thereof) and surroundings that would throw off her sense of security. So I guess this was why we used this Tahiti trip as a test trip to see how Tahia would respond. Even though we were learning new things and adjusting to sudden changes as we went, we could tell that she still wasn’t ready for other types of trips that would’ve involved a bit more activity than this particular one.
So that planned Italy trip next year? Probably out of the question for Tahia until we could trust that she could behave well and show at least some interest in traveling with us.
As we were couped up in our room tending to both Tahia’s needs and the need to pack for today’s travel to Moorea, we noticed that the rain did let up somewhat to show the familiar gulch directly in view from our hotel room. It turned out that not only was there that familiar waterfall we saw each of the last two days, but there was also a new waterfall introduced by the last two days of downpours.
So it wasn’t until about 8:35am when we finally headed down to the included breakfast. It was really pouring rain when we were headed there, and Julie was surprised that the Manava Suite didn’t have at least an awning or some kind of built-in shelter connecting the corridors leading between the rooms and the reception area itself. Instead there was an area of open air which the staff placed a few umbrellas to at least limit the drenchings for the guests trying to get to the reception area and back.
Since last night Julie thought she had lost her organic insect repellant (made of natural ingredients) we did the unthinkable and put some DEET on Tahia to keep her from getting mosquito bites. Meanwhile, we returned to the familiar brekkie room where we had the same stuff except this time they ran out of the Tahitian Vanilla yogurt. But at least Tahia was a little more well-behaved in eating because we figured out to let her control the fork or at least let her think she was in control. Indeed, the terrible 2s were in full effect even though she still wasn’t two yet.
At 9:45am, we were finally done with brekkie and started to load up the car. It was still pouring outside so when I was done getting the car all loaded up, I drove up to the reception area to pick up Julie and Tahia and minimize their walking.
Since we were a little early before our scheduled 1:15pm flight to Moorea, we decided on doing a last minute stop into the mean streets of Papeete again. Not surprisingly, there was traffic. And given the time constraints of the day, we decided to go to the familiar taxi standby spots and parked there illegally at 10:10am.
Initially, I stayed in the car while Julie went out to the Marche in downtown Papeete to see what it was all about. When Julie returned to the car, she told me that it was pretty much like a two-story swap meet. So Julie suggested that I go check it out while she waited in the car with Tahia, and that was what I ended up doing.
The Marche was only a few steps around the corner of where we illegally parked so it didn’t take long for me to find it, check it out, and then return back to the car. I could see what Julie meant when she mentiond to me that it really wasn’t anything special. However, I’m sure it would be something to do on a day like today where the treacherous thunderstorms would limit what could be done.
In any case, there was a lot of various merchanise being sold downstairs (e.g. foods, clothing, trinkets, etc.). Meanwhile, the upstairs area seemed to focus on black pearls.
At 10:30am, I returned to the car and we drove off. We proceeded to head over to the familiar roundabout of Boulevard Pomare V and Avenue du Prince Hinoi. As I signalled left to try to communicate to others that I was making a U-turn at this roundabout from the outermost lane of the concentric circles, apparently the driver next to me on the inner lane of the roundabout ignored it and nearly hit our rental car when we crossed paths.
This was one moment where I kind of anticipated this and fortunately the defensive driving posture we took lessened the chances of a calamitous hiccup right before our scheduled flight.
Once we left the chaotic Papeete streets, we then filled up at a Shell along the way before we were finally back at the Faaa Airport at around 10:50am.
Once again, it was raining but it wasn’t a downpour when we were unloading the car with our baggages. After checking in our bags at 11:15am, we learned from our flight ticket that our flight was delayed by another half-hour to about 1:45pm instead of 1:15pm. So given the flight delay, we had a lot of time to kill so we went upstairs where there was an air-conditioned room in a buffet cafe.
Tahia was dead tired and performed her long overdue morning nap so she was conked out in our arms. Julie and I took turns having our lunch before Tahia managed to wake up and start eating some of the stuff we were eating.
After going through security at 1:25pm, we were waiting for our flight in a boarding area with three gates. It was a far cry from the hike we had to make to get onto an Air Moorea flight from Papeete like we did 10 years ago. And Julie and I were glad this hike didn’t have to be made given the intermittent downpours that persisted on this day.
Anyways, our flight was a little delayed and it wasn’t until about 1:55pm when we were finally seated on the plane. The boarding was a bit of a wet affair though the staff gave us some red tent umbrellas to make the transit easier. By about 2:05pm, the plane took off.
The plane ride was supposed to be only 10 minutes to Moorea, but Julie and I started to notice that the plane kept turning in the same direction and it was well past 10 minutes from departure. We figured the flight was in a holding pattern until it was safe to land.
Our hunch was somewhat confirmed when the PA said that we had to abort the first attempt to descend into the airstrip in Moorea due to unfavorable landing conditions. After the second failed attempt at 2:30pm (in which there was some severe rocking in the plane resulting from the scary turbulence though Tahia seemed to enjoy the ride as indicated by her laughter), the plane started to head back to Papeete. However, even the flight back to Papeete was a non-trivial affair as it took longer than 10 minutes to do this leg as perhaps even landing there was not favorable as well!
At 2:50pm, we finally landed back at the Papeete Airport. The plane was being refueled since it wasted a lot of gas from the two failed landing attempts. We had to deplane and walk through the pouring rain back to the boarding area again, where we’d await further news on what should happen next.
While at the boarding area, we found an empty set of seats next to a couple. We managed to strike a conversation with this couple who hailed from Las Vegas. They relayed to us their flight delay story as they had been waiting since 10am for a flight to Tahaa. Apparently, this flight to Tahaa was supposed to be an alternate location for their honeymoon since their original plan of going to Fiji was cancelled thanks to Cyclone Evan.
I guess if we thought we had it bad, it seemed like this honeymooning couple just couldn’t catch a break!
We also conversed with another honeymooning couple from Seattle who also seemed to have difficulties with the weather starting yesterday on their international flight from LA to Papeete. We traded horror stories of flight delays and times when things didn’t go right as well as sharing itineraries and places we were staying. It really seemed like in times of duress like this, it was easy to engage with other fellow holidaymakers.
Somewhere amidst the chaos going on at the airport, we would later learn that another flight was about to take off for only Raiatea and Bora Bora, but the Moorea part was cancelled. Instead, the airport had us going to the waterfront to take the ferry to Moorea.
When one of the staffers led the Moorea-bound passengers to pick up luggage before being taken by bus to the waterfront, Julie realized that we were missing her black bag full of essentials like Tahia’s stuff as well as our passports and vouchers! So while everyone bound for Moorea was leaving us behind, we had no choice but to try to go back to the boarding area to recover Julie’s bag.
It was a frustrating affair as the security guard insisted on finding it for us. He took his time and at first took the wrong bag. But eventually, he got us the right one but by then, Julie and I tried to run to find the rest of the Moorea-bound group to no avail.
Fortunately, there was the guy from Seattle who we conversed with who beckoned us. And from there, we picked up our wet luggage (wet from the rain) and awaited our turn to get onto the bus bound for the ferry.
There was only space for our two biggest luggage pieces beneath the bus. I actually had to bring the baby car seat onto the passenger seat with me due to the lack of space below. It was a bit of an awkward ride holding this bulky car seat on my lap, but at least we managed to make it to the ferry ok.
Perhaps a sign that things weren’t all that well coordinated between the airport and everyone else was best symbolized when we saw the surprised look on the ferry worker’s face after the airport employee/bus driver told him what was going on. Eventually, after we confirmed that our luggage was going to be joining us to the Moorea-bound ferry, we were to wait another hour or so before the 5:25pm ferry.
After we managed to kill some more time at the ferry, which went by pretty quickly because we had to change Tahia’s diaper then feed her milk as well as some after-lunch food, we finally were aboard the boat named Teravau at 5:20pm. By this time, the weather seemed to start to calm down a bit and perhaps we were finally home free to get to Moorea and resume our suddenly drama-filled trip.
At 5:40pm, just before the ferry was about to enter the choppy strait between Moorea and Tahiti, the ferry started going backwards. Apparently, the news was that there was some kind of issue with the propeller and that we would have to return to the waterfront in Papeete!
We were definitely spending much more time than we wanted to on this island and that we would be spending less time than we wanted to on both Moorea and possibly Bora Bora later in the trip. This was further exacerbated by the foul weather we had been experiencing the last two days at least.
At 5:45pm, the boat stopped going backwards and then started going forwards again. Apparently, it appeared that we were making another attempt at going across the strait to Moorea. And I knew we were committed to finishing the ferry when we left the safety of the reef area and right into the real choppy waters that caused many in the boat to be seasick.
As we got closer to Moorea at 6:05pm, I decided it was time to go outside and take some photos of our approach to Moorea Island. It was a bit windy at the time and the boat was still rocking. But most scary of all was that just before I was about to take photos of several waterfalls I had not seen before on the island of Moorea, my case of a pair of backup memory cards fell to the deck!
Apparently, I forgot to zip up one compartment of the camera bag, and so the memory card case just so happened to escape from that opening. When I saw it on the floor, I immediately picked it up but had a hard time trying to put it back into the bag and then zip up that troublesome compartment.
Fortunately, a fellow passenger saw my troubles and actually came over and tried to shield me against the railings so I wouldn’t be rocking back and forth with the sudden movements of the ferry boat. However, it was only when I engaged in this act of zipping up the troublesome compartment of my camera bag that I learned that the camera’s instruction manual (which was also stored there) was gone as it was probably lost at sea.
Anyways, I did get my shots of Moorea where I could see those ephemeral waterfalls that I never recalled seeing before. I could also see that the weather indeed seemed to be momentarily calmer as we approached the dock at Vaiare.
At 6:15pm, we finally got off the ferry boat and were in the dock area looking for Albert Tours, which was supposed to be shuttling us to our resort on the other side of the island at the Intercontinental Moorea. There were also some other folks waiting for the same tour company to be shuttled to their resort as well.
So after picking up our luggage and making a short hike to the taxi area, we waited patiently for our shuttle.
At 6:40pm when the skies were getting dark and the rain was coming again, we were still waiting for our Albert Tours shuttle. Even though we were assured by other drivers as well as some staffers here that “they’re coming” it sure seemed like nobody got the message. By now, it was Julie, Tahia, and I plus a family of four from Portland as well as another couple waiting in the taxi area and practically no one else in the dock area.
It wasn’t until 7pm when the long awaited Albert Tours van showed up. The driver claimed there was misinformation from Air Tahiti Nui as well as the airport as he was under the impression that the flight never showed up given the info he received. Although the story didn’t seem to add up, I’m sure it would all be water under the bridge once we could resume our trip again starting tomorrow.
It wasn’t until 7:30pm when we finally arrived at the Intercontinental Moorea on the northwest side of the island (we had docked at the eastern side of the island). Even as we arrived at the lobby, it was still raining big time (would it ever end?)!
After some formalities at the lobby regarding vouchers, paperwork, and riding in a go-cart towards our beach bungalow (under pouring rain again), we were finally in our room at 8:05pm. The porter told me that weeklong downpours like this was actually pretty normal in the Wet Season. So even though the circumstances we had to deal with on this turbulent day seemed to scream outlier (especially since we had never had this type of persistent thunderstorms in tropical locations even during Wet Season months like December), I guess it wasn’t all that unusual after all. Maybe it was a bad idea to come to Tahiti in December, we thought?
Julie, Tahia, and I had an overpriced dinner on site in which Tahia once again didn’t really feel like eating until we went back to our beach bungalow. Anyways, in the end, we were finally done for the day as we got settled and tried not to let Tahia break anything here. Both Julie and Tahia were dead asleep by about 10:30pm where no one had time to brush teeth or even shower.
While we were looking forward to Moorea for a break from the chaos of Tahiti Island (more specifically Papeete), the elusive legendary Tahiti holiday would remain that way (elusive) at least until tomorrow. Hopefully, things would improve but with the weather being as stubborn as it was, I wasn’t about to hold my breath for it.
On the bright side, if we had to get more bad weather, I guess tomorrow wouldn’t be such a bad thing because Julie had to do two site visits so there wouldn’t be an opportunity to be going anywhere anyways outside of those site visits!
Day 5: PERILS OF THE WET SEASON
At 5:45am, Tahia once again woke everyone up. Julie was real reluctant to get up since she had slept as late as I did after midnight after yesterday’s drama-filled day thanks to the bad weather.
The morning was spent tending to Tahia’s needs as usual starting with a milk feeding then trying to keep her out of trouble while Julie and I were trying to get ready for the day. Julie had two site visits to do today, and I had resigned myself to pretty much a lost day of sightseeing given that Julie wouldn’t be around at disjoint periods during the day.
I guess to make matters worse (or better depending on how you look at it), the rain still hadn’t left us as there were sudden downpours mixed in with periods of calm. In fact, while we were getting ready, there was a downpour dashing all hopes that maybe the weather might improve before the forecast that tomorrow would be that day.
When we finally went for breakfast at around 8:15am, the weather had calmed down to the point that we could start to see some of the mountains backing the Intercontinel Moorea property as well as noticing that there were more bungalows or villas further up the mountain (Julie had told me those were for Tahiti Legends).
While we were challenging ourselves with feeding Tahia her breakfast (as she’d usually spit back out whatever went in her mouth), the weather did momentarily calm down enough to even show some pockets of blue skies! I believe it was the first time in the last two days that we even glimpsed even a crack at blue skies.
After we were done with breakfast, we then talked with the Avis rep and got a stick shift car rental (as they had run out of automatics, which we fancied that Julie might be able to drive on her own when I would be preoccupied with a hike). Anyways, by about 9:25am, we got our car rental and we were ready to go.
When I returned to the IC Moorea to talk to the Avis person about this, he said the gauge was broken and it was noted in the contract. Something didn’t seem right about that, but I guess I had to roll with this and see to what extent the damage to the gauge would be and figure out whether we’d know how much gas would be in the tank with a broken gauge.
At 9:45am, we showed up at the Hilton Moorea, which was where Julie’s first site visit was supposed to be. We had brought swimming attire and decked Tahia out in a bathing suit as well. We also brought a blow-up tube as well as a life jacket so we’d have one less thing to worry about concerning Tahia sinking in the water.
Tahia was actually pretty tired as she was engaged in her morning nap. So when we found an empty shelter with some reclining lawn chairs and a table on the beach, we put Tahia down on one of those chairs and let her finish her nap. That allowed me some time to just sit back and chill at the scene, which I’m sure would’ve been beautiful if not for the dark menacing skies all around us and the muted colors of the lagoon thanks to the overcast skies.
It was a pretty relaxing morning though I couldn’t wait for Tahia to get up so we could go into the water.
It wasn’t until Julie came by to drop off Tahia’s cooler filled with ice did Tahia finally stir enough to wake up from her nap. It was at that point that I put on Tahia’s life jacket and blow up floatie and went right into the water before us.
The water felt cold at first, which I didn’t expect. I had expected something as warm as lukewarm bathwater, but given the incessant rains, I guess the weather was far cooler and less humid than normal.
Once our bodies more or less adjusted to the water temperature, we were then able to swim around the lagoon for about an hour while Julie was doing her site visit. She even waved to us when she and the Hilton rep accompanying her were walking to the overwater bungalows behind us.
When Julie was finally done with her site visit, she rejoined us just in time for the next downpour to occur. Since I was already wet, I went ahead and walked through the drenching rain to our car rental where we had left our umbrellas.
By 11:45am, we were finally all loaded up in the car and ready to go. The next stop was a lunch at Snack Mahana. It was a place where Julie said had received a lot of positive reviews so now it was our turn to see what it was all about.
By about 12pm, we arrived at the Snack Mahana where there were some more rains coming down on us. Fortunately, we were able to sit indoors next to an open-air window so Tahia could stare out the window and be somewhat occupied. Of course that didn’t last very long as her short attention-span all of the sudden switched into troublemaker mode where she’d refuse to sit in her own chair and would reach over and try to grab our foods as well as trying to grab breakable items.
Needless to say, it was very difficult to eat the lunch with Tahia being the prime distraction. At least we were able to finish all of the main stuff we wanted to eat though we did leave a pretty big chunk of rice.
But lost in all this was how excellent the reasonably-priced food was. We split amongst ourselves a mahi mahi dish, poisson cru au lait de coco (of course), and a shrimp curry dish. All this turned out to be a lot of food without breaking the bank, but the food seemed to be pretty high quality.
After driving off in the rain from the Snack Mahana back towards our hotel, we then detoured to Tahiti Legends, which was the second of Julie’s site visits during this day. It was still raining pretty hard when we arrived at the Legends reception, but I could see from the car that on the opposite end of the lobby was an infinity pool with a gorgeous (under good weather) view of the reefs and bungalows protruding out onto the those reefs at the Intercontinental Moorea.
So I dropped Julie off so she could do her visit while the task of taking care of Tahia alone fell onto me.
About ten minutes later, I was finally back with Tahia at the IC Moorea. It was difficult to carry a bunch of things plus guide Tahia to our room, but under the rain, it made things even that much more stressful. Ultimately, it took at least three back and forth trips, which consumed quite a bit of time.
It wasn’t until about 2:30pm that Tahia and I finally settled in our beach bungalow. However, Tahia was being mischievous and managed to pour out onto the floor the contents of one of the bottled waters we had bought earlier. Fortunately, a good chunk of our belongings didn’t get ruined from the moisture. Unfortunately, Tahia was too busy running around while being oblivious to the mess she caused as she slipped on that wet spot, fell and hit her head on the floor.
Fortunately, everything seemed ok with Tahia’s head though her crying was pretty intense.
Just as I was returning from the third round trip, Julie was there by the beach bungalow. Apparently, her site visit was short and I was relieved that now we both could look after Tahia again.
At about 3pm, I decided to try to seize the moment and go see if I could visit the first of the Afareaitu Waterfalls on my own. And as I was busy driving south then swinging around the base of the island and then going north towards Afareaitu, I had noticed how beat up the roads were. That made for slower than anticipated progress as I swore I had not seen that many potholes 10 years ago.
Just as had finally entered the town of Afareaitu, that was when the rains really started to come down. I managed to spot one of the two major Afareaitu Waterfalls, and I also managed to find the turnoff road just by the Ah Sing Store across from the town church.
The road was a bit bumpy and also had potholes, which kind of made me nervous knowing that I was driving a rental without collision damage waiver. But as I went further along this road past quite a few residences, that rain fell even harder and I was soon finding out that taking photos of this waterfall, which could be seen from several unofficial spots on the main road as well as this inland road, would be a test in patience.
Eventually at 3:50pm, I stopped the car nearby a spot where the road was very muddy and I could’ve risked the car really getting stuck. With rain poncho donned, I proceeded to leave the car and continue walking up the road towards the falls, which was looking enticingly close. Unfortunately, the downpour continued relentlessly and even from this close to the falls, it was still starting to get difficult to even see it as well.
I’d eventually get to a point where after going right at a fork, I was faced with a very fast moving stream crossing across the road. As I was testing whether I could make it past this, I balked when I only took about two or three steps into the stream when I realized that it was already knee deep.
I waited a few minutes to see if this downpour would subside, but it stubbornly got stronger and that stream seemed to rise even more. So I decided at that point to abort this excursion and go back into the car hoping that perhaps the conditions might be more benign tomorrow. Indeed, visiting Tahiti in the Wet Season seemed to be an exercise in either getting lucky with good weather or an exercise in patience to not force things despite Mother Nature doing things on her terms and not on our terms.
And Wet Season perils like the one I was faced with now was certainly a case in point.
At 4:15pm, I was back in the car and eventually made my way back onto the main road.
Despite the downpour, I turned left to head north and tried to scout where the other turnoff was for the Atiraa Waterfall (or what I had previously thought was the Vaioro Falls since it was on the Vaioro Stream).
There would be no way I could see the falls through the very low clouds and thick torrential rains so it merely became an exercise in trying to identify the right road going inland just north of the hospital in town.
By about 4:35pm, I believe I had found that road as it was very rough and seemed to go past a few residences before continuing up a hill. I wasn’t sure what the Moon guidebook said regarding leaving the car at the “stone bridge” but perhaps that author was talking about the bridge on the main road near the Afareaitu sign. If that’s the case, then I wouldn’t mind walking that rough road to get up to the falls in the reported 30 minutes.
Anyways, it was now time to turn back and head back to the west side of the island. The rains just kept falling and the street flooding was increasing as well as conspiring to conceal the many potholes plaguing the roads on this side of the island.
Eventually at 5:20pm, I made it back to the Intercontinental Moorea again. After having filled up gas at the Total en route, I noticed on the gauge that the needle was all the way up to the F. So at that point I suspected that the Avis guy either lied to me or perhaps it was an honest mistake. Either way, that was something that had to be brought up to the guy at that desk. Plus, given the driving conditions, I don’t think Julie would be driving and dodging those potholes so keeping this stick shift car was sufficient. That automatic we were stressing about turned out to be unnecessary.
After feeding Tahia some milk and getting ready for dinner, we headed back out towards this place called Coco d’Ile at 6:50pm. When we got there, some guy asked if I was staying at the Intercontinental Moorea at the correct room we were staying at (somehow he knew the right room number). Before he sensed my hesitation, he then explained that he was the restaurant’s free shuttle service waiting for us. Apparently, somehow Julie’s message that we didn’t need the free shuttle didn’t get through. Julie insisted on us self-driving because we had a baby seat and they didn’t and we didn’t want to take chances with her safety).
The dinner was another reasonably priced affair and the whole family (including Tahia) was full. We had some kind of mahi mahi in sweet and sour sauce with banana, another generous helping of poisson cru, and a margherita pizza (which Tahia seemed to enjoy and momentarily calmed her down).
By about 8:40pm, we were finally back in our room and called it a day. Julie and Tahia had no trouble crashing, and even I had difficulty trying to stay awake to compose this blog entry.
And so ended this day where the perils of the wet season seemed to keep our waterfalling goals going into the trip at bay. Thus, there was a lot riding on the weather for tomorrow (our last full day in Moorea), and this was one instance where we really hoped that the forecast would be correct. After three consecutive days of non-stop thunderstorms complete with lightning and thunder, we were all tired of it, and I sensed even the locals were tired of it too (as stated by the cashier at the Total station earlier in the day who said as such).
Day 6: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED
Once again it was 5:45am when we all awoke at the same time. At first I thought it had to do with our home schedule, but then again, I noticed how early the sun came up and how bright it got at this time. So I reckoned that was the more plausible explanation considering we were now in day 6 of our trip.
At 6:45am when we were trying to feed Tahia her milk, we noticed that she was having a runny nose. We were concerned that she might have caught a cold or something. Not good.
Plus, it was still overcast outside even though the clouds didn’t look as threatening as the last three days. Still, we were wondering if we were ever going to see sun and clear skies to bring out the wonderful colors of the lagoons at any point during this trip.
It was about 7:45am when we returned to the familiar Fare Nui Restaurant for our included breakfast. Shortly after a quick brekkie, I talked with the Avis person (a different guy this time) and explained that I wanted to hang onto our stick shift rental car while also explaining the fuel situation.
At first he said all their rental cars have a fuel gauge indicator issue, but when I told him that I paid 2600 CFP yesterday afternoon when I didn’t even drive all the way around the island, he gave me a look of understanding and altered the contract so that I’d only have to return it with 7/8 tank (even though I started off at 6/8 tank).
I was also being refunded the difference for keeping the stick shift all three days instead of switching to automatic (more expensive) for the last two days. The difference was around 1800 CFP so it wasn’t that much of a savings, but I guess every little bit helped.
While making small talk with the Avis rep, I asked if the downpours of the last three days were typical of Wet Season rains, and he said it had more to do with the cyclone that destroyed some homes in Fiji. I guess that would explain the persistence and intensity of the storms we were experiencing on this trip. Lucky us.
At 8:40am, I kissed both Tahia and Julie good-bye as it was decided that I’d solo the waterfalls of Afareaitu while they chilled out at the resort to play in the water and possibly play with the dolphins.
The drive around the south side of Moorea involved a few stops to try to rekindle memories of ten years ago when Julie and I made the same circle island drive (under much better weather). This time, I had a better camera though the familiar places to take photos like the bay at Maatea weren’t all that great since the water was a bit murky and brown thanks to all the rains we’ve had the last three days.
Meanwhile, a muted sun did show itself through the haze of thin clouds. It was enough for me to notice there was still some attractive turquoise colors of the less developed southern coast of the island. I was even able to see the silhouette of the impressive Tahiti Island as well.
Something that I had noticed but was very different from our last trip to Moorea 10 years ago was the presence of bike lanes. I had recalled that the roads were far narrower then as they were now. So with these bike lanes, I had a pretty easy time finding a shoulder to pull over and take photos on a whim.
Since the scouting trip in the rain from yesterday gave me a pretty good sense of where I needed to go today, I wasted no time heading to the first waterfall where the access road was right behind the Ah Sing Market. The beat up access road between residences definitely wasn’t as bad to dive yesterday since I didn’t have to worry as much about mud and about flooding.
As I made the approach to the falls, I also had noticed that the waterfall I saw yesterday wasn’t gushing nearly as much either. I guess that meant that the flooded flows of yesterday weren’t normal in the least bit and what I was seeing today was probably more indicative of slightly above average flow.
Once I made it past the muddy part that the rental car had no chance of getting past, I started to evaluate whether I was in any position to judge whether the falls’ flow I was seeing would be any bit indicative of what someone else ought to be seeing. After all, I had no way to know given the conditions this time around immediately followed conditions that were so unusual.
Now, I could see through the stream and could see where the shallow parts of the stream crossing was. It was still shin deep in some places, but at least I was able to get through that first stream crossing and go into parts of this hike that I had never done before.
I was still walking along the 4×4 road as it got progressively rougher with the bush closing in even more so than before. There was a second stream crossing between some tiny cascades, which was a little longer though just as deep as that first one.
After that second stream crossing, the path was now the conventional hiking trail. At this point, the trail started climbing, and with the saturation rains as well as fallen trees, this walk was a little more nontrivial than I had hoped. Still, the obstacles only conspired to slow me down slightly. I was pretty determined not to blow this opportunity to see this waterfall as I was so tantalizingly close.
Along the ascent, there was yet another fork in the path. This time, I headed to the right of the fork while taking a mental note to come back and check out the trail on the left to see if it went anywhere.
Eventually, I made it to a third stream crossing just beneath the base of the waterfall. While the falls was quite audible and could be partially seen through the foliage, the thick jungle foliage kept me from seeing the falls in its entirety at this point. After a short distance further uphill from the last stream crossing, I was right at the base of the tall waterfall.
It was hard to get a decent photograph of the falls due to its height and the fact that I was quite close to it. Whenever I got further back on the trail, there was a big tree that was in the line of sight for the most interesting pics of the falls so I had to make do with the limited field of view on the 17mm lens (plus 1.4 multiplier) for the EOS DSLR camera I was using.
When I had my fill of the falls taking both photos and movies, I immediately headed back towards that junction I made a mental note about coming back to explore. So this time, I did take the left path and started climbing uphill on a muddy and slippery path that eventually got into real thick jungle with plenty of overgrowth conspiring to throw me off on the wrong path.
As I saw that the big waterfall was more to my right and that it appeared that the path kept going away from the falls and deeper into the thick jungle bush (parts of the trail seemed very overgrown and seldomly used), I figured this trail must be the one going to Mouaputa (the mountain with the hole at its top) and so I turned back at this point not bothering to figure out if I might have gone far enough to find a spur path leading to a different view of the falls (since it seemed unlikely at this point in my judgement).
After a few minutes of walking downhill (being careful not to slip and fall on those muddy sections), I returned to the rental car at 10:30am while seeing the mountainous silhouette of Tahiti Island looming in the distance.
Next, I slowly drove back down the access road towards the main road again. I realized that my handheld GPS had run out of batteries so I stopped by the Ah Sing Store at the corner of the access road and the main road to pick up another pair of AA batteries.
Then, I continued north on the main road and went left on the much rougher access road a few driveways north of the town hospital (good thing I did some scouting in the heavy rains of yesterday – there was a white handwritten sign that also helped me to identify it). Then, I proceeded to drive up this road with its very deep ruts and holes for as far as I could take it. I even saw the stone bridge that the Moon book was talking about, but I couldn’t find a good spot to park the car without getting in the way of locals’ traffic here.
So I kept driving until eventually the road got steeper and grassier, but it was also where I saw a shoulder wide enough to pull the car over and stop it at 10:55am. At this point, I couldn’t tell if anything I was doing concerning this particular hike was tolerated or welcome by locals. There was no signage (well, it wasn’t there for the other waterfall as well) and there was even some signs in French that I wasn’t sure about whether I needed permission to do this walk.
Anyways, I got out of the car and proceeded to walk up the 4×4 road past the last of the residences (one of them blaring music). The path became less discernable the further I went as more grass and rocks dominated the path. After the first 5 minutes or so of walking, there was one small opening where I could see the waterfall I was supposed to be going to further up ahead.
This waterfall, which I noticed from the main road, was a bit slenderer than the one I had just seen. I wasn’t sure if this one was the so-called Atiraa Waterfall according to the Moon book. Whatever the case, I started to realize that the waterfall we saw on the half-day 4×4 tour was the one I had just seen earlier this morning. There was no one it could’ve been this one.
In fact, I started to wonder about the accuracy of the Moon guide in this instance in identifying Atiraa Falls considering that this one was way smaller and more obscure than the one I saw earlier this morning. It seemed a bit counterintuitive that this waterfall would have a name while the much larger one would not (or at least not have a label for it on the map for the Moon guide we possessed). I guess we’d have to pick up a more up-to-date guidebook to see which waterfall really is which.
Continuing on the walk, the path gradually climbed as it got closer to the stream responsible for the falls. Eventually, it got to the point where I followed the stream plus a few tiny cascades en route before the path finally made its final ascent to the base of the falls where I could see a small plunge pool at the base of the tall drop of the falls, which I wasn’t able to photograph in one shot given its height and my position so close to it.
There was some mist blown in my direction at the falls so I had to content myself with the fact that it would be difficult to convey in pictures the context of this falls. Perhaps movies was best for to accomplish that in this particular instance.
When I had my fill of this second waterfall (still not certain if it was Atiraa as Moon indicated or not), I then walked back through the thick bush seeing parts of Tahiti Island in the distance en route and to the parked rental car at 11:45am. I had to walk by a couple of locals who were chit chatting and looked at me with suspiscion, but when I said “Ia orana” to them, they gave me polite smiles and gestures before resuming their conversation.
I guess that further made me wonder whether tourists were welcome or merely tolerated in these parts. Perhaps it had the feel of Hawaii all over again except in this instance, mass tourism didn’t really happen in Tahiti given its reputation for being very expensive (which wasn’t that far off from the truth).
Whatever the case, I slowly made my way back down the access road being very careful not to damage the rental car (especially since I didn’t take out the CDW, which made me wonder if it was a wise move in hindsight).
After driving a short distance on the main road while making brief stops for photos, I stopped by the only supermarket in town at the Champion Store at 12pm (also known as Chez Toa back in the day when we were last here). It was just south of the Vaiare Ferry dock. I was on a mission to pick up some more milk for Tahia, but unfortunately, they only had the 1L package and not the small kid-sized ones that worked pretty well for us up to this point.
So the 10-minute grocery store run was over with me picking up the 1L milk carton (meaning we’d definitely have to use the refrigerator in Bora Bora) and then I continued my own solo circle island drive around the island.
Further along the road, it climbed past the Sofitel where there was a Panorama de To’atea. I stopped the car there and was treated to a gorgeous view of the Sofitel Moorea property below as well as the reef lagoon fronting the strait and Tahiti Island in the distance.
It was easily one of the prettiest overlooks on this island, but it was too bad that the skies remained overcast to mute the colors that would’ve really made this spot stand out. Is it ever going to be sunny on this trip?
At this panorama, there was a memorial of those who lost their lives from a plane that went down between Tahiti and Moorea. I immediately thought about the difficulties we were having a few days ago when we hit major turbulence and had to abort the landing attempts and go back to Papeete then to take the ferry across the strait. Julie and I were glad they went the conservative route and they didn’t have to do another one of these memorials for our flight despite the logistical headaches we were faced with as a result.
I continued the drive now west alongside the two bays. I wanted to stop for some more panoramas and picture taking, but the overcast skies as well as the time constraint (given it was getting late for lunch) kept me going.
When I got to the turnoff for the belvedere at the bast of Opunohu Bay, I did make a brief detour to take some photos of the sharp mountain further to the west, which showed just how advanced Moorea’s mountain had eroded. Moreover, it indicated that Moorea was an older island than Tahiti itself.
It wasn’t until about 1:05pm when I finally returned to the Intercontinental Moorea where Julie was still in the beach bungalow while Tahia was asleep for her morning nap, which now seemed to be a much longer nap than she would usually take. Clearly, her sleep schedule was all screwed up at this point.
After hastily getting ready to go out for lunch (knowing that it was getting close to siesta), we arrived at Les Tipaniers at 1:45pm and quickly walked to the beach where they sat at one of the tables overlooking the beach and lagoon. It was a bit stuffy there as hardly any of the tropical breeze filtered into the beach bar plus we were getting mosquito bites in the process.
I found it ironic that I had been hiking in the jungle all morning long which pretty much was mosquito central, but I ended up getting a handful of mosquito bites at a beach in a low-key resort. Go figure.
Our lunch was a quick and reasonably-priced affair consisting of poisson cru, bolognese (which Tahia liked), some salad, and some untoasted baguette (which Tahia also liked). As usual, it was a challenge to feed Tahia and to feed ourselves given Tahia was hardly sitting still (until we got her the bolognese, which seemed to pacify her for a fair portion of the lunch).
At 2:40pm, we left the restaurant. At that point, Julie decided we should just go around Moorea Island and do our own little circle island tour. The skies remained overcast so that was a bummer. But we still had to go around the island and see the sights before we left for Bora Bora tomorrow.
The first stop was the Belvedere. I had to follow some ATV tour up to the Belvedere, but it wasn’t long before we arrived at the familiar lookout of Mt Rotui splitting the twin bays of Opunohu and Cook at 3pm.
Of course the overcast skies muted the color of the scene but at least we could see most of Mt Rotui under the higher clouds. While we were up here, there were some chickens and roosters strutting about, which Tahia seemed to enjoy as she would chase them. Meanwhile, there were also plenty of mosquitoes up here as well. The only thing missing was the ice cream vendor I recalled was selling the goods ten years ago.
I remembered it well because it was the first time Julie and I tasted Tahitian vanilla ice cream and it was so memorable that we still remembered it to this day. But I guess times change and that vendor was nowhere to be found. Speaking of change, I noticed that there were bike lanes flanking the main road around the island, which was something I didn’t recall seeing before back in 2002 as well.
This place was also the first time I got to use the tripod as I tried to take family photos in front of the Belvedere using the camera’s timer. It was always a challenge to get Tahia to look at the camera, but at least the memories of this moment would last us a lifetime regardless of the imperfections of various moments and conditions we had experienced on this trip.
Anyways, we continued with our tour of the island at 3:20pm. At this point, we continued around the tip of Mt Rotui and then around the base of Cook Bay. We saw some large fancy yacht in the bay and wondered if it was the Paul Allen yacht that Rico from Albert Tours mentioned on the day he drove us from the ferry to the IC Moorea.
At 3:55pm, we returned to the Panorama To’atea. This time there were more people here, but it was still just as gloomy and overcast as before. But at least it was another opportunity to use the tripod and try to take family photos of the gorgeous scene before us. It really made me wish that I had photographed this panorama when the weather was good back in 2002, but who knew that the sun was so rare on this trip?
After enduring a few more mosquito bites at this overlook, we made a brief stop somewhere near the Paopao panorama where we took another quick photo across Cook Bay, but the constant cloud cover seemed to have lessened the visual impact of the view of the east-side of Mt Rotui.
Next, Julie was inspired to go back down to the Sofitel Moorea (formerly Sofitel Ia Ora) to both rekindle memories of ten years ago (where we stayed here) plus to do an informal visit to see how it compared to the other resorts she had seen on this trip.
So at 4:15pm, we were at the Sofitel Moorea where we went to the familiar beach and briefly let Tahia play in the calm and warm waters. After briefly checking out the overwater bungalows here, we then returned to the car hire and drove off at around 5pm. We’d spend the rest of the time finishing our circle island tour going around the quieter and less-developed south of the island.
It wasn’t until about 5:45pm when we returned to the IC Moorea. We hastily returned to the room to get cleaned up for our 7pm dinner reservation at Te Honu Iti. It wasn’t until about 6:45pm when we left for the restaurant knowing that it was a bit of a drive to even get there. I guess it was a good thing we hired the car because the restaurant no longer offered free taxis from the hotel to the restaurant.
When we were at the restaurant, the water was a bit murky thanks to all that storm runoff. Thus, the visibility wasn’t good and there were no stingrays like 10 years ago. However, we did see an impressively large eel that was swimming alongside the restaurant much to the delight of Tahia. However, we had to be real careful that she didn’t run off on her own and potentially fall into the bay where she might drown.
The food there was well prepared as expected, but we probably ended up getting the wrong main (going instead with a suggestion of the lady taking our order). At least we loved our appetizers where Julie got a seafood bisque while I had smooth foie gras (knowing it was outlawed back at home).
At 9pm, we were back at our room. There was some kind of performance going on at the rest, which we missed, but the staff was still playing traditional Polynesian music. Meanwhile, the skies were clearing as we could see many stars out in the night sky. I believe it was the very first time we had even seen stars on this trip!
Unfortunately, the skies cleared at a time when it didn’t really matter. I wondered if we were going to see the sun tomorrow or if this was merely a head fake. Such was the nature of this trip as it seemed like the weather did its best to be unkind to us, but I guess that was the risk we took traveling here in the Wet. After all, there was a reason why we managed to secure a trip at a very deep discount. Such deals would be impossible to find in the Dry Season.
And so ended our night. At least it was a day where the weather was calm enough to allow me to finally accomplish my waterfalling mission. Really, the only thing left on this trip was to see the sun and the colorful lagoons. I guess we could stomach not having sun on Moorea Island (tomorrow morning was the last of this island we’d be experiencing), but Bora Bora was where we really hoped for the good weather. I guess we’ll see whether that will be the case or not for the last three full days of this trip…
Day 7: BORA BORA UNDER THE CLOUDS
I took the time in the morning to get all packed and ready to go as well as finish off composing the travel journal from yesterday. By 5:50am, both Tahia and Julie were awake and the short-term morning routine was on (consisting of diaper changes, milk feedings, etc.).
When we were mostly done with our immediate packing needs, it was about 7:45am. At that point, we went to the familiar buffet breakfast and stuffed ourselves silly knowing that we probably wouldn’t be having lunch since we were to fly out to Bora Bora at a little after midday today.
We returned to the room at around 8:45am and continued packing. The sun seemed to tease us with very brief moments of breaking through the cloud cover, but we had to resign ourselves to the fact that we would have spent our entire time in Moorea without seeing its blue-green waters amplified by the sunlight. We were beginning to wonder if the same fate would befall us at Bora Bora as well.
At about 9:40am, I headed out in the rental car with the intent to fill up some gas. I also made a brief stop at the lobby for Tahiti Legends above the Intercontinental Moorea property since they had a pretty nice top down view of our lagoon. But given the lack of sunshine, the colors remained muted.
At about 10:15am, I was back at the resort to return the rental car before rejoining Julie and Tahia. After that errand was done, I took Tahia to the dolphin viewing area where the program didn’t start until nearly 11am (as opposed to the scheduled 10:30am). That basically meant that we would be missing most of the tricks.
In the mean time, I spent a lot of time trying to take photos when the sun barely peeked itself against the constant cloud cover to provide some color to the lagoons. The view from this area was actually quite scenic.
However, I really had to keep an eye on Tahia because the railings here were easily open enough to let Tahia fall into the dolphin area or lagoon. So I held onto her hand tightly the whole time, but all that did was increase her desire to break free and freely run around.
But after having seen how the caretaker addressed only paying participants, it was apparent that this dolphin feeding and tricks was pretty much another way for the hotel to monetize. So I felt we weren’t missing much. However, holding onto Tahia (so she wouldn’t fall into the water) while also taking photos with the lone free hand was not easy. So the lone shot I had of the dolphin doing a backflip was not that great (I had much better ones in Kaikoura, New Zealand).
By about 11:30am, Julie beckoned for us to leave because we had to catch our 11:45am shuttle back to the airport. When all was said and done, we’d eventually make it to the small Moorea aerodrome at 12:20pm. That was when we promptly checked in our bags while also weighed our carry-ons.
At first they were about to make us check-in some of our stuff from the carry-ons, but when they saw that most of the weight from my pack was from the camera and computer, they were ok with me holding on to my bag. As for Julie’s bag, there was a 1.5L bottle of water that we ended up checking in.
And with that bit finished with, we spent the next 90 minutes talking with a couple from Sydney who saw the difficulties we were having traveling with Tahia. They did the same thing years ago and decided to leave their 3-year-old at home.
We ended up talking about all sorts of topics from touring Australia to our jobs to Bora Bora activities to even Triple J Radio. Of course we did all this while battling mosquitoes.
The plane took off at 1:45pm as scheduled. The views out of the plane weren’t great given the cloud cover, but the cloud cover increased as we continued on towards Huahine, where the plane made a stop.
Then, the plane hopped from Huahine to Bora Bora where the flyover views I was hoping for didn’t materialize the way it had 10 years ago when there were gorgeous colors between the picturesque Mt Otemanu and the many motus surrounding the lagoon. This time, there were some clouds blocking parts of Mt Otemanu and we were too low to really get that comprehensive shot like 10 years ago.
When we landed at the airport, it was starting to rain again. I guess no matter where we were to go on this trip, the rain would follow us. I don’t think we had ever had sun and blue skies since the day we arrived in Papeete some six days ago.
The shuttle took us around the north side of Bora Bora’s lagoons. In a way, it was like the old lagoon tour from 10 years ago in that we were seeing the different faces of Mt Otemanu. However, in this case, the weather was worse and we weren’t completely going around the island like before.
Yet I was still tripping out about how this entire motu was only occupied by the Le Meridien Resort 10 years ago. Now, there were four of them! It made me wonder how there would be enough water to supply all those resorts seeing that motus don’t exactly have much freshwater.
We made a brief stop at the Thalasso so that afforded us some time to take photos of the overwater bungalows fronting Mt Otemanu. Plus, the employee moved our bags closer to the cover of the boat as it was previously exposed to the elements, but now there were fewer pieces of luggage occupying the boat.
When the boat took off and headed to Le Moana, I was getting a kick out of some local Polynesians in pirogue kayaks trying to see just how far they can paddle and keep up with the motorboat we were on while utilizing the wakes that were produced. In a way, this bit of messing around (probably because there wasn’t much going on in the island so this would be how they’d pass the time) made me appreciate just how skilled the Polynesians were in the water.
By the time our boat shuttle took us directly to the Intercontinental Le Moana, it was raining pretty hard. When the receptionist greeted us and we were about to do some paperwork, she saw that Tahia hadn’t had her nap nor had she had lunch. So she decided to walk us over to our overwater bungalow and do the check-in over there.
This was the very first time I had ever stayed in an OWB and I had some mixed feelings about it mostly because of the obvious environmental impact they had. Nonetheless, after a rather lengthy walk on the boardwalk in the rain to our bungalow, which was one of the furthest out, I realized that we were given one of the prime bungalows on this property (something Julie said was really for honeymooners).
Anyways, it was 4:15pm when we finally made it to our bungalow and Tahia was having fun looking down at the Tahitian TV, which was a glass coffee table with a view directly down at the water below where we could see reefs and some fish swimming by. Plus, Tahia was also messing with flowers in the room as well as doodling with pencil and scratch pads.
Tahia would eventually have her nap at around 5pm but it sounded like she never really slept despite our best efforts to make the bedroom dark. Plus, we knew we’d have to go back to catch a taxi to Kaina Hut, which was where we were going to have dinner.
Julie wanted to make reservations for Villa Mahana, but that place was booked out weeks or even months before we arrived and wouldn’t be available until well after we left. I guess there was some connection between the place we were going and the place Julie wanted to go so I guess we’d have to see for ourselves whether this place might be a diamond in the rough so to speak.
We also wanted to eat at Bloody Mary’s to rekindle memories of 10 years ago, but even that place was closed for all of December so that would have to wait until the next time we’d come back (whenever that would be).
While we were getting ready for dinner, Tahia managed to open the front door to our bungalow! Plus, she opened the door in a way that caught her toe, causing it to bleed while she cried for a few minutes responding to the pain.
The fact that we were surrounded by water freaked out both Julie and I when we realized that Tahia was able to open our bungalow door on her own. Now it became even more imperative to keep a close eye out on her for the next three full days!
To make matters worse, the lock on the door unlocked itself when opened from the inside. Fortunately, we figured out that there was an upper lock mechanism at the top of the door where we could at least prevent Tahia from opening the door far eough so she could get out. Still, it wouldn’t prevent her from stubbing her toes again.
At 7pm, we caught the taxi at 2000 CFP each way to the Kaina Hut restaurant. We were warmly greeted by a French-speaking Caucasian lady who also knew English when she realized that we weren’t fluent in French. After she seated us at the barefoot restaurant (i.e. sand on the floor), she took our order where we got some simple dishes like a chicken with some fresh cooked vegetables as well as a seared tuna dish with similar vegetables. The appetizer was a different style of bruschetta with tomato topping as well as eggs sunny side up. The dessert was a chocolate souffle with two scoops of vanilla ice cream.
As usual, we had difficulty keep Tahia behaving at the dinner table, but the crispy cuts of French baguette definitely held her over until the real food came out. Julie and I took turns eating so at least one person could keep an eye on her.
During our dinner, the lady who greeted us (I think she might be the owner or at least co-owner) spent some time getting Tahia’s attention. She knew how difficult it was to keep a child this young under control so she was totally laid back regarding Tahia’s behavior.
When we were done paying for the meal, we made more small talk with the lady who I think is the owner or co-owner. We then taxied back to Le Moana and made the long walk on the walkway to our far out overwater bungalow. The walk was pleasant as the walkway was lit up with floor lights and there was a gentle tropical breeze to offset the humidity of the Wet.
We eventually got back to our room at about 9:45pm, which pretty much concluded this day. We still had to concern ourselves with the logistics of Julie’s two site visits tomorrow, but for now, we tried to enjoy this experience staying at an OWB, which would normally be reserved for splurging honeymooners.
Day 8: TAKING IT WHERE WE CAN
Tahia woke everyone up again at 5:30am. It was as if her biological clock insisted that we wake up 7:30am Los Angeles time, which meant 5:30am Tahitian time.
After tending to her diapers and milk, I noticed that the sun was coming out at 6:15am! It was the first time in nearly 6 days that we finally got to see the sun again (without clouds muting its radiance mind you). However, when I went outside to look, I could see that we were surrounded by clouds in the distance still so perhaps it might be short lived.
Nonetheless, I figured with sun this rare at this time of the year plus with the remnants of Cyclone Evan adding further complications to the misery factor, you take it where you can. So I went outside to take photos with toothbrush in the mouth as I was in the middle of brushing my teeth when it happened. I tried my best to take what photos I could even though the colors of the lagoon weren’t at their best at this time of day.
The sea breeze from the east felt nice against the intense humidity. I actually had to wait some 15 minutes for the condensation on my camera to wear off as a result of that humidity, so I figured that in order to offset the difference in humidity between our air-conditioned room and the natural humidity outside, I had to leave my camera on our patio for as long as I could. Obviously the AC was making things difficult on that front.
We quickly made our now-familiar hike from our OWB to the breakfast area getting there by about 7:40am. We knew the activity desk was open at 8am so we thought maybe we could hire a car and save ourselves the trouble and expense of taking taxis so often given Julie’s tight and spread out schedule for her pair of site visits today.
We knew she had to be at Vaitape definitely by 9am in order to catch her shuttle to Bora Bora Nui Resort and then come back and catch another shuttle at 11:45am to the Four Seasons. It was decided that Tahia and I would join Julie for that particular shuttle.
After a rushed breakfast, we eventually talked to the activity desk person who told us that the rental car place wasn’t open until 8:30am. That would make things very tight in terms of getting to Vaitape in time for Julie’s 9am shuttle. So it was decided to have him call for a taxi so Julie can be assured of reaching the boat shuttle to Bora Bora Nui from Vaitape by 9am. And by 8:30am, she caught her taxi.
Meanwhile, I asked the activity desk if we could hire a car anyways, but that was when he told us the low down regarding Avis monopolizing the car hires in Bora Bora. He mentioned that it was about $160 USD for just 4 hours! So all those 2000 CFP one-way taxi fares adding up would still not add up to those crazy rental car fees!
I guess times have changed since our last trip to Bora Bora when hiring a car for 8 hours was still just under $100 USD. Now that the activity desk guy was honest about how it was no longer worth doing it and that there wasn’t much to see driving around the island, we decided that I’d play Mr. Mom for the rest of the morning until around 10:45am when it would be my turn to catch the shuttle to Vaitape and rejoin Julie at the dock so we could take the Four Seasons shuttle together.
So by about 8:45am, I lugged all the stuff we had brought (including the car seat since we anticipated driving around the island with our little girl) and made it back to our room where I changed Tahia’s diaper and let her take her morning nap. She was sound asleep by about 9:10am so that allowed me to take a few photos from outside our overwater bungalow while trying to take advantage of the sun from this morning.
Although the air outside was humid, the easterly breezes made it more bearable. The turquoise water surrounding us were gorgeous. I guess it was also the fact that waiting six days for the sun to come back made me savor this moment as well.
I guess it was too bad that we’d be couped up in the room while Julie did her work during this time. I could see storm clouds coming our way over from Raiatea and Tahaa. So who knows how much longer this fair weather will last before the rains come back?
It was about 10:30am when Tahia reluctantly woke up from her nap. While I was busy playing Mr Mom, I changed her diaper once again, got all our belongings together, and even brought along a cooler (though one of the plastic bags was leaking from the melted ice).
Tahia was sitting in the ergo that I was now wearing while my hands were free to carry the stuff. When I got to the reception, there was a taxi driver who asked if I was going to the Four Seasons. He explained that Julie told him to expect me and so there he was with his little dog in the front seat anticipating our arrival.
The driver’s name was Danny, and he promptly grabbed our stuff to put in the trunk while opening the doors so Tahia and I could easily get in. And from there, we headed over to Vaitape for another 2000 CFP. We expected to meet Julie over there so we would once again be reunited as a family to continue on at the Four Seasons where Julie was to make her next site visit.
At around 11:15am we arrived at Vaitape. Julie wasn’t there so the driver went ahead and walked around the place looking for her (knowing that she’d already be at this dock waiting for the 11:45am Four Seasons shuttle). Meanwhile, I was busy feeding Tahia her milk while trying to ensure that she didn’t run off by herself with the constant danger of drowning as we were practically surrounded by water again.
At around 11:35am, Julie found her way towards us. Tahia had been asking for mommy so she was quite happy to see Julie. And while it seemed like the Four Seasons boat shuttle might be late, it ultimately did show up on time at 11:45am and took off barely a few minutes later with just us three and the pair of employees on it.
The boat ride seemed rather long as it swung around the northern lagoon area. Mt Otemanu for the most part seemed to be free of clouds from this side though we knew that on the windward side, it would be cloudy. It seemed like the winds were blowing from the east or the said-to-be wetter northeast.
We’d eventually arrive at the Four Seasons, which was on one of the long eastern motus. I recalled this motu was practically undeveloped ten years ago. Now there seemed to be at least three (possibly four or more) resorts here.
We were greeted warmly by a hostess from Paris as well as a smart casually dressed guy who was probably the manager. Julie (and us as a result) was practically treated like royalty since this resort seemed to take her site visit very seriously as I’m sure positive referrals by travel agents like her were essential for business.
While we were making small talk with the hostess, we got confirmation from her that Tahia’s name was indeed Marquesan. However, we also learned that the locals pronounce the name “TA-hee-ah” instead of “tuh-HEE-ah” as Julie intended. So even though Julie was inspired to name our daughter after the Marquesan word exposed to us by the well known “empress of pearls” from Julie’s last fam in 2007, there was still a bit of uniqueness to our daughter’s name though I did start to wonder whether others might be confused about how to pronounce or say her name.
Anyways, we were eventually led to a beach area fronting a restaurant. We could see the pretty sandbar with a small motu that looked like it could be reached by wading across the shallow lagoon. Plus in the distance looking inward were the furthest overwater bungalows plus Mt Otemanu which was largely concealed by dark but high clouds so most of it could be seen.
The sun was in between showing itself through the persistent but light thickness of the overhead clouds (enough to cause sunburn I’m sure) and being covered completely by darker clouds. Julie left with the hostess to do the site visit while Tahia and I would play in the water.
At first Tahia freaked out about Julie walking away, but as soon as I was done changing her into her swim diapers and putting her into her little body suit and life jacket, I went into the waters of the shallow sandbar and enjoyed the warm water with her. Tahia usually was shivering cold whenever she was swimming in water, but she kept saying, “bath” so I knew the water temperature here was comparably warm.
She even said in Chinese that she was going to sleep (“shui jiao”) since that usually followed up our bath routine. In any case, we played for the hour or so that Julie was away, and it was certainly one of those priceless times where father and daughter got to spend quality time together in paradise. For all the trouble that she had caused on this trip, it was moments like these that made me momentarily forget about all the maintenance required to bring her along.
In between extended swims (which was really just me kneeling or squatting on the sandbar while holding Tahia up), we also walked over to that familiar small motu on the property. This motu seemed like it was man-made because the shores were very loose and had steep walls. I know in Nature, things typically don’t work that way unless there was a hard rock layer or a solid enough foundation to ensure its prolonged existence. Otherwise, this island would disappear over a short amount of time so I’d imagine that they might actually add sand to this islet to ensure it stayed there.
Julie returned to us at around 1:15pm. After she took photos of Tahia and I in the water, we actually ordered and had lunch brought to us while we were chilling out under one of the larger thatched roof shelters.
The lunch consisted of poisson cru along with some kind of shrimp fajita-type dish with salad and jasmine rice on the side. There was also additional coconut milk on the side, which was great for dipping the rice something like a coconut-flavored rice. The staff even brought us some ice cold water, which was really nice of them.
Julie said that the Four Seasons provided five-star service and it certainly felt like it during our time here. When we were done eating, Julie went up to go pay, but she came back after a few minutes to tell us that we didn’t have to pay for the lunch. That shocking gesture of generosity was really nice of the hostess who showed Julie around. In fact, I thought Julie said this was one of the nicest site visits she had done because more often than not she was looked upon as an afterthought on many other properties.
At 2:10pm we were back at the boat as planned. And we were all warmly sent off which made all of us feel real good about our visit here. I guess the hostess who treated Julie (as well as Tahia and I) really well took the mentality that we spent time away from holidaying to do this kind of site visit, which really was work for Julie and turned an otherwise relaxing day in paradise into one where we had to figure out a lot of logistics to make it work. So this gesture was certainly well appreciated.
During the drive, Julie and I were recalling how we took photos from some familiar-looking spots near Matira Point (on the southern tip of the main Bora Bora island). We could also see the familiar entrance to the former site of Hotel Bora Bora, which the driver confirmed was indeed done. We could see some tape going across its entrance with a car parked there so apparently it’s off limits. He also mentioned that Club Revatua (which was another one of our memorable dining experiences from 10 years ago) was also gone. Indeed, lots had changed in 10 years though I doubt I was in a position to judge whether the changes were for the better or for worse.
All I knew was there was a lesson from these observations.
Basically, it was that nothing really sits still in life. Time goes on. Properties age or come and go, restaurants also come and go, roads change, people change, etc. But the one thing that does kind of sit still would be memories, which we immortalize in photos and/or journals representing snapshots of a particular moment in time that allow us to recall or rekindle particular thoughts and feelings. It’s one of the most interesting aspects about travel, and why I suspect it allows us to not only reflect but also to learn and move on to keep up with the constant changes of father time.
Anyways, we eventually returned to our room at 3:05pm. When we started walking on the walkway to our far-out overwater bungalow, the weather was quite sunny and we were beneath a pocket of blue skies. So the color of the lagoon were divine!
However, when we got most of the way towards our bungalow, the sun was giving way to the clouds and started to mute the colors again. Meanwhile, Mt Otemanu remained clouded over for the most part from this angle looking to the north or northwest. In addition, the winds were blowing pretty hard, and given the small crevices between the blinds and underneath our door, the howls that the winds were making were that much more amplified.
In a way, it kind of reinforced to us that Mother Nature was still in charge, and that we were at her mercy. I’m sure being surrounded by water like this amped up our sense of vulnerability to Nature’s whims.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with Tahia napping, me working on blogging and photos, and Julie reading from her Kindle. It was a laid back afternoon, and it was certainly the kind of Tahiti experience I’m sure just about everyone desires.
Sure we had to wait about 6-7 days for something like this with more-or-less the kind of conditions giving rise to that Tahitian paradise unlike anywhere else on earth, but it was certainly worth the wait (though we certainly would’ve preferred not having to wait most of the trip for it to happen). Finally, the Wet Season we experienced here relented enough for us to enjoy at least a half-day or so of sun (although it wasn’t as benign as 10 years ago when we came here in the Dry in September).
At around 5:30pm, Tahia was done with her nap and we had to try to get her to finish her last helping of milk. Once that was done, we put on bug repellant and proceeded to make the hike from our OWB to the Fare Manuia (“Lucky House”) next door to the turnoff leading to Le Moana. We showed up just in time for our 6:30pm reservation.
The gentle afternoon breeze was a welcome relief and the humidity was actually tolerable as a result. So we didn’t sweat on the way to the restaurant, and even inside the restaurant, we didn’t feel uncomfortably stuffy either.
The food we had was a touristique menu of poisson cru, fish of the day (tasted like mahi mahi), and a creme brulee using vanilla from Tahaa. My main was mahi mahi in dark vanilla sauce. When the food plates came out, we realized that we probably should’ve just shared one dish because the portions were quite large. However, the grilled fish were kind of dry. So we ended up not finishing a pretty large chunk of grilled fish.
Tahia was also misbehaving at the restaurant as she was busy climbing chairs and trying to climb onto the table. Later during the dinner, she noticed an electrical socket and wanted to keep playing with it. That was a major cause for concern.
Anyways, when all was said and done, we paid the bill (I think they forgot to add my Tahitian vanilla mahi mahi), and then we were back in the room at 8:45pm. The interesting thing about the walk back to our room was that we noticed that the night skies were mostly clear for the time being. We could actually see many stars in the night sky while the half-moon shone brightly.
Julie and I wondered aloud why the clear skies always happened at night when it didn’t seem to matter as much to have the clear skies. It was like Mother Nature was playing a pretty cruel prank. In any case, the gentle trade winds were still blowing out of the east or northeast, but Julie’s intention of leaving the windows open so we could sleep to the lapping waters of the lagoon were nixed when she noticed quite a few flying ant-like bugs that somehow had gotten onto our bed. So it was back to the environmentally unfriendly A/C again.
And so ended a rather eventful though tiring day considering the amount of coordination that had to happen thanks to Julie’s site visits. Since the weather was so calm this evening, maybe it might be a sign of a miraculously sunny day for the next two days. We’ll just have to wait and see as usual…
Day 9: FAMILY FIRST
At 5:15am Tahia woke everyone up. Upon looking outside our overwater bungalow, I could see that we were surrounded by dark clouds except we were under a rather small patch of clear skies. I wasn’t sure what that meant in terms of weather, but I figured we mind as well enjoy at least the morning while the weather was good.
Some time during this morning, the A/C had stopped working, but we figured that was ok since there was a nice sea breeze that pretty much offset the humidity in the air. So we opened up all the shutters (including those in the bathroom) to let the air circulate.
However, I had also noticed that the laptop was running on battery power. So clued me in to the fact that there was probably some kind of circuit breaker that tripped in our room. At 6:05am when Julie called into maintenance, the reception said there was no electricity in general (even though our ceiling fan was working and some of our lights were working).
While we wanted to chill out on this do-nothing day, we did intend to visit the sister property of Intercontinental Le Moana – the Thalasso. There were some limited free boat shuttles going back and forth between properties so we decided to take the very first shuttle at 7:45am so we could have breakfast at the Thalasso instead of Le Moana. We wanted to see if the brekkie at the Thalasso was any better than that of Le Moana.
Plus, we also planned on spending the better part of the morning swimming or just lounging around on the beach at the Thalasso property. So we packed up a fair bit of stuff (mostly Tahia’s) in anticipation of the extended play time, and we were at the dock in plenty of time for the 7:45am shuttle to the Thalasso.
As we boated from one IC property to another, our gaze mostly focused inland towards Mt Otemanu. From the angle we were looking at near the start of the shuttle, the impressive mountain took on more of a flatter, almost table-top mountain-like appearance.
Julie and I were recalling some of the resorts we checked out ten years ago like Le Maitai, Sofitel Marara and Motu (now Sofitel Bora Bora), and even the closed down Club Med, which Julie pointed out was an experiment that proved why all-inclusives didn’t work in French Polynesia as it would be a money-losing proposition given how everything was imported and the rather high cost of living.
Further on in the shuttle as we got closer to the previously undeveloped long motu (Motu Ahi, I think, according to a map in an old LP book we consulted on our previous trip here), we could see Mt Otemanu take on more of a semi-circular appearance.
A light-bulb moment went off as I equated Mt Otemanu to an old volcano. And given the advanced age of Bora Bora Island, which was an island that was sinking as it was no longer over a hot spot providing new land from the depths of the ocean, all that was left of the volcano were the hardest rock layers as advanced weathering exposed only the hardiest sections of the crater.
By the time we were very close to the Thalasso on Motu Ahi, we could see that the cratered peak took on more of a needle-like appearance because we were looking at the mountain edge-on. The view of Mt Otemanu from this vantage point was Julie’s favorite as the crater rim comprising what’s left of the very old island could be seen edge on so the peak took on a bit of a sharp appearance.
Roughly 25 minutes after we left Le Moana, we arrived at the dock for the Thalasso where we then embarked on a fairly lengthy walk all the way to the breakfast area. The wind was noticeably gentler on this property so the heat was pretty stifling.
We’d eventually make it to breakfast at around 8:45am where there was hardly any air circulating in the dining area. Thus, we were all a hot and sweaty mess from all the walking to get here plus the lack of relief from the stifling heat and humidity on this motu we were on (which was previously undeveloped except for Le Meridien back in 2002).
When we were finally settled and got Tahia to behave somewhat, we went up to get our food. That was when Julie and I went nuts grabbing some poisson cru as well as some sweet mangos, crispy croissants, and some fluffy crepes. Needless to say we were totally stuffed when all was said and done. Given how much better the brekkie at the Thalasso was, we decided we were going to do the boat shuttles to come bacck here tomorrow morning.
After brekkie was over at 9:30am, we walked to a beach fronting the breakfast area with a view of Mt Otemanu between a pair of overwater bungalow groups. However, the everpresent clouds made for photographing the impressive volcanic crater rim fickle as the clouds would frequently cover its highest sections most of the time while suddenly revealing the peak of Mt Otemanu at other times.
At first Tahia and I entered the water, which felt a little cold, but we quickly got used to it. While Julie was busy trying to change her clothes into swimming attire, Tahia and I were having another father and daughter moment watching her gain confidence as she trusted the life jacket more and was allowing herself to float.
The only thing she couldn’t do was to keep her mouth out of the water (to stop from drinking the seawater) or to figure out when to hold her breath and when to breathe. I guess that’ll come in time, but for now, she seemed to be gaining more confidence in the water.
When Julie returned to us, she beckoned us to get out of the water. She told us that the water was calmer at a lagoon facing more inland (though it was already calm at the beach where we were at). So we got our stuff and got out of the water (Tahia was reluctantly doing this as she was having too much fun), and then walked over to Julie’s proposed site.
Indeed, this alternate spot seemed like a calmer place as there was a beach looking into an inlet with some fish swimming around. However, when I got into the water here, it didn’t take long before the water was over my head. It was at that point that I didn’t think I could both swim and manage Tahia at the same time. So I told Julie that we should go back to the original spot.
Even though Tahia was having some fun looking at fish here, the range of places we could go was very limited. As soon as I left a little shelf with sea urchins all over it, the lagoon was deep. I believed that this was more of a snorkeling spot as opposed to a playing spot.
Back at the main beach again, Tahia and I went back in the water to play some more. During this play period, it seemed like the clouds were gradually rolling in though Mt Otemanu still remained mostly visible despite its cloud cover. Eventually, Julie got around to changing her clothes into swimming attire and she got to rejoin us in the water.
Before we knew it, the whole family was in the water and enjoying watching Tahia enjoying herself in the water. It was the very first time all trip long that all of us were having fun as a family at the same time. There was no real set itinerary, no plan other than to get back to dock for the 12:15pm boat shuttle back to Le Moana, and some decent weather for playing. Indeed, prior to this, there was always something going on from Julie’s site visits to my waterfall hikes to some kind of logistical thing going on regarding travel.
Indeed, it felt like it took nearly 8 days for us to finally vacation as a family in South Pacific paradise. Sure the weather could’ve been a bit more ideal, but considering we were in the height of Wet Season, we merely enjoyed the moment and forgot about whether the conditions were ideal or not. It was good enough, which was better than most places I’d reckon.
After some swimming (or more like walking the shallow sand bars), we then spent time paddling on a tandem kayak. We were merely ambling around the sand bar area with no real destination in mind not even going beyond the overwater bungalows. However, this bit of haphazard floating rekindled the memories of when Julie and I messed around with a tandem paddle boat at the Bora Bora Pearl Beach 10 years ago.
We were done playing in the water at 11:15am. At that time, Tahia started to conk out since she pretty much wanted her morning nap. So she slept under the pandanus shelter while I briefly did the same. Meanwhile, Julie was checking out the property with my camera taking more photos of the overwater bungalows and other parts of the resort.
With me wearing the ergo with a napping Tahia this time, I still managed to take a few more photos of the impressive Mt Otemanu from its varying faces as we boated along towards the south of the island near Matira Point.
Somewhere along the way, we passed by another boat with some parasailers. That was something we didn’t notice in French Polynesia up until now. But then again, I’d imagine all sorts of water activities would be possible. In fact, I recalled someone was kitesurfing when I was looking down from the lobby of the Tahitian Legends property on the day we left Moorea for Bora Bora.
It was getting late for lunch knowing that most places would go on siesta at 2pm so we hastily made our way to the Fare Manuia by about 1:45pm seeing that other places like Bounty or Snack Matira weren’t likely going to serve us by the time we’d arrive to those places.
Just as we started to get settled in the restaurant, the skies started to dump its load and it was pouring rain. So we narrowly missed getting rained on while walking, but I knew we’d eventually have to face the rain on the long hike back to our room.>
Seeing how big the portions were at last night’s dinner, we settled on saving some money and just going for pizza with water to drink. It was plain and simple fare and we were hoping the weather might let up when we were done eating.
While the rain wasn’t coming down in buckets anymore, it was still raining heavily and we only had one umbrella. So I decided to brave the wet weather until we got back to the IC Le Moana lobby to request for a second umbrella. And even though we had two umbrellas, either we were getting wet, our shoes were getting wet, or the bags we were carrying were getting wet. The umbrellas couldn’t keep everything dry against the combination of rain plus wind.
By 2:45pm, we were back at our overwater bungalow again. For another couple of hours, it was still raining outside, but at least we were couped up in the room relaxing and napping knowing that we profitted from a fair weather day that progressively turned worse when it got into the afternoon. I guess that’s island weather for you in the Wet Season. The fair weather comes in pockets while the rest of the time would be rainy (or at least that was our experience on this trip).
At about 6:15am, we headed back out of our room. I was struggling with a bout of diarrhea and I was wondering what had upset my stomach so much. Was it overdosing on poisson cru at the Thalasso buffet breakfast? Could it be salmonella poisoning from undercooked egg at breakfast? Well whatever the case, I stopped worshipping the porcelain god just in time for us to leave for dinner.
The intensely raining weather gave way to calmer skies again. So even though we had brought two umbrellas for our dinner engagement, it turned out that we didn’t need them.
Once again, Danny was waiting for us at the lobby. He took us back to the Kaina Hut restaurant since we had such a good experience there two nights ago. Plus, Julie didn’t feel like taking a chance on one of the further restaurants near Top Dive (which apparently have different restaurants than 10 years ago).
Either way, we knew the quality we were getting at Kaina Hut and we knew we’d be warmly greeted by the hostess there who loved to engage with our daughter.
As Danny drove us to the Kaina Hut, we could see that today there might be a sunset. Unfortunately, where the Kaina Hut was located, there was a hill and some trees in the way so the sunset that I was looking for wouldn’t be available here. However, I could see from the glow through the foliage behind the hill blocking my view that there was indeed a sunset on this day, which was a rarity on this trip.
This time around at the restaurant, we had some kind of pork with old-style mustard sauce (probably some kind of variant of dijon). We changed up our tuna dish by having it with mango chutney instead of the capers and tomatoes ala Provencal style. We also had the chef’s special bruschetta as the appetizer.
Julie asked our hostess if it was true that the chef here worked with Damien of Villa Mahana fame. She said that her husband Laurent knew Damien since they grew up and that he was the reason why he moved from Corsica to Bora Bora.
We also learned that our hostess’ name was Titaua, which was a Polynesian name even though she was Caucasian. Apparently, she was born here and met her now-husband when he moved over. She said she has two boys where one of them seemed to adopt a very Polynesian mentality from bare feet to eating fish straight up raw.
Anyways, our dinner was capped off with a delicious tiramisu dessert. Julie and I liked it so much that decided to have another one! After all, where else and when else would we have something like this. Titaua said the recipe was passed down from her grandmother. We even let Tahia have a few bites of the divine dessert.
At 8:35pm, we were back in our room. Julie and I reflected on our last night in Bora Bora and even checked out what remained of the traditional Polynesian show that was going on at our resort. Julie was hoping for a fire dance, but apparently they didn’t have the real estate to do something like that.
While we were getting cleaned up and wound down the night, I was starting to have chills. I wasn’t sure if I was cold from the A/C or if I was still fighting off some food poisoning from earlier in the day. Whatever the case was, I went to sleep in fetal position trying my best to stay warm under the sheets.
The evening was cloudy but calm. There was still no further rain. With most of tomorrow to go before flying home that evening, we went to sleep wondering what we were going to do since we really had nothing planned other than to pack and have our meals.
Day 10: DO NOTHING DAY
It was 6am when the whole family awoke together. Tahia had been crying in the middle of the night so we actually let her co-sleep with us to calm her down.
One look outside and I could tell that today was going to be a wet day. There were dark clouds everywhere. So this opened up the concern that perhaps there might be complications with our flight tonight if the weather be foul and remain that way. And with the Tahiti to Moorea flight still on our minds, we certainly didn’t want our international flight back to LAX be impacted by bad weather.
We had spent most of the morning just doing the usual routine of changing Tahia’s diaper and feeding her milk. We also spent some time putting on bug repellant before finally going to breakfast at around 8am.
As we were walking to the brekkie area, we were greeted with warm sunshine. Despite the dark clouds surrounding us, we could see that there was a pocket of blue sky that let the sun provide some awesome colors in the lagoon.
While doing the familiar long walk from our bungalow to the brekkie area, I disclosed to Julie that our upgrade to the nice overwater bungalow we got on this trip wouldn’t have been possible if it were not during the Wet Season. I couldn’t see any way they could’ve let us have this OWB in the Dry Season where we’d be more likely to have much better weather.
I guess that was the silver lining between what we were able to get away with on this trip (especially considering how deeply discounted our trip was) and the restrictions that Mother Nature placed upon us. Indeed, it was very difficult to both have our cake and eat it too, so to speak.
I knew this bit of nice weather would be a fleeting moment though, and sure enough while we were in the middle of our brekkie, the sun went away again and the skies looked like they were threatening rain.
As we had our buffet breakfast, Tahia was actually willing to sit in her high chair for the first time in several days! We brought along her buttons so she could be preoccupied which would allow Julie and I to both get food and eat. Plus, she seemed willing to take some of the breakfast food that I fed her.
Not surprisingly, the brekkie food here was nothing compared to the Thalasso brekkie from yesterday. There was no mangos, no poisson cru, and they even ran out of crepes and pain perdu (French Toast) until much later in the breakfast.
As much as Julie and I wanted to go back to the Thalasso, the shuttle schedule was so limited that we could only catch the 7:45am shuttle going there and the 9:15am shuttle back. Failure to catch that 9:15am shuttle would’ve meant we’d be stuck in the Thalasso until at least 12:15pm. Plus, we’d only be left with less than an hour of eating brekkie given all the logistics involved.
The plan after breakfast was to walk over to the Bounty while also seeing Le Maitai and Sofitel Bora Bora. We figured that might be the thing to do in the morning before returning to our room and doing final preparations before leaving for home.
We were back in our room at 9:30am. We had the intention of walking back outside to do the walk towards Bounty along some familiar roads from our last time here, but it wasn’t going to happen when we let our room at 10:20am and the nasty weather caught up to us. So both of us just decided to make this a do-nothing day and just chill for the remainder of this day.
I guess another benefit of this do-nothing mentality was to let Tahia have her nap routine and feeding routine honored. Plus, I was still not feeling great from the residual effects of food poisoning as I was in and out of napping while I was getting caught up on photos and blogging. So maybe it was just meant to be to play it low key.
By about 12:45pm, Tahia woke up from her nap. It was still raining but it was a light rain. So we walked in the light rain back towards Fare Manuia due to the convenience. We had the usual fare of pizza plus a fish burger where they were pretty generous with the fish quantity. But we hastily retreated from the restaurant when many folks showed up with lit up cigarettes and we wanted Tahia’s exposure to the second hand smoke to be limited.
After the lunch, we went walking up the road past some stray dogs and puddles towards Le Maitai and in the direction of Sofitel Bora Bora (formerly Sofitel Marara). We saw the La Bounty restaurant, which was closed, but from looking at the menu, it seemed like we didn’t miss much by not walking all the way there in the rain to have the lunch here.
La Bounty was our turnaround point and we were running out of time to wrap up our packing before our 4pm checkout time limit. So we were back in our room at 2:30pm. We took one last shower, brushed and flossed one last time, and changed Tahia’s diaper one last time as well.
By about 3:45pm, we had our large bags portered while we started to amble along towards the reception to make our checkout official. I started to notice that despite the heavy cloud cover above us, I could see both Raiatea and Tahaa in the distance with a clarity not seen before on this entire trip! Even Mt Otemanu was showing itself!
Since the boat shuttle didn’t take off until 5:50pm, we killed some time lounging around the beach lounge chairs under a pandanus shelter. It was a good thing that shelter was there because it was starting to rain again. It was also windy so it was also surprisingly chilly and we even needed our jackets at one point!
Tahia managed to get her afternoon nap during this time. When it came time to catch up to the boat shuttle, she woke up in a pretty good mood. So it was a good thing we snuck in this nap because we knew all the chaos of airport transfers would wreak havoc on her sleep schedule.
The boat shuttle to the Thalasso and then the airport went by pretty uneventfully. When we got to the airport, we saw the sun was setting beneath the heavy cloud cover. I guess this was my last chance at catching a sunset in Bora Bora, which I promptly took advantage of!
After checking in our luggage, we patiently waited in the airport for our flight back to Papeete to connect with our international flight back to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the flight was reported to be 50 minutes late, which meant that our connection with the LAX flight would be very tight.
No doubt this was due to bad weather. And now I started to fear that Tahiti Island might pull the same stunt it did to us a few days ago when it wouldn’t let us go! Only this time, the consequence might be unwanted extra nights in Papeete until we’d be able to fly back to LAX!
Fortunately, the plane from Bora Bora to Papeete did show up and we boarded at around 8:15am. By the time we made it to Papeete, we had to collect our bags, get our boarded passes, check-in our luggage, and then go through security again.
It was rather stuffy in Papeete as expected as there was no sea breeze like we were getting in Bora Bora. Julie ended up having Tahia’s fork confiscated at security since it was an item that wasn’t allowed as a carry on. So I guess that meant we’ll have to buy a new one.
By the time we made it to the boarding area, it was already about 9:55pm and boarding was at 10:05pm. And even though Julie noticed that the waiting area past security was completely renovated and quite fancy, the one thing they were missing was air conditioning. So it was stuffy and sweaty like crazy and that put Tahia in a very cranky mood.
While there, I noticed a big sign showing a tall waterfall that looked very much like the Cascade de Fautaua that I had seen on the first day of this trip. However, this photograph was from a different, more top down spot showing the entire waterfall. I looked upon it with mixed feelings as I now started to doubt myself as to whether I should’ve completed the hike to the Fachoda Fort and the top of the falls to get this view. It was either that or that photo came from a helicopter (which I somehow doubt). Oh rats, I thought to myself!
Eventually, we’d board the plane and the flight took off as scheduled. Once again, they put us in one of those seats where it was possible to have a baby bassinet. However, that bassinet came rather late and well into the flight (to the point that Julie had to ask for it).
By the time the in-flight dinner came out, that was when they finally got us the bassinet. But that meant arousing Tahia from her sleep as we put her in, and from that point on, she was crying intensely for what seemed to be forever!
We had to rock her and walk her over to where the stewards were working to try to calm her down, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually, it got to a point where Tahia threw up. We weren’t sure if that was because she was crying so hard or if it was because she was sick for some reason.
Eventually, she managed to calm down though I wasn’t sure what did it. Perhaps it was stroking her hair to assure her or something. But whatever the case was, we were able to put her in the baby bassinet, and she managed to sleep for at least half the flight.
However, when there was at least two hours to go in the flight, she woke up again. And once again, we couldn’t stop her from crying regardless of whether we walked her around, rocked her, showed her the iPad, or whatever. And once again, she threw up, which now led us to believe that indeed she was somehow uncomfortable or sick.
We weren’t sure what was different between the flight on the way to Papeete where there were no dramas, but on the way back, something changed and it wasn’t for the better. Maybe it was because it was now a crowded flight? Or because she didn’t fall asleep on me? Who knows? But whatever the case, we were back to that familiar guilt-ridden feeling of keeping everyone in the plane awake because of our little daughter.
Eventually what did the trick this time was when a lady next to Julie was doing some stretching and hitting her limbs to loosen them up. That seemed to have gotten Tahia’s attention and it eventually allowed us to put her on me so she could sleep on my chest. She didn’t want to baby bassinet anymore.
Ultimately, Tahia conked out and so did Julie and I. From that point the flight eventually ended with a rough but safe landing with some surprising bit of light rain at LAX.
After the grueling passport control formalities, we were collecting our bags when an American-French lady next to us assured us that we (i.e. parents flying with young infants or children) had all been there before. It was probably that Tahia wasn’t used to the popping in her ears or something. But now that we were back on terra firma, Julie and I would evaluate whether to bring Tahia on another one of these trips or wait until she would be old enough to start remembering and cherishing them.
In a way, this trip to paradise ended up being much more of an adventure than we bargained for. But there were lots of lessons learned so perhaps we might get wiser with each time we try to bring Tahia into our world…