At about 8:00 Am on January 22, we docked (yes docked!) in Papeete, Tahiti, the second of four consecutive shore days, the only such stretch on this voyage. Last time we were here we took an excursion along the west side of the island, which is documented here:
So this time we had a morning excursion along the north coast to Venus Point, where Captain Cook observed the passage of Venus across the Sun in 1769 as part of a worldwide effort to measure the distance to the Sun. Upon leaving the ship we were greeted by local singers & dancers in costume.
Driving north we passed the crown peak, which actually looks like a giant crown among the mountains. Then our first stop, the house of American author James Norman Hall. So, who is that, you may ask (we did). It turns out he was a flyer in the Lafayette Escadrille in World War I, then co-author of the Bounty trilogy, upon which the Mutiny on the Bounty films were based. He was, therefore, partly responsible for the maligning of the reputation of Captain Bligh that is still with us. Bligh (who had been Cook’s navigator on his final voyage) came to Tahiti on a mission to collect breadfruit seedlings for transplanting in the Antilles, where it was thought to be a perfect source of food for slaves. His ship was here for months & many of his seamen became enthralled with the beauty of the island and, probably more importantly, its friendly women. Bligh did not treat his men any worse than other sea captains of the time, and better than many, but Fletcher Christian considered himself to be a gentleman who was above the normal treatment of ship officers. He was popular among the seamen & his growing animosity toward Bligh culminated in the mutiny. The mutineers set Bligh & a couple of dozen others afloat in an open boat & returned to Tahiti, where they split up, some staying in Tahiti with their new wives & the rest sailing with Tahitian girlfriends & slaves to Pitcairn island. Meanwhile, Bligh brought all but one of his open boat contingent safely to what is now Indonesia, some six thousand miles away, now considered one of the great feats of navigation history. The mutineers on Tahiti were later rounded up by the British & most ultimately executed, while most of those on Pitcairn did not survive a slave uprising there. Bligh completed his breadfruit mission on a second voyage and went on to become governor of Australia.
We drove on to Venus Point. The only lighthouse on Tahiti is situated here, built in 1867. It was reputedly designed by the father of Robert Louis Stevenson, a notable lighthouse builder (we saw one of his in Shetland in 2014). A plaque commemorates Stevenson’s statement upon visiting it in 1888 that he was moved because he worked in his father’s office the year it was designed. We have read elsewhere that it really wasn’t designed by Stevenson the elder, but his son would probably have known.
There are two monuments at Venus Point. The first is to commemorate Cook’s viewing of the transit of Venus. Our guide told us the spot was picked because of a piece of coral with a ridge cut into it that the finders thought was left to mark the spot, but he said it really wasn’t. The second monument was erected recently to commemorate the Bounty mutineers, built apparently by some of their descendants.
Today Venus Point is a very pretty park. To its left is Matavai Bay, where Cook anchored in 1769 & the Bounty anchored for several months in 1788. The beach is black sand, which gets extremely hot in the sun . . . never walk on it barefoot! Part of the Marlon Brando version of Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed here, as the ships sailed into the bay. But the coming ashore scenes were filmed at another island because the director wanted a white sand beach; he though American audiences would never accept the real thing.
Our last stop before returning to town was at a lookout point on top of a hill overlooking Matavai Bay. We don’t know its current name, but Cook’s men called it “One Tree Hill.” We can imagine why, but today it is covered by trees. There is a huge rubber tree at the top that has been cut back several times. It looks like it could have been there when Cook visited, but our guide told us it is only about 40 years old. Apparently the grow really fast.
Back in Papeete we first walked to the Catholic Cathedral. Papeete is a modern city with busy streets & lots of nondescript commercial buildings. One distinctive thing here is the paintings and/or graffiti on the walls of many buildings. Some are quite impressive.
We visited the Catholic Cathedral in 2016, but it was closed. This time it was open to worshippers & visitors so we were able to see its interior & stained glass windows. The windows have Tahiti influenced images, such as breadfruit trees, canoe paddlers, and local musical instruments. Papeete means basket of water, & one of the windows included this image.
We visited the Marche, a large two story market building. The first floor is mostly produce, with some other products like straw hats. The second floor has a bar & higher end jewelry & textile stores. There was a group singing & playing on the first floor as well today.
In recent years Papeete has turned its waterfront into a very long & beautiful park, full of trees & flowers. We decided to walk all the way down to the end, where sits the public library. In 2016 the library was closed, so we were hoping to see the inside today.
They have built sort of an aquarium in the water along one part of the park. The fish are under netting & there are signs not to touch or feed the fish. They are not easy to see, but its an interesting concept to have this right there in the salt water.
Since we are in the park, this is a good place to show you some of the many beautiful flowers we saw in Tahiti. A lot were in the park, but some were at Venus Point & elsewhere. We also saw some birds.
We reached the library, but the outer gate was locked . . . worse than last time! But Rick explored around the back & finally found an open entrance. I guess you have to know the secret entrance in order to use the library. Inside was a courtyard with a huge tree in the center with hanging plants somewhat like Spanish Moss. It looks somewhat like a Banyan tree but for the free hanging fronds. The library is in three rooms, each with a vaulted ceiling, but it’s a lot smaller than that makes it sound.
We walked back from the library on the other side of the main street, passing the pink Evangelical Church. Bougainville Park has a bust of the French explorer after whom the beautiful flowers are named. Next to the park is the post office, where we mailed some post cards. Then we stopped at a street café for some French Fries & Hinano dark beer. It had been a long hot day, and this was very refreshing. We liked the Hinano dark better than the light, and the fries came with mayonnaise in the French fashion.
Another distinctive thing about Papeete is the Polynesian stone sculpture you see in parks and on streets.
It was getting to be about 5:30 as we reached the ship, so we walked over to a nearby area that is home to a Papeete institution: its famous food trucks. They are parked in an open space where tables and chairs are set up so people can buy their food, then sit down while it is cooked and brought to their table. Not just sandwiches and such, you can get French crepes and other delicacies. We thought the prices a little high until we spotted a fellow eating a giant crepe that filled his plate after being folded in half. We were just discussing what kind of crepe to get for sharing when it started to rain. So we ran back to the ship & still haven’t tasted those crepes.
After dinner tonight there was a dance performance by a local Tahitian dance group. We saw one of these last time and certainly didn’t want to miss it. But there was only one performance (usually there is one scheduled for early eaters and one for late eaters) and by the time we reached the Queen’s Lounge the place was packed. We usually sit in the front of the balcony, but this night we were lucky to find seats at the very back of the first floor. So that is why most of these pictures have the tops of people’s heads silhouetted at the bottom.
Well, this was a long and tiring day, so nothing to do after this high energy show but go to bed. The ship would be leaving at 5:00 AM for Moorea, which you can see from some of the pictures is very close, so the sail in would be early.