Tamanu, Tahiti, French Polynesia – March 21, 2016
We left home around 05:00 to make our early morning Air New Zealand flight to Auckland. The Mount Victoria tunnel was closed. Because of that, our taxi driver took us along Oriental Bay. Even though it was dark, it was stunning.
After checking in, we had coffee and a breakfast sandwich. Then it was off to the gate, onto the plane, and on to Auckland. It was smooth sailing all the way.After our uneventful arrival in Auckland, we walked to our next gate.
There was some delay in boarding the aircraft. One of the gate attendants told us it was because they were trying to load a stretcher on-board. There was someone in Papeete, Tahiti that was waiting for evacuation to New Zealand.
Once we got on the plane and pushed away from the gate, everything was fine.
Our trip to Tahiti is one of the oddest trips I have ever made, for one reason in particular; our travels took us to yesterday! We left New Zealand on Monday morning. We arrived in Papeete, Tahiti on Sunday evening. That is what happens when one travels to the east across the International Date Line.
Well before our trip began, we applied for and received French visas. We needed the permits because I was traveling to Papeete for business (indeed a sentence I never thought I would write).
The plane landed around 16:00 Tahiti time. When we arrived at passport control, we went to the Diplomatic line as usual. The immigration officer did not speak English very well. Leslie and I speak nearly zero French. As his questioning began, I knew it would be a problematic entry because I was having a challenging time hearing him. At one point, he asked if I had a military escort or an entourage waiting for me. I assured him all I had waiting for me was a taxi.
I could tell he was getting frustrated. I assumed that it was because of our language difficulties. At that time, an Air New Zealand employee happened to walk by the booth. The immigration official called out to her in French. He emerged from his booth, continuing to speak to her. Soon, all four of us were huddled in a group. We both used her as a translator. Finally, after numerous questions, he stamped our passports and allowed us into the country.
When we finally had our luggage and emerged into the terminal area, we spotted our driver. As we approached, she placed a beautiful flower lei on each of us. I put our bags in the rear of the van. Within 15 minutes or so, she delivered us to the Le Meridian Hotel.
At the check-in counter, the attendant immediately offered us a small glass of cold mango juice. It was both refreshing and delicious. After receiving our keys, we walked to our room. Our baggage was already there. I grabbed my camera and we walked down to the bar near the beach. The sun was just setting as we arrived at the bar. The views were absolutely stunning.
We transitioned from the bar to a table by the ocean for dinner. The beautiful setting, the food, and the wine made it one of the most romantic dinners we have had in quite some time.
Our room rate included a daily continental breakfast. One morning, we decided we wanted a hot breakfast. We went to the breakfast buffet to get eggs, bacon, and potatoes. That was the last time we did that. Breakfast cost us the equivalent of US$75. When we complained about that; the staff responded that it was an “all-you-can-eat” buffet. They were not interested in reducing the price. For the remainder of our stay, we kept ourselves to the continental breakfast side of the restaurant.
The restaurant was a beautiful setting. Along the oceanside of the restaurant, there was a large pond containing koi and water lilies. On the other side of the water was a large stone patio. Beyond that were palm trees partially obscuring the ocean view ocean. It was very relaxing to sit there and enjoy coffee in the mornings.
The beach at the hotel sloped gently into the ocean. No waves were striking the beach because of the barrier reef. The reef and breaking waves were about a half-mile offshore. The water was warm and crystal clear. In the water, there were large clumps of coral. Several types of fish swam around the corals. It was beautiful to behold.
On one of my days off, we took a morning shuttle from the hotel to downtown Papeete. Our guide parked at the ferry terminal. We walked from there toward the tourist information building. From there, she led us across a busy street for a block until she pointed out the market. The walk was close to one-half mile.
The market was very clean and nicely done. In addition to some tourist trinkets, the ground level housed fruit and vegetable stands, butcher shops, and fishmongers. The upper level housed an assortment of tourist trinkets, clothing, jewelry, and artworks. I bought a couple of Tahitian shirts. On the way back to the vehicle, we stopped in another store where I bought some more shirts.
When we walked back to the ferry terminal and port, we had some time to kill. The most impressive yacht we saw was the Arctic. Doing a little research, I found the boat began life as an icebreaker. It is nearly 88 meters (289 feet) long. It accommodates 12 guests and 25 crew. I guess that would be an OK way to travel the world.
Later that afternoon, I used the hotel’s plastic kayak. I paddled nearly halfway to the barrier reef. It was during low tide, so periodically, the bottom of the kayak scraped slightly against the tops of the coral. I could look down on either side of the kayak and see the ocean floor. It was not very deep, probably eight to ten feet. Looking down, I saw all of the fish. The whole experience seemed surreal.
One morning we walked to le Musée de Tahiti et des İles (The Museum of Tahiti and the Islands). Similar to downtown, the walk was about one half-mile. For a small museum, the displays were numerous and well done. The vast majority had descriptions in English as well as French.
When we left the museum, we walked about 100 meters to the sea wall. There, the ocean waves crashed against the wall. There was not a barrier reef at this portion of the island.
Our afternoon highlight was sitting in a chaise lounge, enjoying a glass of wine, and watching the sunset. The sunsets we saw were just stunning.
The highlight of our trip, by far, was the Polynesian dance show. The show happened on the patio near the restaurant. The dinner buffet was a part of the price paid for the show. The performers included about ten men and ten women dancers. The drumbeats during the various dances seemed to reverberate right through our abdomens. If only I could move like the dancers, I probably would not be fat!
We woke up early and departed our hotel. We arrived at the airport at about 05:30. Getting out of the country was much more manageable. The passport control officer quickly stamped our passports. We breezed through security and sat down at the gate to await our flight.
We boarded the flight a few minutes late, but we did take off on time. During the trip, there was some turbulence, but nothing too severe.
We arrived in Auckland a little late. The Air TahitiNui pilots taxied the plane to the arrival gate and switched off the fasten seat belt sign. Everyone stood up and began removing items from the overhead bins. While that was happening, I noticed I could still hear the sound of the jet engines. I also noticed the plane’s door was not open. We stood there for twenty minutes. Finally, one of the pilots announced we were waiting for gate personnel to respond. We stood for an additional 10 or 15 minutes before the engine finally stopped, and the door opened.While we were standing, Leslie and I were getting nervous about making our connection to Wellington. Waiting for us when we finally got off the plane was a wheelchair attendant for Leslie. We informed him of our tight connection. While he nearly ran through the terminal, he told us the reason for the delay is that the engine had not stopped. That did not make sense to me. Regardless, the race was on to the Wellington gate.
When we entered the duty-free area of the terminal, people packed the central pedestrian aisle, of course. The wheelchair attendant veered off and rushed us through the paths of one of the duty-free stores. Shortly after merging back into the central aisle, we arrived at passport control. The immigration officer quickly stamped our passports.Our focus turned to the baggage claim area. We all rushed there. We waited and waited at the baggage claim carousel. Soon, there were just a few bags left on the belt, but we did not see ours. The wheelchair attendant asked for a description of our baggage. We described our bags. He quickly moved to the access-controlled door, went through, and within about a minute, he emerged with our bags.
An oddity of the Auckland International Airport is that the international terminal and the domestic terminal are not connected. There are two ways to get from one to the other; a free bus or a 10 to 15-minute walk, following a green line painted on the ground. The bus runs approximately every 15 minutes. We were lucky when we emerged from the international terminal; we could see the bus arriving. We boarded the bus with our luggage.The bus has to travel on public streets to get from one terminal to the other. Of course, that means traffic and traffic lights. It seemed we would never arrive. We still had to re-check our bags and make our way to the next gate. When the bus finally arrived, we dashed inside, found an Air New Zealand employee, and told her our following flight number. She broke the news that we would not make that flight. Luckily, Air New Zealand has multiple daily flights from Auckland to Wellington. She booked us on the next flight.
We made it to our gate, waited about 30 minutes, and boarded the flight.
Our 65-minute flight to Wellington was uneventful.
We arrived, retrieved our baggage, and hopped in the Corporate Cab for our 30-minute ride home.