Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hawaii / Tahiti 30 Day Cruise - Day 18 Raiatea and Taha'a

Tuesday Day 18 – Raiatea and Taha’a

We almost always get up early to watch us sail into port and this morning was no exception as we made our way into Raiatea and Taha’a.  As we neared the harbor we realized the riffle in the water we saw was the reef surrounding the island, a very scenic entry into the lagoon surrounding the island.  Raiatea looked lush and green under mostly sunny skies.  This morning we would be docking so no tendering today.  That makes getting on and off the ship much easier.

Raiatea and Taha'a are on the horizon.
Sailing through the reef and entering the lagoon.

Raiatea is known as the cradle of Polynesian culture in the South Pacific region, and it was the first island found by the first migration of the ancestral people who came to the area.  It is one of the largest island in French Polynesia and is the largest and highest in the Leeward Island group.  It, along with its neighbor Taha’a, is encircled and protected by a reef creating a lagoon surrounding both islands.  Taha’a is smaller and more mountainous than Raiatea and is called the “vanilla island” because of all the vanilla grown on the island.  The lagoon surrounding the island is dotted with many motus (coral islets) some of which have hotels on them.  Raiatea is less visited than some of the other island such as Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti so it offers more of a sense of seclusion.

Today we were on a ship excursion to visit the island of Taha’a, so after a quick breakfast we were on our way.  The excursion was scheduled to leave before 8:00 AM, but unfortunately the local authorities took a long time to clear the ship (has to be done before anyone can go ashore) so we ended up waiting a while.  The ship was finally cleared and we were off the ship and into a small boat for the trip across the lagoon to Taha’a where we were met by 4X4’s to give us a tour of the island.  We made our way around the island taking in the tropical beauty on our way to a pearl farm, which was our first stop.  There was a talk and demonstration on the process of how pearls are actually started and harvested from the oysters.  The talk was quite interesting and explained why black pearls cost so much as it is really a long and labor intensive process.

The Westerdam docked as we leave for Taha'a on the motorized outrigger.
On the boat.
We were greeted at the dock when we reached Taha'a.
Our ride around the island.
One or the vehicles in our caravan as we circled the island.
Val and I at one of our stops.
After the pearl farm, we continued our drive around the island with a few scenic stops until we reached a vanilla plantation.  The name plantation is a little misleading, as it might make you think of a large operation, but in reality it is a small family business.  Again, it was very interesting to see how the vanilla is grown, harvested and processed.  A lot of work goes into creating a little bit of vanilla.  After the talk, there was local fruit and juices to eat and drink, which were really good.  The tropical fruit is just so fresh and delicious here, we are loving it.  After the vanilla plantation, we continued our drive around the island until we got back to the boats.   

Raw vanilla drying on the rack.
This feisty lady was the owner of the vanilla plantation.
After getting back in the boats and getting a farewell serenade from our guides, we were off to one of the motus for some snorkeling.  We had fun snorkeling again, but we didn’t have much time as our stay was cut short due to the delay in getting off the ship this morning.  They were running a second tour after ours so they couldn’t extend the time.

We were serenaded as we left the trucks and got back in the boats.
Approaching the motu for our abbreviated snorkeling session.
Val finishing her snorkeling.
The view of Taha'a from the motu with Raiatea in the background.

After returning to the ship we got something to eat and then went back to shore to look around the town of Uturoa and do some shopping.  It was very hot and humid in town and it eventually wore us down so it was back to the ship and the welcoming air conditioning.

One of the colorful shops along the dock.
When we left Raiatea we would be sailing between Raiatea and Taha’a so the Captain opened the area on the bow of the ship and had a sailaway party.  It was a beautiful sight as we left Raiatea, sailing between the islands as the sun went down.  Travel Guide Julia narrated as we sailed past the islands which made for an interesting and beautiful passage.  As we passed between Raiatea and Taha’a we could see Bora Bora in the distance, our next stop.

Out on the bow for the scenic cruise between Raiatea and Taha'a

As darkness sets in and Taha'a on the right we could see Bora Bora in the distance.

After the sailaway we went back to our room to get dressed for dinner, and after dinner we finished the evening the casino.  When we returned to the room we were surprised to see that we were going through the reef and entering the lagoon surrounding Bora Bora.  As we sailed in we could see another smaller cruise ship already anchored, the Paul Gauguin, and it was all lit up.  The Paul Gauguin is a cruise ship that circles the islands and is supposed to be a wonderful cruise. 

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