TRAVEL: Pearl of the South Pacific; Alison Purdy Discovered a Host of Treasures on Her Visit to Tahiti and Its Islands

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 25, 2008 | Go to article overview

TRAVEL: Pearl of the South Pacific; Alison Purdy Discovered a Host of Treasures on Her Visit to Tahiti and Its Islands


Byline: Alison Purdy

WHEN I was told we were going for a walk in the island's interior on our first day on the South Pacific island of Tahiti, I imagined a gentle stroll through the lush green jungle that covers much of the island.

I hadn't imagined that a couple of hours later I would be waist-deep in gushing water dressed in a wet-suit with a harness strapped round me, scrambling up a slippy ravine.

Like most people, my image of Tahiti and her 118 islands scattered over five archipelagos in the South Pacific was of sun-soaked shores lined with bungalows perched on stilts over turquoise-blue sea. I expected the sort of destination that mainly attracts honeymooners drawn to the island by its romantic isolation.

That is on offer. However, as my day spent clambering up a volcanic lava-tube and hoisting myself up waterfalls proved, there is far more to the islands than at first meets the eye.

I had never been canyoning before and the experience was both terrifying and exhilarating. When I did manage to look up from where I was putting my feet, I was stunned by the incredible beauty that surrounded me.

Green mountains densely covered in what looked like large broccoli heads sloped up to the sky. Below, the land dropped down dramatically to the sea.

Ever since the crew aboard Captain William Bligh's HMS Bounty downed tools and staged a mutiny back in the 18th century, tales of the tropical beauty and warm nature of the Tahitian people have captured the European imagination.

Captain James Cook, the first to map the islands of the Pacific, and numerous missionaries and military expeditions soon followed in his footsteps, forever changing Tahiti's way of life. Long-lasting French-British rivalry for control of the islands was finally laid to rest when King Pomare V ceded Tahiti and most of its dependencies to France in 1880.

Despite the influence of invaders, Tahitians remain proud and attached to the culture and heritage of their Maohi ancestors. Like most of the Tahitian's I met, our guide Herve Maraetaata, was covered in the most intricate tattoos which he described as his "passport".

Body art has a long history among the Polynesian people dating back to a time before islanders could read and write. They were considered signs of beauty and were ceremoniously applied at the age of adolescence.

The day after our canyoning adventure, with aching limbs but a distinct sense of achievement, we boarded a sea catamaran for the half hour trip from Tahiti to the even greener island of Moorea. Every inch of the island's mountainous interior is covered in thick foliage.

The island's Sofitel beach resort lives up to the honeymoon brochure billing with bungalows either standing on stilts over the water or lining the beach front. For guests in one of the over-water bungalows, the option of having breakfast delivered to your door in a canoe is an interesting option.

But, like her larger neighbour, there is more to Moorea than white-sand beaches and lounging by the resort's infinity pool. …

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