Wednesday, July 28

Fight-Do demo on Rarotonga’s Kavera beach

I’m taking a quick break from the Marquesas for an update on the crew at Top Shape gym in Rarotonga.

Last week Terry Thorn, a master trainer from Radical Fitness, was on Rarotonga to put instructors and those wanting to become instructors through their paces.
As a grand finale the trainees gathered at Kavera beach on Rarotonga’s sunset side for a fitness session on the sand.
Once everyone was tired, hot and sweaty they put together a demonstration to show off some of the things they’ve learnt. Here’s some video of the demo.
It looked like a lot of fun - especially cooling off in the sea at the end of the session!

Monday, July 26

The Aranui Experience: Nuku Hiva

On the Aranui’s usual run Ua Pou is the second port of call but our schedule was altered because of taking in the solar eclipse at the end.
After leaving Fakarava we sailed all the next day and reached Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva on our third morning.
All the Marquesas are volcanic with jagged peaks, higher than Rarotonga’s – some are over 1000m. There were no coastal plains on the islands we visited and no surrounding coral reefs. The islanders live in the valleys but most of the settlements are small.
Nuku Hiva has about 2600 inhabitants with 1700 living in Taiohae, the centre of administration of the Marquesas. The island’s area is 340 sq km. Compare this with Rarotonga’s area of 67 sq km and population of between 10,000 and 14,000 (depending on whose figures you believe and whether you include visitors or not) and you can see that the Marquesas -Te Fenua Enata to the locals – are remote, rugged and sparsely populated.
Shore excursions are included for passengers on the Aranui 3 so once again we took whaleboats to the wharf then piled into 4WD vehicles for a drive across the island to the village of Hatiheu for lunch Chez Yvonne. Umukai food – very nice and lots of it.
We had a choice after lunch of a swim, a 40 minute hike to a viewpoint or a 20 minute walk to a marae.
Once an estimated 90,000 people lived in the Marquesas but nowadays the total is less than 10,000. However this means that the islands have many archaeological sites of villages and marae from earlier times. Some of these have been excavated and restored including the one we visited, Paeke near Taipivai. We had a stiffish uphill walk to reach the site and some of the older folk took over an hour to get there.
Everyone made it this time but some people gave later hikes a miss!

Wednesday, July 21

The Aranui Experience: Fakarava

The Aranui 3 is a cargo/passenger ship, based in Tahiti, which services the inhabited islands of the Marquesas 16 times a year. It also has room for up to 200 passengers in accommodation ranging from dormitory-style to suites. The restaurant serves three meals a day with wine included at lunch and dinner. There’s a small swimming pool (which sloshes mighty spouts of water in rough weather), a lounge with constant supply of tea and coffee, a bar, video room and boutique with a great supply of shirts, t-shirts, pareu and other essential souvenirs. You’re encouraged to open an account which makes it very easy to buy goodies and the credit card just suffers one big hit at the end of the journey!
We sailed from Papeete at about 10.30am and reached Fakarava early the next morning.
Fakarava is the second-largest atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago and is supposed to be an excellent place for scuba diving as well as black pearl farming. We had our first encounter with the whaleboats, a mode of transport we soon became very familiar with, but weren’t ashore long enough for more than a blitz on a couple of pearl shops and a dip in the lagoon.
The population is less than 700 but the road in Rotoava village is a wide, well-made concrete affair. It was built several years ago when French president Jacques Chirac was due to call in. Chirac never turned up but the road is still there and it’s no doubt much more useful than a presidential visit.
All the main roads and many of the small ones on the islands we went to were this standard. Not a pothole in sight and no Telecom trenches cutting across. The Aranui probably makes a fortune transporting the cement! I’ve got to confess I’m envious. There are obviously compensations for being a French territory.

Saturday, July 17

Total eclipse of the sun

Over 400 people travelled to Mangaia in the Southern Cook Islands to view the solar eclipse on Sunday 11 July. Most of them were stationed at the airport and unfortunately the weather was cloudy enough to obscure the three minutes when the moon blocked out the sun’s light but many of the visitors said the island’s beauty and its people more than made up for the failed eclipse.
For more about the eclipse check the Cook Islands News website here.
The predicted path of totality cut a swathe across the South Pacific touching land in only a few places – Mangaia, Easter Island and some of the Tuamotu Islands in French Polynesia.
I was lucky enough to get a spot on board the Aranui 3, a cargo/passenger vessel that does a regular run to the Marquesas Islands, calling in at a couple of the Tuamotus as well. Just under 200 eclipse-chasers took the two-week trip to the remote and rugged Marquesas. (It was a fantastic journey but more on that in a later post.)
We were due to disembark at 5am on Hikueru, an atoll with a large lagoon and a small population, on Sunday morning but the weather was cloudy – just like Mangaia – so the captain of the Aranui checked the forecast and sailed to a place where there was a gap in the clouds. The advantage of this was that we did not have to get up so early.
The early stages of the eclipse were obscured by clouds at times but just before totality the clouds cleared and the sun came out – and then disappeared again.
Awesome (a much overused description but deserved I this instance)!
The eclipse was really just an excuse to visit the Marquesas and it would have been a great trip anyway but actually seeing just over four minutes of totality was the icing on the cake.
The video shows people getting ready for the greatest show on earth as well as the eclipse itself (edited – not the whole four minutes!)

Wednesday, July 14

Rarotonga airport’s new terminal

I was hoping to get this post online two or three weeks ago but as mentioned below, internet access in Papeete was slow and expensive and the same was true for the Aranui 3. However, it was quite pleasant to forget about email and computers for a while. And the terminal’s still there. Here’s the post – at last.
The next few videos will be of the solar eclipse and the Marquesas.

The new terminal at Rarotonga airport was officially opened on Monday 21 June although it had been in use for some time before that.
I didn’t make it to the opening as I was busy packing for a trip to Tahiti and the Marquesas but I heard the sound of drums, rather a lot of them and going on for a very long time. This probably means that everything started late and there were too many speeches.
Not to worry, there’s only one plane a week to Tahiti at the moment and it flies in on Tuesdays so I was down at the terminal the following day to welcome the Air Tahiti ATR32 and check out the facilities.
I’ve heard people moaning about the building; what was wrong with the old one? (arriving and departing passengers could mix and mingle – a no-no in these days of enhanced security); the tatty old terminal had a certain charm (but very few places for travellers to sit down); the new building is too hot (this might well be true for a full Air New Zealand jumbo-load but Tuesday’s twenty or so passengers plus staff didn’t overtax the fans).
The terminal has a large north-facing roof area so, when finances permit, the Airport Authority can install solar panels and air-condition everywhere. The Business Class lounge is already air-conditioned and very comfortable although it hasn’t got very many more seats than the old lounge – they’re just spaced further apart.
In the meantime other travellers will just have to be grateful that they’ve got seats, some interesting new shops and duty free outlets and a snack bar.
Local art has been used for decoration. A painting by Tim Buchanan depicting travelling Polynesians graces the entrance to the departure lounge and Ted Nia sculptures adorn the concrete pillars.
There’s also a little stage for Jake (Numanga) to serenade everyone as they head off into the wide blue yonder.
Jake might actually have cause for a moan because in the old days he could sing to incoming and outgoing passengers from the same position. Now, however, he has to hop smartly from the arrival to the departure hall at the appropriate time. That’s progress for you.