Having picked up some maps at the tourist information by the docks, planned a few desired stop-offs and hired a car for the day, we were ready to drive the coast road that wraps around Tahiti Nui and smaller Tahiti to the south-east. The constructed concrete and development of Papeete slowly faded into the background as we sped south down the smooth roads of the west side of the island into a scene framed by thick, dark green trees and mountains that raised up from the roadside.
Our first stop was at Grotte de Maraa caves barely 30km south of Papeete, a public garden bursting with every tone of lush green imaginable, despite being but a machete strike away from the main road. The detail of fanned leaves, the variation in plant patterns and the odd splash of water and other colour created a world in which I wanted nothing more than to walk alone and once again get lost in the thicket of nature whilst Joel and Matt headed up into the jungle, following an overgrown path.
The caves themselves gave cover to pools of water on which lilies clustered, some white petals on display. To the side of the main cave was a sign hidden behind foliage that stated No lifeguard on duty, surely a joke of sorts. Matt went for a paddle and the water barely reached his knees (although apparently further into the belly of the cave it drops away).
Back behind the wheel and we drove on down to Teahupo’o on Tahiti Iti, Tahit Nui’s little sister joined to the main bulk of the island by a slim stretch of land over which passed two roads. A few young teens body boarded on little waves on the edge of the village whilst the infamous Teahupo’o break smashed about a couple of kilometres out to sea. We walked by empty houses and quiet air, accompanied by a stray dog.
On the way back up north we decided to head to the Taravao Plateau, stopping first at a little spot off the beaten track by a river where we dunked in cool waters and got nibbled by creatures in a murky river bed. At least I did. Joel and Matt, my crew mates from the Pacific crossing, swam against the river flow, then let themselves get carried for a little while. I guess it had been a long time at sea without exercise.
The viewpoint of Taravao Plateau itself took us out of the jungly lowlands, high enough to get a wide look over both parts of the island. A little hut shaded us and the gentle yet constant trickle of tourists who pulled in for a quick glance. Beer tops, a few empty bottles and a smattering of graffiti hinted at a place that went beyond that of a lookout. This place saw it all. Or some variation, at least.
Our last stop-off was driven by the need to get to the water’s edge once again. Whilst the west coast beaches seemed unreachable and – where visible – chunked up with rocky entries, the east coast offered up a good dose of sandy beaches. Finding an unmarked place to pull in, the boys were quick to the water whilst I lay down, full stretch, and the warmth of the sand against the length of my body made me sleepy.
I dozed through all the fun – the body surfing, the local kids playing up to the Go-Pro camera, the refreshing splashing around – and roused only for the homeward stretch, a half hour drive with a red dusk sky backdrop
And we were back. In Papeete, at the pontoon, within the rock of the boat. Home.