Monday, 24 March 2014

The Lagoonarium - Tahiti

Listed as one of the places to visit and a highlight on our half day tour round the island (which cost 4500 Polynesian French Francs (CFP) or about £40 each) this rather tired and crumby looking place offered a chance to ‘experience under the sea without getting wet’! now if this hadn’t been a stop on our tour there is no way we would have bothered with this as ‘Sea life Centre’ it is not, but having been brought here as part of our half day tour we felt obliged to once again put our hands in our wallet and pay the extra 300 CFP or approx £3 each to go in as it would have looked rather churlish not too.

The entrance to this site is through a restaurant called ‘captain Bligh’s’ which is a large coconut leaf roofed building with a stage and a bar. We were there at about 9.30 am so it was quite empty so I have no idea what the food or atmosphere is like but it did offer nice ocean views. We noticed that the price of a buffet here was even more than it was at our hotel so I’m not sure how many diners they pull in. Apparently the £3 entrance fee is waived if you eat a meal at this restaurant. Presumably only a lunch meal works as it would be very hard to see anything in the dark even if the inside is lit.

Having walked through the restaurant you venture out onto a wooden walkway across a coral reef. This is in my view the most interesting part of the site. The water was crystal clear and even though we were above on the walkway we could clearly see the wonderful corals of different shapes and sizes. We also spotted different coloured sea cucumbers which look most uninteresting, a bit like giant slugs. We watched with fascination as one tiny fish kept hiding in an anemone while its predator fish hung around waiting for it to emerge. The tiny fish kept coming out and looking around but the larger fish seemed blind as a bat and missed it each time it popped out.

Having paid our entrance fee we thought we might as well see what was underneath in the viewing area.  We made our way through the rather tacky shark’s mouth down into the viewing area which was all cement. As we went down the stairs we passed simplified murals on the wall labelled intestine, pancreas etc. I am 100% sure these were totally inaccurate but children might have been impressed.

The actual viewing room had several rather grubby windows which were quite difficult to see through. The surrounding walls were all cement coloured and dotted around were shelved with shells. I think the idea was to make it a bit like the inside of a submarine but that is only my interpretation, my husband disagreed but could not offer a better suggestion.

Now, not only were the windows rather grubby but there were labels to say what was in each viewing window. There was an information poster, the kind that you get free in news papers sometimes with pictures of fish/birds/mammals and their names on one wall but no extra information at all.

The fish were in fenced off areas of the lagoon, so some, like the small sharks had a larger fenced in area while others had the equivalent to a large fish tank beside the window. The only slightly positive thing was that they were in the lagoon water and so had constant fresh water flowing through their fenced off areas.
The fencing was all rather tatty and some of the metal had rusted. I think the underneath section took us about 5 minutes to walk through and a lot of that time we spent trying to identify some of the fish by using the poster but failed miserably. My husband was a keen scuba diver and studied marine biology at university and still we struggled so heaven knows a child would have no chance.

Having studied the small under sea viewing area we came up and took some silly photos of us in the shark’s mouth before we returned to the more interesting natural part of the lagoon that we could see from the board walk.

On our little tour we had a French couple and a Norwegian couple besides us and we all thought the same. A totally underwhelming experience which would have not entertained children for more than 15 minutes tops and that is being generous.

We made use of the toilet in the restaurant before leaving and they were clean and quite basic but in both the men’s and ladies’ wash basin area all along under the large mirror was a lovely lots of flowers just laid in a row which did brighten up a rather functional and tired wash room.

I did say in my first review that I would be adding other reviews on our Tahiti trip and from these it would become apparent why I am not really recommending Tahiti as an island destination as there are far nicer ones. This is one of four or five ‘sights’ that are considered highlights of Tahiti so there you are.

Would I recommend, well I think you can guess the answer, NO. A waste of time and the only thing going for it is that it was only about £3 but even that I consider expensive for what was offered. We were also a bit miffed that we had paid £40 odd for the trip and then had to pay again for this but that is Tahiti.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Musee Gauguin, Tahiti

This was the most interesting ‘highlight’ on our half day tour around the island of Tahiti Nui and this was something I really wanted to see when visiting Tahiti as to me Gauguin paintings ARE Tahiti. His paintings are bright, naive and were my idea of a South Pacific island. Prior to going on our trip I caught a TV programme that was all about Gauguin and more specifically about his time in Tahiti so I had great hopes for this museum. I imagined something a bit like the Robert Louis Stevenson museum in Samoa but how wrong can you be?

Once again, the entrance to this was not included in the price of our half day round the island trip which cost us 4500 Polynesian French Francs (CFP) or about £40 each. The entrance to this museum was apparently 600CFP or about £6 roughly but we only paid 300CFP so not sure if there has been a total price reduction for all or if we got a reduction because we were on the tour. The museum is open from 9am to 5pm daily and it is totally self guided by reading the information boards around in the three different buildings.
As you turn off the main road down the drive to the museum there is a really nice sign but unfortunately like so much of Tahiti the sign was covered in graffiti and so we didn’t bother taking a photo for our album. The drive way was really lovely with huge giant bamboos alongside a stream and lovely tropical plants on the other side so all looked good.

As we arrived we paid the lady behind a simple counter and then our guide pointed us in the direction of the main exhibition rooms and the toilets and off we went.

The museum was done in chronological order and so the first room was about his early life and his marriage to a Scandinavian woman called Mette, their life in France and the fact that he had two children and a fairly normal job and life. He travelled quite a bit as a younger man as he was a sailor, a huge map showed all the countries he had visited and he certainly saw a great deal of the world. He had been to the West Indies, round the Middle East as well as to the Pacific.

At about the age of 40 he decided to take up his art more seriously. He seemed to be quite friendly with several artists of the time and apparently bought quite a lot of art. He lived in Brittany then moved to the South of France to share a house with van Gogh which ended up with the argument when van Gogh cut off part of his ear!

The relationship with his wife seems to have broken down as she took the children back to Denmark. As he died of syphilis and leprosy in the end, you do wonder where he picked up the former, was it as a young sailor or in his later years in the pacific after he abandoned his wife?

Once he was living in Tahiti he seems to have become quite the party person, having orgies and drinking, taking drugs and generally being debauched. However his paintings produced were bright and colourful and extremely saleable back in France where he returned to put on his exhibitions.

He commented at the time that Tahiti was not the ‘savage’ and ‘primitive’ place he was hoping to capture in his paintings, it was more like France. Maybe even then, the Tahitians were losing their cultural identity as they certainly seem to have today.

On his return to Tahiti he lived on one of the other Polynesian islands. He built a large home and took a very young local wife with whom he had a child. He continued to live a rather bohemian existence, painting many of his works with his young wife as the central figure. He partied, drank and smoked and caused great offense to the local catholic priest who couldn’t abide him. Many of his paintings of this time had this poor young ‘wife’ of his as the central person and despite his ill health he continued painting.

The museum in Tahiti delicately states he died of a heart attack but he was pretty revolting towards the end of his life as the syphilis and leprosy were both eating away at him. You do wonder what happened to the poor girl who was married off to him at the young age of about 12 -14. No doubt she had a rather short life and had to put up with a ghastly old sick man, it really doesn’t bare thinking about.

One of the rooms in the museum had small versions of all his paintings and grouped them as to where in the world they were today. There were many in the various galleries in the USA, obviously in the French galleries as well as others in Europe but there are no originals in any of the British galleries. There were a huge number held in private collections, almost as many as were in the various galleries which surprised me.

Throughout the museum there were rather faded copies of his work at the time with explanations about where he was and how he was developing artistically at that time. It was quite a large museum spread over three different buildings and all the information was in both French and English  In  the last building there were paintings where he had been inspired by Japanese artists and interestingly there was some information in Japanese here but no anywhere else.

There museum was all fairly open and relied upon through breezes to keep it cool. The floors were cement and everywhere was very simple but it all also looked a bit dated, the pictures were quite faded and as part of the appeal of Gauguin’s work is the colour I found that disappointing.

I found it hard to decide what I thought. The information was all very interesting but not inspiring at all in its presentation. One thing that we did find quite stunning was a huge piece of French rock that for some reason he had shipped to Tahiti to remind him of France. You do have to ask why? Very strange, surely a painting would have done the same thing and been more attractive and far easier and cheaper to transport. They say there is a fine line between genius and madness and to me that was total madness! It wasn’t even a particularly beautiful rock, just a pale lump of rock with no interest to it at all.

The museum is set is lovely tropical gardens and within the gardens are a number of ancient stone tikis which were quite interesting but would have been more so with a bit more information. There was a little information with the first one about how they were important religious symbols but not really any great detail. Aside from the gardens the property has a sea front and so you can also look out and enjoy the sea views. I have since discovered in my research that there is some history in that tikis should not be moved and the people involved in the removal of the tikis to this site have all come to some misfortune, a bit like Tutankhamen’s tomb!

The souvenir shop had postcards at 100 CFP each (about £1) , fridge magnets, sarongs with Gauguinesque pictures for 2000CFP ( think 100 to the £1) and then some ornaments which were actually quite nice but they were stunningly pricey at about £230 each. We bought one postcard!!

As I said I don’t really know what to think as the museum was set in lovely grounds and was quite informative but just not terribly inspiring. If you are in Tahiti then yes you should go and visit this and really this is the highlight in the list of things to see on Tahiti Nui but if you are a fan of Gauguin ‘s paintings then I think you will be a bit disappointed. I was not expecting any originals but I did think that the copies would be as good as posters and not faded and tired looking.

There is supposedly a restaurant but it certainly wasn’t obvious and there was no cafe either as far as we could see. In fact the entire museum was rather half hearted and had an air of ‘can’t be bothered’ about it. The gift shop as I said had items for extortionate prices and they were not even really items that you would want anyway.

This museum sums up Tahiti generally for me; it is faded, past its best. The paintings of Gauguin’s bear no resemblance at all to the island we visited. There was nothing exotic or romantic or even traditional about the place and that was a big disappointment. I was not expecting things to be as Cook and others found them but I was expecting something a little more like Samoa and Fiji had been.

Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti

We arrived in Pape ‘ete from Brisbane via Auckland at 1am local time the same day as we had left Brisbane about 14 hours earlier at 11.15am! We had two Oct 21st which was very strange as we crossed the International Date Line. It was however a very long day so we pleased to arrive at the hotel.
The pickup from Fa’aa airport went smoothly and we were greeted with a lovely scented flower lei and a group of local singers serenading us as we went through passport control and collected our bags. The lei incidentally still smelt lovely in our room on the day we left five days later so the Tahitian gardenia has a very powerful aroma.

The hotel reception area was airy and open and the lady behind the desk was lovely. We were upgraded to a suite with an ocean view and asked if we needed help with our luggage which we declined and set off to find it. There were about 6 blocks of rooms and we were in the 6th on the top floor but luckily there was a lift otherwise the luggage would have been a problem up all the stairs.

We opened the door to our suite and wow! Amazing! Downstairs was a sitting room with a desk and cupboards/wardrobes. There was a downstairs loo, a fridge and kettle with tea/coffee etc. A TV unit was in the wall, the floors were beautiful hardwood polished with cream walls and simple cane furniture with cream cushions. This floor had a large private balcony with two sun beds and two chairs and a table.

Up the lovely solid wooden stairs we went to discover our bedroom which was beautiful. There was an enormous bed facing the drawer unit which had a TV on it. As you came up the stairs there was a large wardrobe unit inside this was a safe with number code. To the left of the bed as you stood at the foot was a window that went to the floor and from this the view was ‘to die for’. We could lie in bed and see over the lovely free form pool out to the ocean through the trees. It really was the most beautiful bedroom view and each night we left the curtains open so we woke to this stunning view in the morning.

The bathroom had a really big shower with glass front, a sink with under shelf, toilet and bath too. There are not many places you can sit on the toilet and see the view of the ocean through a large floor to ceiling window!

Extras provided included a hair dryer in the bathroom and bathroom scales (who wants to weigh themselves on holiday?), an iron and ironing board, a folding suitcase stand. On our bed, when we arrived, was a personal welcoming letter and two lovely soaps from the spa which I was very touched with. In the bathroom was shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, shower gel, a shower cap and two different kinds of soap. Downstairs there were three kinds of tea, decaff and normal coffee but only vanilla flavoured coffee mate which were lovely in coffee but disgusting in tea. Luckily I had taken some mini UHT packs so they did for my tea. We were rather taken with the sugar packs which had Tahitian pictures on the back so we opened them carefully and made a small collection of those.

To continue with the good, internet was FREE and unlimited which was how I managed to read/rate a few reviews while away. You could either connect with wifi in the bar or Reception or connect via a cable to the connection near the phone in your room. I thought this was a real bonus and the best bargain in Tahiti!

The pool below our room was lovely, a free form infinity pool with a very gradual increase in depth so you could walk in like on a beach. It was wonderfully relaxing and around the pool were plenty of trees and sun beds so there was never a problem getting a chair or finding shade. Pool towels were available from a man in a hut but most of the time he wasn’t there so we just helped ourselves. 

Down from the wooden boardwalk around the pool you could get on to the black sandy beach. Unfortunately the sea shelved very quickly and the waves breaking at the edge threw sand and pebbles at you as you entered the sea. There were also quite strong riffs so after testing the water we decided the pool was a more pleasant option but it was nice to see and hear the sea.

The pool bar and main restaurant was beside the pool and the beach and the setting could not have been nicer. The staff were all delightful and tried to give you a table right at the front looking at the sea.
There was another a la carte restaurant that was next to the reception area but it was pricey and also only open on certain days. The Lafayette bar was also above the reception area but we didn’t explore that as we were content with the one by the pool. The other side of the reception area there were shops and there was also a spa with a sauna and steam room which we could use but we were not tempted as it was already quite warm and we preferred the sun to a steam room or sauna.

Tahiti is VERY expensive, quite shockingly so. Our breakfasts were not included and this was the only hotel where they were not included in all our island stays. The buffet breakfast cost about £18 a head which we felt was quite steep. The breakfasts were quite good, plenty of fresh fruit, yogurts and fruit salad, fruit juices (no Bucks fizz here!). There were cold meats, cheese and salad stuff, including black olives and gherkins which we made good use of and made a sandwich for our lunch too.  The hot stuff included an egg station, scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, grilled tomatoes and French toast. Some days there were pancakes and maple syrup but I only had them once. The bread was limited to French bread, sliced bread and rolls and there were different pastries and things like banana bread which I took for my afternoon tea. It was quite a good breakfast but didn’t compare to the Hilton in Fiji which was a lot cheaper.

It was possible to have an a la carte breakfast but that worked out even more. An American couple next to us ordered a la carte and their exclamations about the prices showed they felt the same as we did. We had no choice but to eat in the hotel as it was miles out of Papeete so we made sure we got our money’s worth.
To add insult to injury on Sunday they called breakfast ‘Sunday Brunch’ and the price increased to about £24 each. The food offered was a little different in that it included a lot of the left overs from the buffet meal the night before!! I avoided those dishes as they included raw fish so really it was a bit of a cheek but it seemed that a lot of local Tahitian families came for this brunch and then stayed to use the hotel facilities on a Sunday.

We ate two evening meals here.  One was a la carte in the sea front restaurant. The food was okay, nothing special but well cooked and there was enough.. The second was the ‘Round the world’ buffet with Tahitian show on Saturday night which we paid over 12000 Pacific French francs about £100 for two – with about £10 tax added to the bill at the end. The salad stuff was very nice, fresh, tasty and included the raw fish salad and a few local things. My husband tried the hot choices and came back with the strangest selections of food – a rather tasteless chicken curry, a dry lamb dish, gnocchi with mussels and nachos that had no chilli at all. He was unimpressed. I enjoy the salad stuff so stuck with that and then explored the desserts. These were actually very nice. They looked good, there was a nice balanced selection and they tasted good too. There was a lovely almond pie, tiramisu, chocolate mousse and some others but not one had any hint of anything that could be even vaguely Tahitian about it which was a bit disappointing.

All in all we felt five days was too long here, I will write a separate review on Tahiti itself and you will see why. The resort was lovely but there was really nothing to do there apart from swim and sunbathe or in my case catch up with my Ciao and Dooyoo reads! The room we had was probably one of the best we have stayed in but after a while the excitement of a nice room even with a lovely view begins to wear a bit thin if there is nothing to do or see. Our stay here cost us about £400 just for two evening meals and four breakfasts – that is a lot of money for some very ordinary meals.

According to our guide on the one trip we did this hotel is joining the Hilton and the Hyatt that have already closed in Tahiti so it may not be around much longer. Maybe tales of Tahiti’s outrageous prices have started to reach the travelling public and they are voting with their feet.

Tahiti not the island Paradise I imagined

Tahiti is the largest of the French Polynesian islands and is a volcanic island with black sand not the lovely white sand you imagine on a South sea island. The island is 45 km across at its widest point and covers an area of 1,045 km2  so it is not huge. We were staying on Tahiti Nui (big Tahiti) which is the bigger part of the island which has a thin bit about half way down the island. The smaller southern part is called Tahiti Iti or small Tahiti.

When we booked our trip to the South Sea islands we were both very keen to see Tahiti as this was the island the epitomised the South Seas through Gauguin’s beautiful paintings. His paintings were full of bright colours and exotic people and this is what I was expecting. I was hoping to see colourful tropical gardens and friendly smiling local people rather like we had seen in Samoa, Fiji and then later in the lovely Cook Islands. How wrong can you be?

Tahiti is miles from anywhere except the other French Polynesian islands and even these are often an hour or so flight away. To give you an idea Tahiti is 4,400 km to the south of Hawai'i, a whopping 7,900 km from Chile and a good six hour flight and 5,700 km from Australia.

We arrived at Faa’a airport which was quite tiny and were welcomed with singing and all the formalities like passport and collecting luggage went very smoothly. Once outside we found our name on the board for our meeting and the person took us to check in and gave us lovely fragrant leis to wear then we waited while they sorted out which car would take us tour hotel which was the Radisson this time. After about ten minutes sitting in the mini bus with another couple they finally decided to take us to our hotel. This was a bit disorganised and as we were quite tired from a night of travel we were a bit peeved at the wait as we had paid some decent amount for an airport transfer to save us fussing at the airport in the middle of the night.

As I said it was very late at night and we were feeling quite tired so I can’t say I noticed too much on the way to the hotel. We passed through or by Papeete  (pop 131,695) which appeared to be quite a small town beside the sea and not a large capital city by most standards. The road pretty well followed the coast all the way to the hotel and we discovered later that this was because the middle of the island is not inhabited at all. It is quite hilly being a volcanic island and most of it is still overgrown vegetation. The majority of people live on the fringes of the island of Tahiti and very few live inland or on the southern blob of Tahiti Iti.

The entire population of the island is only about 180.000 so it is a very small island in so many ways.
Tahiti is part of French Polynesia and the citizens and French; they have all the benefits of being French with none of the downs sides it seems but more of that later! They are part of France but not part of the EU. They have their own currency which if called the French Pacific Franc (CFP) and this is fixed to the Euro at 1 CFP = EUR .00838. The main language spoken by all is French and the Tahitian language is definitely a second language. During the 1960’s it was forbidden to teach Tahitian in schools but today it is taught once again. All this seems to have removed a lot of the feeling for a Tahitian culture from the people which I found quite sad. I felt that Tahiti was exactly that, France in the South pacific, the people have full political and civil rights of French citizens.

This is the part that we found staggering. They pay no income tax at all yet their education is free through to university. They pay only 20% of any medical costs and there is brand spanking new hospital just built in Papeete. Tahiti has its own  assembly, president, budget and laws and the previous president of Tahiti was pushing for independence from France but obviously only about 20% of the population were supporting this. I am amazed that 20% supported it as France is keeping the country afloat. Franch money pays for the roads, the education and most of the health care of Tahitians. Presumably it must also pay for the assembly and the President as well as the police as the local people pay no tax so this is the only funding coming in. The only industry producing much income is tourism and that is mainly on the islands of Bora Bora and Moorea which is adjacent to Tahiti.

We looked in to spending a couple of nights on Bora Bora until we found that the cost of two nights and the flights was in the region of £3000 for the two of us. So this is a destination for the seriously wealthy as we found Tahiti itself expensive enough.

Once we were in Tahiti we enquired about getting to Moorea.  It appears that there is a ferry between the islands which goes hourly but there were no trips organized from Tahiti to get to Moorea picking you up from your hotel. The shuttle from the hotel to Papeete only left at 9am or 1pm returning at 5pm so we would have had to catch a local bus and no-one was very helpful about times. Trips around Moorea could be arranged from the ferry port in Moorea but you had to get there. In the end it was going to be so complicated and also quite expensive as every time you did anything in Tahiti it was expensive so we decided not to bother.

I think considering how much the people rely on tourism as an industry it is appalling how poor it was. Nothing was easy and transport was also unreliable. We had a spent a morning on our island tour of Tahiti and been monumentally unimpressed so we were reluctant to spend more money getting to Moorea to find that it was another disappointment.

The other main industry in Tahiti or French Polynesia is the farming of black pearls and these were eye wateringly expensive. Most of the pearls are exported to Japan, Europe and the US. Tahiti also exports vanilla pods, fruits,( not sure which as we didn’t enjoy many fresh fruit while we were there)  flowers, monoi, which  is an infused oil made from soaking the petals of Tahitian gardenias (tiare) in  coconut oil. fish, copra oil, and noni fruit which is supposed to have health benefits but tasted disgusting, a cross between molasses and vinegar.

We didn’t see much evidence of anything being farmed at all and a lot of food is imported from Australia and New Zealand. I am sure more could have been grown as the soil is fertile and the weather perfect for growing but I think the people have got used to being kept by France. They will have a big shock if France decided to give them independence and cut off their funds.

I was quite shocked that a nation could be allowed to sit back and just take with no encouragement for them to do something about their own up keep. This ‘handout’ receiving is not good for self esteem and the lack of pride was evident as we drove around. There was graffiti everywhere on every flat surface someone had scrawled untidy graffiti and it looked awful. All the houses had walls or corrugated iron fences so you could not see in and all that was visible were ugly scribbled on walls I various states of repair. This was not how I had imagined this tropical island was going to look, I was very disappointed.

Hope this has been of some interest to you and save you spending the money to find out for yourself how underwhelming this island is.