Part 11: THE ROAD TO TAHITI: AUKENA AND HIKUERU

From Hikueru to Eternity

“Aranui” can be translated as “the Big Highway” and Aranui 5 is on the road back to Tahiti. Since we shove off from Pitcairn Island, a UK overseas territory, and arrive the next day at Mangareva, part of a French overseas territory, before debarking passengers must undergo more passport formalities. Across the lagoon from Rikitea, we alight at Aukena where, like a WWII landing craft or Higgins boat, our barge’s bow ramp lowers onto the sand so we can make a dry landing. Privately-owned by a black pearl tycoon, Aranui has a special arrangement that allows us to picnic and swim on placid Aukena for the day.

The next day is spent at sea, as passengers enjoy various shipside activities: Aranui guide Mila expounds on the cargo/cruiser’s history and Keao Nesmith lectures about Polynesian nations today. Workshops teach we nautical nomads how to play ukulele, speak Tahitian and about bracelets and earrings. In the evening the Aranui Band, composed of musical mariners, serenades imbibers at the Veranda Bar on Deck 6.

After breakfast our trusty passenger/freighter effortlessly glides through a pass into the lagoon and Aranui’s explorers paddle up and move ’em out, Polynesians! for the last time during this voyage at Hikueru. A flower bedecked welcoming committee awaits us on the dock, greeting us with stringed instruments and leis to this beguiling Tuamotu atoll. Some of my shipmates opt to ride the bus but I decide to discover Hikueru on foot, passing by tables of handmade local handicrafts for sale. Within 15 minutes of strolling, I literally hike cross-country, from the oceanside to the lagoon-side of this splendid isle of perpetual summer, so far from the madding crowd.

Our best Indigenous feast is served beside the town hall after the ahima’a or earth oven is ceremoniously opened, and pigs, breadfruits, fish and vegetables inside of metal pots that have been baked by hot rocks and coral in the dirt are dug up and placed on our buffet table, along with ice cold coconuts. Our lecturer, Keao, purchases huge coconut crabs and Hikueru hoofers perform traditional dances. I chow down on my favorite Native delicacy, po’e, and then hoof it to the best swimming beach of our voyage, in crystal clear waters full of fish, coral and large clams.

A good time is had by all as we return to the dual purpose Aranui for the long haul back to Papeete. As the sun sets slowly in the west we bid a fond “aloha oe” to the delightful atoll of Hikueru. That night, as if to recap our Pitcairn adventure, on our cabins’ flatscreen TVs, Marlon Brando woos Tarita in 1962’s Mutiny on the Bounty and overthrows Trevor Howard. After another day at sea, like the Bounty after revolting against Captain Bligh, we return to Tahiti – except there’s been no mutiny against Aranui 5’s Captain Arnaud Demesy.

French Polynesia’s Utopia

According to prearranged plans, at Papeete I’m whisked away from the pier where Aranui berths and driven to the nearby dock to board the Aremiti, the ferry to Moorea, roughly 10 nautical miles away to Tahiti’s neighbor isle. Depending on the seas, the crossing takes around 30 minutes or so. Drop dead gorgeous Moorea vies with Bora Bora for the championship title as French Polynesia’s most beautiful island. Its jagged jade peaks perpetually pierce the clouds, which float like cotton candy or melt like marshmallows on the sawtooth skyline that looks like shark teeth.

In 1516 Sir Thomas More wrote an immortal book about a perfect society entitled Utopia. Moorea is so jaw-droppingly, eye-poppingly extravagantly exquisite and Utopian in its perfection that I’d argue it could properly be named after Sir Thomas’ earthly paradise: “More-a.”

I’m picked up at the ferry terminal and after about a half hour drive, I arrive at the Moorea Island Beach Hotel at Haapiti Village on the island’s northwestern coast. About a dozen spacious wooden bungalows with tin roofs and patios are perched seaside. Delicious breakfasts are served in an open-air lobby and lounge area beneath a thatched roof with comfy couches overlooking the sea, which offers pleasant snorkeling and is near a public white sand beach. This is an unpretentious, simple, quiet getaway spot from which I’ll launch my final excursions, two of the best guided tours of my entire life, a fitting grand finale to my almost two-week voyage to the edge of the Earth at Pitcairn Island.

When you go:

DESTINATIONS:
French Polynesia:
tahititourisme.com
Pitcairn Island:
www.visitpitcairn.pn
www.government.pn

GETTING THERE:
Aranui: www.aranui.com/en (800)972-7268
United Airlines: www.united.com (800)864-8331

TOURS:
TIURAI TOURS: Vanessa Alvarez Tel/WhatsApps: (+689)89513222 Vanessa@tiuraitours.com
Mana Tang Tel/WhatsApps: (+689)89527377 mana89w@gmail.com.

HOTELS:
Hilton Hotel Tahiti: (689) 40 86 48 48; 1-800-HILTONS
www.hilton.com/en/hotels/ppthihh-hilton-hotel-tahiti
Hilton San Francisco Union Square: (415)771-1400 1-800-HILTONS.
www.hilton.com/en/hotels/sfofhhh-hilton-san-francisco-union-square
Beacon Grand, A Union Square Hotel: www.beacongrand.com (866)377-9412.

Written by: Ed Rampell

 Ed Rampell picture Ed Rampell has traveled widely, to more than 100 Pacific Islands, Asia, Europe, Mexico and Africa. His travel writing and photography has appeared in: Islands, Action Asia, Travel Age West, Skin Inc, Porthole, Far East Traveler, Asian Diver, L.A. Times, Toronto Globe & Mail, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Pacific Business News, E — The Environmental Magazine, L.A. Reader, etc. Rampell is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Journal. Rampell was interviewed in Tahiti for the CBS newsmagazine 48 Hours, and National Public Radio’s Savvy Traveler interviewed Rampell about the Marquesas Islands. Rampell acted as a consultant for, and appears as the most used on-camera interviewee, in the 2005 Australian-European co-production Hula Girls, which has been seen by millions of viewers on Dutch, German, French, Swiss, Australian, etc., television on the Avro and Arte networks. Rampell’s Polynesian daughter Marina is a singer in Australia.

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