Right, once again!
Clearly, the navigators of past times were not very good at inventing new names and every time they found a group of islands they named them “Windward” and “Leeward” islands! The worst case is probably that of the Dutch Antilles, which are at the same time “Leeward” as compared to the other Carribbean islands, but “Windward” in relation to the other Dutch islands of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire.
Ok, so also French Polinesia is split between “Windward” (Tahiti, Moorea and a couple of smaller islands) and “Leeward” (Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and, last but not least, Bora Bora – followed by two smaller, less well-known islands).
Incidentally, they have been called “Society Islands” by Cook himself, in honour of the British Geographis Society, and the French did not change the name.
Until the early 1900’s they had a King, the last one being Pomare 5th who was a sorry puppet in the hands of the French who managed to make him sign a protectorate agreement that basically started formally the French domination of these islands.
Tahiti then: before arriving, we had been warned: very expensive, you will have to leave because you will run out of money, very touristy, and so on….
In fact, after months spent at anchor in solitary places, being moored at a pontoon just 10 meters from Papeete’s main road (Boulevard Pomare, nonetheless) has been a cultural as well as an auditive shock.
The town is actually very expensive, expecially for what concerns alcoholic drinks (a fact that created great concern to some Rally crews…), although for example it is indeed possible to eat out at reasonable prices at the “roach coaches”, sort of mobile restaurants that are set up every evening in the port premises. We tried a few, and they were quite good.
Another feature of Papeete is the covered market where they sell mostly fruit, vegetables and other food, but also souvenirs, tee-shirts and pearls.
Right, the pearls: Polinesia has always been a source of pearls, but now this is an industry and a smart japanese has introduced a new kind of “nacre” (pearl-making oyster) that makes black pearls, which have by now become a local trademark.
They are not exactly black, but actually range in color from dark grey to green.
Un-surprisingly, Papeete’s main road is full of pricey pearl shops!
Unlike in the Marquesas, the island’s shores are densely inhabited: it’s very rare to find a stretch of coast where there is not a home (or an hotel!).
The island’s interior by contrast is almost totally un-inhabited, with dramatic sceneries not much unlike the Marquesas.
Even more dramatic-looking and more tourist-oriented is nearby Moorea, but here the tourist infrastructure is discreet and not too evident (with the possible exception of the 4 or 5 sea-side hotels); anyway, both Cook’s Bay (where Cook has never gone) and Opunohu Bay (where Cook DID actually moor his ship) are two unforgettable sceneries.