Travel Writers: A 4WD Tahiti Adventure

by Martin Robinson

The Polynesian island of Tahiti is paradise if you’ve been at sea for months in an uncomfortable boat like the Bounty mutineers, but it’s as hot as a sauna and more expensive than Paris. Preferring the jungle-covered mountains to the baking black sand beaches, a group of us get together to hire a 4WD to try and drive across the middle of the island.

We find an ancient Suzuki Rocky for hire, and when we point out a completely bald tyre, the proprietor just gives a Gallic shrug of his shoulders. As we drive off, he tells us not to go off-road because it would invalidate the insurance. What insurance? I don’t think we have any.

Next we have to find the mayor of Mataiea village to get a permit to cross the island. Luckily he’s in his office, but he refuses to give us a permit. ‘C’est impossible. This is rainy season and the river is too deep.’ ‘But Monsieur we just want to drive as far as we can.’ Amazingly he changes his mind and signs the permit.

We are off on our Mission Impossible with a bald tyre, no insurance and no map. We’re heading into the unknown.

We follow a dirt track through plantations of papaya, banana and breadfruit to a small lake fed by a high waterfall. A nearby archaeological site has remains of a stone platform where human sacrifices used to take place in the old days. Life wasn’t all singing and dancing around with flowers in your hair.

Then we rub our eyes in disbelief. Ahead of us is a 300-metre tunnel cut through solid rock and at the end is a wonderful panorama of green rain forest-clad mountains 2000m high with countless small waterfalls cascading down the valley sides. Further on is another surprise – a small hotel. We stop for a drink and the manager explains that hydro-electric workers built
the tunnel and stay in the hotel. He gives us only a 50% chance of reaching the other side of the island.

Every time we cross the river it’s wider and deeper. Are we going to make it? It starts raining and the water is up to Rocky’s exhaust pipe. If we get stuck it’s a long way back to the hotel. Boulders in the river are difficult to see and the tyre marks we’re following keep on crossing and re-crossing the river. Our hearts are in our mouths and we’re taking a big risk. But
it’s an adventure, and we’re all fired up and cheering crazily each time we cross the river safely.

We make slow progress and it takes us nearly 7 hours to cover just 38 kilometres. We survive sixteen river crossings and finally make it to the other side of the island after an exciting trip through dramatic scenery which makes us feel like explorers in a Lost World.

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