Pamela Wade finds peace — after the Aussies left — in a warm place where the beer is pink.
There was an icecream scoop in the kitchen of my little Tahitian villa, but no bottle-opener. Knowing this should be no impediment to any red-blooded Kiwi's enjoyment of the amber nectar, I was somewhat shamefaced about trailing across to the owner's house to ask for one, but Henrietta was happy to oblige. Tiny, perpetually smiling, in a long, colourful mission dress with her grey hair pulled back into a bun, she seemed happy, full-stop. And who wouldn't be, living on the palm-fringed edge of a turquoise lagoon full of bright fish?
"You're in the middle of nowhere," exclaimed my tour guide when he learned where I was staying; but it wasn't much more than a half-hour drive from Papeete to Hiti Moana Villa at Papara. "Wait 'til rush hour," Arnaud muttered darkly, dropping me at the gate.
Walking later along the island's one perimeter road to the local shop, I did notice a steady stream of cars, but it was the friendly greetings from the cyclists and other pedestrians that made more of an impression.
The air-conditioned interior of the shop was a welcome escape from the heat and humidity, and the bottles of beer I bought felt deliciously cold against my skin. Hinano is Tahiti's famous brand, and that's what I had intended to buy, but I was side-tracked by Tabu next to it in the chiller. Labelled the Tiki Vodka Beer, and also locally made, it sounded intriguing - malt, sugar, hops, citrus, elderflower, red fruits, and "arome vodka".
Tinged pink in the glass, it tasted good, too, refreshing, tangy, with just a hint of something stronger. It was the ideal drink for a warm evening on the end of a jetty under a shingled roof. I sat watching the fish flit through clear water so warm that heat shimmers had distorted my view when snorkelling earlier. Everything was perfect - then the Aussies arrived.
A family of four, they were as raucous as a flock of galahs, the teenage children completely focused on filming themselves swimming and diving. "Get a photo of me here! And here! From the side! Loik thees!"
It was a relief when they finally swooped on the kayaks and paddled out across the lagoon, taking their rowdy chatter with them. Now it was just me and the fish again as the sun dropped, tinting the clouds that were reflected in the water like a mirror. The glossy surface was broken again and again by schools of tiny fish moving as one, or by bigger fish jumping, even flying a surprising distance.
Behind me, incongruously, I could hear the hum of traffic - Arnaud was right about the rush hour - but all around was classic, tropical, sunset beauty. Across the bay, a headland became a black silhouette as the clouds were rimmed with gold and the sun slipped down behind them. Hoping for a Technicolor extravaganza, I got instead a display of elegant sepia, classy and restrained. But at least my beer was pink.
Getting there: Air New Zealand and Air Tahiti Nui have regular flights from Auckland to Papeete.
Pamela Wade was hosted by Tahiti Tourisme and Air Tahiti Nui.