Papeete's early morning market bustle gives way to restful contemplation, writes Pamela Wade.
Really, every day is a gift. But to open the curtains of my room at Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort to a view over the curve of a third-floor pond dotted with waterlilies, to a neat garden beyond, with an informal pool separated by a line of coconut palms from a white beach and a blue lagoon? Now that's special.
Even though it was early, the day began. It would have been a crime to waste all that colour and beauty: the pool bright turquoise, the lagoon a deeper teal, the Pacific beyond the foaming white reef a radiant dark blue. It was my first day in Tahiti and even though it was a Sunday, there were things to do.
The first was shopping. Papeete's market was busy, having opened in the small hours for stallholders to stack up their fish and fruit, bread and pastries. A very large woman sat on an invisible stool, dexterously threading flowers into colourful, fragrant garlands and crowns. Approaching the 9am close, there was cheerful chaos as the vendors competed to sell their last items, prices dropping as the minutes ticked away, and my first-breakfast bunch of baby bananas had loose extras popped into the bag.
With time to fill before the 10am service at the pink-painted Protestant Temple of Paofai, I wandered along the waterfront, working through my bananas as young children fished with handlines and a long-legged, athletic cockerel stalked hopefully behind them.
The church bell began to ring, and the airy building filled with people in their Sunday best, the women carrying fans and wearing decorated straw hats or flower crowns from the market, the men in pressed floral shirts, children in crisp white cotton. The ambience was relaxed and friendly and people chatted throughout the long sermon delivered in French and Tahitian. When it was their turn to sing, though, they gave it everything they had: shrill and spine-tingling, it was a real performance.
Back at Ia Ora Beach Resort, resisting the carpark market next door, where I could have bought a pearl, a plant or a puppy, there was just time for second breakfast at La Plantation. The garden restaurant was full of families as well as guests, indulging in an extensive buffet — everything from poisson cru to pancakes.
The fish enjoyed it, too. Great big orange goldfish pushed the purple-flowered waterlilies aside in their eagerness to grab the bits of bread thrown to them by children lying on their tummies as their parents chatted and a ukulele trio plinked away on the balcony upstairs.
Over in the pool, Denis was conducting his aquarobics class with spasmodic energy, urging his circle of ladies on with "Un, deux, trois! Allez! Allez!" and then lying back on his noodle for a relaxed natter.
Watching from a lounger on the pool's coral sand beach, it still seemed too much effort for me, and the arrival of a waiter from the bar asking for an order sealed the deal.
The sun was high, the flame tree across the pool was a brilliant orange against the green and the blue, and the palms and umbrellas cast hard-edged shadows. Doves cooed, small children playing politely in the water spoke clever French, waves broke with a distant roar over the reef. There was lunch at the poolside bar, a bottle of Tabu, a local beer, and then a return to the lounger, where trails in the sand tracked the chase after the umbrella's shade.
The pool emptied, the loungers filled, and it grew quiet as people napped. A light breeze rustled the palm fronds and wafted the scent of frangipani and gardenia. The shadows grew longer, and teenagers played badminton out of the sun, while parents used less energy but more skill throwing their boules in the petanque pit.
On the beach, young boys skidded across the shallow water on boogie boards, kayaks skimmed past the over-water bungalows and occasional splashes in the lagoon showed there was fishy action going on too. Confident old ladies in bikinis strolled the sands, honeymooners canoodled, children chased balls.
The pool turned silver as the sun dropped, the palms becoming black silhouettes. Families gathered their things to go home, guests re-tied their pareus before heading to their rooms. Then the colour was gone from the land, concentrated in the sky as the sun disappeared and the clouds lit up with a spectacular afterglow.
On the beachside terrace at Le Carre restaurant, lizards chirped and noddy birds grunted from the palms overhead as we ate. A delicate crescent moon followed the sun into the sea. Sunday was nearly over — but my holiday had only just begun.
flies from Auckland to Papeete, with return Economy Class fares from $960.
Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort is gradually being refurbished by manager Sofitel. It has over-water bungalows, two restaurants, a wellness centre and cultural activities.