« PreviousContinue »
Two hours steaming brought us to Vaianae Bay, whence we rowed ashore to Afareaitu, a distance of about two miles. Thence the boats returned to the Seiguelay, which proceeded to the other side of the isle to find good anchorage.
On landing, we were received by the head men, in very fine tiputas (the much-decorated upper garment of native cloth). These they presented to the admiral and the king. But our arrival was so premature, that the reception was on a small scale—the people not having had time to assemble. After breakfast I secured a rapid outline of the strange beautiful hills, then we had to hurry away, in excellent boats, the property of Tahitians.
As we rowed along inside the reef, each turn revealed new marvels of that most lovely coast, which combines the softest beauties of rich foliage with the most weird grandeur of mountain gloom. The island is by far the most wonderful I have ever seen. Just one confused mass of basaltic crags and pinnacles, lofty ridges, so narrow that here and there where some part has broken away you can see the sky through an opening like the eye of a needla Nature seems to have here built up gigantic rock-fortresses, mighty bastions and towers which reach up into heaven; pyramids, before which those of Gizeh would appear as pigmies, and minarets such as the builders of the Kootub never dreamt of. It is as though some huge mountain of rock had been rent asunder, and its fragments left standing upright in stupendous splinters. Some one has unpleasantly compared these to asses' ears, and I am fain to confess that the description is good, so far as outline is concerned.
I had caught glimpses of some of these amazing stone needles and towers as we passed Moorea on the first morning, but then they only appeared mysteriously through the drifting vapours, which idealise and magnify the most commonplace crags. Now there were no mists, and the huge pinnacles stood out sharp and clear against a cloudless sky, while far below them the riven rocks lay seamed by narrow chasms—dark sunless ravines, moist with the spray of many waterfalls, and rich with all green things that love warm misty shade.
I believe that when reduced to figures, the mountains of Moorea are found to average only half the height of those in Tahiti, the latter rising to upwards of 7000 feet, while the highest peak of Moorea, Afareaitu, is only 3976 feet. But the strangely varied forms of the latter are so remarkable, that a few thousand feet more or less seem a matter of indifference.
I did long to crave a few moments' halt from time to time, to secure ever so slight an outline of some specially striking scene, but of course I dared not suggest it, as we were evidently bound to "make good time" (that crime in travelling, which so many mistake for a virtue). The result was, that we reached Haapiti at 2 P.m. Mrs Brander, who had hurried on at once to make her preparations, had counted on our not arriving till four at the earliest, so of course nothing was ready.
The admiral went to examine schools, and I lost no time in settling down to a large sketch of the beautiful and fairy-liko scene—the grand mountain amphitheatre of stupendous crags and precipices, a middle distance of richest foliage, and in the foreground, on a'lawn of greenest turf, the pretty temporary building of palm and bamboo, erected for the banquet. The interior was lined with tree-ferns and bunches of rosy oleander, and festooned with many hundred yards of deep fringe made of hybiscus fibre. The thatch was entirely composed of the long glossy fronds of birds'-nest fern,1 which, being tough and leathery, make a good permanent thatch, and one which lasts much longer than bananaleaves, though, of course, it is more troublesome to arrange in the first instance. It seems too bad to sacrifice such an incredible number of these beautiful plants. The only consolation is, that they grow in places so inaccessible that no human eye ever beholds them, save that of the goat-like cragsman who explores the deep ravines in search of the wild faees, which constitute the principal article of food on these isles.
Shortly before sunset all the people of the district assembled, each with a piece of yellow native cloth thrown over their black dresses like a shawl, to symbolise joy in sorrow. They formed an immense procession, headed by Mrs Brander as high chiefess. She
1 Asplenium nidus.
was dressed entirely in black, only relieved by a most becoming crown of glossy white arrowroot, with a plume of snowy reva-reva. Immediately after her followed the gentlemen of her family, wearing very beautiful tiputas of bread-fruit bark cloth, covered with ornaments and flowers made of arrowroot and bamboo fibre, and all fringed with the delicate reva-reva. They made an address and sang the himenes of welcome which should have greeted the royalties oh their landing. Then the chiefs presented their beautiful garments to the principal persons present, and all the people laid their yellow scarves and pretty hats at their feet. One of the tiputas was intended for me, but as I sat apart to see the general picture, it was unfortunately given to some one else; but Mrs Brander reserved for me a most delicate hand-screen of the finest fibre.
Then followed a great dinner, admirable in every respect, the pretty booth being illuminated by a multitude of Chinese lanterns; and the himkne singing, which was continued at 'intervals all the evening, was particularly good. The sleeping arrangements were less satisfactory, there having been no time to make preparations for so large a party; so my hostess had only reserved one tiny room for herself, two children, two native women, and me. It was a foreign house, with windows. These were tightly closed, and a bright lamp kept burning all night,—both circumstances fatal to all chance of sleep,—so I preferred a shake-down in the sitting-room. Unfortunately, my experience of the luxuries of Tahiti had induced me to travel without my own mosquito-net; and the attacks of these persistent foes, combined with the perpetual movement of locomotive women, incessantly opening the door at my head and admitting a stream of bright light, effectually banished all hope of sleep. It was a night of feverish unrest,—a bad preparation for the morrow.
Again came a hurried morning start in good native boats,—the coast, beautiful as tha't of yesterday. We had a strong wind and tide against us, and made slow progress. After a severe pull of three hours, we stopped at a point where the rowers landed to rest and get cocoa-nuts; but hordes of mosquitos attacked and routed