Touring Tahiti by Tandem – An Exotic Cycling Adventure
Terry customer, Cindy Wienkers, shared highlights of a spectacular tour she and her husband, Kevin, took in early 2018, riding their tandem through the Polynesian islands. Naturally, we wanted to know more, and Cindy came through for us!
Here is her account of an enviable trip – one to make any cyclist dream of warmer adventures while the winter winds blow outside.
Contributed by Cindy Wienkers
Have Tandem, Will Travel
The French Polynesian trip was our third Santana bike tour. We have done some individual tours in Provence and Tuscany with Life Cycle Adventures, also on our tandem. We have biked the Rocky Mountains in Canada, and previously biked Strasbourg to Amsterdam, and Dubrovnik to Venice with Santana. This coming September we will be biking Berlin to Prague, then in December 2019 it is New Zealand and in June 2020 we will bike Japan. The last three trips are also Santana sponsored. All of the experiences were incredible, but Bill & Jan McCready from Santana really know how to do the trips right.
We have a Santana tandem with couplers, which allows us to take the bike apart to fit into a specially designed suitcase for airline travel. The suitcase is 62 linear inches. Depending upon what your bike is made of the weight will differ when packed. Ours is scandium and weighs 70 pounds. Both my husband and I are tall so our tandem frame was made to properly fit us. My husband and son also have their private pilot’s license and we own a small plane. The bike case can fit into our personal plane for cross country traveling.
Our Tahiti Tour – Off to a Racing Start
Santana had two back to back Tahiti tours this past May. The trips were scheduled around the La Ronde Tahitienne Cycle Road Race which took place on May 20th. The first tour biked various French Polynesian islands, ending their trip with the race. Due to my twin daughters graduating from college on Mother’s Day, my husband and I were on the second tour. This was a bit more of a challenge as we arrived to Pape’ete, assembled our bikes, and the first day out was the road race.
We elected to do the 55K route rather than the 110K. My husband and I did not ride the race competitively, but we also did not dawdle along the way – we saved taking pictures of the beautiful scenery for later. We did get our gears adjusted for the week of biking though.
The Polynesian people were very welcoming and friendly, not only on race day in Pape’ete with their welcoming party, but also on each of the islands we biked on. One of the challenges in the race was the language. We didn’t receive a Garmin chip or a paper map. We had to rely on the natives standing at intersections shouting at us. Often there were fans standing alongside the route cheering for us.
After the race and festivities, we boarded our beautiful sailboat, the Wind Spirit, which was our home for the next week. On our first two Santana trips we traveled by river boat. I love being able to travel to each adventure while only having to unpack once when boarding the ship.
The islands we traveled in order were: Tahiti, Mo’orea, Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora, and Huahine. Coming from Green Bay, Wisconsin, where we had 24 inches of snow less than a month earlier, the weather in Tahiti was a bit of a change: mid 80s and humid. My main focus for most of the trip was hydrating enough, and applying sunscreen.
Our Biking Community
The bikers are the only passengers on the boat besides the Santana staff and ship’s personnel. As you can imagine, cyclists are not the typical vacationers that the cruise line staff usually encounter. We are up early, consume a large breakfast, fill multiple water bottles, and typically disembark the ship by 7:30/8:00. Depending upon the day’s mileage we may meet up with the ship again for a late lunch, fill water bottles, and leave for our afternoon ride. Most bikers arrive back to the ship by 5:00. We all hit the showers at approximately the same time, we dine together, and are often asleep earlier than the normal passengers would be.The people on the trip are pretty amazing. We all have the same focus with biking. We have made many friends and often see the same ones over and over again. These bikers are not all young people. Two trips ago we celebrated the 80th birthday of one of the passengers, Alvin, who had bought a new Santana bike for his birthday. He and his wife were on the Tahiti tour the week before us, though we did see them along the race course.
Our Wind Spirit sailboat was gorgeous, but it made unloading the bikes more of a challenge as they had to be put onto a barge and transported to the island.
The mayor would often be at the dock to meet us when we arrived on the tenders. The ladies would give us flowers, fresh fruits, and often perform a native dance.
The bikers of course were eager to saddle up and hit the road. Biking the Polynesian islands is the only way to see them. It allows you to interact with the local families more.
Advantages of an Organized Cycling Tour
Santana takes care of all of the details for us. They have made it their business to have connections with the islanders. Any issues that come up, they are there. To do this sort of trip independently would be hard. We are sailors in addition to bikers. You could charter a boat yourself, moor it, bring your bikes in on a dingy, but I doubt you would get the special treatment that we got whenever our barge docked. It would not be the same worry-free experience. Also, the McCready’s take care of their island contacts – we could not do that as independent tourists.
The Santana trips usually offer options for your daily mileage. Every morning at breakfast we would have “Bill’s talk” often accompanied with one of “Bill’s maps.” There would be the most challenging Wolfgang or Leland trip, which often was not included on the Garmin chip. We would most often choose the intermediate mileage for the day. Since we were riding on fairly small islands, the mileage we could ride was limited. I only registered just over 200 miles for the 6 actual days of biking. Those that wanted to endure more miles in the heat of the day simply turned around and biked the same route again.
We have biked a fair amount over the years and experienced a lot of different terrains, but until this tour I had never encountered a 30% grade. Luckily for us, Bill & Jan thought ahead and did not want to risk any injuries on the descent (we often had brief daily rain showers which were actually quite refreshing but made for a slippery course). At the base of the ascent there were trucks with trailers waiting to load not only bikes but also the cyclists. 😊 Of course, not all of us chose to take the motorized route up.
Highlights of the Polynesian Islands
I am an avid cook, having trained mainly in France. I loved seeing the vanilla farms especially on Taha’a. I do raise orchids at home but the process to get one vanilla bean is way too involved and long for me to grow them. I did take videos of the various steps for growing, pollinating, and drying the vanilla beans to share with students in the culinary courses so that they can better understand why pure vanilla and vanilla beans are so expensive.
We ate a lot of raw fish marinated in coconut milk, lime juice, with scallions and chili peppers, sort of like a ceviche.
We also ate a lot of cooked fish. The natives said it this way, “Fresh fish is free, chicken and beef is expensive and reserved for Christmas dinner.”
The Tahitian pearl farms (my favorites were on Taha’a) were very interesting. The collection of the oyster, the harvesting of the mantle from a desirable oyster, surgically implanting a piece of the mantle and a nucleus bead (sphere made from a freshwater mussel found in the Mississippi River) into the gonad of an oyster, hanging the oysters back out in the water for 2 years before harvesting the pearl.
We also visited a copra farm on Taha’a, which is another important part of their economy. At the farm, just like every time our tender would arrive to an island to dock in the morning, we would be greeted by the native people with a flower, a dance show, and served fresh local fruits. Often times the mayor would also come out to greet us. On one island, the mayor let us use his private dock to unload the barge with our tandems and for the tender to come in with the cyclists.
Taha’a was my favorite island for riding but it also had several points of interest, which meant it was not a continuous ride due to the many stops. The final stop on Taha’a was the rum distillery and tasting. Not like I needed rum in the highest heat of the day!
In addition to the vast history of Captain Cook on the various islands, the U.S. chose Bora Bora as a military site in WWII. There are still some cannons present on the island. We biked to one of the sites and then had a “small” uphill hike to the cannons while wearing our bike cleats. As a reward, Miss Bora Bora was waiting to greet us.
The various islands also had Marae on them.
We saw how islanders weave their traditional thatched roofs from Pandanus leaves.
The final evening’s picnic featured a fire and dance show. It was one of the best I have ever seen!
Cindy put a great selection of Terry cycling apparel to the test on her Tahiti trip: read Tropical Gear Test here.
In case you want to go on a similar adventure: Santana Tours.
And some helpful hints on packing for a cycling adventure in distant lands.