Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/209

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181
CRYSTAL STREAMS.

of all the lovely isles I have visited, these certainly deserve the palm. Tahiti is a miniature of Ceylon, omitting all the great hideous coffee districts in the interior (districts made hideous by denudation—the glorious primeval forests having been ruthlessly sacrificed to make way for gold-producing crops).

The lovely hills and valleys of Tahiti and Moorea have only gained in beauty by the introduction of the fruit-bearing trees, which now form a most important feature in the general wealth of foliage—the dense thickets of orange-trees having all grown from those brought from Sydney by Mr Henry, one of the early missionaries. Strangely enough, the most healthy trees are those which have grown self-sown from the seed thrown about carelessly by the natives, when they retired to some quiet valley to brew their orange-rum in secret. These trees have thriven far better than those much cared for, and transplanted.

The splendid mango-trees, whose mass of dark foliage is now so prominent a feature on all sides, were introduced less than twenty years ago by the French, who have taken infinite trouble to procure all the very best sorts, and have succeeded to perfection.

But the special charm of these isles lies in the multitude of their streams and rivulets. We calculated that in driving round Tahiti—a distance of 160 miles—we crossed 150 streams, all clear as crystal. Several of these are large rivers; and all have enchanting pools, most tempting to bathers.

The general form of the main isle is that of a double gourd—a large circle divided by a rocky ridge from a small one, the centre being composed of a tumbled wilderness of mountains rising to a height of 7000 feet. Precipitous crags, pinnacles, and narrow ridges of black volcanic rock, which the natives themselves never care to scale, tower in grand forms at the head of each of the countless richly wooded valleys, to all of which we looked up from the sea-level. There was only one point where we rose to any height—namely, the rocky ridge which connects the peninsula with the main isle.

I must not write more at present lest I should lose the mail. Next week, if all is well, the Seignelay is to take the royal party