Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/255

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227
BASALTIC PINNACLES.

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 Seignelay, 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 needle. 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