When "Celebrity Millenium" docked in Tahiti, the Oldies and I grabbed a taxi and visited a place that is very important to the history of both science and Australia. The place is Venus Point, the most northern point of Tahiti, 10km east of Papeete. The early European explorers anchored their ships offshore here in Matavai Bay. One of them was my hero, James Cook. He set up a camp, Fort Venus, here in 1769 to observe the Transit of Venus. This was important science. At the time astronomers knew the relative distances between planets but had no measurement to give them the actual distances between planets and the Sun. Cook's measurements helped to give the first measurements of our Solar System, and they were surprisingly accurate when compared to today's numbers. Following the Transit he set sail to find and map New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. Of course both of these were known to the native inhabitants, but Cook "put them on the map". There is a small monument on the spot where Cook made the Transit observations. Nearby is a magnificent lighthouse. It was built in 1868 by Thomas Stevenson, the father of Robert Louis Stevenson. Point Venus is a popular picnic and swimming place for the locals, but the beach is black volcanic sand and the sand flies there are the worst in the known Universe (according to Dad who had his legs severely bitten by them). Despite the sand flies, I am completely thrilled to have visited this historic spot and to have to sat where Cook sat to make those vital observations.
Labels: astronomy, Captain Cook, heroes, lighthouse, Tahiti