FOUR STOPS ON THE TAHITIAN ARCHIPELAGO REWARD BOTH THE LANGUID AND THE ADVENTUROUS
BY MARISA PROCOPIO
The simple truth is that French Polynesia—an 118-island “collectivity” of the French Republic stretching over more than 1,200 miles of the South Pacific—lives up to its reputation as paradise on earth. Visitors will fi nd a particular sense of peace and detachment across the smattering of little islands off Tahiti, which is within the Society Islands and the seat of the regional government. These destinations—Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Tahaa—combine privacy, luxury, and uniqueness in ways that are, to us, the envy of any Caribbean destination.
Local folk on the islands are easygoing and often speak in a charming singsong. (“Iaorana,” pronounced “Yo-RAHN-ah” means hello…a good start.) They tend to get up early, which means if visitors are inclined to get a jump on their day, they can. Locals often flash the hang-loose sign of wagging their thumb and forefinger, and everyone wears fl ip-fl ops and tucks flowers behind their ears, even the brawniest of the men. Local flavors— just-caught fish, baguettes (putting the French in French Polynesia), coconut, fruit, vanilla, even edible flowers—are astonishing in their freshness and superior quality.
Here, even the most hard-core of Westerners will feel timeworn hang-ups and trivial concerns fall away like so much heavy clothing. Best to let them. Those thinking about an August jaunt have additional incentive; that month, to us, is the sweet spot. Summertime (November through April) is typically oppressively hot, humid, and rainy. Winter brings less precipitation and better temperatures, but also blockbuster room rates. August falls in the relatively affordable middle.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Along with “Hang loose,” an operative phrase on the streets is “Go with the flow.” For visitors who haven’t yet shaken to the other-side-of-the-earthly toils, this notion can feel maddening. Not all hotel front desks are open 24/7; not all hotels have clocks or phones in guests’ rooms; and restaurants can be open and closed at odd hours.
The only reasonable solution is to take a deep breath of balmy air, plan ahead as much as possible, and be in the moment. That moment, after all, has rustling palms overhead and sea turtles floating by.
For the inquisitive (and/or sunburned),seek out maraes, ancient Polynesian temples/meeting places, while hiking within Moorea’s chartreuse-colored interior. The marae stones are covered in soft moss and are a peaceful place to reflect and take in the profound quiet. The deeper one hikes, the dimmer it gets under the dense foliage. Raiatea, “ The Sacred Island,” features many impressive
maraes as well.
Black pearl farms dot all the islands and produce their most prized export, available at nearly every gift shop throughout the archipelago. As pretty as the charcoal-colored pearls are, even better is a quick boat ride to a floating “farm” a few miles to the coastline. There, visitors can bear witness to the unusual and intensive process of pearlmaking. Hotel concierges will offer more
Bora Bora is about the water, quite simply. It’s a sleepy island, and most of what’s happening takes place via boat, jet ski, scuba, or snorkeling, though there’s much to be said for just wading. From a distance, the water looks striped: pale blue is shallower, dark blue is deeper. Stand still awhile and watch the tropical fish swim by your ankles.
WHERE TO STAY
SOFITEL MOOREA IA ORA BEACH RESORT ($$$)
Stay in a lush garden bungalow, an over the-water bungalow with glass floor view panel (seen here), or in a villa near the lagoon. Twice weekly, the hotel offers a master class on how to make poisson cru (fresh tuna marinated in lime, coconut, and more) and other Polynesian dishes of interest. The celebration culminates in a dramatic re-dancing show. From $514 per night. BP 28 Teavaro 98728 Mo’orea, so tel-moorea-iaora.com
SUNSET BEACH MOTEL ($$$)
Don’t let the generic name dissuade; this is delicious enchantment. Private bungalows are set along a coconut palm grove
and situated on a lagoon; inside, rooms are strewn with fresh picked blossoms.
At night, marvel at stars so bright that they look like eur de sel thrown onto black velvet. No restaurant on site, but there are several excellent ones downtown. Starting at about $100 per night.
BP 397 Uturoa 98735, sunset-raiatea. pf/en/index.html
Le Meridien Bora Bora ($$$)
A magnificent place with every amenity, but the crowning jewel is that it’s also a sea turtle sanctuary, featuring hawksbill and green turtles. Most of the property here is perched far out over the pristine water, so walk along the docks and look downward to see the hotel residents paddling by, or snorkel in the lagoon for an even closer look. From $712 per night. Motu Tape, BP 190, lemeridien-borabora.com
DAY TRIPS AND TOURS
Motu Picnic (Moorea)
Take a chartered boat through the placid waters while your guide tells stories about Cook’s and Opunohu Bays, see the peaks of volcanic mountains up close, feed reef sharks and rays, and end with a picnic on a motu (uninhabited island).
An unforgettable day of both tranquility and excitement between sky and sea, and letting the huge, serene turquoiseness sink in. albert-transport.net
Vanilla Plantation Tour (Tahaa)
A journey through the lush center of this tiny island takes guests to a working vanilla farm. Learn what it takes to grow Tahitian vanilla orchids and swoon over the exquisite fragrance of ripened vanilla pods, plump as raisins. Afterwards, feast on a locally sourced, utterly fresh, and on-site prepared meal. The tour is run by a warm family that loves to talk and cook. tahaatourexcursion.com/contactez-nous
DINE AND DRINK
Carameline (Moorea) $$$
The French take butter and add flour, but French Polynesians take butter and flour, then add tropical fruit. Tarts and cakes with the tenderest, richest crumb and ripe, local fruit; croissants worthy of the name. Breakfast and lunch as well, but pastries are their sweet spot. Maharepa 98728
Lycee de Agriculture (Moorea) $$$
The students here make the most wonderful treats from what they grow—juices, sorbets, confitures (thick fruit jams), and heartbreakingly delicious ice creams. Try the Tahitian vanilla, the gardenia (yes), and banana ice cream, an avalanche of flavor only heightened when slightly soft from the heat. etablissement-opunohu.com
The Lagoon Restaurant at the St. Regis Resort (Bora Bora) $$$$
With a menu designed by Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, this destination, suspended over the water, offers a sunset experience to the infinite power, in part because of stunning views of Mount Otemanu. Arguably the finest cuisine in all of French Polynesia, featuring fish caught in Society Islands waters and other locally sourced ingredients, but also French Foie Gras, U.S. Angus beef, and New Zealand lamb. Don’t miss its signature cocktail, the “Bora Mary,” made with locally grown watermelon. Motu Ome’e BP 506, Bora Bora, 689-40-60-78-88, stregisborabora.com