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The Islands of Tahiti: what you don’t know will charm you
When it comes to French Polynesia, it’s often the lesser-known gems that keep you captivated. You can rent your own piece of paradise. Overwater bungalows might be synonymous with The Islands of Tahiti, but what say you to renting your own private patch of pristine waterfront or pitching a tent in a lush camping ground? [caption id="attachment_47130" align="alignnone" width="600"] Island days.[/caption] Dotted around some of the most spectacular parts of each island, campsites and Tahitian guesthouses (also referred to as pensions or fares) give visitors the opportunity to connect with locals and immerse themselves in traditional French Polynesian life. For a few months a year, frolicking with whales is an everyday activity [caption id="attachment_47131" align="alignnone" width="600"] Beach life.[/caption] Naturally, no visit to The Islands of Tahiti is complete without a mandatory cocktail-sipping-on-a-hammock session, or simply snorkelling their vibrant coral reefs, but the adrenaline junkies among us need not miss out. Think swimming with pods of humpback whales in Moorea between July and October (in waters so rich with marine life you’ll feel like the bay leaf in ray and reef-shark soup), then hiking the lava tubes of Tahiti, or enjoying drift dives in Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass and Fakarava’s Tumakohua Pass. Fist-pump the air, then repeat. You can holiday on a shoestring [caption id="attachment_47132" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rivals the Great Barrier Reef.[/caption] Those without Swiss bank accounts can (and should) apply; budget-friendly accommodation, meals and activities are available on each of the islands – yes, even the fabled celebrity playground of Bora Bora. Close your eyes and picture roadside food trucks serving up the most decadent of crepes and super-fresh poisson cru, scenic island adventures courtesy of next-to-nix bicycle hire and those aforementioned campsites perfectly located by endless azure lagoons. As for those coral-fringed motus and beaches teeming with rainbow pops of tropical fish? They are proof positive that the best things in life really are free. You have a choice of festivals [caption id="attachment_47133" align="alignnone" width="600"] Once in a lifetime experiences.[/caption] Whether you’re into cycling, running, body ink or fashion, you can rest assured that somewhere, on one of the Tahiti’s stunning islands, there’s a festival that’s just right for you. Will you ink up at Tatau I Tahiti Tattonesia, take part in one of the famed Moorea Marathons or take a front-row seat at Tahiti Fashion Week? The choice is yours – just don’t miss Heiva I Tahiti, the biggest cultural event on the calendar which engulfs the islands over a month-long celebration every July. There are 118 islands [caption id="attachment_47134" align="alignnone" width="600"] Explore the unknown![/caption] While there’s no denying the difficulty of getting past the beauty of Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti, continue to push on through the shimmering lagoons and white-sand patchwork (hardly the most taxing journey you’ll ever make), and your curiosity will be rewarded with a series of remote islands loaded with largely unknown experiences. Swim with migrating humpback whales and hike majestic peaks on Rurutu, zigzag up the flanks of an extinct mountain to reach the archaeological sites of Ua Huka and opt out of society entirely by renting a private island escape on Tikehau. This really is a ‘choose your own adventure’ holiday – Tahitian-style. For bookings and further information, visit Tahiti Tourisme at tahititourisme.com.au.
Islands of Tahiti: what you don’t know will charm you
When it comes to French Polynesia, it’s often these little-known gems that captivate the seasoned traveller. The Islands of Tahiti are pure perfection. Over-water bungalows might be synonymous with the Islands of Tahiti, but what do you say to renting your own private patch of pristine waterfront or pitching a tent in a lush camping ground? Dotted around some of the most spectacular parts of each island, campsites and Tahitian guesthouses (also referred to pensions or fares) gift visitors the opportunity to connect with locals and immerse themselves in traditional French Polynesia life. [caption id="attachment_46539" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Tahiti Islands has beach life down to a fine art.[/caption] Frolicking with whales is an everyday activity No visit to the Islands of Tahiti is complete with a mandatory cocktail-sipping-on-a-hammock session, or snorkelling vibrant coral reefs, but the adrenaline junkies among us need not miss out. Why not swim with pods of humpback whales in Moorea (in waters so rich with marine life you’ll feel like the bay leaf in ray and black-tip reef shark soup), hike the lava tubes of Tahiti and enjoy drift dives in Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass and Fakarava’s Tumakohua Pass? Fist pump the air and repeat. [caption id="attachment_46540" align="alignnone" width="600"] Crystal clear views from above.[/caption] You can holiday on a shoestring Those without Swiss bank accounts can (and should) apply; budget-friendly accommodation, meals and activities are available on each of the islands – yes, even the fabled celebrity playground of Bora Bora. Close your eyes and picture roadside food trucks serving up the most decadent of crepes and super-fresh poisson cru, scenic island adventures courtesy of next-to-nix bicycle hire and those aforementioned campsites perfectly located by endless azure lagoon. As for those coral-fringed motus and beaches teeming with rainbow pops of tropical fish? The best things in life really are free. [caption id="attachment_46541" align="alignnone" width="600"] Unlike anywhere else.[/caption] You have a choice of festivals Whether you’re into cycling, running, tattoos or fashion, you can rest assured that somewhere, on one of the Tahiti’s stunning islands, there’s a festival that’s just right for you. Will you ink up at Tatau I Tahiti Tattonesia, take part in one of the Moorea Marathon or take a front row seat at Tahiti Fashion Week? The choice is yours – just don’t miss Heiva I Tahiti, the biggest cultural event on the calendar which engulfs the islands over a month-long celebration every July. There are 118 islands While there’s no denying the difficulty that is getting past the beauty of Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti, continue to push on through the vibrant lagoons and white sand patchwork (hardly the most taxing journey you’ll ever make), and your curiosity will be rewarded with a series of remote islands loaded with largely unknown experiences. [caption id="attachment_46542" align="alignnone" width="600"] Like an aquarium, without the glass.[/caption] Swim with migrating humpback whales and hike majestic peaks in Rurutu, zigzag up the flanks of an extinct mountain to reach the archaeological sites of Ua Huka and opt out of society entirely by renting a private island escape on Tikehau. This really is a ‘choose your own adventure’ holiday – Tahitian-style. [caption id="attachment_46544" align="alignnone" width="600"] Sneak peak![/caption] For books and further information, visit Tahiti Tourisme.
Five amazing Tahitian islands you need to know about
The Islands of Tahiti are where paradisiacal stereotypes are met and exceeded, and the best way to see it all is by island-hopping across this collection of atolls and archipelagos, scattered like confetti in the South Pacific. Tahiti – Ready, set, go The largest island in French Polynesia, Tahiti is your starting point from which to flit from island to island (flights arriving into the capital of Papeete from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne). Linger here for a day or so to discover a lively social and cultural scene, with great food, colourful markets, dramatic black sand beaches and a lush tropical landscape to explore. Rangiroa – endless bliss Translating to ‘endless skies’, Rangiroa is the second largest atoll in the world, so its allures are myriad. The spectacular blue waters offer up some of the best diving in the world. Whether you are a seasoned diver looking for challenging dive spots or you simply wish to explore the lagoon, passes and reefs, you will find an underwater world of colour and beauty populated by abundant marine wildlife, from swarming schools of vibrant fish to turtles to dolphins and sharks. Settle in to a bungalow at Les Relais de Joséphine for a true local experience. Huahine – local charm While much about a Tahitian Islands experience is restive, Huahine is the perfect choice for those looking for a little more activity, with something for everyone. Book into the small pension of Fare Maeva, and then strike out to experience everything on offer. The stunning natural landscape is ideal for trekking, hiking and horse-back riding in, or visitors can tour a local pearl farm to see how Tahitian pearls, revered around the world for their elegance, are harvested. And, of course, the water always beckons, with snorkelling and deep sea fishing. Raiatea – heaven sent It is a quick 45-minute plane trip from Tahiti to Raiatea, another lush, idyllic proposition of endless sun and sand. Make the charming Raiatea Lodge Hotel your base, before heading out to gain a deeper understanding of the proud heritage of these spectacular islands. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Taputapuatea marae, an ancient sacred site estimated to be thousands of years old, is where islanders arranged hundreds of stones they believed held Mana, a mystical source of spiritual strength that has soothed the islands for millennia. Taha’a – water world On the island paradise of Taha’a, 20 short minutes by boat from Raiatea, the world melts away completely. Time is meted by the rising sun and spectacular sunsets. Here you can snorkel in a coral garden in the pristine lagoon to discover a kaleidoscopic underwater world, and spend some time at a vanilla plantation to see how plump Tahitian vanilla pods full of sweet inky-black beans are painstakingly cultivated. For bookings and further information, visit Tahiti Tourisme at tahititourisme.com.au.
Why you need to visit Huahine, French Polynesia – now
Welcome to South Pacific gem, Huahine in French Polynesia. Where is it and how to get there Huahine is approximately 180 kilometres north-west of Tahiti. Fly to Tahiti with Air Tahiti Nui for approximately $1400 (airtahitinui.com.au) then take a 35-minute flight from $300 return with Air Tahiti (airtahiti.com) Why we love it Huahine is Bora Bora without the tourists… or the $2000-per-night hotel tariffs. Most visitors stopover here on flights to Bora Bora from Papeete; when I visited I was the only tourist who got off the plane. Huahine has one of the smallest populations of French Polynesia’s Society Islands and very little development; although there are several high-end accommodation options. It is the kind of paradise you imagine in Bora Bora: massive jungle-covered mountains roll straight down onto dozens of empty white beaches and a lagoon surrounded entirely by coral reef. Although it is known as the quiet island, there’s still plenty to do. Hire a moped or jeep and explore Huahine’s two islands, Huahine Nui (Big Huahine) and Iti (Little Huahine), which are connected by a bridge. There’s evidence of Huahine’s 1500-year-history throughout the island. There’s Polynesian temples by the roadside – even human skulls if you look hard enough (I found one). There are half-day tours by 4WD, canoe cruises, kayak tours, sailing charters and some of Polynesia’s best surf breaks. There are also tiny villages with rustic bars serving ice-cold beer and fish straight off the fishing boats. Very little English is spoken so be prepared for isolation if your high school French is rusty. You can’t miss Canter a horse along a deserted tropical beach. La Petite Ferme offer two-hour and full-day rides, call +689 6882 98. When to go Avoid summer when heavy rain is prevalent; any time between April and November is best. Where to stay Stay on the shores of a lake in Huahine’s lush interior at the Matai La Pita Village from $320 per night. huahine.hotelmaitai.com More info: www.TahitiTourisme.com.au
Five reasons Tahiti is officially heaven on earth
The results are in... and Tahiti's got it in the bag... French Polynesia, as Tahiti is officially known, is flung across an immense stretch of the South Pacific Ocean, so vast that if the French territory was superimposed with a map of Europe it would reach from Russia to the UK. A beguiling blend of Tahitian and French culture exists right across the country’s 118 islands and atolls. Residents speak French and Tahitian, serve French cuisine along with Polynesian specialties, and resorts incorporate European refinements with laid back South Pacific style. [caption id="attachment_851" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Bora Bora Pearl Resort and Spa[/caption] This intriguing mixture of tropical island culture and French sophistication comes together to form the ideal holiday destination. 1. Unrivalled natural beauty As well as offering its own distinct personality and breathtaking backdrop, each island is home to an intricate natural tapestry and vibrant underwater world teeming with marine life and rhythmical reefs that rise and fall to a natural, island beat. Tahiti’s charm lies not only her in unrivalled beauty, but also in her versatility. Visitors can swim in a turquoise wonderland, whale watch in pristine waters, quad-bike along forested ridge lines, cruise on luxury yachts, indulge in a spa experience, savour wine from a tropical vineyard, shop for a Tahitian pearl, surf one of the world’s best-known breaks or simply relax and do absolutely nothing. 2. It's the perfect place to honeymoon Home to the main island of Tahiti are the ultimate honeymoon destinations of Bora Bora and Moorea – the Society Islands are the best known of Tahiti’s five archipelagos. [caption id="attachment_844" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora.[/caption] Separated into the Leeward and Windward groups, the 15 main islands of the archipelago offer jagged volcanic peaks, electric blue lagoons and an entrancing underwater world. Nowhere in the world are the colours more vibrant, the waters warmer and the people friendlier. Tahiti Nui is the largest island in French Polynesia and home to the capital Papeete, the entry point for international visitors. 3. There's more to do than you think An exterior fringed with hotels, museums and the endless lapping of the South Pacific combines with a heart of natural beauty. Fast-flowing streams meet steep-sided valleys, and soaring volcanic peaks rise into the tropical sky high above lush rainforests of ancient trees that hold centuries of secrets and history in their mossy bark. [caption id="attachment_848" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Stand up Paddle Boarding lessons.[/caption] Also home tahiti trademark over water bungalows, volcanic peaks and palm-fringed lagoons, Moorea is a haven of relaxation and romance. A year-round tropical climate and picture perfect vistas greet visitors throughout the Society Islands. Hire a scooter, bike or canoe for some great adventure on the charming Garden of Eden island of Huahine, rock Tahiti’s cradle of culture on Raiatea and let the scents of vanilla seduce on Tahaa. From heavenly beaches with champagne sand and fragrant tropical flowers to iridescent lagoons fringed with soothing palm trees, it’s no wonder Tahiti and her islands offer some of the most coveted holidaying in the world. 4. The food! Sample Polynesian culture and food in this historic port city where some streets resemble a distant suburb of Paris. As in France, it is easy to find creperies, boulangeries, sandwich shops and pizza places, while local supermarkets stock pate, baguettes, cheeses and plenty of French wine. [caption id="attachment_852" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Four Seasons Bora Bora at Sunset.[/caption] A seafood restaurant called Bloody Mary’s has become as famous as the island’s picture perfect blue lagoon. Established in 1976 by Polish immigrant Baron George Van Dangle, the huge thatched hut with its sand floor and coconut-stump stools has a menu of freshly-caught fish described to diners in several different languages. An impressive roster of celebrities, immortalised on two boards at the entrance, have helped make Bloody Mary’s an integral part of the Bora Bora Experience. On lush and beautiful Moorea, just half an hour by ferry from Tahiti, a road that hugs the coast is flanked by resorts, hotels and tiny communities offering everything guests need. Some restaurants are located in truly stunning locations where visitors can dine while soaking up million-dollar views. 5. You'll never find more luxurious dwellings [caption id="attachment_850" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Arriving on the Four Seasons transfer boat from the airport[/caption] Bora Bora – The Pearl of The Pacific – is undoubtedly the most famous of Tahiti’s Society Island sand deservedly considered one of the most romantic islands in the world. This breathtakingly beautiful island is located just a short 50-minute flight from the main island of Tahiti. Luxurious overwater bungalows, which have become synonymous with Bora Bora, ring the luminous blue lagoon offering the ultimate in indulgence. [caption id="attachment_854" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora at sunset[/caption] Designed in Polynesian style, the bungalows feature an outstanding level of comfort in a picturesque setting, with special glass panels offering a view to the lagoon floor. The bungalows also provide an ideal platform to watch an unforgettable Polynesian sunset or enjoy an intimate stargazing experience unlike any other. [caption id="attachment_855" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora with Mt Otemanu in the background[/caption] Details Getting There Air Tahiti Nui and Air New Zealand both fly twice weekly via Auckland to Tahiti. Staying There For most luxurious and comfortable stay, stay with Elegant Resorts and Villas. More Information For more information on Tahiti and Her Islands, visit the Tahiti Tourisme website.
Three ways to find your ultimate bliss in The Islands of Tahiti
The Islands of Tahiti are a living, breathing embodiment of paradise on Earth, the kind of place where stereotypes are met and exceeded. The best way to see as much as possible is by island hopping across this collection of atolls and archipelagos, scattered like confetti in the South Pacific. Tahiti - Ready, set, go The largest island in French Polynesia (the official name for the Tahitian islands), Tahiti is your starting off point, with flights arriving into the capital of Papeete from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Linger here for a day or two and you will discover a lively social and cultural scene, with great dining options (from French-influenced fine dining to funky food trucks), colourful markets buzzing with locals, dramatic black sand beaches and a lush tropical landscape to explore. There are also some excellent hotels and resorts to choose from: try Manava Suite Resort Tahiti (manavatahitiresort.com). Moorea - The next step Arriving onto Moorea by a quick 30-minute ferry ride from Tahiti, the relaxed pace of island life here immediately engulfs you like the sweetly fragrant tropical air. Base yourself at the luxe Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort (accorhotels.com) – for a real treat book an over-water bungalow with their uninterrupted water views that stretch on forever – and spend the next two or three days getting to know the island. Take a drive to the Belvedere to get a stunning view of the island and the reef surrounding it, then stop in at a tropical fruit farm to taste test the sweet home-made jams and juices. The next day head off on a lagoon tour (book with Moorea Mahana Tours; mooreamahanatours.com) through stunningly blue waters, before dropping anchor to swim with sting rays and reef sharks – a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. After that it’s time for a beach picnic on a deserted motu (island), learning how to husk coconuts and sampling the delicious poisson cru, raw tuna marinated in lime juice, mixed with tomato and cucumber and drenched in freshly squeezed coconut milk. Taha’a - Going further afield It is a 45-minute Air Tahiti flight from Tahiti into Raiatea, followed by boat transfer to Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa – Relais & Châteaux (letahaa.com) on the island paradise of Taha’a. Time becomes irrelevant here, where days are metred out by the sun rising in the morning and then setting over the island of Bora Bora in the distance; it’s all about doing as little as possible. Relax over breakfast delivered to your over-water bungalow by canoe, go snorkelling in the clear waters to discover a kaleidoscopic underwater world, and reach total island inertia with a treatment in the hotel’s spa. Back on Raiatea, there are two musts to tick off your list before heading home. Visit a vanilla plantation to see how plump Tahitian vanilla pods full of inky-black beans are painstakingly cultivated; they are a delicious souvenir to take home. And then wander the UNESCO World Heritage site of Taputapuatea marae, an ancient sacred site estimated to be thousands of years old, where religious and social ceremonies were performed prior to the arrival of European missionaries, and where ancestors arranged hundreds of stones that they believed to held Mana, a source of power and spiritual strength. For more information head over to https://tahititourisme.com.au
Eight things we didn’t expect from Tahiti, but absolutely love
Tahiti might be known as a honeymooner’s paradise, but there’s plenty more to French Polynesia than overwater bungalows and celebrity sightings... What do you do when you’re so hauntingly beautiful that few are willing to scratch the surface to see what really lies beneath? It might sound like the battle cry of a jaded supermodel, but it’s actually a problem shared with the Society Islands, an archipelago belonging to French Polynesia and comprising the fabled islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea (among others). Home to endless white sand beaches, azure lagoons, and yes – those famous overwater bungalows with the glass bottom floors – you could be forgiven for thinking there’s little else to this tropical paradise. But dig a little deeper and you’ll soon discover there is a multitude of surprising reasons to place Tahiti and her glittering islands right at the top of your ‘must-visit’ list. 1. It's tattoo utopia Think that guy down the road who has ‘hate’ and ‘mum’ tattooed on his knuckles is hard? Full-body tattoos (from the Polynesian word ‘tatau’) have been entrenched in Polynesian culture for centuries. While they were banned after European missionaries first arrived in Tahiti in the late 1700s, tatau made a comeback in the ’80s, and the islands are far from short on artists, with some still practising the traditional (and somewhat painful) method of tattooing with an ink-dipped comb and stick. To celebrate all things ink, lovers should schedule their visit for November when the annual Tatau I Tahiti Tattonesia takes place on Tahiti – a festival that draws crowds of over 15,000 and treats them to tattoo demonstrations, talks and traditional performances, and we suspect, a few new pieces of body art to take home with them. Visit tahiti-tourisme.com.au for details. 2. Moorea's marathon madness If your idea of enjoying tropical heat is running up steep inclines and jagged mountaintops, you are far from alone; the mountainous home of Moorea (considered the more culturally authentic alternative to showy Bora Bora) has long been a popular choice for marathon runners the world over with its annual Tahiti-Moorea Marathon, due to be next held on 31 March. Competitors can sign up for the official 42-kilometre marathon, the 21-kilometre half-marathon, or the 4.5-kilometre fun run. If that’s not enough, they can also book in for more running action on the lower-profile islands of Raiatea and Taha’a, which also hold marathons (December and April respectively) on a smaller scale. 3. Food, glorious (Michelin-starred) food True, Polynesian islands aren’t typically well-regarded for their food (hello papaya omelette), but it’s worth remembering that the islands of French Polynesia were reconstituted as an overseas French territory in 1957 and that the influence France holds over the local cuisine remains strong. At Le Lotus, located in Tahiti’s InterContinental, several dishes have been created by a three-Michelin-star restaurant, Auberge de I’ll in Alsace, in France (with which Le Lotus has an association). And many other Michelin-star chefs work the kitchens of various luxury resorts such as The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort. Celebrate the two cultures by alternating between local dishes such as poisson cru (marinated raw fish salad) and traditional French fare such as bouillabaisse (fish soup), but be sure to lock in some of the foodie experiences held across the islands throughout the year. The events and experiences of Vanilla Week (traditionally held in June) are particularly popular with locals, but the culinary highlight must surely be Sofitel French Polynesia’s cheese and wine program, Sofitel Wine Days, which runs between September and October each year. Check out sofitel for details. 4. The family friendly fun Long considered the domain of loved-up couples and pouting Instagrammers in fluoro inflatables, high-end resorts across the islands of Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti in particular have begun welcoming young families in recent years by opening a slew of kids clubs and offering up family friendly versions of traditional resort activities. Leading the charge is Four Season Resort Bora Bora, which not only offers a traditional kids club for younger guests, but ‘Chill Island’, a private island – complete with its own private beach – for teens only. The St Regis Bora Bora Resort is also a popular choice with young families thanks to its long list of activities (as well as the all-important club), as is Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort and the InterContinental Moorea. 5. Scuba diving with a difference Still waters run deep, or so the saying goes, and if we redirect our attention from those famous lagoons to the Tuamotu Archipelago atolls of Rangiroa and Fakarava, we find some of the best diving spots in the world. Legendary with divers who travel here simply to ‘shoot the pass’ – a process where they are dropped off to the ocean side of Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass and sucked through by the current on a thrilling manta-, dolphin-, turtle- and shark-filled journey to the other side, a similar journey can be found at Fakarava’s Tetamanu Pass. Of course, how you feel about this adventure depends entirely on what you think when you hear the sales pitch: ‘wall of reef sharks’. 6. Heiva: a month-long party In ancient times, dance, music, singing and sport were considered important components of religious and political ceremonies, and today, the biggest cultural event of the calendar – Heiva (meaning to assemble in community places) engulfs the islands over a month-long celebration every July. You too can embrace the spirit of mana by taking a front row seat at many of the festival’s vibrant dance shows, musical performances and traditional sporting events such as javelin-throwing, outrigger canoe racing, stone lifting and fruit carrying. 7. Lagoon-side camping Fancy privately renting an overwater bungalow for a couple of hundred dollars a night? Or how about pitching a tent right by one of those famous lagoons for next to nix? Peel your eyes from the luxury resorts and you’ll notice there’s a wide range of low-cost accommodation and campsite options available on each of the islands. Although campgrounds are less developed than what you’d find elsewhere (you’ll have to come prepared with all of your own gear, or you can purchase from camping stores in Papeete), camping devotees the world over pour in to set up digs in Bora Bora Camping, Camping Nelson in Moorea, Pension Armelle Te Nahe Toe Toa in Huahine and Pension Te Maeva in Raiatea. Not convinced a tent is really your thing? Holiday rentals of farés (family residences) are a popular option – particularly on the lesser-known islands of Maupiti and Fakarava, and privately owned overwater bungalows can quickly be found on sites such as Airbnb. 8. The most beautiful cycling event in the world? Tour de France it may not be just yet, but make no mistake; competitive cycling is big news in Tahiti – as evidenced by both the number of international events the islands hold each year, and by its reputation as one of the 50 most beautiful cycling events in the world. Perhaps the biggest star on the cycling calendar is La Ronde Tahitienne, a timed cyclosportive road cycling event held in Tahiti each May which fuses bike touring and cycling competitions across a range of options; from the Fautaua velodrome in Pirae, Papeete to the circle island tour of Tahiti. Not to be outdone, the Tour de Tahiti Nui, a huge race held every November, attracts teams from around the world and continues to keep the good times rollin’. For bookings and further information, visit Tahiti Tourisme at tahititourisme.com.au
The ultimate Tahiti itinerary for the starry-eyed traveller
There’s a portion of the Pacific where stereotypes are inadequate; where the water is bluer than can be described and the sand whiter than white. Words by Leigh-Ann Pow. There’s a fundamental problem with fantasies. They are just so hard to live up to. Take somewhere like Tahiti for example. There are myriad stereotypes attached to this cluster of islands floating in the South Pacific. It’s a paradise on Earth of pure white sandy beaches and bluer than blue waters; it is filled with golden-skinned locals wearing fragrant tropical flowers behind their ears; it’s a fecund oasis groaning with fish and pineapples and mangoes and coconuts. You get the picture. Given the chance to experience it for myself, I was prepared to be disappointed (devastated even) by the reality. Nowhere could be that idyllic, that otherworldly perfect. Except that maybe it could. Its not a quick trip to Tahiti, but it's worth it. It takes an investment of time to get to Tahiti, the cluster of islands that collectively makes up French Polynesia (to give it its official name), including Tahiti itself, Bora Bora, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a, and Rangiroa (there are actually 118 islands in total, of which 40 are more or less populated). You first need to fly three hours to Auckland, followed by a five-hour flight on Air Tahiti Nui over the International Date Line into Papeete, the capital. By the time I land, effectively a day before I departed thanks to the date line crossing, the inky black of late evening obscures the island scenery outside the window. But the humid air that hugs me as I step off the plane, and the ubiquitous lei of fragrant local flowers that is draped around my neck by my gracious, smiling greeting party, assuage my craving for a stereotypical tropical arrival. Waking the next day I take in the water views beyond my hotel balcony, fill my lungs with humid air and listen to the sound of early morning bird song. I still haven’t reached my ultimate destination – the island of Moorea, 17 kilometres west of Tahiti – but this is a pretty impressive pit-stop on the way. A few hours later I am at the ferry port, preparing to make the 30-minute journey to Moorea, which can be glimpsed, hazy and green on the horizon. As the hulking boat heads out through a channel in the reef that surrounds much of the island, I get my first real glimpse of blue water. I am a huge fan of blue, being a water sign myself, but this blue really does take my breath away momentarily. It is so deep, so lush, so unlike anything I imagined existed in nature. Moorea is truly a little slice of heaven on earth The port on Moorea is a bustling little proposition of smiling, raven-haired locals (many with flowers tucked behind their ears, and intricate traditional body art decorating their limbs) and visitors. It takes just a few minutes until I am on the road to the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort Hotel, my base for the next few days. As I take in the scene outside the bus window, I see neat little houses lining the road, many of their gardens abundant with flowering bushes and fruit trees groaning under the weight of seductively ripe mangoes and papaya. Dogs laze on lawns, stupefied by the midday heat. This gentle panorama of domesticity is contrasted against the dense green mountains that reach a peak in the middle of the island. There are roughly 18,000 people living on Moorea, made up largely of Polynesians, with some French ex-pats and Chinese. The hotel is an oasis of island chic melded with a French sensibility. There is a mix of thatched garden, lagoon-view and over-water bungalows (a prerequisite in these parts and another delightful stereotype that more than lives up to the hype), all of which are sleek and spacious and offer up lovely views. I stay inside only long enough to drop my bags and pull on my swimmers; the focus here is outside not inside. The rest of the afternoon is spent reclining on white sand in the perfect shadow of a palm tree, occasionally dipping into the shallow aqua blue waters that lap gently on the shore, the ferocity of the ocean dissipated by the reef that can be seen just under the horizon in the distance, a thin, silent line of white seafoam. What to do when it rains in Tahiti: swim with sharks and stingrays The next morning, after a breakfast of pineapple and mango, with a zingy fresh juice shot to add extra energy for the day ahead, I head off through a low, ominous cloud haze to take a boat trip to swim with sharks and stingrays, and eventually wash up on an uninhabited motu for lunch. The rain is pelting through the open sides of the boat as we head out with the jovial local guide Siki offering a prayer to the gods for clear skies to come. I’m not completely convinced, but half an hour later the rain clears and the sun starts to cast irresistible patterns on the water. The colour shifts and changes according to the topography of the lagoon: the deeper the water, the deeper the blue. Siki keeps up a constant and entertaining narrative of jokes and local knowledge as we forge ahead. When we eventually come to a stop, the water is shallow and clear, all the better to see the stingrays and sleek, blacktip reef sharks just below the surface. Lowering myself into the water goes against everything I have been taught about avoiding close quarters contact with sharks, but Siki does this every other day and he still has all his digits intact. Stingrays glide under my feet, while the sharks keep a respectful distance, as wary of us as we are of them. Before too long we are powering forward again, coming to a stop off a small island apparently populated only by chickens and a loan ginger cat. As Siki and his crew set up a beach picnic, I comb the sand for shells and bleached white coral. Lunch affords me my first opportunity to taste the local specialty of Tahiti, poisson cru. Siki shows us his method of creation – everyone has their favourite way of constructing the dish, he tells us – washing the raw red tuna in salted water, adding ample lime juice to cure the fish and squeezing coconut milk from freshly desiccated flesh. The result is unctuous, fresh and flavoursome. The journey back to our hotel is languid and restful, watching the scenery drift by and the light change as the sun starts its slow descent into afternoon. Back at the resort I gravitate back to the beach, followed by dinner in K restaurant, the delicious fine dining option where my meal is accompanied by graceful dancers softly telling time-honoured tales with their hands against the backdrop of Tahiti, which twinkles and sparkles in the distance. Leave the blue of the ocean to focus on the green of the land Having concentrated my attention solely on the water for days, it is time to venture into the green heart of the island’s interior to get a more well-rounded feel for the place. This journey is undertaken with another tour guide heavy on cheeky humour and local facts. Francky Franck is a French ex-pat who first came to Tahiti during his time in the French army (the other choices were Algeria or Africa), and returned to live permanently here 12 years ago. He takes us to a tropical farm high up on a hillside, where he explains the health-giving benefits of the fruits grown there, and tells us about the labour intensive pollination process required to produce the vanilla beans (it’s done by hand, which is why they are so expensive). After this we bump our way up Magic Mountain, a vertiginous climb that eventually affords stunning views of the lagoon and reef below. We finish with a drive through one of the island’s many pineapple plantations. The whole expedition takes just a few hours – Moorea is only 134 square kilometres in all, but the scenery is picture perfect, an unspoilt tropical ideal. I only realise why later: there are no overhead powerlines on Moorea blighting the views and spoiling the simpler-times mystique of the island. Powerlines are buried underground (a benefit of the government money coming in from France), and even the mobile phone towers are hidden, delightfully disguised as palm trees. My last morning on Moorea is spent in the water again, this time snorkelling with sea scooters just shy of the reef with a member of the Sofitel’s aquatic centre team. While the water surface is choppy given the close proximity to the might of the Pacific Ocean, below the surface is a peaceful, slow-motion world of kaleidoscopic fish and coral. The journey back to the beach should take less than an hour, but there is so much to wonder at that time becomes irrelevant. Wading from the warm waters onto the hot sand, I have seen another fantasy shifted into reality. I now know that there are places on earth that are totally idyllic and otherworldly perfect, and Moorea is one of them. The details: Tahiti and Moorea Getting there: Air Tahiti Nui offers five weekly services to Tahiti via New Zealand Staying there: Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort Hotel is a five-star tropical haven with a French heart, including an annual festival of cheese that sees around 400 kilograms and 130 varieties flown in from France! Playing there The Tahiti Tourisme site has all you need to make the most of your time on the islands FranckyFranck’s three-and-a-half hour island tour costs $67 Albert Transport’s Moorea lagoon tour costs $83 See more fantasy island holidays How to see Fiji on any budget Sailing around the Cook Islands For bookings and further information, visit Tahiti Tourisme at tahititourisme.com.au.
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