A unique mixture of French and Polynesian cultures makes French Polynesia a tropical paradise with a difference as CARMEN BIRD discovered on a recent visit. Here she recounts some of the attractions which delighted her.
I’d never really considered French Polynesia for a holiday until earlier this year when my husband suggested trying somewhere new and French Polynesia was, indeed, new!
Made up of 118 islands and atolls, the two most common tourist areas are either Moorea or Bora Bora.
To minimise travelling time, and the need for an extra flight to Bora Bora, we opted for Moorea. Papeete (the capital of Tahiti, the main island) is a 4.5 hour flight from Auckland and Moorea another hour by ferry from the mainland.
On arriving at the picturesque bay of Vai’are, surrounded by impressive, towering volcanic mountains and tropical greenery, it was just a short 30-minute bus ride to the Hilton Hotel where we were booked for a leisurely vacation.
A French territory until 2003 and now a French collectivity, these beautiful islands are known for their diverse multi-cultural mix of French and Tahitian locals speaking a mix of both languages. We didn’t come across many New Zealanders which was kind of nice – our trip seemed more of an adventure than the usual Pacific Island holiday.
However, the over water bungalows instantly put us in holiday mode. They just seemed so exotic and tropical with private decks. Five steps off the deck and you could drop into the water for a spot of snorkelling any time of the day.
Before we left New Zealand, a friend told me I would love the bread; I told her I wasn’t going to be eating any of the bread – you know, low carb diet and all that! Well, famous last words! I’m not sure if it was the French influence (didn’t they invent croissants?) but the bread was insanely fantastic. The beautiful breakfast buffet was so impressive with a whole table dedicated to every type of bread one could think of from prune bread to mouth-watering croissants, all deliciously fresh and totally irresistible.
Regardless of whether visitors are relaxers or explorers, there are plenty of activities to choose from. We opted to spend our days exploring. We started out by hiring the cutest little yellow jeep and spent a day driving around the island stopping at local villages, peering over black pearls of every shade, size, and shape…and price as I’m sure readers can imagine.
There were lots of handmade sarongs and hanomi (the local beer) as well as souvenirs to buy at shops dotted along the road that wrapped around the island.
On another day we hired mopeds and took the winding route up through lush forests to the Belvedere lookout at the top of the island. It certainly deserves its reputation as providing the best views in Moorea – what a spectacular outlook across those majestic volcanic mountains and the bays below.
I’d highly recommend a late lunch/early dinner at the Beach Café decorated with every ‘Veuve’ accessory you could imagine from lanterns to umbrellas. The fresh, homemade pizzas were perfect with a glass of this French champagne and the café was an ideal spot to watch the sun go down over the glistening yachts on the horizon.
The highlight of our visit was the jet-ski adventure with Moorea Activities Centre. We booked a three-hour trip and jetted off around the island and even out and beyond the reef for a bit which was a little intimating. The steely dark blue of the ocean seemed vast, and knowing it was a zillion metres deep on the outside of the reef, was hard to fathom!
Back inside the reef we stopped at a local spot known for its sea life. Jumping into the crystal blue water, the sharks and giant mantra rays seemed to frolic around us. Our guide told us how intelligent the rays were and how they remembered him as they skimmed past us.
As these huge rays glided past, we were able to pat them – so silky and soft, which I hadn’t expected. Sharks also darted around but they didn’t seem that interested in tourist for dinner, which was fine by me.
During our stay we also grabbed paddleboards and kayaks on a number of occasions – spending late afternoon time in the protected lagoon was a serene and peaceful way to end the day.
We loved Moorea, the bread, the adventures, the water, the weather and especially the stingrays. As we relaxed on our last morning enjoying breakfast, and our blissful, tropical beach view, we made plans to come back next year… maybe with the kids… if they play their cards right, that is!