Pieces of paradise
Bora Bora has been hailed bymanyas the most beautiful island on earth. LUAINE LEE cruises in to this and other French Polynesian gems
ALREADY immortalised by the paintings of Paul Gauguin and the writings of James Michener, French Polynesia is the closest place to paradise we’re likely to find on Earth.
An exciting way to visit some of those 118 islands is aboard a small cruise ship that offers close-up views.
The Regent Seven SeasPaul Gauguin, a sparkling white vessel housing fewer than 400 guests, has a draft of only 5.2m and so can navigate waters that are too shallow for most ships. Half of the staterooms feature balconies where the traveller can relax and watch as Eden just floats by.
Anchored close to Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea or Raiatea at dawn, you can hear the roosters crowing, see the colourful wraparound pareus (sarongs) drying on invisible clotheslines and smell the perfume of the vanilla orchid.
It takes seven hours from Sydney nonstop via Air Tahiti Nui to the capital, Papeete.
There are several fine hotels here including the InterContinental Resort Tahiti which features Les Grands Ballets de Tahiti, a terrific 120-member folkloric dance troupe and a sumptuous barbecue on Friday and Saturday nights.
There’s much to see here, including Le Marche, Papeete’s downtown local market with colourful vendors and a cornucopia of produce: tapioca, yams, tomatoes, cucumbers the size of baseball bats, glorious flowers, multi-coloured fish.
Black pearls are sold everywhere. You can find them at the Vaima Centre, a sort of shopping mall with a pearl museum. But you need to know your pearls to make sure you’re getting quality goods.
Transportation is either by taxi — agree on a fee upfront — or the cheap local bus. Taxi fares rise after dark.
Sites to see include the black sands at Matavi Bay, the royal town of Arue and the Gauguin Museum — though it has none of the artist’s original works except for some sculptures.
For information check out the Visitors Bureau located on the wharf at the Quai d’Honneur.
One of the Paul Gauguin’s various cruises is the eight-day, seven-night trek out of Papeete exploring historic Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea.
The balcony staterooms run cost the equivalent of $5612pp; porthole cabins cost about $3570pp. This includes all meals, wine with dinner, tips and water sports — including wind surfing, kayaking, diving off the stern of the ship. Snorkel equipment is provided throughout the cruise.
This tour includes two nights in Bora Bora and two in Moorea with a variety of excursions available at the various ports. You can pre- book these online www.theregentexperience.com/ excursions or book on board. IF YOU GO ........................... Air Tahiti Nui flies nonstop from Sydney to Tahiti. Visit www.airtahitinui.com. Currency: French Pacific Franc. Tipping: Not the custom in the islands or necessaryon the ship. Bring reef shoes to protect your feet from sharp coral. Thongs are not substantial enough. French Polynesia is an overseas territory of France, which means sometimes topless beaches, lots of smoking and French as the official language. Papeete night clubs open at 10.30pm and close at 4am. Locals caution you to stay on the main streets. Rainymonths are January, Februaryand March, and hotel rates are lower during the off-season from December to May. High season June through November. Websites: for Tahiti, www.tahitiguide.com, Moorea www.mooreaisland.com/, Bora Bora www.boraboaraisland.com and Raiatea: www.raiatea.com and for the paul gauguin cruise, www.theregentexperience.com