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

Townsville Bulletin - - Weekend Extra -

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

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