CRUIS­ING: HEAVEN ON EARTH

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY SALLY MACMIL­LAN

Ful­fill your romantic dreams of sail­ing the South Seas on a Wind Spirit cruise, the next best thing to be­ing on board your own pri­vate yacht.

Ful­fill your romantic dreams of sail­ing the

South Seas on a Wind Spirit cruise, the next best thing

to be­ing on­board your own pri­vate yacht.

Acou­ple of days into our cruise around French Poly­ne­sia’s So­ci­ety Is­lands on board the el­e­gant four-masted Wind Spirit, I re­alise why the at­mos­phere is so laid-back. I haven’t heard one sin­gle pas­sen­ger com­plain­ing. About any­thing.

There are only 129 other peo­ple on this cruise and an air of re­laxed con­vivi­al­ity set­tles over the ship from the time we em­bark in Papeete. The idyl­lic sur­round­ings of dreamy trop­i­cal is­lands and tran­quil sap­phire seas are also pretty con­ducive to an up­beat mood – but the warm, friendly crew is prob­a­bly the clincher. They sing while they work, en­joy a joke and seem to know what sort of cock­tail you’d like be­fore you do. What’s not to love?

And love is cer­tainly in the air, with 10 hon­ey­moon cou­ples on board, but this is­land-hop­ping itin­er­ary at­tracts ac­tive solo trav­ellers and small groups of friends as well as ro­man­ti­cally minded cou­ples. You can do as much or as lit­tle as you like; there are plenty of shore tours to choose from, or ask Cruise Di­rec­tor Jef­frey or Voy­age Leader Ana for ad­vice about the best spots for hik­ing and bik­ing in­de­pen­dently. The ship pro­vides bi­cy­cles and these two know the is­lands in­ti­mately.

You might want to join a ship’s ex­cur­sion to ex­plore an­cient marae sites, see how pearls are farmed, visit a tra­di­tional vil­lage, take an eco-tour – or make use of the wa­ter toys from the ship’s wa­ter­sports ma­rina. These in­clude kayaks, stand-up pad­dle­boards and Ho­bie cats as well as masks and fins for snorkelling. I spend sev­eral happy hours swim­ming around the gi­ant float­ing mats that are at­tached to the ma­rina’s plat­form, the kayaks get a good work­out and the snorkelling trips are an ab­so­lute stand­out.

Wind Spirit’s dra­matic sail aways have ev­ery­one on deck to see the sails un­furl­ing, ac­com­pa­nied by the sound­track of the movie 1492: Con­quest of Par­adise. When we set sail from Moorea on the sec­ond night of the cruise, we are treated to a spec­tac­u­lar rose-hued sun­set and the equally spec­tac­u­lar sight of whales swim­ming close by – ev­ery­one is qui­etly thrilled.

Din­ner at Can­dles on the open deck is one of Wind­star’s sig­na­ture ex­pe­ri­ences, along with an amaz­ing pool­side bar­be­cue on one evening plus spe­cial shore events that are laid on once or twice on ev­ery cruise. You have to book for Can­dles but there’s no ex­tra charge; ta­bles are set up out­side the Veranda restau­rant on Deck 4 and the menu in­cludes sim­ple, fresh dishes – de­li­cious fish, sal­ads, lamb and beef skew­ers. Per­fect for a balmy evening un­der the stars.

Our first shore event is held on the pri­vate is­land of

Motu Ma­haea. We ar­rive early in the morn­ing at the an­chor­age off Taha’a, an is­land cov­ered in aro­matic vanilla plan­ta­tions, and we’re fer­ried – at our leisure – across to the motu by ten­der. The spa team has al­ready set up al fresco mas­sage booths, yoga on the beach starts at 9.30am, the wa­ter toys are wait­ing for us and the bar staff put on an en­ter­tain­ing cock­tail demon­stra­tion. Chef Darin and his gal­ley crew cre­ate a su­perb spread for lunch, in­clud­ing one of the best pael­las I have ever tasted.

Back on the ship that evening, a lo­cal sto­ry­teller, Heimau, comes aboard to re­gale us with sto­ries about his life as the son of a vil­lage chief in a tiny vil­lage on Ra­iatea. He is 79 years old, has 19 chil­dren by five dif­fer­ent women and is im­mensely charm­ing and funny. The sad side to his tales, he tells us, is that the younger gen­er­a­tion of French Poly­ne­sians aren’t that in­ter­ested in tribal tra­di­tions – which is one rea­son he likes to share them with vis­i­tors like us.

Wind Spirit an­chors for two days off Bora Bora, prob­a­bly the best-known of the So­ci­ety Is­lands. It’s home to some of the world’s most ex­pen­sive over-wa­ter vil­las and its fa­mous Bloody Mary’s bar-restau­rant has at­tracted top-name celebri­ties for nearly 40 years. You can read a list of them on the wall of fame at the en­trance: such renowned artists as Jimmy Buf­fet, Julio Igle­sias and Ron Wood have played con­certs there and a galaxy of Hol­ly­wood stars, from Mar­lon Brando and Jane Fonda to Cameron Diaz and Johnny Depp, have dropped in for din­ner or a drink or three over the years.

We make do with a quick lunch at Bloody Mary’s af­ter a morn­ing’s snorkelling on a Vi­a­tor small-boat trip, still semi­dazed from the amaze­ment of swim­ming with black-tipped reef sharks, a gazil­lion trop­i­cal fish and then hand-feed­ing stingrays. Snorkelling in these clear, turquoise la­goons verges on the ad­dic­tive; if you want to go to the next level, Wind Spirit of­fers in­tro­duc­tory scuba-div­ing ses­sions in

Moorea and Ra­iatea as well as dives for cer­ti­fied divers at most ports of call.

An­other spe­cial shore event takes place on our sec­ond evening in Bora Bora at Motu Tapu, a lit­tle pri­vate is­land that lies a short boat-ride from the ship’s an­chor­age. Af­ter a mag­nif­i­cent, Tahi­tian-in­spired feast – cour­tesy, once again, of the hard­work­ing Chef Darin and his crew – we are treated to a pow­er­ful dis­play of fire danc­ing by a group of lo­cal per­form­ers. The mu­sic, sin­u­ous, sen­su­ous bod­ies and wild moves with flam­ing torches are mes­meris­ing – and the vel­vety black sky and sil­hou­ettes of palm-trees form a back­drop that couldn’t be re­pro­duced in any movie.

The seven-night cruise is book­ended by pre- and post- stays at the lux­u­ri­ous Le Meri­dien ho­tel in Papeete, the cap­i­tal of French Poly­ne­sia on the is­land of Tahiti. It’s taken me a week to get my head around the fact that this vast area of the South Seas – some 118 is­lands scat­tered over 4,000 square kilo­me­tres – is French ter­ri­tory.

While not sur­pris­ing, it is in­ter­est­ing to learn that there are more ho­tel rooms in Las Ve­gas than in the whole of the Aus­tral, Gam­bier, Mar­que­sas, Tau­motu and So­ci­ety ar­chi­pel­a­gos put to­gether. That fact alone makes cruis­ing in French Poly­ne­sia an ir­re­sistible propo­si­tion. Sorry, did

I hear some­body com­plain­ing? •

Clock­wise from top left: Al fresco din­ing at Can­dles, © Roger Paperno; Div­ing with the lo­cals, © Yves Le­fèvre.

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