ISLAND-HOPPING IN TAHITI
French Polynesia is embracing its roots, tattoos and all, mixing traditional ways with inventive hospitality. This place knows how to enjoy itself—while totally thrilling you
When you can wake up to mainline a perfect espresso, pop a bonbon into your mouth left over from the night before, then plunge into a crystal-clear lagoon at your doorstep while you wait for breakfast to arrive via canoe, you know you’re in for a red-letter day. This is the essence of French Polynesia, a swath of 118 islands spread out over 2,000 kilometres in the southern Pacific Ocean.
While Marlon Brando and 1970s Hollywood culture may have made Tahiti and her islands famous, the French made it exquisite—and long before Brigitte Bardot and Jacques Brel wandered its shores. With ties reaching back to the mid-1800s, the islands are autonomous, but minded by France as a “collective.” and the mix of ancient Lapita roots and full-on French fabulousness has created a rich and fascinating culture, right down to the double-cheek kissing and the subsidized French cheese. You can also thank France for making French Polynesia one of the most LgBT-friendly places in the Pacific: same-sex sexual activity is legal; people can get married, adopt children and serve in the military; and anti-discrimination laws and laws concerning gender identity are all on the books.
The deep isolation factor is one of the top selling points—something Hawaii, its neighbour to the north, doesn’t offer. really, if you took the american-ness out of Hawaii and replaced it with French-ness, added a dash of exotic class, then took away about a billion tourists, you’d have French Polynesia. The key to vacationing here is to adopt island-hopping as your main activity, in addition to the snorkelling, swimming with stingrays and black point sharks, cruising the lagoons and eating banana pudding by the bucketful and just plain sitting on your rear.
no one ever stays in the capital, Papeete: it’s “the city.” Everyone merely flies in, then hops on the 20-minute ferry to the neighbouring island of Moorea, a lush and unhurried nirvana encircled by a small lagoon. and once you’re settled in your over-water bungalow at the Hotel Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach resort, you can grab a cocktail and stare at Papeete off in the distance, twinkling in the moonlight. The famous over-water rooms are worth the money, even though they don’t look like much from the outside; sun-bleached beyond recognition. Most are quite luxe inside, with aircon and all the comforts of home (if your home has an espresso machine, which it very likely does). With these bungalows, you have the best of all worlds—your room, the water, the shoreline vistas, pretty boats to watch. You can also glimpse the goings-on underneath your room via a Plexiglas window in the cabin floor.
While in Moorea, make time to walk the hiking trails, climb island peaks, discover secret rivers and ancient maraes or stone religious shrines, and trip to Belvedere Lookout for a stunning view of Secret Mountain, with Cook’s Bay and opunohu Bay stretched out before you.