How to get there:
Fly from Australia’s major capital cities to either Hamilton Island Airport, or the Whitsunday Coast Airport. Stay in Airlie Beach or at one of the island resorts. Cruise Whitsundays operates daily trips to the Great Barrier Reef as well as the other iconic parts of the region including Whitehaven Beach and several of the island resorts. Year round. August is the region’s sailing season. You might spot whales on any trips around the Whitsundays from July – September. February/ March is the tropical wet season so you might score yourself a deal.
At the time, I was a Scuba Diving Instructor with a deep- seated love for the ocean. I had never thought about stepping into the island’s thick jungle and held little interest in who or what lived within its tangled maze.
That was until Glen’s story left me transfixed; obsessed with tales of little people that made my heart pound.
Glen relayed a story about a Lysepsep girl he met in the jungles of Santo. He was a young boy at the time and was walking alone through the rainforest.
He recalls the girl being very short in stature, long- haired, very scary looking, and unwilling to speak. She maintained her distance from him yet followed him home; leaving an offering of fresh fruits on his doorstep.
It is proven Santo still harbours a small community of Pigmy people; their village located at high altitude on Mount Tabwemasana, Vanuatu’s highest peak. Fully grown adults attain a height no greater than a child, but their bodies are strong, muscular and well- formed.
The first time I trekked through the jungles of Espiritu Santo, it was 2006, and I convinced a friend to accompany me.
It took us two days to reach our destination; a village called Marakai with housing thatched in traditional style. The only evidence of any contact with Westerners was a scattering of well- worn pots and a few dented plates and spoons.
The village was completely off the grid; no power, no gas, no tap water, and the women tasked with tending the crops all day.
There is no road access, and the only path is the one made by wild boar and the bare feet of Highlanders. Although the journey is not for the faint- hearted the opportunity to experience a culture that remains intact due to its remoteness serves as reward enough for the intrepid traveller.
In 2013, I decided to return to Maraki, accompanied by a group of tourists. I had not visited since 2010, and I knew that the journey would be challenging for all.
Six French guests ( fellow travellers) arrived early on our day of departure. We drove through the villages of Fanafo, Butmas, and Sele, to meet with Riki ( our Chief guide) and nine porters.
At noon we set off on foot; mud squelched up about my ankles, sucking at my hiking boots making each step a battle for the Earth to let go. But the rains had at least stopped – replaced by a wall of tropical humidity – triggering a stream of sweat to pour from my brow.
Traversing a river and numerous creeks was easier than pushing through the impenetrable jungle. Unfortunately, for every downhill, there was a larger one up; leaving my legs wobbling like jelly.
Ah, Moorea, you were described as the ultimate enchantress, mysterious sister to the larger island of Tahiti in the French Polynesian islands. And you turned out to be. Surrounded by a colorful coral reef, with sheer, imposing mountains that are mirrored in the dark waters of its bays, Moorea is also called the “Island of Love.”
Nestled between the island’s Cook’s and Oponohu Bays, the 104room Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa embraces the white sandy beach along its brilliant, ten- acre, turquoise lagoon dotted with bright purple coral. A 30- minute ferry ride from the harbor of the capital city of Papeete, across the Sea of Moon brings you to Moorea and the only five- star resort on the island.
When we were booking our stay, we had a choice of garden, lagoon and overwater bungalows with interiors designed in a modern island motif. The bathrooms feature sleek Italian granite countertops; marble tubs and a rain cascade style shower. In fact, each bungalow features a private outdoor shower, which gives sun- dried a whole new meaning.
Hilton Moorea offers 54 overwater bungalows – where we had the option of ordering room service and having it delivered via outrigger canoe and even snorkel right off our lanai! Especially popular with honeymooners, the “island on an island” overwater rooms are connected by winding, wooden walkways built on stilts over the lagoon, with the ultimate location being at the end of the overwater walkway in a “Horizon Bungalow,” with 180 degree- views of land and sea.
On land each fare ( Tahitian for house) stands amidst luxurious gardens and has its own private plunge pool. There are two Garden Pool Suites; 20 adjoining Garden Pool Bungalows – ideal for families – and 27 Deluxe Garden Pool Bungalows.
While at the resort, we had three different dining experiences: the open air, ocean view “Arii Vahine” that serves a lavish breakfast buffet and romantic dinners and hosts live Polynesian shows twice a week. The “Rotui Bar & Grill” is located between the swimming pool and the white sand beach and is a casual, waterfront option for lunch and was a delightful setting for trying the famous Tahiti raw tuna and coconut milk dish called “poisson cru” or sipping exotic tropical drinks created by the resort’s award- winning libationists. At night the thatched roofed “Toatea Bar & Creperie” was my favorite place for French Crepes à la Brittany and for watching sea life swim by in the “natural aquarium” just below.
The sea beckons from all points of the Hilton Moorea. In fact, the coral reef surrounding the island goes so far out that the crystal clear water is only chest deep in many areas, making it ideal for my partner to feel comfortable snorkeling out to see a wide variety of marine life. We were able to use an array of beach toys including snorkels and fins, paddle boards, a pedal- boat or a kayak for a peaceful ride on the crystal blue waters of the lagoon. There were also daily boat tours of the island. The boat we took included stops to watch spinner dolphins at play and we even got out on the beach of a motus ( tiny islands) and a stingray swam right up to us, curious and playful!
The beachfront spa at the resort turned out to be a serene oasis of relaxation filled with the scent of island flowers. The island’s luscious monoï ( coconut & tiare flower)