The Ro­mance of Tahiti

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Once in a life­time was not enough. Since my first visit to Tahiti years ago, I’ve longed to re­turn for two rea­sons. The first was to see Bora Bora again, but this time to spend as much time as pos­si­ble on or near the is­land’s spec­tac­u­lar blue la­goon, co­ral reef and palm-cov­ered islets. The sec­ond rea­son was to go with my wife; the nat­u­ral beauty and ro­mance of Bora Bora and Tahiti’s other is­lands are not some­thing to ex­pe­ri­ence on your own.

Our first view of Bora Bora came from the air. From our plane’s win­dow, the is­land ap­peared like an oa­sis in the shim­mer­ing Pacific. We could see lush green hills and tow­er­ing vol­canic peaks sit­ting in a cir­cle of white-sand islets and a la­goon with more hues of blue than we could name: from inky black and deep indigo to cobalt, turquoise, aqua­ma­rine and pow­der blue.

Be­cause I’d been there be­fore, I knew the is­land had plenty to see by land – moun­tain hikes through trop­i­cal flora to panoramic views of mys­ti­cal Mount Ote­manu, and a town with bou­tiques, black-pearl shops and the le­gendary Bloody Mary’s bar. But this trip, we never put a foot on a road or any­where more than a few steps from the la­goon. Even our taxi ride from the air­port to our re­sort was by sea, a 20-minute jour­ney south to Matira Point and our over­wa­ter bun­ga­low at Sof­i­tel Bora Bora Pri­vate Is­land.

Our thatched bun­ga­low – one of 31 rooms at the se­cluded re­sort – sat at the end of a board­walk perched above the turquoise la­goon. Built with warm wood and a Poly­ne­sian dé­cor, the bun­ga­low was filled with five-star com­forts: a king-sized bed, stone-tiled bath­rooms, a plasma TV, air­con­di­tion­ing and a glass win­dow on the floor for a di­rect view into the la­goon.

There was plenty to do on the small is­land. We dined in the restau­rant on smoked tuna omelettes, mar­i­nated fish, lob­ster au gratin and other French and Tahi­tian spe­cial­i­ties. We went kayak­ing, had mas­sages and walked along the is­land’s edge to one of Bora Bora’s most pop­u­lar snorkelling spots. But for us, the great­est lux­ury was our pri­vate deck where we could watch the sun set, stare at the stars and leap off for a quiet swim in the la­goon.

Only a la­goon cruise tempted us away. I was scep­ti­cal about leav­ing our life of lux­ury at the re­sort for a boat tour, but the trip was a high­light of our hol­i­day and fur­ther proof that the is­land’s great­est at­trac­tion is its blue la­goon. We spent the day snorkelling with yel­low-and-blue par­rot fish and rasp­berry clams, swim­ming eye­ball to eye­ball with manta rays, and watch­ing hump­back whales div­ing and breach­ing near our boat. Later, af­ter lunch at a re­mote beach, we sat at the wa­ter’s edge lis­ten­ing to the lap of the sea and the rus­tle of palm trees, savour­ing the wild­ness that’s still a part of the is­land’s ro­mance.

There are 118 is­lands in French Poly­ne­sia, the of­fi­cial ti­tle of the coun­try ev­ery­one knows by the name of its largest is­land, Tahiti. Scat­tered across four mil­lion square kilo­me­tres of ocean, these is­lands fea­ture the same misty moun­tain peaks, fra­grant flora and trop­i­cal seas that Cap­tain Cook dis­cov­ered cen­turies ago.

Cook named the most pop­u­lar group of is­lands the So­ci­ety Is­lands, an ar­chi­pel­ago of scenic moun­tain­ous is­lands that in­cludes Bora Bora, Moorea, Maupiti, Huahine, Ra­iatea and the main­land of Tahiti. These is­lands of­fer cou­ples the best choice of wed­ding sites, lux­ury re­sorts and hotels, trans­porta­tion and ac­tiv­i­ties, from hik­ing, div­ing and fish­ing to pearl farms, Tahi­tian dance per­for­mances, spa treat­ments and gourmet French cui­sine.

The di­verse land­scapes and cul­tures of the other is­lands make them at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tions as well, es­pe­cially for cou­ples look­ing for a more ad­ven­tur­ous or un­tainted taste of the Pacific. For ex­am­ple, the rugged land­scapes and rich cul­ture of the emer­ald green Mar­que­sas Is­lands lie 1,500 kilo­me­tres away from the main­land and can be reached on a two-week cruise aboard a cargo ship that sup­plies the is­lands with their goods.

The next stop in our trip was Huahine, a laid-back is­land be­tween Bora Bora and the main­land. Ev­ery­one likes to de­scribe Huahine’s ap­peal by what it’s not: it’s not glam­orous and hyped like Bora Bora, it’s not as de­vel­oped as Moorea or the main­land, and it doesn’t have as many ac­tiv­i­ties as other is­lands. But there was a lot more to Huahine than its ca­sual Poly­ne­sian at­mos­phere and sim­pler life­style.

We stayed at the Re­lais Ma­hana in a bun­ga­low on one of the is­land’s best beaches and spent most days loung­ing on the white sand, swim­ming in the sea and snorkelling over a spec­tac­u­lar co­ral reef along the ho­tel’s shore. Peer­ing un­der­wa­ter each day seemed to bring a new species of fish or co­ral in daz­zling blues, pur­ples, yel­lows and reds.

We spent one day away from the beach, driv­ing through the is­land’s lush moun­tains, along cosy bays and an­cient stone fish traps, and past wa­ter­melon and vanilla farms. We stopped in Maeva, once the seat of the is­land’s royal power, to wan­der around ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites and re­stored marae.

Upon our re­turn to the ho­tel for a beach­side lunch, the ho­tel staff told us about a sun­set sail­ing trip. It was our last day in Tahiti, and we had our hearts set on an af­ter­noon nap on the beach. But half an hour later, we were drink­ing Cham­pagne on the bow of a cata­ma­ran and sail­ing along the la­goon.

When the boat an­chored to wait for the sun­set, we spot­ted an empty white-sand beach about 200 me­tres away and swam off the boat to see it. By the time we re­turned, the sun had be­gun its trop­i­cal de­scent into the sea, and we found our­selves caught be­tween com­pet­ing views. The one at the hori­zon, with the set­ting sun blush­ing the sea and sky in spec­tac­u­lar hues of pink, purple and or­ange; and the other, back on the beach, a pic­ture of par­adise painted with the last of the day’s golden light. As we sailed home in the dark, the boat’s first mate strum­ming his ukulele, we tried to cling to both views. These were ex­pe­ri­ences worth com­ing back for.

get­ting mar­ried

Wed­dings in Tahiti are legally bind­ing for New Zealan­ders. You must have a le­gal cer­e­mony in the City Hall, and then you’re free to have a cer­e­mo­nial wed­ding in the lo­ca­tion of your choice. Most hotels and re­sorts are happy to as­sist cou­ples with their plans for a hon­ey­moon, wed­ding­moon or wed­ding, how­ever it pays to get ad­vice from travel spe­cial­ists in New Zealand, such as Tahiti Va­ca­tions, who can help with trans­lated doc­u­ments prior to ar­rival.

weather in tahiti

Tem­per­a­tures in French Poly­ne­sia are pleas­ant year round. The warm, dry sea­son runs from April to Oc­to­ber; the hu­mid, wet sea­son from Novem­ber to March. The peak tourist times are July and Au­gust, which tend to be the windi­est months.

The is­land of Tahiti is a five-hour flight from Auck­land. Bora Bora isa a 50-minute flight from the main­land, and Moorea a 30-minute ferry ride.

BY TO M R O M E O

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