The Romance of Tahiti
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.
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