THE IS­LANDS OF TAHITI

An oa­sis of end­less beauty and soul­ful charm wel­comes vis­i­tors to these South Pa­cific is­lands.

Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle Magazine - - Table Of Contents - BY JULE GUAGLARDI

Soft rhythms of the tra­di­tional Poly­ne­sian ukulele play as smil­ing flight at­ten­dants dis­trib­ute in­tox­i­cat­ingly scented tiare flow­ers for pas­sen­gers to place in their hair. The tiare, Tahiti’s na­tional flower, is an ab­so­lute sta­ple to the Poly­ne­sian wardrobe. Af­ter our eight-hour flight, the cabin doors open to co­conut palms sway­ing in the dis­tance and the faint scent of ocean air bil­lows through the warm is­land breeze.

TROP­I­CAL SPLEN­DOUR

Head­ing out on our four-wheel sa­fari buggy through the city and even­tu­ally into the woods, we join Hervé Marae­taata of Ma­tonui Ex­cur­sions who en­ter­tains us with his in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm for The Is­lands of Tahiti. The scenery grows in­creas­ingly mag­nif­i­cent as we en­ter the an­cient tem­ple or crater of Tahiti known as Marae. Sur­rounded by wa­ter­falls and tow­er­ing moun­tains, we hike through the bush and cross rivers teem­ing with eels. We de­light in fresh fruit as we ex­plore the lush forests of Noni laden with pas­sion fruit, puro, tiare and ylang ylang flow­ers, as well as the sa­cred tiairi, a tree used to pro­duce the dark ink for the tra­di­tional Poly­ne­sian tat­too. The same tree is also revered by lo­cals as a cure for can­cer.

Later, we depart on a quick 40-minute flight to the is­land of Huahine. Lo­cated among the So­ci­ety Is­lands in the lee­ward group, this tran­quil, gen­tle is­land is known as the Gar­den Is­land, a sparsely pop­u­lated trop­i­cal jun­gle. With roughly 6,000 res­i­dents here, you are more likely to encounter a cow than an­other per­son. On this real-life Gil­li­gan’s Is­land dot­ted with co­conut plan­ta­tions and spec­tac­u­lar green­ery, we are lured by the scent of pure vanilla waft­ing in the air.

Our ho­tel is Le Ma­hana Huahine, a 35bun­ga­low, is­land-style hide­away lo­cated on the south­west end of the is­land in the heart of Avea Bay, where su­perb sun­sets over­look a hand­ful of yachts an­chored just off shore in a gor­geous, jade-coloured la­goon. We dine on de­li­cious French-style seafood ac­com­pa­nied by a glass of Bor­deaux, and chat with the friendly staff be­fore head­ing off to sleep.

Our next day is spent hunt­ing for the sa­cred blue-eyed eels. We hop on scoot­ers and set off to dis­cover ex­tinct vol­ca­noes, an­cient ru­ins, vanilla plan­ta­tions, a sin­gle gro­cery store and Fare Beach framed by turquoise wa­ters.

A FLOAT­ING OA­SIS

A wave from the dock by Cap­tain Jerome Gour­jeon, a sailor from Brit­tany, France, who works for Tahiti Yacht Char­ters, sig­nals our time on this spe­cial is­land must end. We find our­selves board­ing our own pri­vate cata­ma­ran—a Foun­taine Pa­jot Mahe 36 with two dou­ble cab­ins and two heads, a per­fect float­ing oa­sis for the next four days. On board, we’re greeted by So­nia Fa­vere, a Parisian liv­ing in The Is­lands of Tahiti, who, through­out the cruise, spoils us with in­sanely deca­dent French cui­sine. Even Cap­tain Jerome, as it turns out, was a for­mer Miche­lin chef in Paris who con­trib­utes nightly to So­nia’s culi­nary master­pieces.

Our days con­sist of swim­ming, pad­dle­board­ing and div­ing in Apu Bay; vis­it­ing Tahi­tian pearl farms where we learn the in­tri­cate, very lengthy and del­i­cate process be­hind cul­ti­vat­ing these is­land gems; snorkelling the coral gar­dens at Tau Motu where we spot sharks, dol­phins and rays; ex­plor­ing the in­tox­i­cat­ing vanilla plan­ta­tions of Taha’a; hik­ing Mt. Ta­pioi; and cruis­ing the Faaroa River in Ra­iatea.

LUX­U­RI­OUS AC­COM­MO­DA­TION

We bid a touch­ing farewell to Jerome and So­nia as they sail away from the dock at Le Taha’a Is­land Re­sort & Spa. Lux­u­ri­ous, yet au­then­ti­cally lo­cal, it’s no sur­prise this Re­lais & Châteaux prop­erty has raked in ac­co­lades and was ranked among Condé Nast Trav­eler’s “World’s Best Places to Stay” in 2012.

In our over-the-wa­ter bun­ga­low, we col­lapse be­neath a grand thatched pan­danus

roof. Tra­di­tional wood carv­ings, bam­boo, Mar­que­san “tapa” cloths and wo­ven co­conut ma­te­rial col­lec­tively de­fine the in­te­rior, while a two-me­tre glass panel in the floor pro­vides views of the sea life be­low. On-site, Le Vanilla Restau­rant is as ar­chi­tec­turally cap­ti­vat­ing as the food it serves. De­signed on three-prong, wood­en­beam struc­tures, much like the top of a tiki torch, Le Vanilla of­fers an al­most tree­house-like din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence serv­ing up French Poly­ne­sian fare. We in­dulge in a mag­nif­i­cently re­lax­ing his-and-her mas­sage at Le Spa, an oa­sis of calm and tran­quil­ity tucked away in a gar­den-like set­ting just off the main beach. Be­fore our de­par­ture, we par­tic­i­pate in a crown­mak­ing cer­e­mony out of palm fronds.

We travel by boat to Ra­iatea to catch a flight to Bora Bora. Wear­ing an­other fab­u­lously scented lei, we board our ho­tel wa­ter taxi to carry us across to a pri­vate cove on Motu To’opua, home of the for­mer Hil­ton-turned­con­rad Bora Bora Nui. Fol­low­ing check-in, we’re driven by golf cart to our over-the-wa­ter bun­ga­low. Mod­ern, chic, equipped with ev­ery pam­per­ing bell and whis­tle one can imag­ine, and of­fer­ing an un­ob­structed view of the end­less blue hori­zon, our room is the per­fect place to un­wind.

The beau­ti­ful hill­top Hina Spa is a wel­com­ing oa­sis nes­tled in vol­canic rock of­fer­ing ELEMIS skin­care prod­ucts as part of its nur­tur­ing rit­u­als. We visit the sa­cred chapel perched ma­jes­ti­cally on one of the high­est points on the is­land and imag­ine the beauty of an in­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion wed­ding.

Hop­ping on the ferry to the main is­land of Bora Bora, we stroll through art gal­leries and shop for Tahi­tian pearls as me­men­tos of our time in the South Pa­cific. We take a van trans­port to Bloody Mary’s for some lo­cal happy-hour fun, how­ever it’s our shark div­ing ad­ven­ture with black­tip and lemon sharks that re­ally gets our adrenalin pump­ing—an ex­pe­ri­ence we will not soon for­get.

Upon de­par­ture, we can­not ex­press enough mau­ru­uru (grate­ful­ness) to this des­ti­na­tion. The is­landers are soul­ful and gen­er­ous with their warmth, hos­pi­tal­ity, tra­di­tions and di­vine cui­sine, while the is­lands them­selves over­flow with end­less nat­u­ral beauty. De­part­ing The Is­lands of Tahiti is al­most as dif­fi­cult as let­ting go of some­one you deeply love. It’s painful and you feel like cry­ing.

© TAHITI TOURISME

© TAHITI TOURISME

TOP LEFT: Over-the-wa­ter bun­ga­low ac­com­mo­da­tion in Bora Bora. © TAHITI TOURISME BOT­TOM LEFT: Known for its lush­ness, Huahine is of­ten called the Gar­den Is­land. © TAHITI Tourisme/pierre-françois Gros­jeanBE­LOW: The lei (some­times called a hei in Tahiti) is a ges­ture of hos­pi­tal­ity and wel­come. © TAHITI TOURISMEBOT­TOM RIGHT: Hike through a rain­for­est on Moorea.

Jule Guaglardi

RIGHT TOP: View of the pool and beach at the Con­rad on Bora Bora. BE­LOW: Learn all about pearl farm­ing in Tahiti. BOT­TOM CEN­TRE: Our sa­fari guides in Tahiti. BOT­TOM RIGHT: Fresh fruit from Huahine.

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