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