Tak­ing it slow in Tahiti

Slow down—par­adise is right here

SAIL - - Contents - By Zuzana Proc­hazka

Ah, Tahiti! Even the sound of the word elic­its thoughts of heaven on earth—a Poly­ne­sian par­adise and a bucket list cruise to talk about for years. Most peo­ple are lucky to come here once in a life­time, so I have to won­der why char­ter­ers are al­ways in such a hurry to get their boat in Ra­iatea and press on to ex­otic Bora Bora or re­mote Huahine. You’re here. Stop and smell the tiare flow­ers be­fore set­ting sail to else­where.

Ra­iatea, the “Sa­cred Is­land,” is a 50-minute flight from Papeete and the de­par­ture point for all bare­boat char­ters from Sun­sail, Tahiti Yacht Char­ter, The Moor­ings and Dream Yacht Char­ter. Ra­iatea and Taha’a Is­land share a fring­ing reef, so it’s easy to stay in pro­tected wa­ters on the first day or two while you get your sea legs and learn the idio­syn­cra­sies of the boat be­fore head­ing out one of the many passes on all sides.

A cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of Ra­iatea will bring you to some hid­den gems like Naonao Is­land at the south­ern tip, a per­fect motu that you can kayak around, or Faaroa Bay where you can SUP on an In­di­ana Jones-es­que river flanked by taro fields. Here, the pad­dling is usu­ally calm as you float along, sur­rounded by bushes of ex­otic flow­ers, their scent hang­ing heavy in the still air. At times, the river gets so nar­row and shal­low that you may have to “get out and walk,” pulling the board be­hind you.

Nearby is Onoa Bay and Marae Ta­puta­pu­atea, one of the largest spir­i­tual sites in French Poly­ne­sia. Many of the stone tem­ple out­lines have been re­built, so a stroll through will give you an idea of the civ­i­liza­tion that ruled here a thou­sand years ago.

Two hours north from the char­ter bases is Hurepiti Bay on Taha’a, the “Vanilla Is­land.” Here, Alain and Christina Plantier run a great land tour on a 4x4. The cou­ple sailed their 32ft ply­wood cata­ma­ran to Tahiti from France 45 years ago and built a Robin­son Cru­soe-like home­stead that shows off ev­ery kind of plant and flower Tahiti has to of­fer— in­clud­ing many dif­fer­ent col­ors of tiare.

Alain is a trained botanist who ran a vanilla farm for years, and his en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of the flora of Tahiti is mind­bog­gling. His four-hour tour in­cludes a stop to feed co­conuts to chick­ens (they’re crazy for the stuff) and an ex­ten­sive les­son on vanilla pol­li­na­tion. In sea­son, Alain also serves up noni juice, the fruit of a tree in the cof­fee fam­ily, pur­ported to be a mir­a­cle cure and a foun­tain of youth. Be­ware, though, the stuff tastes like a mix of laun­dry wa­ter and boiled sweat socks. Bot­toms up!

Taha’a is black pearl cen­tral, so a visit to a “farm,” like Cham­pon, is a must. No­body gets away from a pearl dis­play case with­out be­ing a few Poly­ne­sian francs lighter. These lit­tle round won­ders are hyp­notic and unique to this part of the world, so you can’t pos­si­bly leave with­out one.

The western side of the long reef of­fers phe­nom­e­nal sun­set views of Bora Bora in the dis­tance. Le Taha’a Re­sort, with its pic­turesque (and ex­pen­sive) over-wa­ter bun­ga­lows, makes for great pho­tos too. In fact, the whole place can’t take a bad picture. Even the coral in the nearby pass is pho­to­genic. Just be­ware the zippy cur­rent as you snorkel through the pass, and un­less you have tough feet, bring your reef shoes.

In any other part of the world, Taha’a and Ra­iatea would be a draw in them­selves, so they’re worth a slow care­ful ex­plo­ration. If you’re lucky enough to tick Tahiti off the bucket list, well, you’re lucky enough. So ad­just your pace, look around and take in the beauty be­fore sail­ing on to some­place else. I mean, what’s your hurry? The bucket list is all around you. s

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