Taking it slow in Tahiti
Slow down—paradise is right here
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