Destination: French Polynesia

Bora Bora

The first week of our trip was spent in Bora Bora, acclimating to the gorgeous topography, listening to two dialects, Reo Maohi (Tahitian) and French, dodging rain and sleeping in bungalows about 12 feet above the sea!  We snorkeled around the property but our planned snorkeling trips were cancelled due to high winds and poor water visibility. 

I've kept editing to a minimum so you can see the surroundings as we saw them.  With all our heart we wished we had seen more sunshine.  But a tropical depression had settled in.  Clearly it was still a remarkable adventure and we are grateful we were safe and had the opportunity to see this magical place.

 Travels with my Dad and Eva were extra extra special for us.

Travels with my Dad and Eva were extra extra special for us.

 Raindrops

Raindrops

 Toasted Coconut, a popular appetizer.

Toasted Coconut, a popular appetizer.

The island was originally called Pora Pora!  The letter 'b" does not exist in Tahitian but it was mistakenly pronounced Bora Bora, which means "first born", by Captain James Cook.   More about him when we get to Moorea.

Approximately 9,000 people live on this majestic 17 square miles.  From a local tour guide we learned the island sits in a gigantic lagoon and is very very slowly sinking into its hole.  It is projected that in a million years Bora Bora will no longer be above water.  That's an uber long time away but still difficult to imagine.   

Tourists are encouraged to talk with tour operators or taxi boat operators about which islets can be explored because so much of the lagoon is private land.  The only public beach is Marie Point.  The beach is located around the corner from Bloody Mary's Restaurant, an iconic place where you have a shot at seeing Johnny Depp or Marlo Thomas.  Wearing shoes is optional since the floor is fine white sand.  Don't you love a restaurant that casual?

Bloody Mary's Restaurant has groovy t-shirts so we stocked up here! 

Speaking of celebrities, this was Marlon Brando's hideaway hut.  It is now a famous place to drive by and available to rent.   


Jack Nicholson owned this one just a couple huts away.  Can you imagine the parties they had?!!

 

After a restful week in Bora Bora, we embarked on a cruise for eight days.  David and I have never been on a cruise before so we had quite a bit to learn.  It's something we would do again.  

We boarded a Windstar sailing yacht in Papeete, Tahiti on February 19th and made a giant oblong circle to explore Moorea, Tahaa, Raiatea, back to Bora Bora for a couple days, Huahine and returning to Papeete on February 26th. 

The service was first-class and the food beyond exceptional!  

It was a real treat to have personal time with Executive Chef Klaus; touring the Galley and learning about the layout required of a mid-size vessel and techniques specific to making food on a boat that consistently sways.  Chef Klaus also held a cooking demonstration featuring the local dish "Poisson Cru" which was grand for David, the best chef at our house.

Details of the yacht were fascinating.  I couldn't get enough of the textures, the size of the masts, the wooden handrails and on and on.  It truly is a beauty.

If we could have changed one thing on board it would have been the cabin room.  We would have enjoyed having a sliding door and balcony.  We've heard there are disadvantages to larger cruise ships such as long lines to disembark for day trips but there are two reasons I think we should try a larger boat - - having a room with a sliding glass door would have felt more open and there would likely be less turbulence.  There were two nights where we, along with most of the passengers and even the sailing crew, had bad sea sickness.  Walking wobbly in the hallways and holding yourself up using every stable piece of furniture around is fun for the first hour.  After that, it's just a feeling of being ill and nausea.  Thankfully we got prescribed motion sickness patches before the trip but the storms settled in for days making prescription meds only mildly effective.             

 

Moorea

Moorea's beauty was the paradise I imagined when I thought of the Polynesian Islands.  The ship anchored in Cook's Bay, on the northern side of the island.   Explorer James Cook anchored there in 1769, as did Europeans Samuel Wallis (1767) and Louis-Anthoine de Bougainville (1768).  Captain Cook was an expert at making maps as he circumnavigated the globe twice and is credited with drawing the first accurate map of the Pacific.  Before being brutally killed in Hawaii (1779) because of his mistreatment of the people of Hawaii, Cook's Bay was Captain Cook's final voyage. 

Tourism and a pineapple growing center are Moorea's primary economic drivers with a population of 16,000 residents.      

From our ship, boats transported passengers (roughly 20 at a time) into the smaller bays where the water made me think of sapphire jewels.  I would have liked to have spent more time on this island, make contact with local residents.  

The tour and history lessons of Moorea were extremely interesting to us.  Opunohu Bay, also on the northern side of Moorea, was a trip highlight and where we found some of the most breath-taking photography opportunities.  The Bay has been used for commercials and movies (Mutiny on the Bounty, South Pacific) because it is so pristine.   Moorea was the inspiration for James Michener's book, Tales of the South Pacific, and ultimately the mystical Bali Hai from the musical 'South Pacific'.  Filming in that bay is popular because it is easy to access and beautifully unspoiled. 

Moorea is lush and dense, an island formed by volcanoes.  It would be difficult to maneuver without an experienced guide and a trail-tough 4X4 or safari vehicle.

 

Belvedere Lookout is located toward the center of the island and has remarkable views of Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay. 

 

Raiatea and Huahine

More thick forests for sure.  These were days designed to explore the villages, and get a feel for Tahitian lifestyle. 

Ra' iatea is the second largest island in the Society Islands and about 145 miles from Tahiti, the largest piece of land in the chain of islands.  Current population is about 12,000 and the area is considered to be a crucial economic driver for the islands.  There seemed to be fewer tourists here, perhaps due to the lack of beaches and activities.  The ship docked in the center of the main town, Uturoa.  Vanilla, pineapple and coconut are primary exports.  And all of the islands have several black pearl farms and boutiques. 

We wandered the large market; a combination of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish, oils, pearls, jewelry and colorful attire for sale.  We picked up a couple fun souvenirs but without a specific tour that day we found it to be a mellow afternoon.

Our time on Huahine was quiet and nothing particularly unique.  We were hot and getting tired so maybe our lack of exploring was a factor.  Merely my opinion, if you are trying to sort out where to spend time in French Polynesia, these are two islands that could be skipped.  Of course the views are gorgeous and if you want pure lounging on some sand they are good places to escape.  David and I just found the other islands to be more engaging.  So we returned to the ship early to catch a tour with Dad and Eva of the Bridge.  

I was surprised at how available the staff and on board spaces were to passengers.  Windstar staff made us feel welcomed in all of the ship areas.  We had such a great time in the Galley learning about food preparation we figured learning about the Bridge, the command and navigation space, would be great too. 

It was terrific!    

Of course I asked permission to take pictures.  They said, "sure you can."  The longest windshield wipers I'll ever see...                       

 

We traveled with my father, who still loves international travel at 84 years old and wears a Pareo and Tahitian tee like a cool cat, and his girlfriend Eva.  Such a great experience.  The time with dad was really precious.  He knows enough Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Thia, Tagalog, and Chinese to be able to communicate with a lot of people.  It's quite amusing to watch him light-up any time he can practice one of these languages.  This rather shy, extraordinarily caring, master inventor, deep thinker, highly-successful man has been remarkably supportive of David and I over the years, he is the father I adored as a child and that has never changed.  

Love you, Dad.     

An ancient legend says that Raiatea and Tahaa were originally one island until a giant eel swallowed a young girl.  Possessed by her spirit, the enraged creature broke through the earth surface, causing the sea to gush.  The impact of the water cut the island in two and Raiatea and Tahaa were created.     

 

Tahaa

 Tahaa Island, the view from the yacht.  

Tahaa Island, the view from the yacht.  

This was our favorite cruise day.  A full afternoon of lounging on a tiny island and abundant sunshine.  The crew planned a great day.  Arriving by a small boat, we were greeted on the island with a coconut beverage and BBQ for lunch. 

Several passengers brought their own snorkel equipment. 

We thought about it.  I read several blogs and consulted Trip Advisor about traveling through the various islands before we left.  Nearly all said to bring your own snorkel equipment because cruise ship equipment can be beat up.  But the equipment is a heavy load in the luggage so we decided no.  I'm glad we didn't bring our own because our snorkeling time was limited with the rough water and the equipment provided by the ship was in excellent condition.  The other tip was to purchase water shoes before the trip.  We did this and would highly recommend it!!  The beaches are more rugged than other beaches we have been to because they are never groomed so broken shells and rocks are the norm.  I'd read that finding aqua shoes on an island can be difficult and expensive so look locally before you go.  Dick's Sporting Goods had the best selection to try on.  I anticipated we would be in these shoes often so fit was important.  My favorites are pictured below and only $14.99.  We tried on several Speedo water shoes but honestly the less expensive DBX brand were the most comfy.   

I got that pair of floral rubber walking shoes pictured below too.  I wore them A Lot!  On and off the sand, now a new favorite sandal from Target.  I took my old Crocs along and was happy to have them.  One pair of strappy high heels for dressier evening attire was enough for me.  David took tennis shoes, his Birkenstock's for everyday and a couple pair of dressier loafers.   Oh, and we both brought cushy slippers!  Take slippers you love because after a day of exploring and walking the boat getting into a robe and slippers is bliss.  Happy feet are important.      

 Back to this dreamy visit to Taha' a. 

We had massages side-by-side near the water, under a wind sheet for shade, and that was divine...something we had not done before.  Loved it!!  And several of us smiled through an entertaining cocktail-making demonstration.  A day to treasure!

Utterly enchanted.  A trip of a lifetime.