French Polynesia: Land of Fantasies or Maybe Not
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- Visiting French Polynesia: Beautiful, but not quite what we expected.
- Excursions Offered on Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti
- French Polynesia: Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti - History, geography and culture!
French Polynesia: Land of Fantasies?
French Polynesia is made up of over 100 islands, most of which are uninhabited. However, the big three, Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti, have been glamorized by movies such as South Pacific and the travel industry promising romantic vacations in luxurious huts over the water as the stuff of dreams. Every experience depends on so many factors, including what you are doing, the weather, local service, and one’s expectations. With this caveat in mind, this was our experience when we spent one day on each island.
Bora Bora Beautiful or “Boring Boring?”
The island is exactly how it appears in travel magazines. It is surrounded by a beautiful coral reef protecting its shoreline from the rolling waves, leaving the harbor calm and serene. We thought, WOW – it’s as beautiful as the magazines make it look! We can’t believe we are here. Small homes and huts that dotted the lush green shoreline were the only buildings visible.
There was no building up the mountain, leaving it unspoiled and beautiful. The air was filled with the scent of tropical flowers, and we could hear the distant sound of waves crashing against the coral reef. I thought it was odd that no buildings were built on the mountains until I learned from a local guide that the soil is all volcanic material that slips and slides with the slightest pressure. Thus, there is no climbing these steep peaks or building because the soil is unstable. We saw several small landslides being cleaned up.
Activities on Bora Bora, French Polynesia:
I had planned to go diving with a local dive company with my two new dive buddies. Bob couldn’t get on the sold-out excursions, so he planned to explore independently. We headed out to the island on the first tender, which would contact us on the island way ahead of our dive boat pickup time, but we didn’t want to take the chance of being late. Once on shore, Bob headed off to explore, and we camped out by the tourist building near the dock as instructed.
Upon arrival, native singers and musicians played typical island music to welcome us. Remember, it is all in the welcome. There was also a tent with a small local Market to browse locally-made goods. There were no pushy vendors, just local artisans, proud of their goods, hoping to make a little money from tourists. French Polynesia is known for local black pearls cultivated and grown nearby. Pearl stores can be found everywhere on all three islands, ranging from not too expensive to thousands of dollars for a refined necklace of high-quality pearls.
Allison and I took turns with Roger watching over our equipment and looking around. I wanted a T-shirt for my daughters and a magnet, which I quickly found across the street. I also discovered nothing is cheap on these islands, and the vendors speak very little English. My high school French was long forgotten. But money is the universal language, and we manage to get what we wanted.
Diving – Not in the U.S. anymore
Allison was with a different dive company than Roger and I, but we all had the same poor experience that reminded us that we were not in the U.S. anymore.
Allison was picked up in an open-air truck with a bench in the back. Roger and I were picked up by boat at the tender dock. We boarded the boat and found that no one spoke very good English. The young captain was the best and barely understandable. Another couple hopped on to do a scuba introductory dive. They had their own dive master, and Roger and I had a different one.
We quickly headed out to the dive site, a short ride away. We got our gear ready, and with a very quick, hardly understandable dive briefing, we jumped in. Our guide had mimed something during the briefing, which led me to believe we should lay down in the sand and wait for eagle rays to appear and swim over.
Once in the water, our guide quickly took us down, navigating through small passages in large coral formations that rose 20-30 feet tall in spots. The current was powerful, and we struggled not to hit the reef as we swam through. Tropical fish were not as abundant as seen on other reefs, but we saw a moray eel swimming out of its hidy hole, strange-looking creepy sea slugs, and a few fish here and there.
We arrived at the sandy bottom and were told to lie flat on the sand. That was easier said than done with the strong current. The dive master, Roger, and I all struggled to stay still. After a few minutes of waiting, the dive master gave up and guided us through more coral as we took more pictures before heading back to the boat. The dive master’s single focus was to find us an eagle ray. He never checked on our air consumption or took his time, allowing us to look around the many nooks and crannies for exciting sea life.
There was a lot of particulate floating in the water, limiting visibility. Between the poor visibility, strong current, and a misguided dive master, it turned out to be a poor overall experience.
When we arrived back at the dock ten minutes later, they hurried us off the boat before we could even get our gear together and took off. Not a great start to our French Polynesian experience. It turns out that Allison had a similar bad experience on her dive boat as well.
Bob’s found it Boring Boring:
Bob began his day by walking the length of the road fronted to the water near our tender dock. He was looking for a local guide to take him around the island and found nothing. Then he looked for someplace to eat, thinking of fresh French-prepared seafood. Still nothing. He wandered into a Pearl shop, and luckily, he fell victim to a good pearl salesperson, who talked him into buying me a beautiful pair of black pearl earrings. We both picked out magnets and after 47 years, we ended up picking out the same magnet.
Still hungry, he searched for lunch somewhere and paid $5 for a bus ride to the only beach. There, he found many of the ship’s excursion passengers, lots of crew hanging out and relaxing on the beach, the rays and sharks that were supposed to be where we were diving, and a little hamburger place where he could finally eat lunch.
Viking Excursion Reports:
Most of the excursions offered by the ship were snorkeling trips, catamaran rides, and rides around the island, both by boat and 4x4s and ATVs. Most reviews were positive, but the strong currents were a factor on some snorkeling trips.
Off in the distance, we could see the InterContinenetal Hotel huts jutting out on a warf, providing their guests with the luxurious, romantic, and private accommodations French Polynesia is famous for.
Our Day on Bora Bora was over quickly as we sailed out of the harbor by 6 p.m. Although beautiful, our thoughts of the island were that there was not much there and it was overpriced, which is not surprising. We were disappointed with the service and lack of places to go and do it independently. However, I am sure that staying at the suites over the water would be an entirely different experience. It would be quiet, romantic, and secluded, but if you want nightlife, Bora Bora is not for you.
Up Next – Moorea, French Polynesia
By dinner time, we had received notices that our two tank dives for the next day had been canceled due to large swells. By this, they meant a strong current, as there were no swells inside the reef-protected area, but there were decent waves outside the reef. Bob’s much-anticipated fishing trip was also canceled for mechanical reasons. Although disappointed, we jumped on Trip Advisor to book an independent excursion as the ship’s excursions were full. I found an enjoyable 4X4 tour of the island that looked fun, although the weather may not be great for an open-air ride. Rain was likely again; however, there was no need to be concerned because that excursion was also canceled by morning.
We opted to punt. We headed ashore on the first tender of the morning in hopes of finding a few tour vendors willing to show us the island. Again, we were greeted by local musicians and an open-air market, and Yes – there were eight vendors all offering the same around-the-island experience. Bob made friends with one gentleman, Dameon, and selected him. For $50, he would take us up to the famous Belvedere lookout for incredible views, provide fresh fruit, and take us around his beautiful Island. Dameon asked us to wait while he tried to entice more of our fellow passengers to go with us. In the end, it was just Bob and I and off, and off we went in a very nice, clean, comfortable, close van and headed to our first stop,e Mountain.
Belvedere Mountain look-out was worth its hype. It overlooks both Oponulu Bay and Capt Cook’s Bay. It also provides fantastic views of the famed mountain featured in the South Pacific and the lush countryside. Our Guide told us all he knew about the local vegetation and history of the area. After about 15 minutes and lots of pictures, we started to head back down to the one road that circumnavigates the island. As it turns out, getting lost on the island is impossible.
Rum Tasting Anyone!
Sugarcane, pineapple, guava, avocados, and other fruits are grown on the island. Sugarcane means rum, and rum means a rum distillery and rum tasting. We stopped at one of the few distilleries, and of course, I had to taste all their rum. The gentleman behind the rum-tasting bar started with small shot glasses of punch-flavored rums and moved up through their offerings to the 38% proof rum, giving me even a smaller taste. Our luggage had no room to bring any back, so we thanked the folks, looked around their shop a bit, and headed out again.
Discovering the island of Moorea:
We continued around the island, and Dameon asked how we liked Bora Bora. We answered it was okay, but there wasn’t much on the island. He laughed and said, “Yeah – Boring, Boring!” Apparently, that is what the people of Moorea think of Bora Bora. I agree with him; there was not much to Bora Bora. During the rest of the tour, we learned about the island’s local school systems, customs, and life. Their high school is called University; it is optional and only taught on Tahiti, so students must commute to school every day on the ferry or stay on Tahiti during the school year. Their driving tests are much more demanding than ours, and it takes over a year of training and $1000 to get a license to drive.
We stopped at the ferry terminal, and Dameon jumped out and told us to wait in the car while he went in to get fruit, bringing a wooden bowl with him. He returned with cut-up pineapples and papaya covered in red Plum Powder. He promised it would not be spicy, and it wasn’t. It covered our fingers with red dye, which was hard to remove, but the fruit was delicious.
In all, we toured the island for about 3 ½ hours. We saw the entrance to a few exclusive Tikki Hut resorts, but several were closed for one reason or another. We enjoyed our trip and were glad we stayed warm and dry.
Not a good day to be outside:
It had been pouring rain when we started off the mountain from Belvedere in the morning. We had passed some of our fellow passengers on ATVs, open jeeps, and e-bikes touring the island and felt terrible for them but happy for us as we stayed dry throughout the day. When we arrived back on the tender, many passengers were sopping wet and unhappy about the weather. Most, but not all, were rolling with the punches, realizing that Vikings couldn’t control the weather, and were in good spirits.
Passengers on the various water excursions had multiple experiences depending on getting hit with the rain showers. Afternoon excursions fared better, but the water outside the reefs was too rough, so many had to return to shore prematurely. Others had great times snorkeling, seeing many fish, sharks, and rays again.
The Neptune glided out of the harbor at about 7 p.m., leaving Moorea behind and heading to the Island of Tahiti, docking in Papeete for the night, allowing for a full day of fun.
Papeete is just 16 miles from Moorea, so we were docked in just over an hour from when we left. Everyone planned for the next day, so very few ventured off the boat that evening.
We awoke to a bustling city the following day. This island was built up on the hills surrounding the city. We were told there was a lot of great shopping in town in open-air markets and multistoried malls. Many went on catamaran snorkeling again, while others went on island discovery tours.
Bob had an afternoon catamaran booked for 2:30, and Roger and I were going diving. This time, we were not canceled.
Land Adventures on Tahiti, French Polynesia:
Bob headed out of the port area to check the town, look for a haircut, and pick up a few magnets. He got a haircut and returned to the ship, as it was a busy city with no transportation. He did enjoy the catamaran ride that afternoon, which left after the noon rain shower, so everyone stayed dry, at least from the rain. Several opted to go snorkeling for about 30 minutes and enjoyed the vast variety of tropical fish they saw.
Roger and I headed out of the port and quickly found a taxi to drive us about five miles down the highway to where our dive company was located. We arrived to a friend dive shop owner, filled out our paperwork and waited for the morning dive to return. We were surprised to learn we would dive off a 25’ inflatable boat, luckily rigged with two ladders.
The Coral Wall:
Our first dive was just outside the harbor near a breakwater that crashed over the reef. It was a long reef wall that was shallow on one side and fell off into the deep on the other side. We spent about 55 minutes diving into a fascinating wall covered with unique flower-shaped corals and teaming with schools of tropical fish. We also had fun watching over eight turtles burrow, eat, and swim around us. Our dive master was more attentive, and the current was manageable.
Our second dive was at a reef that stepped down from about 20’ to about
60 feet. Here, we saw large balls and schools of fish, including a school of small barracuda. We worked our way down to about 70 feet and then back to the shallows, where the reef and the tropical fish were abundant, and we could see more detail with the light penetrating through the surface.
Both dives were fun. It was interesting to see different corals and fish species than we are used to. Eleuthra Dive shop did a great job with the dives and was safety-conscious and friendly.
Reports from other passengers:
Several passengers had private tours around the island and reported on beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, and grottos. One person said her guide took her to a place where they played with giant eels while on their ATV ride. If we are lucky enough to return to Tahiti, we will plan plenty of time to explore the islands more, taking in more of what both the land and sea have to offer.
Moorea was definitely our favorite of the three islands, offering just the right mix of natural attractions and island diversity without the hustle and bustle of Papeete.
French Polynesia Excursions
Bora Bora (Vaitape) Glass-Bottom Boat
Admire the Majestic Underwater World of Bora Bora — Enjoy an up-close view of Bora Bora’s underwater world without getting wet. The island is surrounded by a lagoon and barrier reef, so it is the perfect location to experience a wealth of marine life. While on board a comfortable, covered boat, enjoy the magnificent scenery as you glide over the colorful coral and see an array of beautiful tropical fish through the glass-bottom floor. Watch the divers through the glass as they feed the fish. Your knowledgeable guide will help you identify the different species of fish, from parrot, surgeon, and butterfly fish. It will share the history and legends of Bora Bora as you cruise through the lagoon and admire the majestic, volcanic backdrop of Mount Otemanu. This trip offers non-snorkelers and less confident swimmers the chance to witness the stunning world underwater.
South Pacific Lagoon Duration: 2.00 Hours
Island Views and Turquoise Waters — Cruise the pristine waters of the South Pacific along Bora Bora’s west coast. You will
be welcomed on board your boat at the pier by a knowledgeable guide who will accompany you on your tour. You will sail past the private paradise, Motu Tapu, which is said to be the most photographed isle in the South Pacific, and admire views of Mount Otemanu, the island’s highest peak. The rugged, black face of the extinct volcano makes a stunning contrast with the lush jungles and turquoise waters below. Next, you will learn about the island’s formation and have a chance to swim and snorkel in the lagoon, where stingrays can often be seen. Your guide will help you discover the incredible natural ecosystem of the lagoon. Enjoy refreshments and the beauty of Bora Bora before returning to the pier and your ship.
Bora Bora Cruise Duration: 1.00 Hours
Stunning Scenery of Island Paradise — Cruise through the crystal clear waters of Bora Bora—an enchanting island paradise. Board your motorboat and set sail across the turquoise lagoon. As you sit back and relax, admire the breathtaking views of Mt. Otemanu, its rocky green summit towering over you as you glide. The island’s scenery is considered by many to be some of the most stunning in the South Pacific. The island’s beauty inspired many works by French artist Paul Gauguin. The lagoon is home to a wealth of colorful tropical fish. As you cruise, keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles or sting rays, which are often sighted around visiting boats. Pass by small reef islets and water bungalows. A sight synonymous with Bora Bora, the water bungalows stand on stilts over the ocean, providing occupants with the experience of being one with nature.
Island Sojourn by Le Truck Duration: 2.50 Hours
Ride an Open-Air Truck Through Paradise- Take in the crystalline turquoise waters, lovely small villages, and abundant mountains, and learn about them from your local guide. There are many photo stops along the way as we drive to the district of Faanui and scenic Faanui Bay. Here, you will see the ancient ceremonial site of the Faanui marae, Bora Bora’s biggest Polynesian temple, with a typical raised ahu altar. Continue your scenic drive and pause for a photo stop at one of the island’s famed restaurants. You can pose in front of Bloody Mary’s Bar & Restaurant here. A longtime island favorite of Hollywood royalty, it is the quintessential tiki bar with its thatched roof, open sides, white-sand floor, wooden slab tables, and stools made of coconut stumps.
Explore Bora Bora’s Marine Life — Discover the underwater world of Bora Bora on an aqua safari. Meet your guide, don your diving helmet, and, after a safety briefing, follow your certified instructor to 10 feet below the ocean’s surface. The specialized helmet is connected to the surface by an air hose that allows you to breathe freely under the water, keeping your head completely dry as you take in the sights around you. The lagoon is teeming with rainbow-colored tropical fish, and you can slowly stroll around the coral formation as you explore its marine life. You may see blacktip reef sharks, manta rays, or even a friendly gray ray—curious creatures that like to come up close to visitors. You can also choose to spend time snorkeling. Marvel at the kaleidoscope of blue, green, and purple coral before returning to your boat and your awaiting ship.
Shark & Stingray Snorkel Safari Duration: 3.00 Hours
A Close-Up Encounter with Mysterious Marine Life — Explore the waters of Bora Bora and get close to some of the ocean’s fascinating creatures, stingrays, and sharks. You will board cruise boats from the pier and arrive at a vibrant coral garden. The water here is clear and shallow, so you can swim and snorkel, taking in the fantastic color and admiring the tropical fish. Your guide will lead you to where blacktip reef sharks and graceful, fluttering stingrays may approach you. The rays, particularly, are playful and fearless and may swim about your legs and brush up against you. You can get in the water and swim with them or watch from the boat. Either way, experience an unforgettable encounter with some beautiful and fascinating animals.
4×4 Back Road Adventure Duration: 3.50 Hours
Discover Bora Bora, Beyond the Beaches — Travel via 4×4 vehicle, with the top down, exploring back roads to discover Bora Bora from a different perspective. As the guest of a professional, local guide, you can circle the entire island of Bora Bora in an open-air vehicle. This unique tour will give you access to sights and viewpoints that can only be accessed by exploring the island’s back roads. Stop to view World War II cannons and spectacular panoramic views along the way. Climb the steep incline of one of the island’s mountains, admiring the lush hills and abundant flora. Once you reach the top, soak up the panoramic ocean vistas, with sparkling shades of blue stretching as far as the eye can see. On this off-the-beaten-path adventure, you will discover more to learn and love about Bora Bora than just its magnificent beaches and famous lagoon.
Sail Bora Bora by Catamaran Duration: 3.00 Hours
Cruise, Swim, and Snorkel in Turquoise Waters — Board your vessel and meet your crew as they prepare the sails. Relax as you feel the cooling sea breeze blowing through your hair. Watch the stunning scenery around you—Marvel at breathtaking Mt. Otemanu and its rocky green summit towering over you as you glide by. Pass reef islets and picture-postcard water bungalows on stilts—synonymous with Bora Bora. Your crew will stop and anchor, allowing you to swim in the lagoon’s crystalline waters. Snorkeling equipment is available on board should you wish to explore the abundance of marine life. Swim with rainbow-hued tropical fish and keep watch for blacktip reef sharks, manta rays, or perhaps a friendly gray ray. Climb back on board and relax with a chilled refreshment as you head to your awaiting ship.
Moorea (Opunoha Bay)
Moorea Lagoon & Scenic Cruise Duration: 1.50 Hours
Stunning Scenery of French Polynesia — Admire the beauty of Moorea from afar as you traverse the lagoon’s turquoise waters. Embark on a scenic cruise to the sounds of Tahitian music as you sail in the wake of explorers who crossed these waters during the 18th century. Samuel Wallis and Captain James Cook were the first Europeans to set foot on the island; Cook’s Bay was named in honor of the famed captain. During your cruise, marvel at the steep inclines of the jagged peaks that cover this idyllic isle- a sharp contrast to the soft, lush green forests and ferns that blanket them. See pastel-painted houses lining the shores surrounded by beautiful tropical flora, such as hibiscus. After your cruise, you will return to your ship feeling refreshed and relaxed.
Aito Off-Road Safari Duration: 3.50
Journey Off the Beaten Track Through Lush Scenery — Climb on board a 4×4 for an invigorating drive through Moorea’s
deep valleys and mountain paths. Meet your driver and buckle your seat belt for this exciting journey as you discover more of this stunning Polynesian island. Take in the fresh scent of pineapples as you pass plantations, then cross to Opunohu Valley for a stop at a marae—an ancient ritual site of the Polynesian islands. Many of these sites date back more than 1,000 years and remained used until the 19th century. Continue your journey to Belvedere Lookout—an island viewpoint offering spectacular views over Moorea’s two bays, Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. Then, travel through lush scenery as you learn about local flora. Stop to enjoy refreshments en route back to your ship.
Moorea Panorama Duration: 3.50 Hours
Discover the Beauty of This French Polynesian Isle — Board your motor coach for a relaxing journey to see the highlights of this stunning French Polynesian Isle. Your first stop is the Belvedere Lookout, which has spectacular views over Moorea’s two bays, Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. After time for photos, travel through lush scenery as you learn about the area’s flora and see sacred temples. Enjoy spectacular views over Tahiti and the lagoon’s crystal-clear waters on the east coast. At the Tiki Village, sip on a refreshment before stretching your legs and taking a stroll to explore the life of Paul Gauguin. Step inside a replica of his home and art gallery and view a black-and-white photographic exhibition by Adolphe Sylvain, a French-Tahitian photographer. After your immersive tour, you will return to your awaiting ship.
Snorkeling Safari Duration: 3.00 Hours
Observe Lagoon Marine Life in Turquoise Waters — Set out on a snorkeling safari to discover life beneath the crystal clear ocean waters surrounding Moorea. Meet your guide, board your vessel, and begin your cruise under a shaded canopy as you relax and enjoy the spectacular panoramic views. After a short safety briefing, don your snorkel and mask and immerse yourself in the azure waters. You will see abundant marine life as you explore, including clownfish, parrotfish, Napoleon fish, and colorful coral. A school of curious stingrays may also greet you as they swim to welcome visitors. Or, if you are lucky, you may encounter
Catamaran Cruise Around Moorea
Sail and Swim the Turquoise Waters of the Lagoon — Set sail on board a catamaran as you cruise the azure waters around the island of Moorea. Your vessel is a 65-foot Maxi Catamaran Ohana—the largest and fastest of its class on the Polynesian lagoon and the perfect spot to relax as you take in the beautiful scenery. Take shade under a canopy, or soak up the sunshine and recline on the nets above the catamaran’s bow. Feel the sea breeze while your expert crew navigates across the reef through a passage of picturesque pastel-hued homes and water bungalows. Your catamaran will drop its anchor to allow you to swim; masks and snorkels will also be provided so you can discover the stunning underwater world. Back on board, enjoy a refreshing beverage while you sail through the bay, keeping your eyes peeled for spinner dolphins as you return to your ship.
Island Ride by ATV Duration: 3.50 Hours
Discover Moorea’s Charms on a Quad Bike — Embark on a thrilling ride to explore Moorea on an ATV. Meet your guide and set off by mini-coach to the ATV center. Here, you will receive a short safety briefing and operating instructions before you climb on board your vehicle. Pair with a partner and follow your guide along the ATV trails. Your first stop is the Belvedere Lookout, which has spectacular views over Moorea’s two bays, Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. After time for photos, travel through stunning scenery as you learn about local flora and discover the lush plantations strewn across this beautiful island. After your invigorating journey, return to the center and return to your awaiting ship. Please note: Drivers must present a valid driver’s license to participate in this tour. Helmets must always be worn, and a waiver must be signed. Maximum weight per ATV is 440 lbs (2 pax).
WaveRunner Lagoon Ride
Speed Across the Waves Around Moorea’s Shores — Enjoy a thrilling WaveRunner journey across the lagoon along Moorea’s coastline. A WaveRunner is a personal watercraft, similar to a Jet Ski, designed to ride the waves at speed. Arrive at the activity center, where you will receive a short safety briefing and operating instructions from your guide. Then, you and your partner will don your life jackets and climb on board. Your guide will lead along Moorea’s coastline, dotted with lush valleys and stunning mountain peaks. Stop at Motu Ono, a small coral islet and one of many surrounding Moorea, and step into the ocean among the stingrays. These curious creatures will swim up close, and you can reach and touch them. You will return to base after a refreshing beverage and a delicious fruit platter. Please note: A valid credit card must be presented for insurance purposes. Maximum weight per WaveRunner is 440 lbs (2 pax).
Crystal Waters of a Tahitian Motu Duration: 5.00 Hours
Cruise the Lagoon and Savor a Beachside Lunch — Relax on the shores of one of Moorea’s coral islets and dip in the turquoise waters among the stingrays. Climb on board your motorized vessel and set sail across the lagoon, following in the footsteps of 18th-century explorers who first discovered these lands. During your cruise, admire the scenery as your captain regales you with stories of local legends. Your guide will attract schools of stingrays with morsels of fish to feed on. As you marvel at these gentle, graceful creatures, you are welcome to reach out and touch them. Your captain will then moor at a sandy islet where you can step off your boat into the crystal-clear waters. Enjoy a swim or don your snorkel and mask to explore the local marine life as your crew prepares a delicious buffet-style lunch. Then, sit down to a tasty lunch accompanied by soft island music and a coconut demonstration.
Moorea Through a Lens. Duration: 3.50 Hours
Capture the Island’s Beauty on Camera — Create lasting memories of beautiful Moorea during an introduction to photography. This tour suits photographers of all levels and users of all types of modern cameras. Meet your guide, an accomplished photographer who will help you capture the best possible shots using your SLR camera or cell phone. He will custom-tailor your experience to ensure that you capture the colorful sights of Moorea in all their brilliance. Enjoy several stops to marvel at the beautiful scenery as you take in the azure waters of the lagoon, the lush green mountain valleys, and the exotic palettes of tropical fruits and local flora. Pause at the Belvedere Lookout with its spectacular views over Moorea’s two bays, Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. You will also pass picturesque coastal viewpoints and see landscapes that have been made famous through movies such as “The Bounty.”
Tahiti (Papeete) West Coast Highlights
Duration: 4.00 Hours
Tropical Flora and Historical Sights of Tahiti — Explore unspoiled nature on Tahiti’s coast and learn more about the beautiful plants and animals on the island. You will be welcomed by your experienced local guide and head to Vaipahi Gardens to admire rare species of tropical flowers. Visit Arahurahu Marae, a sacred site situated in a picturesque valley. Enjoy a short stroll as your guide explains its religious significance to pre-Christian Polynesian societies. After, head to the tranquil setting of the Maraa Grotto. Located on a trail off the mountainside of the coastal road, its two caves feature crystal clear pools ringed by lush vegetation and fed by the water that trickles down the moss-covered mountain. According to local lore, this scene inspired the later works of French post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. Following a brief introduction, enjoy free time to explore independently; pause to soak up the peaceful atmosphere and natural beauty surrounding you. Later, you will return to your awaiting ship.
Vaipahi Gardens & Papara Surf Beach
Duration: 4.25 Hours
Island Drive to Explore Flora and Scenic Spots — Discover Tahiti’s tropical flora and stunning beachside locations on a scenic island drive. Travel with your guide to the east coast and stop for photos at Point Venus, the historic landing site of European explorers and the eventual settlers of this French Polynesian island. Here, you will see one of the most important landmarks of Tahiti: a gleaming white lighthouse built in 1867 to commemorate the arrival of Captain Samuel Wallis a century earlier. You can continue your journey south and enjoy refreshments at the Gauguin restaurant before visiting Vaipahi Gardens. Here, you will admire rare species of tropical flowers and precious woods. Next, head to Papara Surf Beach. Take in its stunning coastline views, and keep your eyes peeled for surfers as they paddle out on their boards to catch a breaking wave. Complete your island drive along the west coast before returning to your ship.
Walking Tour of Papeete Duration: 2.50 Hours
Date: January 25, 2024
An Intimate View of Tahiti’s Tropical City — Get to know the capital of French Polynesia up close and personal during a walking tour. Tahiti is perhaps the archipelago’s most famous island, one of the world’s most visually stunning and romantic destinations. Meet your guide and discover Papeete’s significant sites and monuments. At the municipal market, explore colorful stalls filled with fresh produce, regional delicacies, Tahitian pearls, and local arts and crafts. Walk past the Town Hall, a replica of the former Royal Palace, and Notre Dame Cathedral—one of the oldest and largest churches in Papeete. See the Territorial Assembly, home to the Polynesian Parliament and the French High Commissioner’s residence, and admire the tower, which reflects Tahiti’s traditional building style. Cap your tour with a stroll through Parc Bougainville, which is dedicated to explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville.
Island Settlers of Tahiti Duration: 3.50 Hours
Tales of Tahiti’s Visitors and Historic Discoveries — Step back in time as you explore the history of Tahiti and its traditions. Take a scenic drive to the house of James Norman Hall, coauthor of the “Bounty” trilogy—“Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Men Against the Sea,” and “Pitcairn’s Island”—and a decorated American war hero. It was here where Hall spent the happiest years of his life as a writer and poet and penned his famous novels. Next, you will learn more about some of Tahiti’s traditions, including the origins of the Tahitian pareo, a type of sarong, and the art of weaving coconut palm fronds. Enjoy a refreshing glass of homemade lemonade with your host as you hear more about the islanders’ local life. Bid farewell and continue your journey to the north coast to Matavai Bay—the landing site of the island’s first European explorers, including Captain Samuel Wallis and James Cook. See the gleaming white historic lighthouse and monument dedicated to the mutineers of the Bounty that called on the island in 1788. En route to your ship, enjoy a final stop at Tahara’a and Point Venus for photos of the bay.
Tahiti Jeep Adventure Duration: 4.00 hrs
Into the Tahitian Wild — Go off-road during an exciting excursion into the unspoiled wilderness of Tahiti. The island is the largest in the chain that makes up French Polynesia, an archipelago of 188 islands and atolls; you will see some of them as you gain elevation. Meet your guide and board your Jeep, leaving Papeete behind for the lush green wilderness. This is the Tahiti you have dreamed of thick rain forests and deep valleys cut by streams, lush landscapes fed by cascading waterfalls and sweeping views of the many shades of blue of the South Pacific. Leave the beaten track behind and ascend to the volcanic crater that formed Tahiti some one million years ago, creating its famous black-sand beaches. As you traverse the dense wilderness, keep your eyes open for the abundant birdlife that flitters about in the canopy above and the wild-growing hibiscus flower on the forest bed.
Tahiti Lagoon Duration: 2.25 Hours
Snorkeling in the South Pacific — Discover the underwater world of the South Pacific off the coast of the stunning island of Tahiti. You will depart Papeete harbor and travel by boat, taking in the sweeping views of Tahiti’s shoreline and the towering mountains beyond. You may even glimpse the dolphins frequently spotted at your snorkel site. Once there, your friendly captain will anchor near the reef, providing light refreshments, and you will have a chance to snorkel and explore. The warm waters of the South Pacific are home to hundreds of fish species, shellfish, crustaceans, and sea turtles. Dive in to discover the colorful world of marine life beneath the turquoise lagoon’s waters. Watch hundreds of silvery needlefish dart about in perfect sparkling unison before heading back to shore, and you’re awaiting ship.
Maxi Catamaran Duration: 3.00 Hours
Sailing and Snorkeling on Tahiti’s West Coast — Set sail on the Ohana, the largest and fastest catamaran of its class sailing Tahiti’s waters. With plenty of shaded seating under the canopy and two large nets for relaxing in the sun, you’ll sail in comfort along the west coast of Tahiti to the south shores of Takapuna Passage. Keep your eyes peeled for spinner dolphins and surfers paddling out to catch a wave as the boat slices along the barrier reef. Your experienced captain will drop anchor inside the lagoon, where you will have approximately one hour to enjoy the warm, turquoise waters. Masks and snorkels are provided, and the Ohana has a large stepladder, making it easy to board the boat after your dip. Then, you can relax and enjoy a refreshment and the view as you sail back to the pier.
French Polynesia: A Tapestry of Islands – Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti
French Polynesia, a mesmerizing archipelago in the South Pacific, is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, vibrant culture, and rich history. Comprising 118 islands and atolls, this overseas collectivity of France is spread across a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Among the jewels of French Polynesia, Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti stand out as paradisiacal destinations that captivate travelers with their beauty and cultural significance.
The history of French Polynesia is intertwined with the Polynesian migration that began around 1500 BCE. Ancient Polynesians, skilled navigators, embarked on daring voyages using double-hulled canoes, eventually reaching the remote islands that form French Polynesia. The settlers brought their unique customs, languages, and traditions, establishing a distinct Polynesian culture that persists.
The arrival of European explorers in the 18th century marked a new chapter in the history of French Polynesia. 1767, British explorer Samuel Wallis became the first European to set foot on Tahiti. Subsequent European encounters, including those by James Cook, profoundly impacted the region. Missionaries and traders followed, bringing Christianity and introducing Western influences that would shape the socio-cultural landscape.
Annexation by France
In the 19th century, France sought to expand its colonial empire, and in 1842, Tahiti became a French protectorate. Over the years, the French extended their control to the other islands, consolidating their regional presence. French Polynesia officially became an overseas territory of France in 1957, granting it a certain degree of autonomy within the French Republic.
Bora Bora, often called the “Pearl of the Pacific,” is a small island surrounded by a stunning coral reef. It is about 230 kilometers (143 miles) northwest of Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia. Bora Bora is renowned for its overwater bungalows, clear turquoise lagoon, and the iconic Mount Otemanu, a dormant volcano that dominates the island’s center.
The lagoon of Bora Bora is teeming with marine life, making it a haven for snorkelers and divers. The coral gardens beneath the surface are home to a dazzling array of tropical fish and other aquatic species. Visitors can also explore the island’s lush interior, where verdant hills and tropical vegetation create a picturesque backdrop.
Moorea, often described as the “Sister Island” of Tahiti, is just a short ferry ride from its more famous counterpart. The island is characterized by its jagged volcanic peaks, lush valleys, and pristine beaches. The island’s most iconic features are Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay, surrounded by emerald-green mountains.
Moorea offers a variety of outdoor activities, from hiking and snorkeling to shark and ray feeding excursions. The Belvedere Lookout provides panoramic views of the island, showcasing its natural beauty. The laid-back atmosphere of Moorea appeals to those seeking a tranquil escape while still enjoying the allure of Polynesian landscapes.
Tahiti, French Polynesia’s largest and most populous island, serves as the archipelago’s political, economic, and cultural center. The capital city, Papeete, is located on Tahiti and is a bustling hub with markets, museums, and a vibrant waterfront. The island is of volcanic origin, with black sand beaches and a mountainous interior.
Tahiti’s cultural richness is evident in its traditional dance, music, and art. The Marae Arahurahu, an ancient Polynesian temple, is a testament to the island’s historical significance. The Fautaua Waterfall, the Arahoho Blowhole, and the Point Venus Lighthouse are just a few of the natural wonders that showcase Tahiti’s diverse landscapes.
French Polynesia proudly preserves its Polynesian heritage, which is evident in its traditional dances, music, and crafts. The hula, a graceful dance accompanied by rhythmic drumming, tells stories of legends, myths, and daily life. Traditional Polynesian tattoos, known as “tatau,” are decorative and carry cultural significance, representing one’s identity and life journey.
While French is the official language due to the region’s status as a French overseas territory, Tahitian is widely spoken among the locals. The preservation of the Tahitian language is seen as crucial for maintaining cultural identity. Visitors often find that locals appreciate efforts to express even basic Tahitian phrases, fostering a sense of connection and respect.
Polynesian cuisine reflects the bounty of the surrounding ocean and fertile land. Fresh seafood, tropical fruits, and root vegetables are staples of the traditional diet. Poisson cru, a dish similar to ceviche, features raw fish marinated in coconut milk, lime, and vegetables. Tamaaraa, a traditional feast, offers visitors the chance to experience a variety of Polynesian dishes while enjoying lively music and dance performances.
Arts and Crafts
The artistic expression in French Polynesia is diverse, with a strong emphasis on craftsmanship. Wood carving, tapa cloth making, and pearl farming are integral to the culture. The intricate designs of carved tiki statues and traditional wooden canoes showcase the skill and artistry of local craftsmen. Black pearls, cultivated in the region’s lagoons, are highly prized for their unique color and luster, making them a sought-after souvenir.
Bora Bora has earned its reputation as a luxury destination, attracting honeymooners and travelers seeking a romantic retreat. The overwater bungalows perched above the crystal-clear lagoon offer unparalleled views and a sense of seclusion. Water activities such as snorkeling, paddleboarding, and shark and ray excursions are popular, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the island’s natural beauty.
Moorea, with its accessibility from Tahiti, appeals to a broader range of travelers. The island’s lush landscapes and vibrant coral reefs make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking trails lead to panoramic viewpoints, while lagoon tours offer encounters with sharks and rays. Moorea’s more relaxed atmosphere and diverse activities make it an ideal destination for families, adventure seekers, and nature lovers.
As the gateway to French Polynesia, Tahiti combines urban sophistication with natural beauty. Papeete, the capital city, offers a mix of French and Polynesian influences, evident in its markets, cuisine, and cultural events. The island’s black sand beaches and volcanic landscapes starkly contrast the luxurious resorts in other parts of French Polynesia. Visitors to Tahiti can explore historical sites, engage in water sports, and immerse themselves in the vibrant local culture.
French Polynesia, with its enchanting islands of Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti, beckons travelers with a promise of paradise. The region’s rich history, diverse geography, and vibrant culture create a tapestry that continues to captivate people’s attention worldwide.