By Denise Mattia
Some of the most beautiful islands visitors will ever encounter lie in the brilliant blue South Pacific Ocean about 2600 miles south of Hawaii. The French Polynesian archipelago has a Technicolor charisma that lures visitors into returning as much as it seduces first-timers.
Governed by France since the 1840s, the Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and Raiatea & Taha’a) are a spicy mélange of European and Polynesian culture, where the French “bonjour” is interchangeable with the Tahitian “la ona na.”
See and Do…
One of our first stops was on Papeete, the capital city of Tahiti. At Le Marché my friend and I browsed through what seemed like endless stalls of crafts, spices, flowers, lap-laps (sarongs) and clothing. The Pearl Museum is educational and conveniently, a shop as well.
Of the world’s 70 species of oysters, the most rare and finest quality pearl oyster is the one that thrives on the Tuamotu atolls east of Tahiti. Before the natural supply of these oysters was exhausted in the 1960s, natives would dive to 90 feet to find them, but only one oyster in 300 would hold a natural black pearl. Today, the odds have much improved. We found black pearl shops throughout downtown Pepeete, in all the major hotels and in commercial centers in Moorea and Bora Bora as well. Still, not knowing the difference between an excellent and poor quality pearl, I was content to browse and be dazzled by them.
Our list of places to go while on the island included museums, and the James Norman Hall Home (co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty) allows visitors the opportunity of seeing his art collection, library and artifacts. Situated among the stunning Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens, the Gauguin Museum houses a collection of the celebrated artist’s memorabilia, including original sketches and reproductions of his famous oeuvres. The building isn’t authentic, but the house and surrounds are well worth the visit.
Life on the Beach
We didn’t settle for sharing a beach with others when we had a whole island to ourselves. Tahiti is justly celebrated for its numerous motu—tiny, uninhabited isles just off the shore of the bigger islands of Bora Bora and Moorea. We rented a sailboat from one of the outfitters on the beach, packed a picnic lunch and headed off for an idyllic afternoon exploring the islands, a couple of which were barely sandbars.
We reached the sleepy island of Tahaa, where the residents make their living by fishing and growing fruit. Vanilla plantations perfumed the air with a luxurious scent, adding to the island’s serene beauty and lulling us into a somnambulistic state. The tranquil rhythms of the island were just what we needed for a relaxing afternoon – and evening. A hotel nearby catered to visitors and we checked in for a night’s stay, dining sumptuously while there. In the morning we went for a snorkel in serene isolation, well away from the charter yachts and sport fishermen who ply the deep, calm, cobalt-blue water, and then set sail back to Tahiti.
In the Beautiful Blue
Just a one-hour flight from Tahiti, Rangiroa is well known to scuba divers. With visibility up to 150 feet and a rich abundance of colorful sea life the island is actually the world’s second largest coral atoll. We rented gear and dived among lush pink and red soft corals and bright yellow sponges and schools of reef fish. Toward the end of our dive we caught a glimpse of cuttlefish, which seemed to play “back and forth” with us.
We were off again the next day to Bora Bora, the film version of Bali Hai in South Pacific, a picture-perfect deep-blue inlet lined with sandy palm-fringed motu. The Bora Bora Lagoon is great for snorkeling, but unless the conditions outside the lagoon are favorable, the diving is isn’t as spectacular as Rangiroa. We took an excursion inland to visit an ancient marae, a temple used for traditional religious and cultural ceremonies, and then visited Poval Bay, where Mount Pahia presents the best views in Bora Bora. While imbibing a concoction at Bloody Mary’s Restaurant and Bar, we watched the late afternoon sun turn Mount Otemanu into a riot of color.
A Great Place For Lovers
Diving and sightseeing can be tiring. We spent the rest of our stay luxuriating at the Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa – another picture-perfect over-the water bungalow experience.
InterContinental Tahiti Resort and Spa is a gateway to the archipelago and we found it was conveniently located to all the activities we wanted to do. The InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort is located on the south side of the main island (intercontinental.com). The famous Matira point is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.