This is it. THE BIG ONE. The one that every South Seas dreamer dotes on. In another era it could have been called “Ground Zero” by us dreamers. It pretty well lies smack in the middle of the Pacific with nothing but warm ocean waters surrounding its islands. The tropical climate is responsible for the lush green vegetation and sweet smelling colourful flowers. On top of that it has a reputation for smiling, happy people. I, of course, am referring to Tahiti. Tahiti seems like the perfect place to escape from whatever it is you want to escape. In our case Agnes and I weren’t looking to escape from anything when we decided to visit Tahiti; we were instead looking to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary by escaping to somewhere especially exotic. Nine days in Tahiti sounded like it would fit the bill. Probably the best way to write about our trip to Tahiti is to compartmentalise it according to the locales we visited. Read on and you’ll see what I mean…
The first and last nights of our vacation were spent in Papeete. We were immersed in the Polynesian culture almost from the time we offloaded ourselves from the plane onto the tarmac at Papeete airport. As we made our way into the arrival hall we were greeted with traditional Polynesian music and dancing – a right proper way to get us into the appropriate frame of mind after an 8 hour flight. I would like to say Papeete was a charming city but the dim street lights guiding our way to the hotel certainly didn’t reveal the city in any way that could be described as “charming”. The transit left me with no desire to explore the city’s sites after we had checked into our overnight hotel. The morning sun did unveil a visual treasure though, with a spectacular view of Moorea from our hotel’s infinity pool.
From the moment we witnessed Moorea rising from the ocean we were impatient to get through breakfast and embark on the ferry that was to take us there. The daylight bus ride to the ferry dock did allow us to observe Papeete a bit more clearly. The city seemed a bit more scenic in the daylight but still didn’t present itself as anything better than a convenient transit point. The more interesting aspect of the bus ride was the obviously feuding honeymoon couple we were sharing the ride with. Sparks seemed to fly whenever they spoke to each other and I felt some concern that if this was their honeymoon the actual marriage might be no picnic.
We had decided on Moorea instead of the more scenic Bora Bora for our anniversary destination because my Google research claimed that Moorea is the “activity” island, whereas Bora Bora is more suited for those who want to simply lie back and relax in the middle of a beautiful setting. As the ferry approached Moorea the scenery became increasingly dramatic as the island’s volcanic peaks moved in closer and ascended above us. Even when the ferry moored at the harbour I could have happily stayed on deck a while longer and gaped at the curtain of mountains enclosing the harbour.
On our circumnavigation of the island we spent a fair amount of time exploring other resorts so we could masochistically torture ourselves with the thought maybe there was more interesting accommodation on the island than what we had booked. Fortunately, we concluded that while there was one other resort that might be on a par with ours we remained satisfied with our choice of accommodation. As we drove we kept an eye out for scenic public beaches where we could stop and have a swim. In retrospect, and despite splendid coastal scenery, it shouldn’t be too surprising that most of the island’s better beaches are the preserve of the resorts with no public beach being superior to our own resort’s beach. But still there were great waterside pictures to be had.
Tahitian culture places a heavy emphasis on virility so be prepared to be greeted by a fair number of generously proportioned stone statues, should you have an opportunity to explore the island.
Yet, amongst the island’s light-hearted atmosphere, there is a sombre memorial to the 20 people who perished in a 2007 plane crash. The flight should have been a quick and easy seven minute hop from Moorea to Papeete. Air Crash Investigations has done an episode on this disaster. https://youtu.be/sr_FtoVXyac
We specifically searched out the Lagoonarium as it is highly rated on Tripadvisor for those who want to swim amongst riotously coloured fish and coral. But it’s not just the fish that are riotously coloured…
There is no danger of being stabbed by a ray at the Lagoonarium as the rays’ barbs have been removed from their tail tips thereby rendering them harmless. What you make of this – whether it is animal mutilation or an acceptable trade off for a safe home with easy food – is something you will have to decide for yourself. A shy moray eel that also lives at the Lagoonarium can be enticed out of his shelter for some free grub as well. Perhaps one bit of sea life worthy of some caution are the reef sharks hanging about for a free meal. Even though reef sharks are normally harmless I am wary that any group of sharks which is in proximity to food could spark a feeding frenzy where every submerged limb suddenly becomes acceptable luncheon fare. At the Lagoonarium this risk was mitigated as their fish scraps were tossed away to a safe distance thereby by keeping the sharks on the outer edges.
To me, the Lagoonarium was a paradise set within a paradise but in idle conversation with the owner he bemoaned Tahiti’s lack of seasons. Instead, he wished he lived in a region where he could experience four seasons in one year. Although I kept my counsel I was tempted to tell him of my experiences with four seasons in northern Canada where none of them came anywhere close to his one glorious season.
As a couple’s 25th wedding anniversary is a significant occasion Agnes and I decided to hang the expense and book the Moorea Hilton for our stay. To vary the experience we spent our first 2 nights in a garden bungalow with a plunge pool
Followed by five days in an overwater bungalow.
We needn’t have bothered with the garden bungalow because the overwater bungalow had an entire ocean for a plunge pool – and it was warmer too.
Ditto with the resort’s pool. As attractive and well placed as the pool was, it still lost out to the ocean which lay just a few feet away.
Not only did the ocean offer a warm swimming environment there were also additional activities on offer like paddle boarding, kayaking and snorkelling. Plus there was the added enticement of a hammock when you just wanted to laze beachside.
It’s probably at this point that I should explain that one shouldn’t think of Tahiti as a French version of Hawaii. Hawaii does tourism the American way; by tempting you to part with your tourist dollars through an alluring assortment of activities, attractions, souvenirs, etc. Tahiti has a limited variety of such things and while it may wish to pursue visitors’ francs, I got the feeling it is equally content if its tourists just lie back and soak in the surrounding beauty. Tahiti acquires enough of your francs by making you pay through the nose for basic items.
Although there is the occasional freebie thrill such as catching sight of a couple being wed in a traditional Polynesian ceremony. Nights at the resort were quiet but splendid. Our evening ritual began on the hotel lounge balcony with Happy Hour cocktails. If we were lucky we would score a table with an unobstructed view of moonlight shining on the ocean. Oftentimes so as to extend our time at this idyll we would order a second round of cocktails. After all, it was Happy Hour and we were getting happy. After cocktails we were faced with the difficult choice of either moving over to the restaurant next door or sauntering (with an ever so slight stagger) to the overwater creperie.
Outside of these activities the remainder of our resort time was spent at our overwater bungalow drinking in the surroundings.
or swimming from our deck.
There was much to see even when swimming just off our deck, starting with an octopus who resided in a coral mound directly underneath our bungalow. It was fascinating to watch his colours change as I swam up to him from an easily visible beige to the coral mound’s darker shade of brown.
After we were waterlogged from swimming we dried out by reading on the deck and occasionally glancing across the ocean to see if anything interesting was passing by. Oftentimes there was: such as a cruise ship
Almost like clockwork heavy clouds would drift in around 3 pm and for a short time rain would threaten to send us under cover.
But even with the clouds and rain the afternoon did not suffer a major drop in temperature so we were able to remain under the covered part of our deck and watch the clouds mingle with the volcanic peaks. The clouds knew better than to overstay their welcome and an hour later we would be back to glorious sunshine. Through a bit of advance research on Tripadvisor I knew which were the best bungalows to request when we booked the hotel so I was able to snare one which allowed us to watch the sun sink below the horizon; being careful, of course, not to go blind while staring into the sun. While the disappearing sun was our signal to go out for cocktails and dinner (see above) after we returned we mixed our own cocktails and the night’s warmth allowed us to talk on the lounge chairs until alcohol and a desire for sleep overwhelmed us.