New Year Romance in Paradise – Tahiti, Bora Bora & Other Isles!

Tahiti-0105 (4 of 5)Whatever you have heard or read or seen about Bora Bora is absolutely true!  It is one of the most beautiful and romantic places we have ever been.

We spent a night in Los Angeles before our flight to Papeete where we would board a 350’ sailing yacht for a 7-day cruise of the islands of French Polynesia.

While in the LA area we decided to visit some of our favorite places – Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica.  They both have outstanding virtues, but for our money we prefer the less hectic beach community vibe of Manhattan Beach.  We love the boardwalk and the running/bike paths, but mainly its the direct access to a very wide beach complete its with massive beach volleyball set-ups, the pier and the ubiquitous surfers that draws us here.  Santa Monica is great as well, of course, but it can quickly become a destination for shopping and doesn’t have the beady feel of Manhattan Beach.  Our dining recommendation – The Strand House in Manhattan Beach at sunset.  Great views, exceptional food, terrific wine list – what else could one want. 4 1/2 *

Our flight from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti’s capital city, was 8+ hours in some rather uncomfortable seats on Air Tahiti Nui.  We arrived Papeete late in the evening and were immediately warmed by the humid air.  The Le Meridian resort in Papeete is located approx 20 minutes from the airport, and was our home for the night.  The accommodations are quite comfortable, the hotel has a few good dining options, and you can enjoy the weather and view from either the pool or a small beach.  The hotel also offers thatched huts over the water for an extra special stay.

Tahiti-1231 (2 of 2)Tahiti is rich with culture and a modern Polynesian ambience, and is the largest of the 118 French Polynesian islands.  The isle is strikingly mountainous, and black sand beaches dot the coastline.  You immediately sense that you are someplace very different – in a soothing way that channels Paul Gaugin.  Our visit to this island was brief but comfy and satisfying, as it was a jumping off point for our sail.

Tahiti-0105 (3 of 5)When we woke it was a beautiful sunny day in paradise!  Breakfast and a lounge by the pool before we are off to our boat, the Windstar Wind Spirit, a picturesque 5-masted sailing vessel.  The Wind Spirit yacht consists of 73 staterooms, 148 quests, so it is never crowded.  Our room was comfortable, located in the middle of the ship, second floor which is best for those prone to sea-sickness, like Dana.  The seas in French Polynesia are generally calm but it was a bit rocky our first night as we sailed toward Moorea, the second of the six islands we will visit in the Society Archipelago.

Moorea is a heart shaped island and quite apropos for our first stop.  They say the island was the inspiration for James Michener’s Bali Hai.  It’s no wonder that this island inspires, it is gorgeous and what most envision when they think about the South Pacific isles – jagged volcanic peaks and beaches and warm, turquoise waters.  Known as the pineapple growing center of French Polynesia, we planned to take it all in with a 4-mile hike from Belvedere Point along the Three Coconuts trail.  The panoramic view from Belvedere of Opunohu Bay – which served as a port for Captain James Cook 250 years ago – and the vistas along our hike through the rainforest were stunning.

Tahiti-1231 (1 of 2)In the afternoon we sail toward our next island destination, Taha’a.  The sail away from port is quite dramatic – there is champagne and dramatic sail-away music (a Windstar tradition) as the sails are unveiled and we set our next course. In evening there was music and dancing and more champagne under the stars to bring in the New Year!  We cannot think of a place we would rather be than here to welcome in 2017.  Happy belated New Year to all!

Awaking to another sunny day in paradise is not a bad way to start the new year!  We highly recommend it.  Taha’a is called the vanilla island for there are many vanilla plantations on the isle that produce approximately 80% of all French Polynesia’s vanilla. At times you can actually smell the fragrant vanilla in the air. The island is also know for great snorkeling and after a beach BBQ and morning relaxing on a private motu, we are game for some drift snorkeling through a spectacular coral garden.  (A motu is a tiny islet, a secluded bit of heaven.)  Warm, clear, and blue waters with colorful fish and coral unlike we have every seen.  Another fabulous day ends with a sail.  Our next stop, Ra’iatea.  Tonight we celebrate the New Year with an incredibly romantic al fresco dinner complete with a warm breeze and starry skies.

Tahiti-0105 (5 of 5)Ra’iatea is about twice the size of its sister island of Taha’a.  Both isles are encircled by the same reef and quite possibly were one many years ago.  Ra’iatea is the second largest island in the Society Islands archipelago with approximately 12,000 inhabitants.  It is also home to the rarest flower in the world, the tiara apetahi.  Unfortunately for Dana we did not see the flower as it grows only on Mount Temehani, and we are headed in a different direction.  Our Ra’iatea adventure is a kayaking trip on the Fa’aroa River.  The river begins at the bay of Fa’aroa and winds through lush and fertile valleys along the river.  Our serene journey returns to the bay.  Tonight we set sail to one of the most romantic places in the world, Bora Bora.

Tahiti-0104 (2 of 3)It bears repeating that whatever you have heard or read or seen about Bora Bora is absolutely true!  It is one of the most beautiful and romantic places we have ever been, and thankfully we are here for two days.  Known as the pearl of the Pacific, it is paradise as we envisioned it.

It’s difficult to imagine Bora Bora being anything other than a tropical paradise, but it served an important function as a supply base during WWII.  Known as Operation Bobcat and positioned to protect against Japanese naval attacks following Pearl Harbor, 7,000 U.S. soldiers called Bora Bora home for nearly 5 years.  Today, you can get of sense of yesteryear by visiting world famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant and lounge – named after the colorful proprietor of a brothel for U.S. GI’s and now a wonderful but touristy site to sip cocktails and stare at the beautiful surf under thatched palms.  No wonder Jimmy Buffet likens himself as a “Tahiti-phile,” and returns year after year.

Our first Bora Bora morning was spent enjoying the sun and scenery on Matira Beach before we set out on a jet ski to circumnavigate the island and its clear, jewel-colored waters. The water was unbelievably clear with powder soft sand on the bottom – quite perfect for an occasional swim along the way.  It is hard to describe the array of water colors, from dark blue to turquoise, and a million hues in between. Honestly, more colorful and beautiful than Hawaii or any isle in the Caribbean.

We were fortunate to have fabulous weather the entire trip. On our last day in Bora Bora, we wanted to enjoy the sun and warmth as much as we could before heading back to Toronto.  We spent most of the day on a private motu, Motu Tapu.  To get a real sense of this exquisite, laid-back place, check out Dana’s 30-sec video from the beach:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKrIquMQ1LU

In the evening we return to Motu Tapu via a sunset catamaran trip for a  beach dinner and a traditional celebration, complete with fire dancing!  Another amazing sunset for us to always remember.  Sadly we sail away from Bora Bora this evening.

Ou final island destination is Huahine, nicknamed the Garden of Eden for its lush forests, tropical landscapes, and a distinct mountain that resembles a reclining pregnant woman.  We arrive in the small village of Fare and head to the beach at the Maitai Lapita Village Hotel.  The hotel offers day use of their facilities and small beach with a great view of Bai de Cook and Huahine Nui, the female-shaped mountain.  Huahine, with a population of only 6,000, is the perfect place to relax and simply enjoy being in French Polynesia.  The ideal way to spend our last day.

Tahiti-0105 (1 of 5)Tonight, as we watch the most incredibly beautiful sunset either of us has ever seen, we enjoy a dinner under the stars.  The perfect end to a perfect trip.

Our return journey was very long, Papeete to Los Angeles to Toronto.  We returned to 16 degree weather – approximately 70 degrees colder than Tahiti!  We both wished we could simply turn around and get back on the flight.

Of note, black pearls are commonly known as Tahitian pearls, and are the largest export of French Polynesia.  If you are desirous of a black pearl, you won’t have any trouble finding them in the islands.  While not as expensive and rare as they once were, they are still pricey.

Safe travels!

… Mark & Dana …

Tahiti-0104 (1 of 3)

 

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