The Polynesian people have populated the South Pacific islands for almost 2,000 years. On these islands, known as French Polynesia, and more properly called Tahiti or the Society Islands, the Polynesian people have created island paradises that are hard to equal anywhere else in the world.
The Europeans discovered these islands in 1521 and they became a French protectorate in 1889.
The artist Paul Gauguin moved to Tahiti and painted some of his most noted masterpieces. Since then, movie stars, politicians and persons of note have purchased residences in the islands to simply get away from it all amidst staggering tropical beauty.
It is now 2010 and what does it look like today? The main city is Papeete on Tahiti, which is home to over 150,000 residents. Here, there are fine hotels that cater to your every whim. Be aware, Tahiti and its neighbor islands are expensive. Almost everything consumed must be imported from overseas, unless you only want coconuts for every meal. There are a few other foods grown here, but that’s about it. Also, the islanders speak French, though many who you would come in contact with understand English.
The main islands in the group are: Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Huahine and Rangiroa. There are other smaller islands, but you wouldn’t go there unless you were on a private yacht. Hotel developers have come into a few of the islands in the last years, but the lands remain quite untouched and extremely beautiful.
Tahiti is the exception with a growing population.
What is there to do in French Polynesia? Relax, swim, sightsee and stroll the beaches. How do you get there? By air from Los Angeles – the flight takes a little more than 8 hours. Air New Zealand and Air Tahiti Nui are but two carriers flying the route.
My favorite islands in which to stay for a few days are Moorea and Bora Bora. Both can be reached by commuter air. Moorea is only a 35-minute ferry ride from Papeete and you can transfer by boat if you wish. The hotels on these two islands are tropical with mostly low buildings, with many having rooms built over the sea with clear plastic covering part of the floor allowing you to see down into the water to observe fish and other sea creatures swimming by. Other water-facing rooms are set almost at the edge of the sea and all you have to do is walk a few feet down the sand into the clear water for swimming. Again, this place is expensive, but most feel it is well worth it.
The food will be good with the hotels having European chefs planning the meals. The service may be a little slow with native help, but who cares? What’s the rush?
There are sightseeing tours available from your hotel and you should take advantage of them. You may never return here, so do it!
The mountains jutting high in the air from the low lands surrounding the shore, the palm lined beaches in abundance, the lush, tropical growth and the clearest water you will ever hope to see are all here.
You may never have another completely relaxing and pleasing vacation as you can have in Tahiti.
If you read many of my travel columns, you know that I love to cruise and perhaps the best way to really see French Polynesia is by cruise ship. One vessel is positioned in Tahiti year-round: the 5-star Paul Gauguin. It is 19,200 gross tons and 513 feet long, carrying only 332 passengers in complete luxury. The ship has new ownership and has recently been renovated to provide more stateroom balconies and the facilities were all redecorated, so that the ship looks almost new. You’ll find the cuisine and service are the best and your island cruise will not be forgotten.
You can book seven- and nine-day cruises on this ship plus, longer itineraries are also available.
Please consult your travel professional for a brochure and information. You can book a fly/cruise package, which should make all the arrangements trouble free.
By taking the cruise ship, you will have the opportunity to visit the main islands with ease. You have your days on the islands and the ship moves from island to island during the night. On the Paul Gauguin you enjoy luxurious amenities with all-inclusive pricing that includes everything from beverages, gratuities, and use of their luxurious spa and onboard watersports marina to access their own private motu (island) and private beach on Bora Bora.
Shore excursions are extra and they can include everything from a circle island tour, snorkeling, glass-bottom boat trips, lagoon cruise, rain forest walks, dolphin-watching expeditions, catamaran sailing, river trips and so on.
Onboard, there will be lectures, casino action and movies on your stateroom TV.
There are other ships that cruise French Polynesia, but the Paul Gauguin is the one that is there year-round. Being rather small, it can maneuver close to shore and anchor.
If you choose not to cruise, be sure to include at least Moorea and Bora Bora in your itinerary.
By cruising, you can visit in seven days Bora Bora, Taha’a, Raiatea, Moorea as well as Tahiti. The nine-night cruise will take you to Bora Bora, Taha’a, Huahini, Moorea, Fakarva returning to Tahiti.
You can also book a package that will include the cruise and a few days island stay. I have been to Tahiti several times over the last 45 years and after writing this, I’m ready to go again. Bon Voyage!