Tahiti – Welcome to paradise.
Descending into the French Polynesian capital, Papeete, we were greeted to the strumming ukuleles and garlands of heavenly scented flowers. The general arrival time in Papeete is around 5am, which means in addition to our tropical welcome from the locals, the island bestows its own gift of colour upon us. The fiery tangerine sunrise. As the famous painter Gauguin once said of the island, “Everything in the landscape blinded me, dazzled me” and he couldn’t have been more accurate.
Tahiti has become somewhat of a beautiful stepping-stone for travellers heading to the more remote French Polynesian islands, the outer islands. If there is a paradise on earth today, that’s where you will find it. Tahiti, however, is worth a tour. The mighty forest-cloaked mountain island and the black-sand beaches are just the beginning. Gracefully positioned way above sea level and tucked so perfectly within the clutches of the rugged mountains, waterfalls hide. You have to be prepared to explore the inner depths of the island if you want to witness theses hidden gushing spectacles. Once found, you will find yourself succumb to the magic of Tahiti.
In the distance from Papeete, Moorea rises majestically out of the ocean. Crowned by clouds, this enchanting island is a combination of emerald green pinnacles and lagoons with fifty shades of blue. Home to stingrays, sharks and turtles, the enchanting beauty Moorea possesses is truly unforgettable. The journey across from Papeete via the fast ferry was as-though Moorea had summoned her most beautiful and wild marine life to personally escort us across the south seas. Humpback whales danced in the distance as dolphins played carelessly alongside us. The life force and spirit that surrounds and connects all living things in the Islands of Tahiti, known as ‘Mana’ to the Tahitian people, consumes us. You can see it, touch it, taste it and feel it, and we knew as we made our way across the sea we had surrendered to its effortless magic. As we approached the pass its soon became apparent the spirit of Moorea was just as welcoming as the lucky Tahitians that get to call this island home.
As we drove around the islands edge with each bend unravelling a new and alluring sight, we had the opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in true Tahitian culture. Tattooed locals walked barefoot along the roadside, usually with a brood of smiling children skipping along in toe. Quaint villages, boutiques and restaurants lined the roadside with fresh brightly coloured, exotic fruits sprawled across stalls. Uninhabited beaches and secluded coves seize the edge of the shady lagoon adding to Moorea’s unique charm. We also couldn’t help but be transported through the luscious smell of the islands flowers. A combination of the locally known ‘Tiare
Tahiti’ (Tahitian Gardenia), Frangipani, Hibiscus and Jasmin (just to name a few) fill the air with their sweet perfume.
We decided to rent a villa directly on the beach as we were joined by family and friends to celebrate the birthday of my boyfriend Jean, who is actually native Tahitian. We spent our weekend snorkelling the picture perfect lagoon, free-diving with the local black-tip sharks and spearfishing for our supper. While French Polynesia is more typically identified as the place of scorching romance and delicious Mai-tai cocktails, it quite evidently offers so much more. An adventure packed tropical paradise that consists of 118 islands screaming out to be explored. With the advantage of travelling with native Tahitians, I was able to experience authentic Polynesian life in its most natural form.
With the overwhelming desire to see more of what Moorea possessed, we made our way inland to the foot of Mount Rotui, to saddle up and explore the pineapple fields and Opunohu Valley. Trekking through the unspoilt setting, surrounded by nature via horse-back is undeniably transcending. The volcanic mountains, cascading waterfalls and panoramic views are as bewitching as the legend of the pierced mountain. According to ancient myth, the pierced hole which can still to this day be seen at the top of Mount Mouaputa, is a result of Hiro, God of thieves, planning to steal one of Moorea’s three mountains, Rotui, and take it to Raiatea. When warned of Hiro’s evil intent, Pai – who was half god, half man and known to have incredible strength – decided to keep close watch from Point Tata’a on Tahiti. When the thieves attempted to steal the mountain, Pai threw his spear through the top of Mount Mouaputa, awakening the roosters who sounded the alarm and drove away the unwelcome visitors. However, the thieves still managed to steal a piece of Mount Rotui and with it, some toa trees, which can be found isolated on a mountain on Raiatea. Moorea’s timeless beauty and virtually untouched scenery are what have lead to her obtaining her status as the ‘Enchantress’.
50minutes North-West of Tahiti, lies the ‘Jewel of the Seas’, Bora Bora. From the moment we began descending, the love-affaire with the island started. The views of the translucent lagoon caressing the barrier-reef were merely the welcoming party for the main star, the iconic Mount Otemanu. The remnants of the extinct volcano which rises in two peaks from the centre of the island are as bewitching as the colour-saturated dream Bora Bora haemorrhaged. Emeralds, jades and sapphires at dusk to the bleeding apricots and pinks of dawn. We made our way from the tiny airport via boat transfer to our hotel. Slicing through the lagoon as if it were silk, mesmerised by the unravelling shades of glistening turquoise and teal, Jean and I were like a pair of giddy teenagers as we were overcome with pure ecstasy. Nestled away on Motu Piti Aau, lied the Intercontinental Resort and Thalasso Spa, which was to be our home for the next 3 nights. Water-villas perched on stilts stretched out into the distance as
if reaching out to Mount Otemanu. Each suite with a floor to ceiling window at the end of a king-size bed, as if a huge piece of art were hung ensuring you woke to the sight of the sun piercing through the lagoon. The glass opening set into the floor allowed you to fully capture the remarkable city of brightly coloured marine life right below. This idyllic retreat was as though someone was vicariously photoshopping every angle right before our eyes. How is it possible that somewhere so incredibly flawless actually exists?
Taking a moment to simply stand still, we were certain our eyes must have been deceiving us. The mesmerising beauty of which Bora Bora radiated so effortlessly was exactly what dreams of paradise consisted of.
This ultra luxurious slice of heaven wasn’t perhaps, the luxurious which you would expect from the Maldives or the French Riviera, this was the luxury of total isolation, freedom and connecting to the spirit of living things in a totally natural and unspoilt speck in the South Seas, this paradise was truly spellbinding. It also offered so much more than sipping fresh coconuts and basking under the tropical sun. Diving with sharks, feeding stingrays, snorkelling, exploring the lagoon and reef via kayak or Va’a (outrigger canoe) are merely a few of the more adventurous pursuits which are on offer. We spent our mornings, after overindulging in the breakfast buffet on the local delicacy, ‘Poisson Cru’, fresh raw fish in citrus juice and coconut milk, paddle boarding and snorkelling with the the rainbow coloured marine life. We decided I would experience my first Scuba dive here in Bora Bora, Jean being somewhat of a professional merman, having grown up in Tahiti was adamant I experience the world below the waves. This underwater city was overrun with giant napoleon wrasses, hawksbill turtles, eagle rays, angelfish, banner fish, parrotfish and pink soft anemones. The marine life was as friendly as the locals on land. Intrigued by our presence they joined us as the current gently washed us along the powdery sand of the lagoon floor. We could feel ‘Mana’ was just as alive down here as it was up above. As I glanced up I could see the sun rays shooting through the glass-like water, it was then I felt a surge of emotion. This wasn’t a fairy-tale this was real.
We drifted through each day on Bora Bora time. Consumed with happiness and love, could life get any more romantic?
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go completely off the grid and enter a world of pure serenity that is totally unspoilt? Tikehau is exactly that. Conveniently placed as one of the small atolls closets to Tahiti and accessible by daily flights. The preserved charm of simplicity is what makes this extraordinary island so unique. Tikehau, meaning ‘peaceful landing’ consists of one resort, ‘Pearl Beach Resort’ and is one of only two inhabited islets in the fifty-five kilometre circumference of dots in this part of the Tuamotu group.
With a reputation of being the most bountiful fish destination in the French Polynesia, it came at no surprise this was the last stop of our seventeen day trip. This coconut palm lined motu was not only a new experience for me, but one for Jean too. At first glance, it looks very similar to the other islands we had visited previously, over- water bungalows, sandy shores and ridiculously blue lagoons. However, approaching just a few metres off the reservation, the seclusion became apparent. Wandering along the rose-golden sands, which have been dyed from the coral we soon had our very own paradise. Not a sole to be seen just pristine waters nuzzling the edge of the scattered motu’s. All of which are accessible either by kayak or some via walking at low tide. Sunsets here are also a work of art. The sky totally drenched in shades of fiery oranges, reds and pinks. We watched from our kayak as the sun slowly set into the distance, leaving a backlit feature beyond the clouds of dazzling indigos and violets. As the sky reflected onto the waters edge the colours began to dance with the twinkling of stars which were soon to blanket the night sky. We slowly made our way back to shore with a trail of black-tip sharks frolicking
just below the surface. In the distance we could hear the crashing of the ocean waves as they found themselves at the mercy of the reef.
For most, this could be somewhat frightening, however, the magic that Tikehau possessed made this scene all the more transfixing and an experience we wouldn’t forget.
Diving in Tikehau is a must. The high-visibility waters around the coral reefs host an astonishing variety of marine life. The manta rays are huge, the fish so colourful they look superimposed and the reef sharks plentiful. However, the real expedition is the Tuheiva pass, an underwater coral playground for eagle rays, turtles, dolphins, tuna, barracudas, sharks and smaller technicolour fish. The volume of fish is so much that Jacques Cousteau’s research crew dubbed it “the most fish abundant Tuamotu atoll.” So naturally, this is where I would be doing my second dive, and my first ocean dive.
This tranquil world of both peace and plentiful above and below the water is a personal playground. We found nothing but absolute serenity on the calm and graceful shores. However, if you find yourself craving more you can also take a boat to the centre of the lagoon to visit Motu Puarua at the northeastern end. This small islet, known as ‘bird island’ is a natural avery for numerous colonies of sea birds. You also have the option to venture to the main village of Tuherahera on the Southern side. Tuherahera is been labelled as one of the most attractive villages in the Atolls. We found ourselves far too engulfed in the gifts of Tikehau that we didn’t drift further afield this time.
It was the perfect end to a profoundly extraordinary trip and I felt incredibly lucky to have been able to experience even a slice of the magnificence the French Polynesia has to offer.
Next Stop – The French Alps where I will learn to Snow Board!
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