Enjoy the holiday of your dreams in French Polynesia and the islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea…
French Polynesia. Where waterfalls cascade down forest-lined mountain valleys and translucent lagoons glow in the sunlight. And markets overflow with exotic fruit, vegetables, handicrafts and cultured pearls and dolphins race alongside boats. Where powder-soft sandy beaches and warm turquoise seas soothe your feet. And you’ll meet the friendliest people. Welcome to the exotic Tahiti and her islands.
Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, French Polynesia has long been heralded as a honeymooners’ paradise. While similarly hyped destinations usually don’t quite live up to Photoshopped expectations, this is one place that <exceeds> them. Believe me, that really is no easy feat.
Absorb the culture
Tahiti’s capital, Pape’ete is lively and rugged. Traffic inevitably snakes its way along the major roads during the morning rush hour (which begins at 6am), while the local markets are in full swing by 7am. The popular Marché du Pape’ete overflows with island-print shirts, dresses, handicrafts and salad bowls but the atmosphere isn’t competitive. Instead you can stroll through the stalls without being hassled. Although it is worth holding out for one of the many pearl boutiques for a honeymoon souvenir.
Pearls are big business in French Polynesia and you can purchase a single stone for as little as CPF10,000 (approximately £67). The Musée de la Pearle will help you understand how they are cultivated in such large numbers.
Away from town, rocky coastlines play home to scuttling red crabs. The beaches are small but quiet and there is a distinct volcanic mysteriousness that seeps from the lush-green mountains of the interior, right out to the crystal clear waters of Matavai Bay in the north.
Set back from the bay is the elegant Radisson Plaza Resort, where the welcoming crispy cotton sheets envelope you in after a day of exploring. Relax with traditional Marquesian music and dancing (think grass skirts and echoing drums) at the hotel’s buzzing Hiti Mahana restaurant. Deciding between the mouth-watering international and Polynesian menu is likely to be the toughest task. Fresh mahi mahi with caramelised bok choy or tuna salad dressed with coconut milk? Get both and work it off with a soothing stroll in the rare black sand.
Rooms at the Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti (http://www.radisson.com/tahiti) begin at €175 plus tax [approx. £137] per night.
Kick back on picture-perfect Bora Bora
It’s the stunning swirls of translucent turquoise that will blow you away as your Air Tahiti propeller jet lands at Bora Bora’s beach-side domestic airport. At the centre of the main motu (island), the majestic moss-covered, Mount Otemanu dramatically rises high into the bright blue sky, with a few candyfloss clouds scattered around it.
A private boat – the only means of transport here, apart from the occasional golf buggy – will take you from the airport to motu Piti Aau. This is where the beautiful over-water villas of the St Regis Resort spiral out into the shallow azure like octopus tentacles.
Each cute thatched-roof bungalow is isolated from its neighbour by palms and cascading fuchsia bougainvillea. Its dark Siberian Ash door the perfect way to lock the world out.
Escape the crowds
This may be an island filled with big-name resorts, but this motu feels anything but crowded. You can expect the best service here. Staff greet you by name, there’s a butler on-hand and for an exceptionally romantic night. Or book a dinner for two on the resort’s private island, where you’ll dine alone, under the stars.
By day, flit between the infinity pools or beach, skim the sand with your toe as you rock off for a nap in your hammock. Or melt into the treatment beds at the Miri Miri Spa, on yet another private island.
When – and if – you’re ready to leave the tranquillity, book a half-day island safari with Lagoon Service. They will take you out into the reef to spot sharks and Stingrays. Black tip and lemon sharks have no interest in humans; instead they’ll glide around you, minding their own business. While you take in the incredible sight using snorkels and fins. The rays are a friendly bunch and will insist on brushing passed you as you paddle in awe.
Rooms at the St. Regis Bora Bora (http://www.stregisborabora.com) start from 125,000XPF [approx. £820] per person, per night.
Air Tahiti (www.airtahiti.aero)) operates domestic flights between most of the French Polynesian islands. Air Tahiti Passes enable discount travel between several islands (
Adventure on Moorea
Untouched, lush greenery spreads wildly into the distance. The occasional burst of steam indicates a raging waterfall or river escaping from the mountains. Moorea is a place for adventure-seeking couples. Guided hikes and mountain walks are readily available, but it’s the French Polynesia’s seasonal whale-watching experience that will leave you awestruck. If you’re here between July and November, join Harold Wright the founder of Moorea Dolphin Expeditions, on his daily excursion into the Pacific Ocean. Watch his team use sonar technology to track nearby Humpbacks. You have the choice of either watching from the boat or joining them in the water. You won’t regret witnessing these incredible creatures swim elegantly, and peacefully, around you.
Inside the sweet scent of vanilla fills the room from the overhead Pandanus leaf roof. Glass flooring allows you to watch as shoals of fish dart around the reef below. If you’ve opted the two-bedroom villa, you’ll enjoy your own private pool.
Back on land at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa, watch a crimson sunset fade behind the thatched over-water villas. Then head to the Arii Vahine restaurant for the day’s fresh catch, made to order. Finish off your evening at the creperie located along the villa boardwalk. Share freshly-made pancakes while watching reef sharks play in the shallow waters below.
Prices at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa (http://www3.hilton.com) begin at 27,300XPF plus tax (approx. £180).
Half-day excursions with Moorea Dolphin Excursions start from 10,000XPF per person (approx. £67).
Air Tahiti Nui (www.airtahitinui.co.uk, resa@ ) flies from Paris to Pape’ete, Tahiti via Los Angeles from £1,450, which includes the Virgin Atlantic connection from London to Paris.
For more information on French Polynesia and the Islands of Tahiti, visit www.tahiti-tourisme.co.uk.
[A print version was originally written for Wedding magazine]
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