The first week of our trip was spent in Bora Bora, acclimating to the gorgeous topography, listening to two dialects (Reo Maohi - Tahitian - and French), dodging rain, and sleeping in bungalows about 12 feet above the sea! We snorkeled around the property, but our planned snorkeling trips were canceled due to high winds and poor water visibility.
This island was originally called Pora Pora! The letter "b" does not exist in Tahitian, but it was mistakenly pronounced Bora Bora, which means "first born," by Captain James Cook. There will be more about him when we get to Moorea.
Approximately 9,000 people live on this majestic 17-square miles. From a local tour guide, we learned the island sits in a gigantic lagoon and is very slowly sinking into its hole. It is projected that in a million years, Bora Bora will no longer be above water. That's an uber long time away but still difficult to imagine.
Tourists are encouraged to talk with tour operators or taxi boat operators about which islets can be explored because so much of the lagoon is private land. The only public beach is Marie Point. The beach is located around the corner from Bloody Mary's Restaurant, an iconic place where you have a shot at seeing Johnny Depp or Marlo Thomas. Wearing shoes is optional since the floor is fine white sand. Wouldn’t you love a restaurant that casual?
After a restful week in Bora Bora, we embarked on a cruise for eight days. David and I have never been on a cruise before, so we had quite a bit to learn. It's something we would do again.
We boarded a Windstar sailing yacht in Papeete, Tahiti, on February 19th and made a giant oblong circle to explore Moorea, Taha'a, Raiatea, back to Bora Bora for a couple days, Huahine, and returning to Papeete on February 26th.
The service was first class, and the food was beyond exceptional!
It was a real treat to have personal time with Executive Chef Klaus: touring the Galley and learning about the layout required of a mid-size vessel and specific techniques to making food on a boat that consistently sways. Chef Klaus also held a cooking demonstration featuring the local dish "Poisson Cru," which was grand for David, the best chef at our house.
Moorea's beauty was the paradise I imagined when I thought of the Polynesian Islands. The ship anchored in Cook's Bay on the northern side of the island. Explorer James Cook anchored there in 1769, as did Europeans Samuel Wallis (1767) and Louis-Anthoine de Bougainville (1768). Captain Cook was an expert at making maps as he circumnavigated the globe twice, and he is credited with drawing the first accurate map of the Pacific. Before being brutally killed in Hawaii (1779) because of his mistreatment of the Hawaiians, Cook's Bay was Captain Cook's final voyage.
Tourism and a pineapple-growing center are Moorea's primary economic drivers with a population of 16,000 residents.
From our ship, boats transported passengers (roughly 20 at a time) into the smaller bays where the water made me think of sapphire jewels. I would have liked to spend more time on this island and make contact with local residents.
The tour and history lessons of Moorea were extremely interesting to us. Opunohu Bay, also on the northern side of Moorea, was a trip highlight and where we found some of the most breathtaking photography opportunities. The bay has been used for commercials and movies (Mutiny on the Bounty, South Pacific) because it is so pristine. Moorea was the inspiration for James Michener's book, Tales of the South Pacific, and ultimately the mystical Bali Hai from the musical "South Pacific." Filming in that bay is popular because it is easy to access and beautifully unspoiled.
Moorea is lush and dense, an island formed by volcanoes. It would be difficult to maneuver without an experienced guide and a trail-tough 4X4 or safari vehicle.
Raiatea and Huahine
Raiatea is the second largest island in the Society Islands, about 145 miles from Tahiti, and the largest piece of land in the chain of islands. An ancient legend says that Raiatea and Taha'a were originally one island until a giant eel swallowed a young girl. Possessed by her spirit, the enraged creature broke through the earth surface, causing the sea to gush. The impact of the water cut the island in two, and Raiatea and Taha'a were created.
Today, the current population is about 12,000, and the area is considered to be a crucial economic driver for the islands. There seemed to be fewer tourists here, perhaps due to the lack of beaches and activities. The ship docked in the center of the main town, Uturoa. Vanilla, pineapple, and coconut are primary exports. And all of the islands have several black pearl farms and boutiques.
We wandered the large market: a combination of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish, oils, pearls, jewelry, and colorful attire for sale. We picked up a couple fun souvenirs, but without a specific tour that day, we found it to be a mellow afternoon.
Our time on Huahine was quiet and nothing particularly unique. We were hot and getting tired, so maybe our lack of exploring was a factor. Merely my opinion, if you are trying to sort out where to spend time in French Polynesia, these are two islands that could be skipped. Of course, the views are gorgeous, and if you want pure lounging on some sand, they are good places to escape. David and I just found the other islands to be more engaging. So we returned to the ship early to catch a tour with Dad and Eva of the Bridge.
I was surprised at how available the staff and onboard spaces were to passengers. Windstar staff made us feel welcomed in all of the ship areas. We had such a great time in the Galley learning about food preparation that we figured learning about the Bridge, the command, and navigation space would be great too.
It was terrific!
We traveled with my father, who still loves international travel at 84 years old and wears a Pareo and Tahitian tee like a cool cat, and his girlfriend Eva. It was such a great experience. The time with dad was really precious. He knows enough Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Thia, Tagalog, and Chinese to be able to communicate with a lot of people. It's quite amusing to watch him light up any time he can practice one of these languages. This rather shy, extraordinarily caring, master inventor, deep thinker, highly-successful man has been remarkably supportive of David and me over the years; he is the father I adored as a child, and that has never changed.
Love you, Dad.
This was our favorite cruise day. We had a full afternoon of lounging on a tiny island with abundant sunshine. The crew planned a great day. Arriving by a small boat, we were greeted on the island with a coconut beverage and BBQ for lunch.
Several passengers brought their own snorkel equipment. We thought about it. I read several blogs and consulted Trip Advisor about traveling through the various islands before we left. Nearly all said to bring your own snorkel equipment because cruise ship equipment can be beat up. But the equipment is a heavy load in the luggage so we decided no. I'm glad we didn't bring our own because our snorkeling time was limited with the rough water, and the equipment provided by the ship was in excellent condition.
The other tip is to purchase water shoes before the trip. We did this and would highly recommend it! The beaches are more rugged than other beaches we have been to because they are never groomed, so broken shells and rocks are the norm. I'd read that finding aqua shoes on an island can be difficult and expensive, so look locally before you go. Dick's Sporting Goods had the best selection to try on. I anticipated we would be in these shoes often, so fit was important.
We had massages side-by-side near the water, under a wind sheet for shade, and that was divine...something we had not done before. Loved it!! And several of us smiled through an entertaining cocktail-making demonstration. A day, and overall a trip, to treasure!
It was truly an utterly enchanting trip of a lifetime.
By: Julie Oliver