…or is it february 28? I leave Auckland on the afternoon of March 1st and arrive to Papeete on the evening of February 28th. Therefore, I time travel to paradise! Seems only appropriate. è
? – March 3 : Tahiti
French Polynesia is no backpackers destination (although there are some stray ones), but a place where rich Russians and the likes go on honeymoon. Everything is priced accordingly, even though it’s not high season and all the resorts are three quarters empty. Airbnb is the cheapest option for a single traveller and also the best one to meet the locals and really experience the proverbial Polynesian hospitality. I spend the first three days on the island of Tahiti with a local couple Vaiana and Louis, who welcome me at the airport with flower necklace, show me around, take me surfing with their friends (as a designated photographer, there is no way I am going into the 3+ m high waves, but I give it a go later in a different spot, where the waves are “only” about 1.5m, to a rather disastrous result).
Vaiana and Luis then show me where the Tahitians eat out: at the roulotte. Roulottes are the equivalent of european fast food trucks, only they don’t sell terrible hamburgers or hot dogs that haven’t seen real meat even from a distance, but fresh fish of any kind: grilled, raw, sashimi, ceviche, Polynesian salad (raw tuna with tomatoes and onions and coconut milk). And it’s cheap. Alternatively, take a car, a scooter or a bike and go for a ride in the early evening around the island’s only road: you will see a lot of stands where fishermen (or kids who go apnea fishing after school) sell their daily catch. The cheapest fresh tuna you will ever eat.
The island of Tahiti and the capital Papeete is the administrative centre of the country and the only city with bars and clubs where locals go, but has nothing particularly interesting to offer to a tourist otherwise. There are a few nice beaches and a couple of good trails inland in the jungle, and it’s of course one of the best surfing destinations in the world, but other than that, there is no need to spend more than a couple of days on Tahiti.
Life on the islands is very relaxed. Nothing works very well, but everything tends to work out eventually. Although the locals speak tahitian between themselves, everybody speaks french, but very very slowly, so slowly that even I get the impression to be perfectly fluent in french. People are incredibly friendly, everyone says hello or starts a conversation, and if you are walking on your own between villages, everyone will stop and offer you a lift, especially in the evening. And of course, there is a general strike going on since days and no one seems to know (or care) when it may end. They don’t seem particularly worried about it either, just means more time on the beach. We are in French Polynesia, after all.
The obbligatory collection of kitsch sunsets:
March 3 – 8 : Bora Bora
There are several ferries a day between Tahiti and Moorea, which are very close, but moving between the more distant islands of the archipelago doesn’t leave you with many options. AirTahiti operates several rather expensive flights a day, or there are cargo ships that sail between the islands one or two times a week. If they take passengers, they will take locals over tourists, so if you want to travel that way, you need to know someone who knows someone who knows the captain and will secure your place on the ship this way.
I am staying again in an airbnb with Teava and his family and a few other tourists (mainly french). They treat me like a princess: “take a drink from the fridge. Have you eaten? Do you need anything? Going to the shop? Don’t walk, take a bike”. Apart from that, plenty of local tips, a kayak and snorkeling gear at disposition, and I suspect whichever bizarre wish I could have come with, Teava would have made it happen.
Things to do in Bora Bora:
Day 1 – I am definitely fluent in french. I may speak like the inspector Clouseau dubbed in italian with french accent, but I am fluent. English doesn’t really work outside the resorts, so I have no other choice than to flash my tartar-french, and they have no other choice than to make the effort to understand it. In the first afternoon I just go for a walk on the beach and a snorkel a little. There is no need to dive with a tank in Bora Bora, because you will see heaps of wildlife while just snorkeling. Leopard stingrays, juvenile sharks just 10 meters off the beach, moray eels, many reef fish that I have no clue what they could be.
Day 2 – I end up going diving in the morning. First in a diving site called Anau, which is a cleaning station where manta rays go every morning to allow themselves to be cleaned by little fish of the reef. We see two huge manta rays and after a while a mother manta with a juvenile one. The second dive is in Tapu, there we are lucky enough to see lemonhead sharks and black tip sharks, both about 3 metres long. Beautiful creatures.
Day 3 – Afternoon walk to the cave in the mountains. The walk is difficult due to the combination of heat, humidity and the state of the path. Do not attempt the hike if it’s raining, or if it has recently rained. It will become dangerous. I’d recommend going with a local anyway, because in the beginning you are practically going through someone’s garden and the path isn’t very clear, so someone who actually knows which way he’s going may be useful. You will arrive to the top absolutely drenched by your own sweat, but the views are very rewarding. There are wild mango trees along the path, help yourself to some, they make a welcome snack when you arrive.
Day 4 – I take Teava’s kayak and take it across the bay towards the Sofitel hotel’s private island, where I leave it anchored at a buoy, while I go snorkeling into the Corral Garden, the most beautiful spot on Bora Bora if you want to see the wildlife without diving. The reef has still some colour left, there is an incredible variety of fish (who are used to tourists feeding them, so as soon as you get into the water, you will be surrounded by nosy fish expecting you to have bread), leopard rays and sharks are not uncommon. There is a reef where a baby moray eel lives, just be careful not to tease it too much when its mother comes to check on it. She is huge and doesn’t look neither friendly nor scared.
March 8 – 12: Moorea
I spend the last few days on Moorea, in the village of Faa’a, guest of Tepea, who works as a sailboat captain and is almost always away on private tours. Most of the time I just chill on the beach with his blind puppy Tupee, who loves to swim in the sea. Obviously the fact that Tupee does not see anything complicates things a bit, because she usually heads off in the direction of New Zealand, so I have to swim with her, point her in the right direction and eventually carry her back on shore when she gets tired. Also, the sea is full of sharks who are harmless to humans, but may consider a small puppy an interesting addition to their diet.
Sharks and rays just a few meters off the Faa’a beach at sunset:
Oh, I almost forgot, the absolutely nicest thing about French Polynesia are the Polynesians. When they don’t look like reincarnation of Buddha, they are among the hottest men on the planet. Tall, athletic (I guess it shows if you spend your adolescence surfing), with gentle features, and probably the only men who can wear flowers in their hair and still manage to look manly. The flower thing, by the way, is a great invention. If you wear it on the side of the heart, you are off-limits, but if you wear it behind your right ear, it means you are single. Boycott Tinder! To be quite fair, the flower signaling used to be common in certain establishments in Europe (albeit with slightly different meaning) before certain establishments became sordid brothels, but everyone except a handful of opera lovers probably ignores this.
I leave Moorea on the last ferry on the 12th, and after dinner in Papeete head directly to the airport, as my flight for Rapa Nui leaves around 2am.