LET IT ALL GO IN FRENCH POLYNESIA

by Tori Ward, ROX Travel, Cruise and Resort Specialist • Photos by Jerry Chinn


The tiki gods stared at me in stony silence. Since arriving in Papeete, Tahiti I had rejected pineapple one too many times and complained that the humidity was ruining my hair. My husband and I were wandering the quiet, mostly-closed-on-Sunday city before heading to the port to board the M.S. Paul Gauguin for a cruise of the Society Islands. Rounding a corner we heard the sweet sound of ukuleles and singing coming from a large barnlike building. He was hesitant to approach, but I charged in like I thought the place was air-conditioned.

Sitting in a dozen rows were men, women and children strumming every style of ukulele as they followed the music director in song. They smiled and motioned for us to sit. We sat in enchanted wonder at the achingly beautiful music in the cool shelter of their hospitality. In that instant, I let the whole pineapple/hair thing go. I suddenly remembered what living in the moment meant.


When we finally boarded the ship an hour later, I was relaxed and delighted to find a bottle of champagne as chilled as I was. I didn’t realize every cabin didn’t have a welcoming bottle of champagne, but more on that later. The Paul Gauguin is a small luxury ship that carries 332 passengers. My previous trip to the South Pacific, the Hawaiian Islands, had been a land trip, and we believed that a cruise was by far the best way to be able to visit Bora Bora, Mo’orea and a few of the other islands that the ship navigated.

Sailing on a small ship is such an intimate experience. By the second day, it seemed that every crew member knew every passenger by name along with their favorite table, drink order and coffee or tea preference. The entertainment was much lower key than a standard ship with thousands of passengers, but there was always plenty to do onboard, as well as daily island experiences.

While docked at Huahine, a group of local school children in traditional dress came aboard to entertain us with dance numbers that charmed us as much as the small island did with its lagoon of blue-eyed eels dodging in and out of their tropical coral gardens. When we returned to the ship, my husband, who had been keeping a secret for months, finally spilled that he had arranged a recommitment ceremony on the ship the following day. The embarkation bottle of champagne was part of the package that also included flower adornments for us, as well as elegant arrangements in our room. Godiva chocolates, more champagne, Polynesian attendants and a wedding cake during our celebration dinner in the French restaurant that evening, rounded out the celebration package. (My husband should teach husband classes. He’s the best!)

Bora Bora, our next island, with its abundant over-the-sea bungalows, was easily navigable as many fellow passengers discovered by renting a car at the dock and setting off on their own. Others joined a tour to feed sharks and stingrays in the azure waters.

Snorkeling opportunities, as well as jet skiing, paddle boarding, outrigger rowing and deep sea diving, were just a few of the optional adventures available in Mo’orea. The coral-colored sunsets, some featuring vivid rainbows, were included. We visited a Tahitian vanilla farm and brought back containers of pods to share with our culinary friends.

At the end of our cruise, we spent a final day in Tahiti before heading to Hawaii as a stop on our way home. Renting a car at the airport in Kauai, we made a beeline to our favorite restaurant for breakfast. My husband loves Loco Moco, which is rice with a hamburger patty that’s topped with a fried egg and gravy. I settled for a good cup of Kona coffee.  Our condo rental overlooked the ocean at Poipu Beach. We enjoyed more snorkeling in the warm tropical waters in the days that followed and a trek to Hanamaulu to visit the cascading Wailua Falls.

Kauai is the perfect island to visit if you want to see much that Hawaii offers in a short amount of time. The ability to drive from one side of the island to the other is easy, and the diverse climate provides many opportunities to enjoy a tropical rainforest that your skin will thank you for in the afternoon after soaking up the sun along the Na Pali coast in the morning. The trade winds that sing through the palm trees at night will serenade you to sleep.

If active volcanoes are a sight you want to behold, and hot lava splashing into the cool sea waters makes you sizzle, then Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii will set your heart aflame. It’s a remarkable sight at night, and there are many tours available from the hotels on the island so you don’t have to navigate strange roads in the dark.

After all that tropical adventure and humidity, my hair was ready to return to Arizona. However, I loved letting it go along with any worries.

Should you want to do the same, I would enjoy helping you plan your own Polynesian adventure. 

EXPERT TIPS:

  • French is the official language of Tahiti. Many of the locals are not fluent in English. Google Translate is a great communication app the locals are happy to use, but it helps to learn a bit of French.
  • The Papeete airport has poor air conditioning. Dress light and know that flights in and out occur around midnight to take advantage of the cooler temperatures.
  • Most businesses in Tahiti are closed on Sundays, and the few groceries close in the early afternoon.
  • If you are shopping for pearls, do your homework before arriving. Pearls are abundant and shops are stocked with them, even on the most remote islands. However, they aren’t cheap.
  • Visiting Mo’orea while in Tahiti is easy and inexpensive.  A ferry service runs between the two islands daily. To visit the other islands, only charter boats or air service is available.
  • Because of the volcanic nature of the island, the big island of Hawaii does not have long stretches of fine, white sandy beach to stroll on in the moonlight. Maui and Kauai would be a better choice for beach lovers.
  • Even though I’m not a big fan of pineapple, the tiny Tahitian variety is a sweet and delicious commodity that is not exported. You won’t get pineapple like it anywhere else in the world.

Victoria “Tori” Ward is a cruise and resort specialist with an interest in traveling and seeing the world since she first began to crawl. For more information on these tips and others, contact Tori at tori@roxtravel.com or 928-254-9968.