French Polynesia (Tahiti) – August 2013
My family and I have just returned from a 2 week holiday in French Polynesia, also erroneously known as Tahiti (which is in fact the name of just one of the islands that make up the country). We loved it so much that I thought of sharing our experience with all my readers.
French Polynesia is made up of 130 islands grouped in archipelagos: Marquesas Islands, Society Islands (where we went), Tuamotu Archipelago, Gambier Islands, Austral Islands and Bass Islands. It is a dependent territory of France, which also means people speak French (besides Tahitian) and are French citizens and that French food and wines are supposed to be the staple, just like in New Caledonia where we went on a previous holiday. Unlike New Caledonia, I did not sense much ethnic tensions between the Polynesians and the French residents. I also felt much more at ease and found that people were very friendly, always smiling and greeting you with their Ia Orana (hello – that derives from the English “your honour”).
My husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last February, but for personal reasons we had to postpone this holiday until August. I did not mind: July and August are good months to visit French Polynesia as it is the dry season and it’s not as hot and humid as in summer. French Polynesia had been a dream holiday for us ever since we got married in Italy and we had also considered it as our honeymoon destination… in the end, we preferred to go to the Maldives for our honeymoon as they are much closer to Europe. But we never quite took Tahiti out of our mind. So, this year we decided to take the plunge and go for it.
As we were travelling with out 2 young daughters, we decided to stick to 3 islands only: Tahiti (the main island, where the international airport is), Moorea and Bora Bora, all in the Society Archipelago. We decided to skip the Tuamotu Archipelago this time and to (hopefully) go back to visit it another time. We flew Air Tahiti Nui from Sydney to Papeete (via Auckland) and then bought a pass for the internal flights (Papeete to Moorea, Moorea to Bora Bora and Bora Bora to Papeete) with Air Tahiti.
This was our itinerary:
Sydney – Tahiti (Papeete)
Tahiti (island tour with a rented car)
Tahiti – Moorea (6 nights)
Moorea – Bora Bora (5 nights)
Bora Bora – Tahiti (Papeete)
Tahiti (Papeete) – Sydney
The flight from Sydney to Papeete is a long one: 3+ hours till Auckland and then another 5+ hours to Papeete. Luckily Air Tahiti Nui has good planes with good entertainment, movies and games. The food was also quite good to be airplane food. They had some amazing eclairs! When you board the plane, you are greeted with a tiaré flower (a frangipane), which is the symbol of French Polynesia… this and the turquoise colour of the seats make you feel like you are already on a tropical island! Good start!
When we arrived in Papeete (at night), we got greeted with a traditional flower lei that smelled like heaven and went straight to the hotel to rest.
We stayed at the Manava Suite Resort, not too far from town. I will write a review for each hotel and its restaurant/s on separate posts.
The next day, we picked up our rental car from the airport (via Avis, good service) and went straight to the centre of Papeete to visit the famous Papeete Markets.
If you want to buy souvenirs, this is the best place as the prices are cheaper and the quality is good. I bought some amazing vanilla beans from Taha’a and we tried our first Firi Firi, doughnut-like sweets made with coconut milk.
The market is very colourful and filled with tropical fruits and veggies. I also saw breadfruit for the first time in one of the stalls.
I highly recommend this visit, especially to foodies as the colours and smells are amazing!
After visiting the markets, we started our island tour. Unfortunately it was raining, but that did not stop us and we visited:
Taravao Plateau (the road to the plateau and back is full of pot holes and very rough and should be driven slowly) and its overlook over Tahiti Iti
Arahurahu Marae – the reconstruction of a marae (ancient temple).
We also wanted to visit the Musée Gauguin, but it was closed!
For dinner, we really wanted to try and eat at the local roulottes (food trucks) in Place Vaiaté, but it was raining too much and we decided to eat at the hotel’s restaurant.
The flight from Papeete to Moorea is only 10 minutes! All internal flights are made with small planes (ATR –72) and we had some rough take offs and landings due to the wind, but they were still quite comfortable.
The view from the sky is amazing!
We chose to stay at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa as we love snorkelling and we had heard that this was the place with the best snorkelling out of your room. It did not disappoint. Also, my husband is a Hilton Honors gold member, which gave us a few perks like free breakfast and Internet.
We had an overwater bungalow (just like during our honeymoon!) and getting into the sea to snorkel from our private deck was a breeze.
The visibility in the water was good and the coral around the furthest bungalows were still quite good.
There were many colourful fish around and we even had a little table with a glass to see them from inside our room (the girls loved this!). We also managed to see an octopus, a moray eel, a star fish and some sharks.
The food was good and the service great. I must say that it was a hard place to leave after 6 nights, as everybody was so kind and thoughtful (especially with the little ones). We were very pleased with the hotel and the food and drinks were amazing. The location is a gem: the colour of the sea is amazing and the green mountain just behind the hotel, make for a dramatic sight! I loved it!
We also saw some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets ever!
We were lucky enough to see 2 of the hotel’s Polynesian dance shows and they were both great.
The dancers were really good and they took the little girls to dance with them (they had a blast!).
We also experienced some traditional Polynesian food, cooked in an earth oven… delicious (see my Hilton Moorea review for more details).
During our stay in Moorea we just relaxed and swam everyday.
One day though we decided to rent a car from Albert and do a little DIY excursion around the northern part of the island.
We first went up to the Belvedere lookout, from where you can see both Opunohu and Cook’s Bays: breathtaking!
On the way back down, we stopped to visit the Titiroa Marae, a very interesting archaeological site in the middle of the forest.
We also visited the Opunohu Agricultural School where we tested some of their amazing jams, including pineapple & vanilla, pineapple & coconut, papaya, grapefruit and tiaré!
We then went to see Opunohu Bay and Cook’s Bay from close. So so so beautiful!
Then we went to “Jus de Fruit de Moorea”, the local fruit juice company where you can sample and buy some amazing juices (called rotui) and liquors.
I strongly recommend you taste the Vanilla infused rum and the Vanilla cream liquor made by Manutea and that they sell: amazing. Buy them here as they are even cheaper than at the airport!
We also saw the Pierced Mountain during the day: a mountain with a hole on the top!
Another breathtaking spot was the Toatea Overlook from which you can see the Sofitel, the fantastic lagoon (look at those colours!) and Tahiti on the horizon! It was truly an amazing sight!
The last stop of the day was Maharepa, the main commercial village of the island. If you want, you can do some shopping here. My husband bought me a Tahitian black pearl at Tahia which was the perfect anniversary gift! I LOVE it! 🙂
We also had a ride on one of the hotel’s paddle boats to see the lagoon and the hotel from a different perspective.
I was truly impressed by Moorea and its people. I was not expecting to like it as much as I did, as I had always heard of how beautiful Bora Bora was, but little about Moorea. It was the true surprise of this trip.
Also, if Moorea is the only island you intend to visit during your stay, it is much more convenient to catch the fast ferry from Papeete.
We will definitely be back!
Unfortunately we could not find seats on a direct flight between Moorea and Bora Bora, so we had to fly via Raiatea… which meant more rough take offs and landings and took 1 hour and 15 minutes instead of 40. But the view from the plane was UNBELIEVABLE! On the flight to Bora Bora you want to be seated on the left hand side of the plane or you won’t be able to see the islands! Remember the seats are not assigned, so you need to line up soon for boarding. We were lucky as families travelling with kids get priority boarding. 😉 On the way to Bora Bora, we got great views of Moorea:
And, finally, the pearl of the South Pacific: Bora Bora!
I had been dreaming of coming here since I was a child and seeing it from the sky made my heart jump… but seeing it from the sea, just outside the airport was even better.
I don’t think I have ever seen sea water of such an amazing colour as this! The view caught me by surprise as I did not expect such a site right at the airport!!!
As we had stayed at the Hilton in Moorea, we stayed with them and booked at the Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa. The place is amazing as the hotel is on a motu (a small island in front of the mainland) and the colours of the sea are breathtaking, but our experience of the hotel was not as perfect as Moorea’s (see review).
Our overwater bungalow was almost double in size as the one we had in Moorea and it was lovely. Every detail was taken care of and the decks were gigantic, though it was very windy and the sea was too choppy for us to be able to swim from the bungalow (apparently July and August are always quite windy there)!
We had an amazing view over the horizon and loved to see all the different shades of blue of the lagoon. And many fish would come under our bungalow, expecting to be fed!
The snorkelling at the resort is quite good. The coral is in reasonably good condition and there are some coloured patches with beautiful shells. The best part was the visibility: when the sun is out, it feels like swimming in a pool filled with tropical fish! Amazing!
The hotel has a fantastic spot, called The Million Dollar View. It is at the top of the hill, next to the Spa, and you can also choose to have a massage done out there. The view is indeed amazing. On one side, you can see the main island of Bora Bora (including Matira Point – the main beach of Bora Bora) and the view stretches out to Raiatea and Taha’a on clear days!
On the other side, you can see the whole resort.
I could never tire of looking at the lagoon… what colours! It was my absolute favourite spot!
The food is great at all 3 restaurants and the staff are always attentive (see review).
There is also a little infinity pool, which is a nice touch, especially for the kids (though the lagoon was just too perfect not to swim in it!).
Unlike the hotels on the other side of the island (like Le Meridien), one side of the resort has beautiful sunset views. You can even see Maupiti on clear days!
This island is so magical that many people decide to get married here! And we did see a wedding during our stay!
We had decided to just relax, but in the end we booked an excursion through the hotel. We did a half day excursion in the lagoon with shark and sting ray feeding, snorkelling in the coral gardens and a final stop at the lagoonarium near Le Meridien. The people running the excursion were quite funny and we had a good time, but it was windy and the sea was way too rough to enjoy swimming. Also, 20 minutes at the shark feeding and coral gardens were not enough (and there were way too many people)… We had the little ones with us, so I stayed with them on the boat and did not get a chance to alternate with my husband as there was not enough time. I have done something similar years ago in Belize (Caye Caulker) and liked it much more there as there were only 6 people doing the shark feeding.
I instead loved the stop at the lagoonarium. The location is to die for: exactly what you picture in your mind when you think of Bora Bora. The day was beautiful and sunny. The lagoon in that spot is turquoise and you can see the green Otemanu Mountain in the background. Just perfect.
At the lagoonarium we (including our 6 year old and our 3 year old) swam with lots of colourful fish and sharks (these were about 1.5 metres – 5 feet in length), patted sting rays, fed turtles and just soaked in the view! It was hard to leave!
And it was even harder to say bye to Bora Bora. It sure is one of the most beautiful islands on earth!
It is an amazing place and the lagoon is just so beautiful!
The evening flight from Bora Bora to Tahiti was 45 minutes. When we arrived at the hotel (the Manava Suite Resort), it felt like “home”. They were also kind enough to give us the same room as before, which made the girls really happy. It was too late to go out, so we had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant again… the food was good!
The next morning we had an early flight to go back home and we saw a HUGE shooting star while we were waiting for our cab to go to the airport. Easy to guess what I wished for! 😉
Just a quick reminder: if you are transiting via another country, do NOT buy any liquor at the duty free shop in Tahiti or you will either have to exit transit and customs and recheck it into your luggage at departures or throw it out during transit (and yes, it did happen to us at Auckland airport!)!!
I must say that I was expecting a lot from this trip and I was not disappointed. Maybe the Hilton in Bora Bora did not totally fulfil my expectations, but in the end the location and other small factors made up for it. You can read my hotel and restaurant reviews for all the details. It was the perfect anniversary (or honeymoon) destination and we really enjoyed it. The islands are really beautiful… great nature and seaside and the people are among the most hospitable in the world. I was very impressed with the food (I did not have a single bad meal in 15 days!) and came back with a few recipes to try (expect some posts in the near future). Definitely a place I would recommend to visit and one I can’t wait to go back to, maybe to visit different islands!
Mauruuru Roa Polynesia!
MANAVA SUITE RESORT TAHITI
PK 10,5 côté mer – BP 2851 – 98 703 Punaauia – Tahiti
Ph : 47 31 00
Fax : 47 31 01
Email : [email protected]
Email : [email protected]
HILTON MOOREA LAGOON RESORT AND SPA
BP 1005, Papetoai,
98728, French Polynesia
Email: [email protected]
HILTON BORA BORA NUI RESORT & SPA
BP 502 Vaitape, Bora Bora,
98730, French Polynesia
Email: [email protected]
You have taken us on a fantastic trip: thank you for all the photography, especially that of Moorea, which is my favourite island worldwide I think, the beautiful sunsets and the great pictures of the fishes. Somehow never did get to Bora Bora . . . this series will be filed under my ‘evening dreams’ for a slow , slow personal journey 🙂 ! So glad you obviously had a great time!
Wow! What a fantastic holiday! Happy anniversary to both of you-you have a lovely family, Manu! I’m so glad you got to take such a lovely trip to celebrate (we had one night in downtown LA for our 10th, haha!) Our 25th is in 2 years (can hardly believe it) so this would be the perfect place to go! The airport in Bora Bora must be the most beautiful in the world! Great photos and reviews! 🙂
Great article and pictures, congratulations, who could be in Tahiti right now.
Joselyn Contreras says
Hello, I know this was more than two years ago but I just found this wonderful post. Thanks for a wonderful trip review. My husband and I will be in Tahiti and her islands next week and your post just added more to my excitement. I have a question, since you mentioned that you went to Maldives for your honeymoon, how do you compare the French Polynesian with the Maldives Islands? Maldives is in our bucket list too and would like to know your opinion and which one you liked the most and why. Thanks again for a wonderful review.
Hi Jocelyn… you will LOVE Tahiti! I left a piece of my heart there and would love to be back one day!
The main difference between the Maldives and French Polynesia is the size of the islands. In the Maldives, the islands are quite small and there is usually just 1 resort per island… so if you like to go out to explore or meet the locals, you can’t really do it. That said, the sea is amazing. I always say that the best sea/snorkeling experiences I have had were the ones I had in Tahiti and the Maldives. I am sure you will love both places!!