Tempted by Tahiti

By Liz Fleming

If stressful days at work set your imagination on deserted island mode, I guarantee that what you’re picturing won’t be one bit more idyllic than Tikehau.

A tiny jewel of an island in the exquisite chain of French Polynesian beauties that includes Moorea, Bora Bora, Tahiti and many more. Tikehau is all about silky-blue water, sandy beaches, picture-perfect palm trees and the thatch-roofed cottages locals charmingly call “bangalows” in their beautiful Tahitian-French accents.

Each morning I swam off the private dock of my overwater bungalow while I waited for breakfast to be delivered by outrigger canoe. The servers might have been employees of the hotel, but they looked like a Tahitian warrior god and goddess and, as I nibbled my bacon and watched them paddle away, I felt like French Polynesian royalty too.

Tikehau, gorgeous though she is, is just one of the bevy of beauties that make up the islands of Tahiti and few places in the world offer more jaw-dropping splendor. Cascading waterfalls compete for attention with lush tropical blooms the size of catcher’s mitts, sugary white beaches and utterly stunning people.

Bora Bora is officially the romance capital of French Polynesia simply because ‘Pora Pora’ – a European corruption since the letter ‘B’ doesn’t exist in the Tahitian language – means ‘Romantic Island.” Studded with über-elegant hotels catering to starry-eyed newly-weds, it’s not a singles spot.

I was happily reading at my solitary dinner table when a curious woman approached. “No one comes to Bora Bora alone,” she said. “My husband thinks you’re waiting for your lover, but I think you’re divorced and spending your ex’s money.” It killed me to tell her I was just a journalist doing her job.

In addition to romance, Bora Bora offered remarkable guided sea life encounters. Our multi-talented guide, who steered the boat with his feet while playing a ukulele and doing Elvis Presley imitations, introduced us to a velvety fleet of stingrays. Pulling me into the water, he handed me a small, dead fish.

“Hold it at the base of your throat.”

Instantly, a stingray enveloped me like a wet velvet blanket and in one slurp, the fish disappeared and so did the stingray. Fickle fish.

At another shoal, outfitted in masks and flippers, we held onto a rope in the water, as our guide belted out “Don’t Be Cruel” and tossed chunks of fish. The water erupted with lemon sharks, chowing down as they swam between, around and through us, fins rubbing legs and snouts brushing sides and faces. We’d been told they wouldn’t eat us – I tried hard to remember that.

Moorea rivals Bora Bora as a honeymoon choice and strikes a perfect balance between blissfully-beachy and slightly-urban-witha-bit-of-shopping. What really sets it apart from its sister islands, however, is a focus on sea turtles.

On Moorea, Te Mana o te Moana, a group dedicated to saving sea turtles from extinction, operates a visitor-friendly center where you’ll learn that so many sea turtle eggs and hatchlings are eaten by natural predators, the odds of reaching reproductive maturity are one in one thousand. And, local people have always eaten turtles and their eggs for celebrations – as we would eat turkeys. Visitors learn how injured turtles are nursed back to health, and see how small turtles are fostered. Best of all, you’ll hear that Tahitian children now come to be taught to love the baby turtles and are then enlisted to guilt their parents into choosing something else for dinner!

Tahiti herself is a must-see island, offering lush tropical beauty combined with duty-free shopping and fancy French cuisine. Because French citizens are able to work on the Tahitian islands without a passport, many top chefs spend time enjoying a tropical escape – seriously upping the culinary quotient. The finest restaurants in Paris would be hard-pressed to compete.

A paradise that’s just remote enough to keep the tourists from taking over, the Tahitian islands see fewer visitors in a year than Hawaii sees in just 10 days. Scattered in the South Pacific Ocean like a handful of the black pearls for which they’re so famous, French Polynesia is 7.5 hours from Los Angeles, 10.5 hours from NYC and 13.5 (plus a stopover) from Vancouver, but the long journey is well worth it for the beauty and peace you find there.

FROM OUR CWT TRAVEL ADVISOR – CAROL CONOVER, Manager, Atlanta, Georgia Branch

Wondering about the best time to visit French Polynesia? From November through May, the climate is warm and humid, with daily temperatures of about 85◦F. From June through October, the climate is cooler and drier with daily temperatures of about 80◦F.

SEE & DO – Mother Nature puts on quite a show on the island of Tahiti! At the Arohoho Blowhole, see how years of coastal erosion of the rock combine with big swells to send massive plumes of water high into the air. At Les Trois Cascades, known locally as the Faarumai Waterfalls in northeastern Tahiti Nui, give yourself time for a dip in the rock pool at the bottom of the falls to cool off after your trek through the lush rainforest.

SLEEP – Try the elegant InterContinental Resort on Moorea, home to the Te Mana o te Moana turtle center, and the luxe Le Meridien Resort or the über chic Four Seasons Resort on Bora Bora.

TASTE – Try the Blue Banana in Tahiti. Sit on a gorgeous deck by a lagoon, overlooking Moorea and enjoy reasonably priced menu choices such as a foie gras burger or escargot pizza.

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