Heaven on Earth- Honeymoon in French Polynesia

Tahiti/Moorea/Tahaa/Raiatea/Bora Bora

Overview

French Polynesia consists of 118 islands and atolls, 67 of them are inhabited. To choose only a few was quite a challenge. This vacation was also extra special- we are going on our HONEYMOON! We did our research, took into account the travel time, the cost and landed on a very good mix- some relaxation and some active days, which turned out to be just perfect. We knew we wanted to spend some time in the overwater bungalows (it was A MUST for me ever since I first heard of Bora Bora), but we also wanted to experience the local culture, explore the islands and not only relax at the resorts. Airbnb saved us A TON of money while at the same time letting us see the islands from a local’s perspective. Our hosts were incredible and we felt like part of the family, which is hardly ever a feeling you get at the hotel. Bungalows, on the other hand, were a SPECIAL treat, and I highly recommend having this experience at least once in a lifetime. Welcome to PARADISE!

TAHITI

March 23-26, 2018

All international flights come in and out of Tahiti. We flew in at 6 o’clock in the morning after an 8.5 hr flight from Los Angeles. I have to say, it was not a bad flight. We were lucky to have middle seat between us empty, which helped to move around and we even got a few hours of sleep. French Polynesia is in the same time zone as Hawaii- 6hrs back from Boston. Not the easiest jet lag, but was not extremely hard either. As there is pretty much no nightlife in the islands, we would go to bed around 10pm and due to the jet lag would wake up reasonably early, which allowed us to enjoy the day without being exhausted.

Tahiti is a transit island. At least that’s how we felt and a few other travelers said the same. You don’t go to French Polynesia to stay in Tahiti. Papeete- the capital of French Polynesia is a busy city and it comes with everything a city has-noise, some trash, some crime. That being said, we never felt unsafe, even walking at night, as we stayed at Airbnb about 20-30 min walk from the downtown Papeete. I would recommend spending no more than 3 days in Tahiti, adjusting to the time zone, and then moving on to the other islands. That’s exactly what we did.

Travel tip: Make sure to either bring local currency or take out cash out of ATM located right at the airport. The currency is CFP franc and it comes in thousands. 1 USD is almost 100 XPF and that’s the easiest way to round things up to. If you see something cost 27 000, just drop the two zeroes and you will have the approximate amount in USD – $270 and so on. The reason you need cash is that a lot of places, especially in the remote islands do not take credit cards. Taxis also only took cash. As the islands are very safe, we took the cash out once and it was enough to last us for the rest of the trip. When we could, we always used the card, but you definitely need to have cash handy.

Papeete

As we arrived early, we decided to seize the day and go explore the town. But not before we dropped off our bags, ate the croissants that our host graciously left us and took a swim in the pool that came with the apartment- after all, we just landed from snow to a gorgeous 85F sunny day! IMG_0757Talking about the sun. DO wear sunscreen. LOTS of it. The sun is very strong and I learned it the hard way. We brought a lot of creams/sprays, but I was not necessarily the most diligent in applying it every few hours. Do not make this mistake if you don’t want to be in pain for a couple of days on your vacation! Also- sunscreen (as most of the things) is very expensive in French Polynesia. So bring a ton in your checked suitcase. Don’t forget the after sun lotion too- aloe was not easy to come by and I paid at least double for what it costs in Boston.

We walked into town for lunch and came by a row of little restaurants close to the waterfront. We picked one called To’Ata and still remember it as one of the best meals in Tahiti. Their maki roll was delicious, poisson cru– super fresh and the savory crepe very filling. As you will see from the later parts of this post- we ate A LOT of fish. It’s local and super tasty.

Definitely, try poisson cru– it’s French Polynesian dish typically made from raw tuna, lime juice, onion, cucumber and covered in fresh coconut milk- yumm!

We walked into town stopping by for some photos near the water, checked out Bougainville Park, Notre Dame Cathedral and ended up at the Municipal Market for some souvenirs, as we read online that it’s the best place to get them and to do so before going to the other islands. Well, let me tell you- it is NOT the best place to buy and as the market itself is pretty cool- I did not find it that much of a ‘must see’ place. We heard it’s incredible on Sunday mornings at 4-6am when the locals bring in the fish and the local produce, but even with the jet lag, we did not manage to wake up at 3am to make it to the market by 4am. Let me know how it is if you do  🙂 .

The Cathedral is beautiful but simple- do not expect anything like you are used to in Europe. I’d say it is worth a visit nonetheless.

The Bougainville Park is tiny- I was slightly disappointed as it was one of the sights listed for Papeete. Up to you- visit if you are passing by, but don’t go out of your way to find it 🙂

 Overall, we were pretty happy with the day in town but were really looking forward to seeing some nature. And that’s why we had a 4×4 safari booked for the following day to explore Papenoo Valley!

Papenoo Valley

We booked this full day (9am-5pm) tour by emailing Tahiti Safari Expedition a few days before the trip. Payment was done in cash at the time of pick up from the location right down the street from our Airbnb and cost 140 000 XPF or roughly 140 USD for two people. Absolutely worth the money! Our guide Augustine was informative, funny and most importantly safely got us across the valley. It’s not for people that are scared of heights or narrow roads that go along a steep edge. It was 6 of us and one of the ladies had to sit in the front with the guide. Sitting in the back of the truck and going on a very bumpy road can get you slightly car sick if you are prone to that.

We loved it though. This is what we came here to see- wild, unspoiled nature, waterfalls, valleys and green lush mountains.

The guide showed us the native plants, explained how certain leaves could be used as a plate, toilet paper or an umbrella if you are caught in the wild. He showed us hibiscus flower that blooms yellow, as the day goes on – turns orange and in the evening ends as brown- short but beautiful life. We swam in the river and admired several waterfalls (Tapatari, Vaiharuru), drove through the  mountain tunnel and by the Vaihiria lake.

Lunch was not included (we stopped at the store before leaving Papeete to get water/beer), so either bring your own snacks (highly recommend bringing collapsible cooler for the trip), or you can buy lunch at the restaurant in the valley- we stopped there and had food, which I have to say was not that great for the price. But it is deep in the rugged valley, so we did not expect a gourmet meal of course.

This excursion was definitely what made worth staying in Tahiti. We did not do any other 4×4 safaris through the rough terrain in other islands, so we were very happy to have this booked and seeing the island life that we would not normally be able to access by car.

Around Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti 

Our third and last day in Tahiti fell on a Palm Sunday. The islands are quite religious- you will see many churches all around and not much is happening on this day of the week. French Polynesians like to spend time with their families, relax and recharge before the work week. As we were only 20 min walk from the Notre Dame Cathedral, we decided to take advantage of being there on a holy day and attend the Mass with the locals. It was an amazing experience! Mass was held in French, but all of the songs were performed in Tahitian. The church was completely full and as we were standing near the door one of the locals motioned us over to come up and brought us to the second floor where the choir was sitting! IMG_8463I am still not sure why we were chosen, but we got to sit right near the fan (there is no AC in the cathedral, so it was quite warm), we got to listen to the beautiful music and to top it off- we got to take a picture with the priest at the end of the Mass 🙂 . I randomly wore red and white colors and it seemed to be the colors that all of the choir singers wore and so did the priest 🙂 !

After the Mass, we went to Avis right downtown and picked up our rental car. The plan was to drive around Tahiti Nui, then Tahiti Iti and basically make a big circle with stops along the way. IMG_8517The island does not seem so big and Avis employee said it will take about 2 hrs. Well, he was wayyy off.

We realized that quickly after we started driving and put in the points in the GPS. Which, to be honest, is not the most helpful device in some parts of the island. For example, we were looking for the O’Belvedere Restaurant and ended up driving on the unpaved road to someone’s residence… Luckily, we asked for directions at the local supermarket and one of the customers literally drove us to the point where the road splits, pointed us toward the right direction and after a slightly scary and long winding road up we reached the O’Belvedere! Let me tell you- do NOT get discouraged of the drive. The view at the restaurant is breathtaking! It was worth the time we wasted getting lost and the slightly scary drive up.

If there is one place you want to go in Tahiti- O’Belvedere Restaurant should be it. The place also has an outdoor pool, so bring your bathing suit if you want to relax and cool off after the drive! Even the view from the bathroom is fantastic 🙂 ! The food was very good too, service slow and relaxed- come prepared to not rush and just enjoy that amazing view!IMG_0826

After a long lunch, we continued the drive around the island and made a few stops that are worth mentioning- The Lighthouse, Trou de Souffleur de Arahoho blowhole and Les 3 Cascades Faarumai waterfalls were the most impressive.

Right near the blowhole, there was a souvenir shop where they sold pearls and the prices were better than at the market in Tahiti. Worth making a quick stop.

We continued around the island, entered Tahiti Iti and were aiming for the sunset at the beach, but the beach we looked for was nowhere to be found even if the GPS said “you have arrived” 🙂 . To not waste more time, we stopped at the little plaza near the water where the locals were hanging out, playing music and laid out our picnic.

Wine, cheese, and grapes were the perfect snack after a long drive. We did not get to see the southern part of Tahiti Nui, where some of the surfing beaches are, but the views at the O’Belvedere were worth missing that part of the island. If you want to make a full circle with stops- make sure to give yourself a full day and not a couple of hours as Avis rep told us.

One last advice for Tahiti- if you are staying in Papeete, make sure to check out Place Vaiete in the evening – around 6-9pm. That’s when the local food trucks roulottes open up for dinner and you will have reasonably priced food with many options to chose from! We went there two nights in a row and tried different trucks- got tuna tartare in one, then crepe the next night- options are really endless!

MOOREA

March 26- 30, 2018

Moorea was one of our favorite islands. It has a totally different feel than Tahiti, yet it’s only 7 minutes flight (or 30 min ferry) away. The reason we flew rather than taking a ferry was that we had the Bora Bora pass on Air Tahiti. If you are going to more than two islands, this pass saves a good amount of money. But you have to take all the flights, so we could not take a boat to Moorea and then fly out from there. It was funnier than anything- by the time flight attendant explained the safety procedures, we were already landing 🙂 !

As we were here for full four days, we had a rental car booked (again from Avis). They picked us up from the airport, which was very convenient. You NEED a car in Moorea, if you want to explore the island. We stayed at another Airbnb here, which was super nice, but not close to town or the airport, so a car was essential in getting around.

I cannot say enough about our amazing Airbnb and the host Caroline, her husband and sweet daughter.

Caroline made us fresh juices and light and healthy breakfast every morning and we thoroughly enjoyed the conversations with this lovely family every time we were around to hang out with them.  The house is modern, clean, right on the water and close to the coral garden – we enjoyed their canoe and paddle board that was free for use.

We were really sad to leave this place when the time came to move on with our trip.

Moorea’s Beaches

Temae Beach

Part of why we loved Moorea so much is because of its beaches. The first one we went to straight from the airport was a public Temae Beach. It was our first dip in the warm blue water since the arrival to French Polynesia and it was heavenly.

We had our first stingray go by and were scared to come near it 🙂 . Oh, how much that will change as the trip goes on! The beach was pretty much empty, there were clean bathroom facilities just across the street and there was one vendor making grilled chicken or beef with french fries for a small cost which was perfect for a quick lunch.

Travel tip– definitely bring water/reef shoes. Most of the beaches have coral and the shoes were a lifesaver. There are a lot of  ‘sea cucumbers’- the long, eggplant or cucumber resembling creatures all over the bottom of the ocean as well and it’s not the most pleasant feeling to step on one with barefoot.

Right nearby (and close to the airport) there is a beautiful spot for the view of the lagoon and the Sofitel hotel overwater bungalows- Toatea Lookout. Stop for a quick photo, definitely worth it!IMG_1109IMG_1112

Ta’ahiamanu Beach

Another gorgeous public beach. Long, quiet, empty- that’s what amazed us most in French Polynesia. You go to this beautiful beach and there is no one there!

Any beach in Hawaii you have to walk a bit to find an empty spot- not in Moorea! Just pick a palm tree for the shade and enjoy. If you are on this side of the island- 2 min drive away is a place called Tropical Garden.

They have lunch on certain days (one of them is Friday, but check ahead). When we went, lunch was not an option, but we got a freshly made papaya and pineapple juice, checked out a little vanilla farm and enjoyed the view from the terrace.IMG_1104

It’s a steep little hill, but our rental car had no problem making it up to the parking area. While you are there, try the local jams too. We bought guava as well as mixed fruit one and enjoyed it during the trip with a fresh baguette and cheese.

Les Tipaniers Beach

This beach technically is not public (as far as I know), but there is free parking right across the street from the Hotel Les Tipaniers and nobody stops you from going into the beach, which is right past the hotel. We went there twice in one day actually. One was for lunch, as the food was great and the drinks were amazing and the second time we sat on the beach and enjoyed the sunset.

The leaning palm tree is a picture perfect spot and again, there were no crowds fighting to take a photo.

Coco Beach Motu

Well, and the best for last! There are other beaches in Moorea and I am sure everyone has their preference, but we could not get enough of Coco Beach Motu. It’s a private island that has a little restaurant run by a family and to get there you need a water taxi.

We called the restaurant and told them what time we wanted to be picked up from Les Tipaniers pier (the beach near the hotel in the previous chapter right above). The water taxi comes every 30 minutes and it takes only a few minutes to get to Coco Beach. We spent two blissful afternoons there and if I could teleport now, that’s where I would want to be.

The water is crystal clear, shallow and the stingrays come to play! We did not even have to feed them- the first day they were just coming and rubbing against us like dogs asking to be pet!

The other day someone suggested to give them a piece of tuna and they loved it, but I managed to stick my finger in one’s mouth and she pinched it scaring me for a second 🙂 . Just hard enough to not want to feed them by hand again.IMG_1041

I only pet them from then on 🙂 .

Hiking, tasting, and culture

There are SO many things to do in Moorea. It feels like a true tropical island, not overly touristy, no cities, but enough to be occupied for days. No coincidence we spent the longest time on this trip in this island- four nights and  four full days.

As I was too sunburnt from only a few hours on the beach, our second day in Moorea was a perfect time to go hiking and try to stay out of the sun for at least a few hours. We chose The Three Coconuts hike (Col de 3 Cocotiers) based on the great reviews and the fact that the hike was starting at the Belvedere Lookout, which we also wanted to see. Actually, backtrack even more. Before you reach Belvedere Lookout there are a couple of stops you need to make along the way. One of them- Pineapple Route access point- we walked a bit instead of driving as our rental car agreement specifically said we are not to drive on this unpaved road. Just off the road, you can see the pineapples growing right in the field.

As I’ve never seen pineapple plant- it was very cool to see them in their natural habitat 🙂 . Surprisingly, the leaves are VERY sharp and spiky, so be careful not to get your leg sliced as you are walking by.

Drive up the road towards Belvedere Lookout and you will come to a Lycee Agricole Opunohu– local agriculture school, where you can try their jams, get fresh juice, but most importantly- fresh ice cream! Try coconut, mango, strawberry, and pistachio- we loved them all!

Continue up and you will reach a couple French Polynesian temples- marae. It does not take long to walk around and look at both Marae Titiroa & Marae Ahu-O-Mahine – make a quick stop before the hike. IMG_8726

And now you are ready for the Belvedere! Sweeping views of the two bays ahead and a perfect picture op again 🙂 .IMG_8704 (1)

If you are done here, you could turn around and go back down. Otherwise- pack some water, bug spray and a few snacks and get ready for the hike!

It’s clearly marked, so you would have to work pretty hard in order to get lost.

It’s not extremely difficult, but you need to be in a semi-good shape to make it to the top. It took us almost 3 hours round trip. It did not help that my foot slipped and I rolled my ankle, which luckily did not break and I did not feel the horrible pain till a few hours later, once we were back and I was sitting down with my foot stretched out. Needless to say- the views were worth the effort!img_0995.jpg

Make sure to go all the way to the top. It should be the sign of 400+ meters as well as a little weather measuring station when you reach the peak, that’s where the nicest views are. Don’t stop at the 300m mark!

We had some other hikes planned but plans change with circumstances. By the evening my ankle was swelling and hurt so much, I was crying in pain. Luckily our host was a physiotherapist and he confirmed nothing is broken. Granted- next few days were very easy on any physical activities and we mainly enjoyed the beaches and the food.

Now that I’m talking about food- if you have time, definitely visit Manutea Tahiti Rotui Juice factory and distillery.  In fact, we stopped there on the way from the airport, after the beach on the first day in Moorea. They let you try different kinds of juices that are made right there and ONLY sold in French Polynesia. There is a delicious pineapple wine and a coconut liquor that is to die for.

After the tasting, you can purchase whatever you liked (we stocked up on juices for the  week) and visit the actual factory. None of the machines were on during the time we visited as they did not have enough fresh fruits to be making juice that day. In order to operate it needs as a minimum of 5 tons of fresh fruit, otherwise, if they receive less, they use it for making jams or alcohol products.

As all of the islands, Moorea is not famous for its nightlife. Dinner is typically no later than 8pm and a lot of restaurants are closed on Tuesdays. The first night we wanted to go out for dinner, our host recommended a place called Coco d’Isle. The restaurant is not right on the beach, but instead of the floor, the tables were on the sand! It was a very interesting menu as well- you could choose pretty much ANYTHING- from local fish to sushi, to pasta and pizza to Indian dishes! The menu was so long it was almost overwhelming!

I settled on the tuna plate while Sean had a pizza. We were both pretty shocked at the size of the portions 🙂 . Let me tell you, we did not leave hungry. And yes, we somehow found room for dessert.

If you are looking for some culture, I definitely recommend visiting Tiki Village. Entrance is free and it’s a nice little village to walk around in.

Twice a week (I believe on Tuesday and Friday) they do a Polynesian Dance show, which we’ve heard is very good. The plan was to go to the show Tuesday night, but after my ankle incident, we stayed in and I rested my foot. Our flight out was Friday morning so we could not attend that show either. Our host (again, thank you, Caroline) suggested that we check out the show at the Intercontinental Resort, which we went to on Wednesday evening.  If you REALLY want to sit front and center and have dinner in front of the pool, you can make reservations, but it’s not cheap by no means. We instead had dinner at so-called “snack bar” and then sat at the side tables and enjoyed the same show for free. It was actually very well done and entertaining.

Some dancers were the same ones that perform at the Tiki Village, the choreography is definitely more modernized and the pool added some flare. We absolutely enjoyed it!

As you can see-  Moorea has so much to offer. We were sad to leave, but the next chapter proved to be even more spectacular in a totally different way! Time to check out our first overwater bungalow!

TAHA’A

March 30 – April 2, 2018

Taha’a is also called “Vanilla Island” as it produces most of French Polynesia’s vanilla. When deciding which islands to visit, we were torn between going to Huahine or seeing Taha’a and Raiatea as they are so close to each other. Two instead of one won and we skipped Huahine on this trip.

There is no airport in Taha’a, all flights go into Raiatea and then it’s either water taxi or the resort you are staying at picks you up by their boat. As we were flying from Moorea, the flight first made a stop in Bora Bora- for a second we panicked- did we get on a wrong plane 🙂 ?? No, all was right. We deplaned, waited about 15-20 min at the airport with the beautiful view and got back on the same plane and even got the same seats.

IMG_1116
View at the airport in Bora Bora

Travel tip: The seats on Air Tahiti flights between the islands are not assigned. You sit where you want/where there is space left or where the flight attendant points you to sit to (if the flight is not full, they have to even out the balance, so everyone can’t sit on the same side of the plane). If you want to get the best aerial view of Bora Bora you should sit on the LEFT side of the plane while landing and on the RIGHT side when you are leaving Bora Bora. I learned that as we were on the way to Raiatea, so as we deplaned in Bora Bora I resumed my same seat on the RIGHT side and took great videos/ pictures of Bora Bora as we were taking off. IMG_9519I think those were better than when actually coming into the island a few days later.

Vahine Private Island

Flight to Raiatea was about 20 minutes if so. Upon landing, we were greeted by the representative of our resort- Vahine Island Private Island Resort and Spa, who took our suitcases to the boat and another 40 min later we arrived to paradise!

Vahine resort is on a private island in Tahaa’s lagoon and there are no words to describe the atmosphere, the beauty, the overall amazingness of the experience while staying there. There are only 9 bungalows- 3 of them overwater and we were lucky to have one of them- the very end one with the most privacy and incredible sunsets overlooking Bora Bora in the distance. Because the resort is so small- you get personalized attention and honestly feel SO special. It’s managed by an incredible Italian Elizabeth and her chef husband Pierre. We spoke to Elizabeth on the phone a few weeks before the arrival and she could not have left a better impression. She helped us book a tour of Tahaa, answered all our questions- we spent 30 minutes on the phone with her, so when we finally met her, we felt like we already knew each other!

The bungalow was very comfortable, with a big glass table that you can open and feed the fish, had a hammock outside, 2 lounge chairs and 2 chairs to sit and enjoy the sunset. Champagne bottle was waiting for us with a lovely note from the staff- I was so overwhelmed with all the beauty I cried from happiness. Now that does not happen often 🙂 .  And that’s when we made a decision to extend the time in this heaven on Earth. We confirmed with Elizabeth that the bungalow is available for the third night, told our Airbnb in Raiatea that we will be coming a day later (did not get a refund unfortunately, but it was a very last minute change) and that’s when we really felt like we are on our HONEYMOON.

We swam near our bungalow, laid in the sun (or the shade:) ), practiced some yoga on the grass, got incredible massages at the spa- it was one of the best couple days relaxing, spending quality time and just loving life. Resort had all of the paddle board, snorkel, kayak equipment to use any time you want, so we enjoyed the water activities a couple of times and took advantage of the mini snorkeling trip to the coral garden that was free of charge with our awesome guide Roy. It was incredible to be surrounded by all these colorful fish and it was only seven of us swimming around. While we were staying at Vahine, there were only  ten or so guests all together! There are no locks on the door and we never once used the safe that was available in the bungalow.

Roy was not just driving the boat for the coral garden excursion- he also had a little afternoon session teaching how to climb a palm tree, how to open a coconut, made some fresh coconut milk for us to try with the local rum- it was always something to do if you get bored with that crystal clear water 🙂 . And of course, the island is perfect for the photo shoots- bring lots of bathing suits, I sure did 🙂 .

I must mention food. Pierre is an excellent chef and we were totally spoiled with his creations! Every morning during breakfast, we would be presented with the four course meal menu for that night. If you don’t like something or have an allergy- you can tell the  staff then, so it can be modified for dinner. We enjoyed every single bite! Oh, and right near the dock, around dinner time sharks would come and circle around the light! On our last night there, we saved some scraps of food and ‘shared’ 🙂 .

 

Side note- half board meals are mandatory while staying at this resort. What that means is that breakfast and dinner are included, but the cost is not part of the room cost. You pay for it at the end of the stay and it’s not cheap- it came to be around $180 per person per day. You can buy lunch there as well, but we opted out of that and would have light snacks that we brought when coming to the island.

Travel tip: I mentioned before and I will do it again- bring your own collapsible cooler. I cannot say how handy it was while on this trip. For example, water is not free at any  restaurant or resort. However, typically you can bring your own bottle of water. So we would buy a 6 pack of 1.5 liter bottles in the store and take it with us on the island trips, excursions, even bring to a restaurant. In Bora Bora, 500 ml water bottle cost $6 at the resort restaurant. While in the store you can get 1.5 Liter one for $1! The cooler was super convenient packing any fruits, snacks, cheese etc. and having a picnic/light lunch mid day. It also served as a carry-on item for the flights between the islands. We would stuff it with water, food or anything that did not fit in the luggage and nobody said anything at the security. There is no need to get rid of your water no matter how big the bottle is going from one island to another. Another tip:  Buy your alcohol either at Duty Free at the airport or at the local stores in the islands. You can bring your own wine for the dinner at the resort and pay just a small corking fee. You can also bring opened or full wine bottles on the flights from one island to the next. I put it in the same cooler and nobody ever said a thing. Trust me, cost of food alone is very high in French Polynesia, so having your own alcohol definitely helps to reduce the bill at the end of the night.

Taha’a Island Tour

As we were staying so close to “Vanilla Island”, it felt wrong to not go and actually see it. With Elizabeth’s help we booked a half a day tour with Poe-Rani Tours and we were very glad we did it. Our chef (who can also drive a boat when need be!) dropped us off at the pier in Taha’a, where Aro, our personal guide picked us up in a similar 4X4 truck that we did the safari in Tahiti. IMG_9800There was no offroading here, we literally circled around the island on a very well paved road- the only road that goes all around Taha’a. The guide was super informative, friendly and funny. We stopped along the way for the views of the bays, Aro even picked up a land crab and showed us up close how he can hold a stick 🙂 .

We got a lesson on how to make a flute (the real Tahitian way, you play it with your nose, not the mouth! “Playing from the heart”), stopped at vanilla farm, pearl farm and learned how the pearls are grown (I never knew they are not naturally round, the roundness comes from the little balls that are cut out of Mississippi River shell and inserted into the oyster!).

For a light lunch, our guide opened a coconut, we had a refreshing coconut water for a drink, and then he shredded the same coconut and we ate it with ripe bananas! Local, tasty and healthy!

The time went by way too fast, but we enjoyed Vahine Island Resort to the fullest. We made a promise to return for our 10th year wedding anniversary, providing all goes well and we don’t find another more magical place on Earth to go to 🙂 .

Talking about magic- the last morning in Vahine, as we are leaving our bungalow, we see this beautiful rainbow! There was no rain anywhere that we saw (it did not rain the whole trip, except for one 5 min shower), so it really felt super special- like someone is saying to us- don’t be sad to leave, you will be OK, you are well taken care of. IMG_0112IMG_1307

RAIATEA

April 2-4, 2018

Raiatea is the second largest of the Society islands after Tahiti. Raiatea and Taha’a are connected by the same coral reef and potentially once have been a single island. It is home to the most sacred Polynesian temple – Taputapuatea. From that, Raiatea is also called the “Sacred Island”. We got there by boat, about 40 min pleasant ride.

Despite the size, this island is very relaxed and absolutely not filled with tourists. It was a complete opposite of say Tahiti. The towns are small, there is again one main road going around the island, but the nature is breathtaking.

We shortened our stay to two nights here, since we were mesmerized by Vahine, so we did not have a lot of time to explore Raiatea, but got a good feel for it by circling the island with our lovely guide Tea. We did not plan to have a guide. The plan was to rent a car and drive around by ourselves. But as you know, plans change, so we adapt. The one automatic car that the rental place had available, broke down the day before our arrival. So our Airbnb host offered that his friend drives us around for pretty much same cost. The car would have been $50 for the day, Tea asked for $80- we were happy to pay and have the knowledgeable local girl to drive us around the island. It was nice to just enjoy the scenery and not have to look at the map to find the sights.

We started the tour with the hike to Mt Tapioi. It was relatively easy hike in comparison to the one we did in Moorea, but at the same time it was almost harder because it was VERY hot and there was pretty much no shade. We were completely soaked with sweat by the time we reached the top, but it was well worth it. The view is incredible with the sight of the lagoon and the neighboring Taha’a island. IMG_0179For the reference, it took us about 40 min to go up and about 30 min down. Pretty much anyone can do it, just take it slow and easy and BRING WATER.

One of the most important stops we made circling the island was of course the sacred temple – Taputapuatea marae. According to Tea, these sacred grounds Polynesians still come to visit from the other islands.

Out of respect, shoes need to be off while walking on the stones of the temple. My feet were burning hot by the time I walked across, but I was able to see it from up close!

Right after- Sean used his coconut survival skills learned in Vahine and Taha’a and managed to successfully open a coconut! Looks like we would survive on the uninhabited island 🙂 !

We drove around admiring the nature, saw incredible waterfalls coming down the mountain side that apparently just got rained on (no rain for us at all), stopped for a quick swim at the man made beach- it was a perfect amount of time for everything we wanted to see in Raiatea.

The whole circle with all the stops and the hike, plus the quick swim and the picnic near the marae took us  pretty much all day. We were back just for the sunset, which was the best viewed right at the dock of our Airbnb.

For dinner we walked over to Raiatea Lodge- that was the only place in a walking distance from our Airbnb and we loved the food so much, we came back the following night as well!

Travel tip: Bring a flashlight or two! While even walking in some of the streets of Tahiti they were helpful, in Raiatea they were a MUST. There were pretty much no lights on the road, which let us see an amazing starry sky (something we never get to see living in the city), but to walk even a short distance you definitely need a flashlight.

BORA BORA

April 4-7, 2018

Overwater bungalow life

And so the dream comes true! Bora Bora was on my bucket list for many years and we are finally here! Not to mention- we are staying at the overwater bungalow again! Airbnb in Raiatea was comfortable for two nights, but we were looking forward to experiencing another bungalow and for sure it did not disappoint. Well, I have to be honest. Initial feeling was not as euphoric as it was in Vahine Private Island Resort. And I will explain why. Bora Bora is VERY commercialised. The island is basically made out of resorts and overwater bungalows. Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort was beautiful. Bungalow was more spacious and luxurious than in Vahine. But you feel that you are at a big resort. With a lot of other tourists and honeymooners. You don’t feel that special attention and care as we got in Vahine. That being said, once we took in all of the surroundings, we were still very happy we came here.

If I ever come back to Bora Bora, bungalow is the way to go. The island itself does not have much, we did a one day tour around it (I will cover that later), but the lagoon is magical. The water is crystal clear blue, the Mount Otemanu view was absolutely worth the extra cost- it IS a place to experience at least once in a lifetime.

Laugh if you want, but we brought our own floats for just this island 🙂 . And they were SO fun.

Besides making good photo props, we loved floating around the lagoon right in front of our bungalow. On the last day, after the check out, we still had till 5pm before taking the boat to the airport- we spent hours on the floats in the pool and then handed them over to the other honeymoon couple 🙂 .

So here comes another Travel tip: Consider bringing your own float and the pump to inflate it. They don’t take up much space in the suitcase, but after inflated, you most likely won’t shrink them back, so leave it for the island that you plan to spend the most time on the water.

Lagoon adventure by boat 

We pre-booked the excursion with Moana Adventure Tours (Delux Exclusive package) before the trip, but it seems like we could have gotten a better deal going through the hotel. Regardless, the trip was awesome. We got picked up at 9am and went on the adventure with six other couples from various resorts. The guide was fun, there was juice, beer, snorkel equipment for everyone to use and not long after we were in the middle of the ocean swimming with stingrays and black tip sharks!

The guide fed them raw tuna and the crowd went crazy 🙂 . Sharks just circled around, did not touch or let us touch them, but stingrays were like puppies- rubbing against us, playing- it was magical.

We had another stop for swimming with manta rays! Pictures don’t describe how cool it was to swim right above those huge creatures…

It was truly fantastic!

And so the tour went on with another stop for feeding/swimming with sharks.

And then with more colorful fish…

And then we had a freshly made lunch in the private motu- local lady showed us how poisson cru is made, we shared the local fruit, coconut and nice drinks as well as champagne (no wonder the excursion was expensive 🙂 ).

The guide then brought us across the motu, through a little jungle to the side where the ocean meets the coral- it was very different color of the water compared to the lagoon.

It was a six hour trip, but the memories will surely last a lifetime. No cages, sharks all around- it’s hard to believe we did it and I know I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Land tour around Bora Bora

We had an amazing lagoon experience, but we also wanted to see what the island looks like inland and away from the resorts. So we talked to the concierge and through Avis they booked us a Renault Twizy! Talk about a small electric car 🙂 ! We for some reason thought that it seats two people up front.

But once we got to Avis office (they picked us up from the pier, where the hotel boat drops you off and brought us to Vaitape)- we realized that only the driver sits up front- the passenger is in the back! Ooops! Well, I don’t do too well in the back of the car and in a small space. So looks like my 6’4″ husband is the one to take the back seat! That’s what I call a happy marriage 🙂 .

Jokes aside- the little car was great! There is only one road around the island (we are used to that by now), so you can’t get lost. It’s super compact and easy to drive by any bicycle and to park in any spot (not like that was ever an issue, these islands have no traffic at all). The fastest it would go was 47km per hour and I loved zipping around Bora Bora in it! Now just get me one of those for Boston 🙂 !

The island itself does not have very much. I’m sure there are ATV tours, you probably could hike, but we did a full loop and stopped at a few points of interest that we’ve heard about before coming here. One of them was American Canons- the old American guns left after World War II.

The two that we could see were on a private land- the woman will ask you to pay 500 XPF each- equivalent of about $5 per person. Bring small bills- we had to go to the market down the road, because she did not have change.

The other stop was at the local family run pareo shop- the scarfs/sarongs that many women as well as men wear in French Polynesia. At Mami Ruta they showed how to make a tie dye scarves and they also sold them there too.

We bought quite a few in Tahiti and Moorea, but one more won’t hurt, right 🙂 ? I got the machine made one though, as the tie dyed ones were not as soft…

Continue down the same road till you reach Matira Beach– beautiful public beach of Bora Bora.

Once again- nobody was there (probably because most of the tourists stayed at the resorts).  Matira Beach Restaurant is perfect for lunch- pricey, but food and the drink (pina colada) was excellent. They also have an outdoor shower, which was perfect for a quick rinse after we went swimming in the water.

We also stopped at the famous Bloody Mary’s. It was empty during the day, but we’ve heard it gets busy for dinner.

And before you know it, we were back in Vaitape to return our little car. 4 hour rental was just enough time to see and do all we wanted and we were ready to return back to our bungalow.

Royal treatment

Well, we did not receive any special treatment as we arrived to Bora Bora Pearl Beach resort. There was no champagne in the room, no lovely note like in Vahine. So we were just slightly disappointed, but did not say anything thinking that it’s a busy resort and we should be happy we are here and enjoy what we have. But then, one evening we spoke to another honeymoon couple who brought in their wine and said that the staff left it for them upon arrival. Well, we figured, we should ask how come we received nothing. Sean called the front desk, the person did not speak very good English and after a short conversation, said something to the extent that because we booked the hotel through TripAdvisor, we did not qualify for the welcome champagne. Now mind you Sean does not even drink, but this was now a matter of principal. When the front desk said something like “It’s not the same” to the statement that it IS still our honeymoon and it should not matter what website we booked the bungalow from, Sean went to the manager 🙂 . And I have to say, I am SO glad he stood up for us. Because soon after, a bottle of champagne arrived to the room wrapped all nicely. AND the manager Gulia called and offered us a sunset cruise (which normally cost $180 per person). AND we got a breakfast delivered in a bungalow next morning via Tahitian canoe (another $80pp if you want to order room service). So moral of the story is- at the big resorts you are still just one of many. If something does not feel right- speak up.

That sunset cruise was one of the most perfect ways to end our honeymoon. It was only one other couple with us, the music was perfect, the white yacht sailed past the bungalows, past the sunken boat and we stood still watching the sun go down. Incredible few hours, as romantic as it gets. Thank you, Gulia (and Sean of course for speaking up).

Breakfast in bed (I mean bungalow 🙂 ) was just as amazing.

I even got a ride in the canoe while the breakfast was being set up on our patio!

The magical honeymoon came to an end. We spent the last day floating in  the pool and took a 6 pm flight to Tahiti. As our international flight was early next morning, we decided to stay at an Airbnb right near the airport to get as much sleep as we possibly can. It was great idea, since we had to be up by 5am and we were not jet lagged any longer. I have to mention one more restaurant if you are doing the same – Casa Bianca– Italian gem right near the marina, short drive from the airport. They had live music, food was excellent and we were happy to have pasta and meat instead of fish, since we’ve been eating poisson for the past nearly three weeks 🙂 .

 

CONCLUSION

There is not much more I could say to express my gratitude, happiness and pure joy for being able to go on this adventure. It was a trip of a lifetime. And the most important – it was shared with the person I love. It simply cannot get much better than that. But the journey together is just starting. Beautiful world, we are ready for you!

 

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