Hawaii & French Polynesia
The magnetic charm of the turquoise waters, the velvety green hills, the balmy Pacific breeze and colorful flowers and delicacies will leave you totally seduced and in love with the French Polynesian islands.
Many times I am asked which is my favorite spot in the world and while I have plenty of resorts/cities/attractions I would gladly return to, the image that comes to my mind that closely resembles paradise on earth is without a doubt the memory of the picturesque and tranquil islands of French Polynesia- namely the Society islands of Bora-Bora, Tahiti, Raiatea and Moorea.
The best way to visit them must be by a cruise ship. These volcanic islands are located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, only 2.5 hours from Hawaii by flight and to reach them you have to either fly or sail from larger hubs like Honolulu, Oahu or Sidney, Australia. Since the airline tickets are pretty pricey, cruising comes naturally as number one choice for those who don’t have the required minimum of $10,ooo.oo to spend on this trip.
The cruise ship will pick you from Hawaii (Honolulu, Oahu), or Sydney, Australia and after 5-6 sea days you will reach the tropical Eden of French Polynesia.
The best time to visit is from May to October, however I have been there in April and November and the temperature and weather conditions were simply perfect as well. I am talking 24-26 degrees C (80 F), pleasant breeze and warm ocean water.
It’s probably best to take the ship’s tours, if you haven’t made any prior plans : there is a wide variety of snorkeling, diving, surfing, road island trips or helicopter excursions and a combination of sea/land tours by bus, catamarans, 4X4s, helicopters, jeeps, etc.
Some guests make their own research online and choose a private company to arrange the tours for them, as they do not wish to be part of a big group and prefer to have private time on the islands, however as always, you have to be careful to choose a reputable and well established tour-operator to ensure satisfaction (contact us for more information and best recommendations). The ship tours are guaranteed by the cruise line and should anything happen and you get delayed returning to the ship, the Captain will wait for you, unlike when you have made your own arrangements and the ship is not aware of your whereabouts.
Whatever you decide to do though, you will have an unforgettable time : swimming in the perfectly clear sparking waters, relaxing on the white sandy beaches, playing with the sting-rays and bay sharks, learning how to make pareos (the Tahitian word for sarong) or cook local dishes, tasting the local cuisine of fresh fish or pork and vegetables cooked in coconut, sipping a Mai Tai at night in a cozy waterfront restaurant or tasting a grilled mahi-mahi on the street, sail or drive around the most expensive resorts and celebrity houses, finding the most exquisite black pearls on Earth or even just looking at the serene beauty around you from the vantage point of a glass floored bungalow over the neon colored water – you will never have enough and will most definitely start planning on staying there forever.
You can certainly take a day by yourselves and visit some of the resorts that offer day passes (Sheraton, Hilton) and you can feel the 5 star luxury and relaxing atmosphere of these posh places without the need to spend thousands of dollars a night. If you are lucky enough to stay in one of these resorts, you will never feel crowded- you can have your breakfast on the veranda of your little cabin over the water, brought to you on a small canoe and will be left to experience the solitude and peaceful serenity of this magical beauty around you.
Shopping is also pretty popular-there are lots of straw markets offering summer outfits in vibrant colors, musical instruments and sculptures from local artists. You will find typical souvenirs made of sea and coconut shells, as well as fresh produce and tropical fruit you will not be able to resist. If you are on a budget, a convenient way to experience the local food and pile up on snacks is to check out these markets- the fresh catch of the day- tuna, mahi-mahi and swordfish, pork or poultry can be cooked in front of you – the satisfaction guaranteed!
Interested in unique art and jewelry or perfumes and exotic scents- there is something for everyone. I promise you, even if you have never thought you would care about pearls (possibly thinking the only people that still wear them are the Queen and pretentious snobs), you will catch yourself admiring the exquisite jewelry made of various in size and color pearls, while learning how the farmers cultivate millions of oysters for at least 5 years to be able to get the desirable quality of pearls.
Needless to say- I could not resist and I did ended up getting a necklace and a pair or black pearl earrings that I fondly wear on formal occasions to this day. You can negotiate the price and the purchase does not need to break your bank
You will find that the locals are pretty friendly and while most of them speak English, the national languages are French and Tahitian and naturally, the native cuisine and culture have been heavily influenced by the French tradition. You can have a nice coffee and a Pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) and the full spectrum of French pastries as delicious as the ones you can find on Shanzelize in Paris.
Continuing in the spirit of French Polynesia, I have to mention the Famous Tahitian oil Monoï de Tahiti, which you can find here in its purest form (it is the result of macerating the Tiare flower (Tahitian gardenia) in refined coconut extract for at least 10 days, slowly infusing the oil with nutrients as well as a delicate, natural fragrance). Of course you will be lost in the variety of perfumes, soap bars, suntan oils skin and hair products infused with the Monoï de Tahiti oil and enchanted by its delicate aroma, you will end up buying a gift for everyone.
The local producers are proud of their merchandise and in gratitude for buying their product, they will give you a nice little souvenir- a star fish or a sand dollar- a genuine gift from the Polynesian islands.
The best part of all- the islands and the Pacific ocean around them do not pause any health or life threat- none of the poisonous or dangerous animals and insects you will worry about in Australia are present here- you can swim for miles in the most welcoming and sparkling turquoise waters you have ever seen, dive in the biggest and richest aquarium in the world, snorkel the amazing coral reefs, kite surf or ride the toughest waves – just like the ancient sailors you will be quickly convinced that you have found Paradise and will never want to go back.