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TAHITI HONEYMOONS —
ROMANTIC VACATIONS IN FRENCH POLYNESIA

Story and photos by

For honeymoons and romantic getaways, no place in the world conveys romance as easily as Tahiti and its neighboring islands. Palm-stenciled sunsets. Jagged emerald peaks. Misty valleys and pristine beaches, scalloped with turquoise lagoons.

Couple walk along Tahiti beach at sunset.
Couple walk along Tahiti beach at sunset.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The French and Polynesian lifestyle here is a combination of joie de vivre and haere maru (take it easy). Islanders dress in pareos (colorful cloths, draped and tied in numerous ways) and decorate themselves, and visitors, with fragrant tiaras and garlands of flowers. They dance the tamure with pelvic gyrations that put the hula to shame.

Islanders fish with nets and spears, pick wild mangos in the jungle and dine in sophisticated French restaurants. They welcome more than 200,000 tourists annually, but still consider tipping as contrary to their custom of hospitality.

Tahitian pearls

Enough for the similarities; what makes these romantic islands so appealing is their diversity. Take Tahiti, for example. Papeete, its capital, is a bustling, waterfront town.

Its market throbs on Sunday mornings. Pigs squeal and chickens squawk from wooden cages. Vendors stack limes and papayas into neat pyramids. Customers haggle for strings of multicolored fish. This is the place to buy bright pareo prints, coconut-scented soaps, vanilla beans, and Monoi Tiare Tahiti, perfumed oil from the gardenia-like national flower.

More elaborate souvenirs can be found in shops selling imported French wines, perfumes and fashions. For unique gifts, there are exotic shells, jewelry made from black pearls, shark teeth, sea urchin spines and mother-of-pearl, wooden tikis (Polynesian gods) and even coconut-shell bikini tops!

Red hibiscus flower in Moorea
Red hibiscus flower in Moorea
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Tahiti vacation

Half the fun of Papeete is in getting there. Le Truck, a bright, open-sided vehicle with a bench on each side and a loud-speaker blaring samba-like music, picks you up and drops you off anywhere along its route.

Your fellow passengers could include a vahine (woman) carrying a basket of bananas to the market, a youngster on his way to school, or a group of girls, in white dresses and hats, on their way to church.

The rest of Tahiti, beyond Papeete, is a delight to explore with a rental car or car and driver. Tiny, a 130-kilo father of nine brought us on a 120-kilometer tour of the island.

Gauguin

A panorama of stunning beauty scrolled by our window: craggy mountains, brushed with broad, verdant strokes, cascading streams and mist-shrouded valleys punctuated with red, pink and yellow tropical blossoms. Tiny pointed out wild ginger, breadfruit and "mailboxes" that were not for letters but for the daily delivery of freshly baked French bread.

We stopped at all the requisite sights: the tomb of King Pomare V — its top shaped like a bottle of Benedictine, the monument to Captain Cook, the Gauguin Museum, filled with paintings and mementos of the artist's life, and Faarumai, three steep falls that conjure rainbows over a delirious exuberance of jungle — with not a billboard or tourist in sight.

Moorea tour

Moorea is easily accessible from Tahiti via a seven-minute flight or a 55-minute ferry ride. Your basic live-in postcard, Moorea is so hauntingly beautiful that it can only be described in clichés. Green-carpeted peaks tower above powder-soft beaches. A warm lagoon, sensuous as silk, laps languidly at its palm-fringed shores.

Moorea overwater bungalows and outrigger canoes
Moorea overwater bungalows and outrigger canoes
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

A 60-kilometer drive around the island should begin at the Belvedere, a lofty viewpoint overlooking Rotonui, a mountain separating two large bays. Behind you is the cloud-crowned peak of Mouaroa. It may look familiar. It was the mystical Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific and the location for the third version of Mutiny on the Bounty. The road descends, and then circles the island, flirting with the sea.

The lagoon around Moorea is a snorkeler's paradise. Tropical fish flash like neon before you, and then regroup to hover at your fingertips and follow you on your inspection of their world. If you don't know how to snorkel or scuba dive, you can sign up for lessons at several locations.

Polynesian food

Most of the activities on Moorea center around hotels and resorts. No couple should miss a tamaaraa or feast, the Tahitian equivalent to a luau. Lava rocks are heated in an earth-oven until they are white hot.

Breadfruit, taro, sweet potatoes, red bananas and a whole piglet are placed over the rocks, covered with leaves and soil then allowed to steam for several hours. Sometimes pots of fa fa (a spinach-like vegetable, cooked in coconut milk) and poe are included. Tahitian poe is a delectable pudding of papayas or bananas cooked with sugar and vanilla and served with coconut milk — quite different from the starchy Hawaiian poi.

When the oven is uncovered, a tantalizing aroma fills the air. After everyone eats their fill, the drums and guitars come out for an evening of Tahitian dancing.

Polynesian culture

For a glimpse of Tahiti 30 years ago, go to Huahine. Tourists find sun and sea here in abundance, but there is also a sense of the past. Near the village of Maeva are several Polynesian temples and the ruins of 29 marae (Tahitian altars) where chiefs worshiped their ancestors in ancient times.

As we followed a road carved out of the jungle, vignettes of everyday life passed by: a vanilla plantation, a fisherman casting his net from an outrigger canoe and a family making copra. Our progress was hindered twice — once, when a dozen wild baby pigs ran screeching in front of our car and again, when an army of land crabs skittered across the road.

Fare, the capital of Huahine, has a population of 600. A row of wooden-galleried, tin-roofed Chinese emporiums snooze in the sun on the main street. Biweekly, inter-island schooners pick up copra and melons and drop off merchandise.

The copra boats also go to Raiatea, the second-largest island after Tahiti. Raiatea and its sister island, Tahaa, are ringed with a barrier reef and share a common lagoon. Each has its own mountain that peeks through the clouds, beckoning with a flirtatious flash of green. There are no beaches, just a wild and rugged coast.

Bora Bora

When it comes to natural beauty, Mother Nature dealt a winning hand to Bora Bora. It is the epitome of every romantic daydream you've ever had of tropical paradise. Jade peaks rise dramatically from an aquamarine lagoon, ringed by tiny motus (coral islets) like jewels on a necklace.

Palm trees, hammock and overwater bungalows
Palm trees, hammock and overwater bungalows
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Sofitel Bora Bora Marara Beach Resort, was built by Dino Di Laurentiis to house the actors and crew for the movie Hurricane, filmed here in 1978. Fares, built on stilts over the lagoon, have Plexiglas panels in the floors. Fish, as brilliant as costume jewelry, dart below. Toss in bits of bread, and they'll rush in unison towards the treat.

The Marara, like other hotels on the island, legally cannot be higher than a coconut palm. There is no TV to distract you (only the crowing of wild roosters). Nor is there air-conditioning. Ceiling fans circulate the tiare-scented sea breezes.

Coconut ice cream

Bora Bora is only 32 kilometers in diameter, so it can easily be explored by bicycle. Cycle to the main village of Vaitape, shop at the Chinese general store, and sample the coconut ice cream at one of the snack shops. Alternatively, play Robinson Crusoe and paddle an outrigger to a deserted palm-covered motu.

While most edens have succumbed to neon signs, high-rises and casinos, Tahiti and its islands have remained unspoiled. They are still the quintessence of the South Pacific, and one of the most romantic destinations in the world.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Tahiti Tourisme: www.tahiti-tourisme.com


More things to do in Tahiti

Aranui Freighter Cruise

Marquesas Islands Cruise

Tahiti Reward Programs

Tahiti - Hiking the Fautaua Valley Trail