Published: April 22nd 2009April 19th 2009
The thing about French Polynesia is that you have to plan and book well ahead and do your research thoroughly...apparently...so it's a bit of a shame that we didn't read this until we were in Tahiti. The islands were a stopover on the flight to south America and we hadn't really thought about what we'd do while we were there. We knew Tahiti would be expensive and had tried to budget accordingly but when basics like food and accommodation are heinously expensive there isn't always a lot you can do. There was no low cost accommodation or camping on Tahiti so we spoilt ourselves on the first two nights at the really good value (but still pricey) Radisson Hotel. We had planned to just take a boat to nearby island Mo'orea and camp trying to keep costs down by not taking flights and just enjoying the beaches and snorkeling. But the lovely fat, beflowered lady 'Mama Popo' who drove us in the 'Happy Taxi' from the airport advised us to head for Tikehau, an atoll in the remote Taumotos - it's like Tahiti used to be, she promised, telling us we could camp on the beaches for free and that her
friend Rollo could take us fishing. So all our plans to save pennies went out the window - we started to read the guide and got excited about the idea of catching a cargo boat and sleeping under the stars. Everything shut down on the Sunday so the Monday saw us in Papeetee trying to get first a boat (no go - all full) and then at the Air Tahiti office trying to get first to Tikehau or Huihaine, or Maupiti, and then to anywhere more remote than Tahiti or Moorea. However we had forgotten it was the Easter holidays and the whole of French Polynesia, flights, boats (and accommodation it transpired) was booked out. Our best bet was to head to Moorea as we had originally planned, set up camp and just haere maru take it easy. Arriving off the ferry we hired a car for the first day to check out campgrounds and explore the island - this turned out to be a great choice - got us orientated and we avoided expensive taxi rides. Even the bus was pretty dear - at about $20. Then we settled for Chez Nelson on the beach and set up tent
under a palm tree. A sweet spot - although still about $30 a night! The campground was right on the beach so although the facilities were pretty skanky we were happy with our choice.
After a few days on Tahiti and Moorea however we were a bit surprised by how unfriendly people were, although we met some really nice people, many seemed just touristed out, and some of the holiday makers seemed remarkably snotty- even those on the campground where you would expect people to be a bit more chilled. During the Easter weekend lots of local families turned up on the campground, they were really friendly and there was a bit of a party atmosphere for a while. And of course the majority of the holiday makers were French..(we're just saying, okay)....after super friendly Oz we couldn't get used to our 'bonjour' being met with stony gaze. We toyed again with the idea of trying to get to Huihaine where things might be bit more laidback (apparently it has a more 'backpacker' vibe) but in the end decided that we would return and explore French Polynesia by boat....one day.
Maybe people were just pissed off to share their paradise
island with other people. Because Mo'orea was just sublime - you could walk into the lagoon and it was like walking into a huge crystal clear fish tank - surrounded by curious tropical fish, corals, with sharks and rays out in the channels. Out on the reef you could hear the waves crashing in - the surf out there was not for beginners like us. We splashed the cash one day and did the two bays visit - stopping on a shallow sandbank to pat the sting rays and snorkel with the black-tip and reef sharks (they don't have shark attacks in French Polynesia - the sharks are too well fed - on baguettes or something). Our underwater camera worked only too well - filling with water the moment it was submerged. We took plenty of hikes - our visit to the Lycee d'agriculture was well worth it just for the homemade ice cream and cycling around the island is a pretty good way of getting around. Eating out was extremely expensive, even eating in was: we were charged the equivalent of 7 British Pounds for a fricking cabbage! Baguettes were cheap as chips but we feared they were responsible
for some of the girths we saw on the island. Many of the islanders are pretty big and although there were plenty of slim hipped girls from the Gauguin paintings, the islander women seem to hit a bit of a wall after having kids and get a bit mammoth.
After Easter was over things got very quiet and we had the beaches almost to ourselves - we took advantage and upgraded to a cabin for a couple of nights. Our last day we took the opportunity to hire a car and explore Tahiti and Tahiti Iti again before flying on at midnight. We hadn't counted on there being so much to do in French Polynesia - hiking, kyaking, catching the boat out to see the great wave at Teahupoo, one guy we met had been living there for four years and still didn't think he'd even done half of what Tahiti alone had on offer.We'd love to visit again and see more but later, for now cheaper paradises await us!
There are more photos below