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Published: February 4th 2014
French Polynesia brings up images of blue water, white beaches and green palms. With places like Tahiti, Bora Bora and a lot of atolls we expected the ultimate holiday paradise when we planned our mid-trip “vacation” here, and this far we have not been disappointed. The only trouble we have had is sometimes with getting understood as many people speak no English, so I guess we need to start working on our French to make future trips smoother. 😉 It is the perfect place for a beach and snorkeling holiday, if you have other plans, well, go somewhere else!
We arrived in the middle of the night to Faaā airport at Tahiti. We had our luggage at around 2 AM, and after checking the price for the nearby hotels (expensive!) we decided to roll out our sleeping bags at the airport while waiting for the office of Air Tahiti to open at 6AM. We hadn’t been able to get the webstore to work when trying to purchase our airpass to the islands, so we still needed tickets to get to all the paradise islands. After getting our tickets we went for a quick visit to Papeete, the capital of Tahiti,
before catching the flight to our first destination, Maupiti, at 1PM.
When arriving to Maupiti we still didn’t have a place to stay. Our guide book told us there usually are people offering accommodation at the airport, but we saw nothing such. However we got to experience the famous Polynesian friendliness, one of the hosts picking up other people at the airport, Tehei, offered to show us her place, and if we didn’t like it, to drive us around the island looking for something else. After arriving at Pension Teheimana we quickly decided to stay, it felt expensive after South America, but included breakfast and dinner, so it still felt like an acceptable deal. We didn’t have to regret our decision, Tehei and Cliff turned out to be excellent hosts, the food was delicious and the snorkeling started just 20 meters off their beach.
Maupiti is said to be like a mini Bora Bora, or rather like Bora Bora was 30 years ago. Our hosts took us on a drive around the island, with only 9 km of road it is a quite quick sightseeing tour, and then dropped us off at the only sandy beach of the
island. The beach was perfect! Even with only 4 hours of sleep on an airport bench we felt fresh due to the incredible landscapes all around us. We got to test the snorkels and underwater cameras for the first time with something to see and quickly found a small coral garden. We stayed at the beach until sunset when our hosts came to get us back to our pension for a veritable fish feast, with more sashimi tuna than we could eat.
The pension had kayaks to borrow, so we went kayaking the next day. Just outside the pension we found a coral forest surrounded by deeper water, in the deep we saw a manta ray while safely in our kayak, and in the coral forest we snorkeled with all kinds of colorful fish we had previously only seen in aquariums. We have been completely hooked by the snorkeling, almost every day since arriving we have been in the waters exploring the incredible underwater sights. We are also growing an appetite for more “extreme” snorkeling (more of that later in the blog), so let’s see if we will still move to scuba diving during this trip, something we couldn’t
even imagine a few weeks earlier!
In the same pension there was also staying a French couple on honeymoon. They recommended a hike up to the top of Maupiti’s central mountain, and we thought some variation to all the water sports would be in place. We therefore biked to the other side of the island and started to climb. After conquering the Andean mountains we thought the climb to the summit at 300 meters height would be a walk in the park, but the path was surprisingly steep and difficult, especially in the tropical heat. After scaling the almost vertical cliffs near the top where you had to use ropes to get up we finally reached the top, and after 10 minutes of enjoying the cool breeze had to start down again as there were rain clouds approaching. Luckily we only got a light drizzle at that time, the downpour only came once we were safely back at the pension.
Our next stop on our island hop was Raiatea, the biggest of the Leeward islands. Our pension was up on a hill, and we had our own bungalow in a beautiful garden. The next morning we had planned
to go on a boat tour with our host, but the weather was rainy, so instead we rented a car and drove around the island, checking out among other things Taputapuatea, the main Polynesian religious site in French Polynesia. As Easter Island was colonized from French Polynesia we were expecting something similar to the Moais, maybe smaller and less impressive. When we arrived we first had trouble finding the site until we realized it was the rectangular field encircled by a 30 cm high stone wall, with some bigger stones in one end. The ancient Polynesians used to practice ritual sacrifice of animals and humans here, but the site itself was really not very much to see. Or then it had only been efficiently eradicated, the zealous missionaries have destroyed most of what existed of the original Polynesian religion.
Even if we are in the middle of the rainy season the next morning turned out sunny, so after returning our car we borrowed the rusty bicycles of the pension and rode to a nearby seaside hotel where we rented kayaks. We headed for a nearby motu (small island on the coral reef), and saw a lot of rays swishing
over the sand bottom on the way. At the motu we left our kayaks at the beach and dived into the water, camera ready. We saw a few small rays in the shallow waters next to the motu, and also made our first shark encounter when we saw a small (maybe half meter long) blacktip reef shark zipping by.
On our last day at Raiatea we finally went on the boat trip with our host. After picking up a crew member and getting the boat in the water we first went up along a small river going through a lush jungle-like forest. Then we went out to a picture perfect motu, and after some dolphin sights we returned to the pension to pack our bags and leave for the flight to Huahine, our next destination. Even though our host was stereotypically French, arrogant and derogatory of women, we had started to like him more during the stay. On the bill he had however added an additional charge for taking us to town which we hadn’t agreed on previously. A smaller charge would have been understandable as the distance to town and back is over 50 km, but the amount
he wanted was not small and we were really put off by the way he delivered it. Even if he finally agreed to lessen the fee (it was of the magnitude of a Finnish taxi ride at first) it left a sour taste of his pension.
Already when we first met our host at Huahine we liked her. Flora who is running Pension Tifaifai et Café is extremely nice, and also a superb chef. We hadn’t initially taken dinner for more than the first night, but already after the first course we were sold, a very good Poisson Cru (Polynesian fish salad with raw fish). Every night Flora treated us with different Polynesian delicacies, including tuna, mahi-mahi and unicorn fish. The pension was situated at the east shore of a motu connected with main island Huahine by a bridge, and we woke up early every morning to watch the sun rise, incredibly beautiful and serene! The reef was just 20 meters from the beach, and you could see the fins of two sharks patrolling the waters if you were lucky, they were quite shy.
Flora’s pension was also situated a 5 minute walk from one of the best
snorkeling places at Huahine, the coral garden next to the former Sofitel hotel. We went there snorkeling every day at Flora’s, and saw lots of exciting fishes; butterfly fishes, parrot fishes, cornet fishes, trigger fishes, clown fishes, and other kind of fishes of every colour and shape. Our last day we were even surprised by a big ray and a 1,5 m blacktip reef shark in the middle of the coral garden. We also explored the waters outside of Flora’s own beach, but there were basically no corals there, and the water was so shallow that you couldn’t really snorkel.
Bora Bora is one of the most legendary paradise islands, frequently visited by movie stars and other celebrities. We thought it would be too touristy for our taste, so we decided on spending only one full day there. Bora Bora wasn’t as bad as we expected, it is probably too expensive for the normal tourist to come here. We had a cheaper pension, the Sunset Hill Lodge, recommended to us by a Canadian couple we met at Easter Island, so we didn’t even blow our budget by showing up. We ended up spending our one day on an incredible
Lagoon tour together with our merry captain Shaq, a must do if you decide to go to Bora Bora. Shaq joked all the time, and while driving the boat (with his feet) he also played the ukulele and sang. Our first stop was a place where we had the possibility to swim with rays. Although a little skeptical at first, we overcame our fears and jumped into the shallow water together with rays, remoras and blacktip reef sharks, actually a really nice experience! Johanna even went from close to freaking out at the rays coming from all directions to touching them twice, I also tried to touch them but they were much too quick for me.
From the shallow waters we headed out to a coral garden in a little deeper water, with the bottom at around 5 meters. Here we saw lots and lots of colorful fish, and also got to feed them. The fishes were clearly more used to people than the ones we saw at Huahine, and swarmed around Johanna while she was giving out bread. Our guide also spotted a Moray eel, a scorpion fish and a barracuda which he took pictures of with our
camera. For our last snorkeling spot we headed out through the reef pass and jumped into the deep ocean (maybe 10 meters deep) filled with bigger black tipped reef sharks (up to almost 2 meters) and huge lemon sharks (3 meter long) while our guide was dumping fish into the water to attract more of the beasts. Again it felt much better than we thought it would feel, at first you tried to keep your eyes on all the big fish, especially on the three lemon sharks swimming beneath us, but after a while you relaxed and started to enjoy the graceful animals gliding around in the water below you. We rounded off the tour with a fish based buffet on an idyllic motu and also learned to open up coconuts with a wooden stick. This skill might come in handy on our next destination, the atolls of the Tuamotu where coconut palms are probably the only thing that grows.
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