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Tahiti and Moorea

lagoonThe sunbleached and turquoise-lagooned beaches of these Pacific ocean islands are what defines paradise. They don't need to touch up the colour on postcards here. French, and Tahitian, are spoken but because the main activity here is tourism English is used where needed too. The children simply played and smiled their way into friendships as usual.

We had chosen to stay on Tahiti itself as that is where all international flights arrive - and adding another flight to our itinerary had not appealed. Being the busiest, Tahiti may not be the most attractive island in French Polynesia of which there are over a 100. One of its coastlines has black sand beaches. Papeete is a busy centre that you can largely avoid except to fly on or take a ferry to a neighbouring island. A driver took us straight to Otaha Lodging about half an hour away along the west coast. It was late, the rooms seemed basic, and there was nowhere to get food so we went straight to bed, not immediately won over. In the morning we awake in our 2 roomed little house with its tropical palms painted on the wall and Tahitian flower designs on the bedding. We have our own bathroom and kitchen in separate little huts a step or two away. To the front, we have a table and seating, that look out past the palmed garden to the bright sea reflecting in the sunlight. The nicest stretch of pale sand starts just alongside our property and is enclosed by a peaceful lagoon, which invites you in for a swim. Dark patches of coral permeate the water bringing the wondrous sea life within easy reach. Everything was going to be just fine!


kayakIn fact this beach has had rarely more than a smattering of locals on it, a few more on the weekend. Otaha Lodging has residential houses for neighbours and within walking distance just one simple restaurant and shop. 3 km's down the road is a small shopping mall by Le Meridian. We felt privileged to have found a real slice of the pie - the slow paced authentic feel of Tahiti, where the locals don't want things to change. There are only 7 hut/cottages at Otaha so it's pretty quiet, just the distant sound of the waves lapping the reef on the edge of the lagoon and soft french voices from next door. If staying here I recommend requesting room 2A.

Often the clouds sit on the interior mountains, but mostly the sun finds its way through. If the wind gets up experienced kite surfers fly through the air. We are here in August, the winter, and the heat is just right. Not even when we hopped on a bus, along with surfers and their boards, did we break into a sweat - yet it was easy to stay in swim-wear the day long - and at night we cosy up under a blanket. December to February is rainy season.

Meherio had waited for us to wake, ready to take us to the local supermarket. We stocked up and settled in for a relaxing stay. When you have been travelling for a while its great to cook your own meals and crack your own beers - especially in a country where nothing is cheap. And to not need to re-pack your bags for a while. We had 10 days to do very little, except go out in the kayaks, to snorkel and take it easy. One day beyond the break we saw whales showing off their tails and slapping the water. And at night we watch Jupiter flicker bright like a flame against a dark sky permeated with a thousand pinpricks of light.

 

…Actually we did get distracted away briefly. We had the chance to go for 1 night to stay in an Premium Over Water Bungalow on Moorea, the island we watch every night as the sun sets behind it. And it was my birthday - what a treat! The Moorea Pearl Resort and Spa is placed in the best location to get sun from soon after dawn until you watch the glowing ball drop below the horizon. The island's middle is a lush, tropical oasis with irregular peaks, trimmed with a coastal road leading you around its pretty 37 mile circumference. Restaurants, pearl shops and hotels are dotted around, some seeing more shade from the mountains than others. So the Moorea Pearl is well placed to make the most of each day. The Premium Over Water Bungalows follow the line of the reef allowing you to dip into a colourful tropical fish world from your balcony. There was nothing between us and lagoon, ocean and sun. It's worth asking for the sunset side and the Premium ones, all importantly, face outwards.

The resort, despite being luxurious, felt really laid back. As children stay and eat free, there were families as well as couples. You don't feel like you are the only ones outside the honeymoon bubble. You can use the kayaks, boards and snorkels for free or simply lay back on your own lounger and feel lucky. There's also an infinity pool and small beach, where you could choose a bungalow set on it, or further back in the gardens more bungalows, some with private plunge pool. But the water bungalows are the don. If you can afford it, do it.

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After check out we took our little red hire car further around the island, popping in on Tiki Village - a tourist created place re-enacting Polynesian life. We narrowly missed a dance show, but I was happy with a mean Mai Tai cocktail instead. Then we stopped at Snack Mahana - a lively independent restaurant with tables under the wide-spread branches of a tree. Unfortunately they were so busy we spent most of the afternoon there, but thankfully the food, when it eventually arrived was amazing. Tuna, ceviche style, in coconut milk and curried prawns…mmm, delicious. This left us no time for a stop at the public beach where locals were picnicking and dancing under tall palms. We had a ferry to catch.

Another Moorea attraction is that it's possible to take a kayak, at the Intercontinental Hotel, and swim with sting-rays and even sharks. We met people who enjoyed the experience, and only faltered in doing it after a conversation with a local who said that it has caused problems with local fishermen. The feeding of the sharks by tourists means that sharks think the fisherman are doing the same and there has been some issues. We decided against it.

Other islands you may wish to get to are famous Bora Bora, where the black pearl farms are and possibly the most idyllic scenery of all. Or if you want to get away from the resorts and take the simple path, Maupiti has just a handful of pensions, and the authentic lifestyle of times gone by. At the centre of all the islands is Raitea, where a temple stands from the original religion that was worshipped pre-missionaries. Many quirky superstitions and myths still stand from the past. On Raivavae electricity is turned off at 6pm and no one dares to leave home after dark for fear of death.

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French Polynesia is full of charm. It is customary for girls to wear the Tahiti flower (tiare) behind the ear and men to bloom in bright flowery shirts and it seems to be a prerequisite of living here to have a traditional tattoo and a smile. There's much to smile about - they live in paradise after all.