Summer vacation in Tahiti: 5 reasons to visit French Polynesia’s Tuamotu Atolls

If you’ve had enough with the recent onslaught of wintertime blizzards, you’re probably ready to start your summer vacation planning. How about jetting off to a part of French Polynesia that few travelers ever visit?

Considered to offer a number of the best diving sites in the world, the Tuamotu Atolls are some of Tahiti’s lesser known islands. These remote atolls, most specifically Rangiroa and Fakarava, possess all the exotic charm of Tahiti and Bora Bora, but they have the distinction of featuring a few activities the others don’t. Since summertime in the northern hemisphere is the dry season in French Polynesia, June through August is the perfect time to plan your visit.

If you aren’t enticed just yet, then consider these five reasons to visit the Tuamotus when finalizing your summer vacation plans this year.

Visit a Winery

How about sipping wine from a winery located in the midst of a coconut grove, flanked on one side by turquoise lagoons and the deep blue ocean on the other? Rangiroa is home to Vin de Tahiti, one of the world’s most scenic wineries. While these wines may not be on par with your favorite Chateau in Bordeaux just yet, they are well-crafted and the views are unsurpassed.

Try a Drift Dive (or Snorkel)

It may surprise you to learn French Polynesia’s seemingly tranquil waters can also pull some hefty currents. Just outside the reefs await extraordinary underwater adventures. Jump in and let the currents take you on a magical journey immersed with vibrant colored corals, thousands of schooling fish, and if you’re lucky, perhaps even a hammerhead shark. And don’t worry, the boat is right there to pick you up once your adventure ends.

Learn about Tahitian Pearls

Interested in Tahitian Pearls? Take a tour of one of French Polynesia’s best known Pearl farms — Gauguin’s Pearl. After the tour, visit the store to purchase loose or set pearls to take home with you.

Rest assured, this is not your typical tourist trap — there’s no obligation to even set foot in the store. However, if you’re interested, they have competitive prices, and most importantly, the pearls come certified. Don’t fall for the scam of buying uncertified loose pearls — they will be confiscated if you try to leave French Polynesia with them.

Visit a Coral Church

Fakarava is home to the first island church built entirely out of coral back in 1862. Today, the outer structure still remains and is quite a sight to behold.

Go Fishing

If drift diving didn’t satiate your craving for adventure, the Tuamotus also offer world-class fishing. While you cannot fish within Fakarava’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the surrounding waters are rich with options — try deep sea or spear fishing, jigging, and more.

Rangiroa and Fakarava are both easily reached from Papeete, Tahiti, by either a one hour flight or as part of a cruise itinerary. Check Air Tahiti Nui for airfare specials from Los Angeles (main US airport servicing Tahiti) or visit Paul Gauguin Cruises for upcoming summer discounts.

Learn the national holidays before you go – International travel tip

Before departing for a foreign country, be aware of any national holidays that will occur during your trip. Do your best to learn about even the minor ones that aren’t widely known.

My husband and I nearly had our honeymoon derailed by a national holiday during our stay in French Polynesia. Most businesses were closed, including restaurants, banks and museums.

We were saved by the tourism office, which offered us a chance to spend the day learning about Tahitian culture on the grounds of a closed museum. Otherwise, we would have wasted an entire day of our trip stuck in an urban area with nothing to do.

[Photos: Flickr | Yandle]

Tahiti greens up its tourism

Tahiti ain’t cheap. And, at least in the past several decades, it’s also had a reputation for crappy food, cheesy resorts, a seriously sketchy scene in Papeete, and a general lack of sustainable tourism. But that’s all changing.

CNN reports that small-scale, eco-oriented tourism is thriving in Tahiti, especially in the mountainous interior, and on the peninsula of Tahiti Iti. An influx of B & B’s, guesthouses and bungalows have cropped up, making a visit to the island paradise more affordable to budget travelers (after you cough up the plane ticket, but Air Tahiti Nui offers promotional prices and family discounts). The less-populous inland has loads of hiking trails, waterfalls, and remote beaches accessible only by foot, and outfitters such as Tahiti Evasion offer guided hikes for non-DIY’ers. On the luxury end, some properties, like Bora Bora’s InterContinental Resort, are reducing their carbon footprint by using high-tech cooling systems that use pumped-in, deep-sea water, instead of A/C units.

Additionally, great public transit and a thriving local food scene make it easier for culturally-inclined travelers to get a true taste of Tahiti. Roulottes, small food trucks found along Papeete’s waterfront, offers local ingredients and traditional dishes, while the central market, Marche Papeete, sells all manner of locally-grown produce. On rural Moorea, check out family farms, and slip into the relaxed, local way of life.

[Via Mother Nature Network]

[Photo credit: Flickr user D.[SansPretentionAucune]]

Daily Pampering: Sailing Bora Bora in your own private catamaran

You’re already in Bora Bora, what more could you possibly want? Fortunately, the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora has planned for travelers like you, who want just a little bit more with their side of luxury. Adding to its fleet of custom-built boats, Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora has introduced the Navigator, a custom-crafted catamaran, available to guests for transportation in and around Bora Bora.

The Navigator features a full bar, dining tables, rooftop sundeck, lavatory and rinse shower, and a fresh water shower on the rear deck allows guests to refresh back on board. Its low hull design and shallow draft allow it to charter to just about any nearby destination.

Go alone or with a group. The configuration of the interior of the boat allows for guests to have intimate evenings at sear or host small receptions and dinners.

Total cost: At today’s exchange rate a 4-hour rental will run you approximately $900; 8-hour rental will cost $1,500. This is just for the catamaran and captain. If you want to go snorkeling, dine on the ship, hire musicians or a private astronomer (which is available), it’ll cost you extra.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Tahitian dance chronicles, part three: Dancing towards a new adventure (video)

To’ata Amphitheater, French Polynesia’s biggest Tahitian dance venue, is an open-air wooden stage surrounded by a half-circle of tiered seating for about 4000 people. High-tech lighting on adjustable steel scaffolding surrounds the arena and the stage is backed by a covered, elevated platform for the orchestra. From the stage, the seats seem very close and standing there before the show made me nervous — would I be busting my not-exactly-professional moves while looking my family and friends in the eye? My 200-woman-strong Tahitian dance troupe had rehearsed nine months for this one-night show but as a newbie, this still didn’t seem like enough time to get it right. But here I was, the night of the show and it was too late to change my mind.

While setting up our changing areas before the show, we were told that the maman groups (those of us well-past high school age) couldn’t use the dressing rooms — we’d have to change costumes outside where inevitable lurking spectators could see us. This was not ideal.

Luckily my friend Arvella came to my rescue and said if I helped out dressing the little girl dancers I could use the private rooms. This sounded like a good deal. I got in my first costume, a flamboyant number made out of leaves and vines that made me look like a glamorous swamp monster, then got to work helping the girls. After putting make-up on the first eight-year old, word got around that I had cool sparkly stuff and soon I had a line of wide-eyed cuties asking me for silver eye-shadow and lip gloss; once they were made up I was onto hair and costumes.

We were all ready and could hear the stands a-chatter with people. It got dark without us noticing and soon we were getting called to take our places. My group was entering the stage from the spectator’s stands after the Advanced-Pro and teenage girls opened the show with flaming torches. We walked up to our starting place at the main entrance of To’ata where people were still buying tickets. Several tourists took pictures of us, and I reflected on how strange it was to finally be a tourist attraction just before moving back to the States after fifteen years in this country.Our drum signal beat and on we went, through the stands and on to the stage shaking our hips, our leaf skirts swishing. Boom, boom! Like a dream our arms were raising and falling, hips never resting, bent knees, straightened knees, spinning and shimming across the stage. We were giving every move all the energy we had. Looking into the bright lights it was impossible to see the audience. I could almost imagine that we were dancing on stage by ourselves; it was perfect. I forgot that my family and friends were even there.

Before I knew it, the first dance was over and we were back in the dressing room but this time there was more to do in less time. I threw on my white fitted dress and flower hair ornament for our next dance then set about putting some little girls’ hair in buns.

After bun number three I looked around and realized I was the only grown up in the room. I ran out to see my group going on stage – I was late! Without thinking I ran on stage to my place (fortunately at the back) and got there a second before the dance began. This was a real rookie move but fortunately few people noticed.

The rest of the performance went on the same schedule: dancing, then running back to the dressing room to get dressed as quickly as possible to help the little girls with their hair and costumes. It was so hectic and fast paced that the most relaxing moments were on stage. I thought I’d be nervous and that I’d have bonding moments with my fellow dancers but there wasn’t time for this. It was all about getting on stage, getting off and working as fast as possible. The night seemed to go by in five minutes and before I knew it we were putting on our big headdresses and grass skirts for the final.

The final was choreographed so that we saluted the audience row by row with a “ia ora na” (hello or goodbye) and “maururu” (thank you). Whether this was done for the audience or not I have no idea, but from a dancer’s point of view it was the best ending possible. After nine sweaty months of laughing, bickering, sewing and building excitement I could palpably feel the overflow of gratitude from each dancer. To have been on this stage with such a diverse, strong group of women, dancing a thousand-year old tradition in costumes made from this land, Tahiti, reached back into all of our souls and transported us to a timeless place of pure culture. Thank you, we said, to the people who came to see us, to each other and to our teacher Heirani.

On my way off stage I saw one of Heirani’s aids and we stopped and hugged even though that’s rarely done in Tahiti. Some of my new little girl friends came up to me with huge smiles and one held my hand back to the dressing room. Everyone changed back into their street clothes silently. What could we say? After hundreds of hours of dancing and weeks of costume making, it was over. Thinking that I no longer had the performance to look forward to made me feel empty and light, like strong breeze could lift me away. I wondered what I could do in my new home in the US that would fill my life as much as Tahitian dance but I knew there was nothing that could ever compare to this experience. The dance was over for better or for worse and I was on the brink of a new adventure.

Previously —
Tahitian dance chronicles, part one: Getting hooked
Tahitian dance chronicles, part two: Going to To’ata

[Photos: Josh Humbert; Video: Jasmine Humbert]