French Polynesia travel log – Part II

Travel log of our honeymoon in French Polynesia. Read Part I here.

Raiatea and Taha’a

April 12th. After an early breakfast, we drive to Uturoa to explore the well-known local market. The exotic fruit stalls make a colorful patchwork while the handcrafts stalls offer a diversity of materials, from Tahitian pearl to straw bags and hats, pareos, monoï and other local specialties. A music band delights people, locals and tourists, with its delightful traditional music.

We then head to the very South of the island, where is located the first international marae of the Polynesian triangle, marae Taputapuatea. It’s an hour drive from Uturoa and it gives us the chance to see much of the north coastline. On the left, it is mostly rugged coastline without beaches and on the right, a lush, vibrant forest. It must be such an incredible experience to do a canoe ride on the Faaroa, the only navigable river in French Polynesia, through this dense tropical forest. Just another reason to come back!

We finally arrives at the marae, it’s already noon and the sun is high in the sky. Thankfully, some clouds are forming in the distance, providing us some well-needed shade. As entering this sacred place, we are immersed into a mystic atmosphere. This UNESCO world heritage site is considered to be the home of the sacred culture of Hawaii, New Zealand and the Cook Islands, where Polynesians ventured north to Hawaii and west to New Zealand. A well preserved tiki is the guardian of one of the sacred houses, offerings to the gods are laid out on rocks, and crabs are hiding on our way. Here the labels introducing the History of the whole Polynesia are perfectly readable and we learn a lot about those traditional marae.

Our third stop is Mount Tapioi, which provide the only hike you can do without a guide. We hesitate a bit to find the start of the trail but we eventually do and start our way up to the top (294m). It turns out to be a quite easy hike as after 30-min-ish we arrive at the top, sweating as the sun is so hot. We are rewarded with a 360° view over Bora, Taha’a and Huahine. We stay a few minutes here, on top of the island, in the middle of the largest ocean in the world. A rooster struts along the edge and draws us from a dream. We walk down the same path as the shadows grow longer.

As the sun sets down, we take a boat to Taha’a. Lolita, our local host, is waiting for us on the pier. After a 10min drive, we arrive at our pension, a range of bungalow that her and her husband Leo have built almost 20 years ago. Our bungalow is spacious and clean, with only the essential furniture. As we are island hopping, we don’t have any foods with us that we could cook on the Fare Pote as other guests are doing when we arrive, so we ask Lolita if it’s possible to have dinner. An hour later, she serves us a huge plate of mahi-mahi, pasta and vegetables. The fish is good but too salty for us. Without really knowing why, we both feel awkward about this stay. As a boat is going to pick us up early the next morning, we ask if it’s possible to have breakfast earlier than 7:00am but unfortunately it is not. We will have to eat fast but we can’t skip breakfast especially because there is not much to be found on our own on this island…

After an okay sleep and a not-so-good breakfast (just a few fruits with baguettes and a bad cafe au lait), our boat is here. The guy is from Taha’a and his wife from Maupiti, our next island, so we talk a lot about it! He navigates us until our car rental company, where a local guy welcomes us warmly. He kindly gives us a lot of recommendations regarding the best itinerary to see everything in a day, and also his favorite place for dinner.

9:00am. We hit the road heading to the first pearl farm on the itinerary, Champon! As usual, the only road of the island is stuck between the lagoon and the mountains, with lush forests and colorful flowers. The dark clouds on the sky and the short showers make nature even more vibrant. We arrive at the pearl farm where we are warmly welcomed by Maeva, a young and fit woman. She shows us the farm and explains all the history of this family adventure. She shows us the process to get a perfect pearl and how the farm is really caring about the environment by developing sustainable production methods. We are so impressed by the beautiful quality of the pearls they produce. We also meet Monique, the owner, a beautiful woman passionate about pearls. I refrain myself to bring a beautiful souvenir back home as we need to keep cash for Maupiti.

Still amazed by what we’ve just seen, we are now heading to La Maison de la Vanille to see how they produce the famous vanilla of Taha’a. We get a bit lost and go a bit too far, but following the indications from some locals, find a little house with no sign outside to tell you you’re at the right place. Hesitating, we enter the open property and an old man comes to welcome us. “Unfortunately, he says, I had to stop producing vanilla last year, when my wife passed away.” We understand that he also had some health related issues and that his sons are not ready to take over from him. He hopes though to restart again next year.

We thus head to our third stop, the Love Here Pearl Farm. There we have another explanation of how they cultivate the pearls and in the boutique, we both have a crush on a small bracelet made of keshi, the more natural pearl. The nacre is of different colors and so beautiful!

Just a little further is the Vallée de la Vanille, a vanilla plantation. Here, we learn Taha’a grows approximately 80% of French Polynesia’s vanilla and that the process of making high quality vanilla beans is time intensive. Each flower is hand pollinated (Tahiti lacks the bees necessary to do this), which then produces a bean that takes another 9 months to mature. After picking, each bean is dried for an hour a day in then sun and lightly massaged for another two months before it will be ready for sale. The heady smell of vanilla emanates from the air in their small gift shop. For so much care, the vanilla is reasonably priced (between $15-$35 for a bundle) and we pick up several vacuum sealed packets for friends at home. Despite being touristic, it’s a nice farm to learn about vanilla.

For lunch we head to the private motu of Taha’a Island resort and spa. As we get closer to its sandy white shores the deep blue indigo water gradually changes to a blindingly vibrant aqua, despite the clouds forming above our head. After a delicious lunch toes in the sand facing the lagoon, we decide to explore this tiny island. The wind starts whipping around us, the clouds are dancing in the sky. When the sun rays finally come through the clouds, we head back to the beach and play in the crystal-clear lagoon. I just can’t get enough of those shallow crystal-clear waters.

As the night gets closer, we go back to the main island to drive to Haamene where is located our restaurant for dinner: Le Tahaa Maitai. Wind has stopped and clouds moved. We are warmly welcomed by Bruno, the chef, who comes from Bretagne in France. He tells us his story and his love for Taha’a. From the very local menu, we order a mahi-mahi with vanilla sauce made with vanilla from Taha’a and shrimps with honey both from Haamene. A real fest of flavors. Everything is perfect, even the moon slowly rising, reflecting distinctively on the mirror-lagoon.

On the next day, we wake up early to have us driven to the port, where the 7am ferry will take us back to Raiatea. It is obviously too early for our hosts to make us even a coffee but not to have us pay, with the precious cash we were keeping for Maupiti as their card machine is not functioning for an unknown reason (and much more than what we expected regarding the fees on Booking…). On the port of Raiatea, Floriane, our diving instructor for our second dive, is waiting for us. We are too excited about diving again and even forget about our empty bellies. Floriane is a kind woman from France who has lived here for a few decades. She drives us to the marina while telling us about Leo, our host in Taha’a, famous here for being a trickster, which confirm our bad feelings.

After getting on the boat, we navigate to the Te Ava Piti pass where is located a shipwreck nearby. Two girls from France are with us and are going to scuba dive to the shipwreck while we will stay at a depth of around 6 meters with corals and fishes. Back-flips off the upper deck and here we go, swimming softly around the channel. There’s colorful fishes everywhere. So many different species, from red to blue with touches of yellow and pink. Unfortunately, our guide is throwing some small pieces of bread to attract the fishes, which we do not understand since there’s already so many fishes around us … Our disappointment is quickly underlined by the sight of a majestic turtle. It is the first time for me to see such a beautiful free turtle. The underwater world will truly never cease to amaze me.

Back on the land, Floriane drives us to the airport. Both of us have mixed feelings about this dive. We saw many beautiful fishes and even a turtle but Floriane was feeding them and it disappointed us a lot, as we learnt in Huahine and Bora how fragile are the fishes and this underwater world. At the airport, we find a little cafe and as our flight is only taking off in more than two hours, we have plenty of time to eat something. Without meaning to I eat the whole plate of a truly delicious Tahitian raw fish with coconut sauce.

Bellies full we take off to our last island, the most remote island of the Society Island, Maupiti.

Maupiti

April 14th. I thought we would be used to the aerial perspective by now, but with eyes glued to windows we catch our first glimpses of Maupiti as our plane begins to descend. The snaking outline of green stretches far beyond what I can see even at this height. 11 square km, Maupiti is the smallest in the Society Islands. Tucked away from the stresses that accompany more developed areas, its lagoon is argued to be even more beautiful than Bora’s one, with schools of pelagic fish and annual migration of manta rays. As the plane get closer to the sea level, we can clearly distinguish corals reef from our windows. As we get closer and closer, it sounds like we are going to ditch in the lagoon when we finally feel the wheels hitting the surface. As our feet touch the ground, I know that we just arrived in paradise. The airport is so small – smaller than in Huahine – that I hesitate to even call it an airport. A few huts with palm trees and sand for tarmac is more accurate. The sun is hot, the air is salty, the lagoon is vibrant blue. I am in heaven.

A small boat is taking us to the main island, where we finally meet our host, Sandra. She welcomes us with her lovely smile with the usual leis of tiare, except that this one is the prettiest we’ve got. As well as the biggest and heaviest! The fragrance of these delicate white flowers is unmistakable. Down a small coconut tree lined road we bump along for a few minutes to reach our pension. Located right next to the most beautiful beach of Maupiti, the small pension is welcoming one other couple and two families of four.

Before dinner, we decide to cross the lagoon to the motu Auira. The water is incredibly clear. As we get closer to the motu, we catch a view of the entire island, with clouds dancing at the top of Mount Teurufaatiu. As the clouds get darker and darker, a rainbow appears in the sky while the rain starts pouring on the main island. In the motu is a micro-climate with the sun warming our skin.

Time seems like a mirage here, distant and glimmering in the corner of your eye, but never quite demanding your attention. In the middle of the lagoon, there is not another person for miles, which only adds to our sense of disconnecting from the fast paced modern world. 

That evening, we watch the sun slowly sinking into the ocean, extinguishing its vibrant orange glow in the waters off the horizon. Humbled by nature, as everyday here, we go back to our pension to share a lavish dinner. The three other families are so nice that we spend much of the time talking about how perfect is Maupiti. One of them is from Bordeaux, where my little sister lives, and are doing a world trip with their two little girls, of 2 and 4. The girls are the cutest on earth and are giddy playing with everyone around the table while we are all enjoying the delicious home-cooked meals.

On our second day, we never leave the water. We scuba dive to 10 m with Yannick from Maupiti Diving. Since it is our third dive already, he teaches us everything from taking the water off your mask underwater to taking off the regulator underwater before taking us to the manta rays point at 10 meters deep for more than an hour! As we stay calm on the ground, we see a first manta ray slowly undulating in the waters above our heads. Two others majestic manta rays are soon to be seen, passing upon our head and curiously coming back to see what kind of living beings we were before going back to their coral reef where they get cleaned. We slowly move our way through the coral reefs before Yannick stops us: a school of stingrays are passing just a few meters in front of us. What a beautiful spectacle. They are like the thirty-two dancers of the Corps de Ballet dancing together in Swan Lake! We dive a little bit more enjoying the last underwater sight of our trip.

When we get back on the boat, Yannick navigates the swell with delicacy in our petit marara, special type of nimble Tahitian boat, literally meaning flying fish. For nearly an hour, he shows us the only small channel of Maupiti and shares with us his experiences on the most beautiful island of French Polynesia.

After driving us back to our pension, we share our diving experience with Elsa and Bertrand, the couple from Bordeaux, before going to grab lunch in the only snack on the beach. We relax the whole day, between the deck chairs of the pension, the beach and the lagoon. Again, the sunset is magical and the dinner wonderful.

We start our last day with a beautiful sunrise on the beach, watching the nature slowly waking up. We then decide to hike the Mount Teurufaatiu. The hike quickly changes to a rock-climbing and as I am afraid of heights, I stop here and Seb goes on. The 360° view on the lagoon from the top is breathtaking. He soon comes down and we walk back to the beach.

Elsa, Bertrand and her two girls are also here and we chat and play together in the shallow waters. We will go to the airport together in a few hours, heading back to Tahiti. I cannot believe it’s already our last hours in this out-of-time island. I float on my back in the crystal-clear lagoon under a turquoise sky in silent reflection of our stay. It feels so good to be here, spoiled by the incredible spaces nature creates.

Tahiti

April 17th. On our last two days, we decide to take the hike to the Fautaua Waterfall, one of the only hikes you can do without a guide in Tahiti. We pack our stuff and head on to the city hall where we are supposed to get a passing authorization. There, we learn that the path is unfortunately closed due to the continuous rain of the past few days… We decide thus to explore a bit Papeete and its well-known lively and colorful market. We still have plenty of things to do in the island so after grabbing lunch, we get back to the car to Venus Point again, where we decide to relax and have picnic.

On the afternoon, we drive to Faarumai waterfalls, three waterfalls in Arue. The first one is easy of access but the second and third one are hidden after a 20min hike in the middle of the forest. The hike is officially closed but if it hasn’t rain for the past few hours, you can easily hike (proper hiking shoes needed as it has a lot of rocky parts and can be very slippery). Behind the name is a beautiful story : Faùai was the most beautiful girl of the valley and she was forbidden to talk to any boy. After her first love being killed by the guards, she finally meets Ivi and they are now living happily hidden by the two waterfalls. The third one felt on the guards looking for them.

Back on the road, we are now driving to Teahupo’o and its infamous surf break. The coastline road takes us through a luxurious forest and small towns until we reach Teahupo’o. Placid today, it is still an iconic view, even without the waves. As the sun is slowly setting down, we take the road to have dinner in the food-truck our hosts from our lodge Kanahau, Tahia and Teva. Called “Noix de Coco by Teva”, it is more like an outdoor restaurant, with a sophisticated yet traditional Tahitian cuisine. We choose a delicious Tahitian raw fish with coconut milk and vanilla from Taha’a, and a swordfish skewers with locally grown vegetables and vanilla sauce.

On our second and last day, our friend invites us for lunch so we decide to cancel our one-day round-trip to Moorea and instead enjoy our last hours in French Polynesia. As we fly out tonight on a midnight flight back to Los Angeles, our hosts kindly offer us to come back to the lodge before going to the airport so we can leave our stuff here and have a shower before leaving. Deeply moved by the attention of our hosts, we head on to the Museum of Tahiti and her islands, not far from the lodge we are staying at. The main showroom is closed for renovation but a small pavilion hosts an interesting anthropological exhibit featuring a hundred of objects representative of the five archipelagos of French Polynesia : a very interesting journey inside the History of Polynesia.

After meeting our friend for lunch in a Chinese restaurant, we head on to Vaiava Beach, the only white-sand beach of Tahiti. During the afternoon, we never leave the water. As always, the lagoon is crystal clear and sunlight streams through the glittering water. That evening, we drive back to our lodge as the sun sinks into the ocean. It sets just after we arrive, behind the mountains of Moorea.

As our flight takes off, I have nothing left to wish for. Those two weeks was incredible : new friends, adventure, indulgence, unspoiled nature… something my five senses had never feel before… a sentiment I will keep, alongside with my memories, treasured forever.


You can find all the addresses and places to see in each islands in my ultimate travel guide for Society Islands !

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