5.08.2011

French Polynesia I


My daughter and I often travel in August and a few summers ago, we decided to make one of our dreams come true and visit several islands in French Polynesia. I've been truly lazy about organizing our photos and writing some sort of diary to post, but finally, I'm getting my act together and hope you'll enjoy reading about these lovely islands and the memories of our time there. That's what's important, isn't it? The memories. Hopefully, between my daughter and I, we can remember enough to entertain and inform. :)

So how did we decide which islands to visit? My daughter Tracy is an experienced dive master so rather than take a cruise (which neither of us like much) or a packaged tour, she spoke with some of her experienced dive buddies who had previously made the trip. Between these friends, a lot of research, some travel books and the advice of a travel agent, we decided which islands had the best diving, which we thought most interesting and then made our reservations. In the end, I think we made pretty good choices, but we eventually learned about two islands we should have visited and there were a couple we visited and wished we hadn't...or at least spent less time on them. We visited: Tahiti; Rangiroa; Huahine; Moorea; Bora Bora and Taha'a. The two we should also have included: Raiatea and 
Manihi. 

Doing all the islands in one post would be an extremely tedious read and this one is already too long so I'm going to break it up a bit and do an island at a time over the next month or two. I'll begin with the first two we visited: Tahiti  and Rangiroa. I've written about two the first time because we didn't spend any time to speak of on Tahiti. 

As far as geography is concerned, French Polynesia is comprised of many islands. French Polynesia is a semi-autonomous territory of France with its own assembly, president, budget and laws. France's influence is limited to subsidies, education and security. Most of the islands we visited are part of The Society Islands: Tahiti and Moorea are Iles du Vent (the windward islands); Bora Bora, Huahine and Taha'a are Iles Sous le Vent ( the leeward islands). Rangiroa is part of the Tuamotu Archipelago. And here are a couple maps to help orient yourself.




LA and Tahiti

It all started out with a bad cold. Mine. Don't you hate starting out on a trip feeling rotten? A flight to LA pretty much plugged up my ears and wreaked havoc with my balance. So our one night in LA was rather uncomfortable. We splurged and stayed at
Hotel Bel-Air. Our room was charming and I immediately took a lovely long nap, trusting my ears would clear up by dinner time. That evening, we had arranged to have dinner with some friends of my daughter's at The AOC Wine Bar and Restaurant, a Suzanne Goins restaurant.....and fortunately, my ears cleared up so I felt much better. The restaurant was lovely, the company entertaining and the food delicious....we ordered a variety of things and shared. I highly recommend it.

The next morning we caught our 8 hour flight to Tahiti. Now everyone advised us NOT to bother spending any time on this island. Even the travel agent agreed. They were right.  It was crowded, traffic was terrible and one would have thought we were in any big city anywhere. We had to spend one night there, so we chose the Sheraton (now a Hilton), because it was very close to the airport, our flight to Rangiroa left early and we were warned about morning traffic. The hotel itself was fine for one night, much as you would expect a Sheraton to be. I have no doubt there are other hotels on Tahiti that are lovely, self-contained resorts, but we had limited time and preferred to visit the much smaller islands. There were several pools at this hotel and it was our first experience with "infinity" pools....which are now quite common everywhere.

Tahiti was created from volcano eruptions that occurred over 3 million years agos. It's split into 2 circles; the larger circle is known as Tahiti Nui, while the smaller circle is known as Tahiti Iti. They are connected to each other by a thin narrow isthmus called the Plateau of Taravao. A majority of Tahiti’s population can be found living on Tahiti Nui, near Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia.
Tahiti was proclaimed a colony of France in 1880 although it was not until 1946 that the indigenous Tahitians were legally authorised to be French citizens.  French is the only official language although the Tahitian language (Reo Tahiti) is widely spoken. We had a language problem on just one island, Rangiroa, and it was only a problem for me, as I will explain.

Rangiroa

The next day we began our island journey with a one hour flight to Rangiroa. (Pronounced Rain-GHEE-ro-ah) Let me preface by saying this: practically everyone we met while traveling in French Polynesia was on their honeymoon. We were the odd men women out for the most part. But my daughter and I are good buddies, travel frequently together so we weathered the sultry romance surrounding us, chuckled about it, often commiserated we didn't have partners with us (nor any in sight what with all the honeymooners around), but were grateful to be in these lovely islands. Just sitting and having a drink while watching the sunset was truly amazing. And thankfully, traveling as a single diver didn't give Tracy any difficulties anywhere. 

Rangiroa is the largest atoll in the Tuamotus and the second largest in the world. It's a string of coral encircling a lagoon, looking from the air rather like a giant pearl necklace laid in the waterThe atoll consists of about 415 motus (tiny islets) and sandbars, each no more than three feet in elevation, comprising a total land area of about 170 km. Only two islands, located on the northern end of the atoll, are permanently inhabited. Rangiroa offers some of the best dives in the world, which is why we chose to visit.





We stayed at Hotel Kia Ora (which is about to reopen after undergoing a much-needed refit). About 5 minutes from the airport, the Hotel Kia Ora is set on a beach on the atoll's northern portion, amid a secluded and vast coconut plantation. It's the only hotel on this island. To be honest, we both agreed this was the island we liked the least. It didn't help that after a few days, they fouled up our reservations and we had to move out of our little cottage into tiny room for our two final days. 
There was barely enough room for our luggage. After having enjoyed a cute bungalow, this was an unpleasant ending to our stay. Rangiroa and Bora Bora were the only islands where we didn't have an over-water bungalow. 

The only language spoken on Rangiroa, by both guests AND staff, was French (you may be thinking duhhh, Barbara, but this was the only island on which it happened). Tracy is fluent as she lived in Paris for 6 years, but I'm not. I can speak enough to get by, but any extended conversation is beyond me. There were no other English speaking guests when we were there, which made things a tad quiet for me when Tracy was diving.  Picture this:  an older woman, American, single, sitting alone amid French honeymooners. T
rès drôle, non? :D And there may have been one or two children, but that's all. Good thing I like to read and snorkel! And I was still taking it easy as my cold wasn't completely gone.
The food was quite good, lots of fish and fruit of course, but we were pleasantly surprised with our meals. Which I suppose we should have expected: Rangiroa IS French after all, but let's face it...an atoll. There was an adorable bar with sections of floor in glass so you could see the fish below (another surprise we found to be common nearly everywhere in the islands ) and the bartender was a sweetie.

 One day we rented an open air electric car, although I hesitate to call it a car, to drive around what little of the atoll was passable. We actually came across a woman just off the (only) road who made wonderful pattern-dyed scarves, blouses, bags and cover-ups. Leave it to two women to find someplace to shop on an atoll in the middle of the Pacific. Anyway, she was quite a find and we came home with some lovely things we wear still. One of mine was a cover-up, another was a small wrap that decorates the bottom of a bed and then a larger wrap hangs in the guest bedroom.


Twice a day the tide changes on this atoll and when it does, waves and whirlpools churn through Tiputa Pass and the famous bottlenose dolphins of Rangiroa perform their acrobatics there. While diving, Tracy had seen them and wanted to show me, so we found our way there and sure enough, we saw them frolicking in the waves. For some reason, I didn't take a photo, but found one online that was exactly as we saw it.


That was pretty much it as far as sightseeing is concerned. There's not much to see on an atoll, after all. If you're not a diver and need to be entertained, this island is not for you. Probably why so many honeymooners choose these islands. The most "entertainment" we saw was the ubiquitous South Seas revue. You know, the one where you get called up on the stage to learn to hula. Poor Tracy got dragged up there by a 12 year old boy who was part of the act. She was a good sport, but this type of show was repeated every place we went and we learned to visit the loo when we saw them coming into the audience to find willing suckers participants .

The snorkeling was excellent, which we found to be the case in all the islands. If you are intending to scuba dive, the hotel is ideally located between the 2 lagoon passes. There is a dive operator on the property. My daughter reported that it's mainly shark diving. They went super deep to look for large grey sharks and also silver tip sharks. If you are a diver,  you might like to check the diving situation  HERE.


Enjoy the Rangiroa slideshow! The next island will be Huahine. One of our favorites.
P.S. The photos are ALL of my daughter!


56 comments:

  1. Hi Barbara,

    I enjoyed reading about your holiday, must have been fabulous.
    It was neat that your daughter spoke French fluently.
    We have been to Noumea ( New Calendonia) a few times and that is also French speaking.
    thanks for sharing your photographs and trip with us.

    Happy week
    Hugs
    Carolyn

    ReplyDelete
  2. Enjoyed your post, it sounds like a fantastic vacation with your daughter. Adventurous and fun! Super photo's!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I enjoyed reading about your stay - too bad you had to spend the last couple days on that one island in a tiny little room. I have always wanted to stay in one of those huts over the water. :) Some day...

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a lovely adventure! I can't wait to hear more. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. What an incredibly awesome adventure and bonding experience you had with your daughter! Happy Mothers Day!

    ReplyDelete
  6. A wonderful place! I'd love to go there. What a great trip.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's lovely to read about your trip Barbara because I know what a passionate traveller you are. I'm so glad you enjoyed the holiday in spite of a rotten cold, having to change accommodation and not speaking the language and your photos are wonderful and really give me a feeling of being there. I'd go just for seeing the dolphins. Looking forward to the next installment.

    ReplyDelete
  8. How fun to read about your French Polynesia trip! We visited in 2000. Didn't go to Rangiroa but did visit Tahiti and Moorea. Tahiti is worth a two day stop as there are some historical sights to see, but in general it is a stop over to hop to other islands. Yeah the hotels weren't all that, in fact, we had to stop over in Tahiti the second time for just a night before our flight to New Zealand and stayed in the worst hotel we've ever stayed in, it was really so awful.

    Can't wait to hear about your other island experiences and what you thought of Moorea, it was our favorite.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This truly is a little piece of paradise, Barbara. It looks like you and your daughter had a fabulous time. Love that shot of the dolphins, it must have been so much fun to watch them!

    Hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day!

    ReplyDelete
  10. What a lovely holiday dear Barbara, I look forward to the next installment(s). WIshing you a belated Happy Mother's Day! (or is it still Sunday there?)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Might I be rude and note I told you so?! ;) Everyone LOVES your travel posts!! I love the vivid blues and greens. Sigh. Come on summer.

    ReplyDelete
  12. What a cool place to visit! Glad you're sharing the pics with us. The room is so lovely and the view is absolutely stunning.
    Happy Mother's day to you too, Barbara! Have a fun day.
    Kristy

    ReplyDelete
  13. Loved this post, I adore the idea of any kind of tropical vacation. And I'm still in vacation mode so even reading about someone else's makes me happy!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I will sneak into your suitcase before you leave for your next vacation. Beware!!! ;)

    ReplyDelete
  15. Wow Barbara, I enjoyed so much reading about your vacation as I never had a chance to visit the Polynesian Islands...thank for taking time and guide us through the trip...nice pictures and looks forward to the next island. Have a great week :-)

    ReplyDelete
  16. awesome travel post Barbara more please!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Sounds like a fantastic trip.
    Mimi

    ReplyDelete
  18. I am sooo jealous...

    Looks like such a lovely time!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I've never been to this part of the world, so I find your travel memoir fascinating and BEAUTIFUL! I would have loved to see the dolphins frolicking. And just HOW do you stay so svelte with all the great cooking and baking that you do?????

    ReplyDelete
  20. What a trip!! I would LOVE to go one day!

    ReplyDelete
  21. What a lovely post and very honest too with your recommendations. I'm not a diver at all so I think some islands would suit me better than others.

    ReplyDelete
  22. What a great place to relax and enjoy yourself!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I feel like I've traveled a bit just reading your post. Can't wait to hear about the rest! Sounds like it was a truly marvelous vacation.

    ReplyDelete
  24. What a beautiful place to get away from it all and just relax. If there are no golf courses I'm sure I would never get my husband there.

    Beautiful photos!

    ReplyDelete
  25. What a fantastic adventure this must have been, Barbara. I can't wait to hear and see more. It sounds fabulous thus far. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

    ReplyDelete
  26. Sounds absolutely delightful. I don't think I'd even mind the language barrier. Good food, beautiful beach and ocean views, and some books to read would make me incredibly happy!

    ReplyDelete
  27. Un voyage magnifique.
    J'aimerai bien y aller moi aussi.
    See soon.

    ReplyDelete
  28. What a tremendous holiday & this is only the first island. Rangiroa would hold enough charm & entertainment for me. I'd just pull up that hammock and gaze at the ocean. You and your daughter sound like great traveling buddies, how very wonderful Barbara. She's a beautiful lady too just like her mom I'm sure. Looking forward to your next island and living vicariously through you ladies.

    Thank you! x Deb

    ReplyDelete
  29. Barbara, all I can say is WOW. Looks exactly how I picture paradise to look.

    ReplyDelete
  30. What a wonderful, WONDERFUL trip, Barbara. :-) I love traveling so much and you chose such a gorgeous spot. :-) I chuckled picturing you with all the honeymooners. That happened to me all by myself traveling in Fiji. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  31. Wow this is a wonderful trip. As I was reading it I imagined it in my head. It's nice that you daughter can speak in French! Love the pictures... it's like a dream holiday. You're so lucky that you have experienced this. XX

    ReplyDelete
  32. Barbara this must have been a dream of a vacation. Such a beautiful part of the world! You are so brave to dive! I would be scared stiff.
    hugs from here...

    ReplyDelete
  33. outstanding. truly epic bit of journaling here, barb. you are the peripatetic chef! re: AOC, yeah, pretty cool place. next time you're in town, email me and i'll shoot you some other recommendations to try! great post! ;)

    ReplyDelete
  34. I love that you guys vacation together to such fun and exciting places! Polynesia sounds like somewhere I'd really love to go...at least I got to live vicariously through you guys!

    ReplyDelete
  35. BARBARA! WOW, thank you for the fabulous tour!!! How wonderful is your slideshow and the memories never fade, do they? Thank you for your kind words on my post this morning. I really appreciate all the lovely comments and may you always cherish those times with your children that will leave THEM with fond vestiges of your life....yes, I have memories of my mum that will last my lifetime and give me tears and laughter as well.

    CHEERS!! Anita

    ReplyDelete
  36. Barbara, your post is wonderful! I've never been to French Polynesia and I felt I was right along with you on your trip. I love to travel with my daughter too and treasure the memories we bring home with us.

    Great photos. Thanks for sharing them.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I loved this post! What a great trip and thanks for sharing it with all of us. I am gettin in touch with you next time I plan a trip!!!

    ReplyDelete
  38. I loved reading this post....your anecdotes, the great relationship we perceive between your daughter and you! And being there is one of my dreams..don't know if I will ever go there, so for the time being, I enjoyed your pics!

    ReplyDelete
  39. surrounded by honeymooners--how romantic! :)
    thanks for sharing tales from your journey, barbara--this has all the makings of a fabulous trip!

    ReplyDelete
  40. What anw amazing holiday, Barbara. Always wanted to visit that part of the world.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Barbara, I am looking forward to the rest of the story. Great travelogue. Susan alerted me to your clafoutis recipe and I am going to try it soon. Thanks for sharing your expertise with me. I love my blogging buddies.

    ReplyDelete
  42. What a lovely holiday!!:) Lots of great fun,and the photos just make me wanna go there now!~

    ReplyDelete
  43. Your photos have me longing for a vacation. What a fabulous experience this was for you.

    ReplyDelete
  44. What an amazing trip. Beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  45. Wow! Barbara what a fantastic trip. The fact that you spent it with your daughter is pricelss.

    Loved taking the virtual journey with you. Thanks for sharing.

    Velva

    ReplyDelete
  46. Wow, I feel more relaxed just looking at these photos. What a wonderful trip. Tahiti has always been a fantasy destination for me, too.

    ReplyDelete
  47. what a wonderful trip thanks for sharing the pics

    ReplyDelete
  48. It all just sounds glorious Barbara. You are making me daydream!

    ReplyDelete
  49. I really appreciated you including maps of the areas--I have a clearer idea of the travel distance. How great that you and your daughter travel so well together. looking forward to reading more about this adventure.

    ReplyDelete
  50. your pictures are amazing Barbara and sounds fun and wonderful!
    Love the maps!
    All look lovely!
    gloria

    ReplyDelete
  51. What an incredible trip!! I LOVE your photos. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

    ReplyDelete
  52. Thanks for letting me know about this post! I missed reading it, so it was great reading about the beginning of your adventures. Looking forward to reading more next week!

    ReplyDelete
  53. I loved reading about your trip and can't wait to read about the other islands.
    My dream is to live (even if it's for a short while) in Bora Bora and just enjoy the peaceful life.
    Thanks for sharing Barbara, hope you'll have a wonderful day :)

    ReplyDelete
  54. I still in the back of my mind want to retire to the Seychelles one day! So Tahiti is not far off. I should do like you did and at least check out the place before committing to it! Sounds like a great trip and how neat to travel with your daughter.

    ReplyDelete

What do you think?

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails