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.
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
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 water. The 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. Très 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
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!