When you cast off for your honeymoon in French Polynesian be sure to wear your Tiare blossom facing forward from your left ear, Ladies. In a land that speaks through the power of flowers, any other attitude would hint “come hither, I’m available.”
Tahiti and her islands, all 118 of them scattered along the two million square miles of blue Pacific that is French Polynesia, overflow with adventurous possibility far beyond what may happen with the shift of a bloom.
The lure of romance is everywhere, tinged with both legendary beauty and tingling of thrills for couples that want to venture beyond the sand and swaying palms to hidden temples, secret waterfalls, dances with dolphins and encounters with sharks.
What’s Cool in Tahiti
The largest island in French Polynesia is also the busiest. Your adventure here may be diving into your pockets to buy glorious black pearls, French confections and the colorful flowers and fashions displayed in the boutiques and sidewalk marchés of Papeete – now a bright and burgeoning eight-block presence near the cruiseport.
But don’t get too distracted by the baubles. There are lava tubes to be traced, burial caves to wander, fern grottos to find and archeological digs to be explored. And do not miss a trip to the Paul Gauguin Museum for an in-depth look at the artist’s life through his art.
Best bets for an efficient and extremely entertaining overview of Papeete and its people is a half or full-day 4×4 safari with Tahiti Discovery. Teiva will be your guide and take you on the local’s tour – where to find the best donuts as well as encounters with mysterious plants, hidden paths leading to secret ancient villages, mountain waterfalls pouring into jungle ponds, incredible overlooks, and the all the legendary stories that go with these spots.
Stay the night at Manava Suite Resort, with its apartment-style guest rooms and heavenly views of Moorea across the South Pacific. Rates run around $292 per night and, as a full-service property with pool, bar and fine and casual dining, guests will find the Manava to be a great place to hub and return to should they want to sample several of Tahiti’s islands.
Bloody Mary, in the “South Pacific” film production, was looking at Tohive’a — the most photographed peak on the island — when she sang of “Bali Hai.” Shaped like a heart, Moorea is considered the island of love by the locals who will take you on hikes or ATV safaris to stony cliff views that will send you back hundreds of years to the HMS Endeavor and Bounty through evocative panoramas.
Your romantic adventures can take you deep into the interior, up Three Coconut Trees Pass to explore the Opunohu Valley that opens to the legendary Belverdere Overlook (see various film versions of Mutiny on the Bounty in these waters and note that it was an actual anchoring spot used by Capt. Cook), and thundering waterfalls at Afareaitu. Plenty of local safari and guided land tour operators are available for full and half-day customized excursions.
Stay in an overwater bungalow off the InterContinental hotel’s ten-acre, white sand lagoon and order room service. Your Poisson Crue — raw tuna steamed in coconut milk with tomatoes and onions served in a coconut shell– will be delivered to your room with Champagne to toast by a maiden right out of the paintings of Gauguin via hand-carved, hand-rowed outrigger. The property also harbors a dolphin lagoon for sweet encounters of the friendly cetacean kind, and a refuge spot for green turtles.
Another option is the Moorea Pearl Resort, part of the South Pacific Management collection. This is the location of the island’s first hotel, the circa 1961 Bali Hai. The current resort has 94 rooms and bungalows (28 Over Water Bungalows) and several private garden bungalows with their own plunge pool. But guests enjoy the hotel’s infinity swimming pool, the largest one of the island. Premium overwater bungalows are set right above the reef drop for fabulous snorkeling.
But those travelers who may have recently taken the plunge and targeted Tahiti for the honeymoon may want to add a little adventure to the mix. Head out to sea and you’re in shark country and the large lemon variety, with their eight-foot heft, take meal times in the Tiki pass quite seriously. But daring duos will have these sharks eating out of their hands, and keeping their digits if they do it with a skillful dive guide through Club BaliHai. Add stingray feeding (surprisingly soft and friendly creatures) to the menu plus a picnic on a quiet motu to these half-day adventures for a satisfying and full Tahiti experience.
Not married yet? No problem. Marriages, too, can be an escapade on Moorea. Whether you want to pre-wed or re-wed your mate, try a Tahitian wedding at Tiki Village. For a quickie ceremony couples dressed in white Tahitian wraps exchange flower leis and head crowns before a native priest, and receive a “tapa” or sacred certificate. Singing and dancing follows while the sun sets and Champagne pours. It’s not a paper you can take to the U.S. courts but the locals will call you Mr. and Mrs.
More elaborate ceremonies at the Tiki Village decant the island charm. Couples arrive by outrigger canoe as costumed villagers line up on the beach to greet them under the strums of a ukulele. The bride-to-be heads to the bamboo hut (or “fare”) where the women of the village prepare her for the big moment by massaging her body with traditional “monoi” oil and dressing her like a Tahitian princess.
The groom steals away by canoe to a nearby beach to be tattooed (by felt tipped pen) and dressed as a high chief. He returns to the arms of his bride, accompanied by the high priest and the villagers, to enter the Marae — the Tahitian stone temple overlooking the lagoon — for “I do’s” in island lingo while women of the village sing traditional chants and the couple receives Tahitian names for themselves and their future children. Swathed in perfumed flowers and toting their new names, the Tahitian twosome take to the Royal Chair carried by four noble warriors to the Royal Floating “Fare” or honeymoon bungalow moored nearby for a night or weekend of undisturbed bliss (but for the cheerful villagers delivering nourishment and seeing to their every wish).
Bonding in Bora Bora
Less than an hour by air from Moorea or Tahiti is a land that time has hardly forgotten. In fact, the finest resort companies are putting signatures on this island, once baptized the “Pearl of the Pacific” by Capt. James Cook. Two peaks here, Pahia and Otemanu, rule against the jade and sapphire hues of the surrounding lagoon. A ring of small motus or islets surround gentle Bora Bora to create the world’s most alluring natural swimming pool.
This is the Aspen of the South Pacific. In an island chain that receives as many visitors in a year as Hawaii does in a week, Bora Bora remains remote, timeless, but bountiful in luxurious offerings.
A stay at Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort is all you need for a complete experience of this Polynesian outpost. Overwater bungalows here reach far over the shallow waters for easy swimming off the terrace. A Zen-style spa takes out all the kinks and worries. White sand beaches, pool bars, fine and fun dining do the rest. On site is a special coral reef project that is experimenting creating state of the art re-growth to save the seas. Tours from the docks can be arranged for any type of snorkeling, diving, ray chasing and reef-viewing adventure you seek. Nightly stays run around $600, not including meals.
Bora Bora Hollywood-Style
Stay and play the celeb way at St. Regis Bora Bora. The property has stood as one of the most romantic “it” spots for honeymoons ever since Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban had their honeymoon there. With 30 bungalows and 70 overwater villas hugging this private island retreat, it’s hard to find a spot that is simply ordinary.
Even standard overwater bungalows start at 1,550 square feet. All amenities are top-notch, from the full-sized Acqua di Parma bath products to the Clarins Miri Miri spa pavilion to the overwater Lagoon Restaurant overseen by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and overlooking powerful Mount Otemanu. Honeymooners may enjoy the Premier Overwater One Bedroom Villa for its private terrace with Jacuzzi; covered gazebo with daybed; private pontoon, and outdoor shower. Rates? If you have to ask …
Tahiti, the Island Way
To see the real Tahiti, you have to head out, way out, to islands that barely have names or faces. There (about an hour’s flight from Papeete) you will find peace and the quiet of the Trades sweeping over undisturbed waters. Few others will be in your company. It is just you, your significant other, the stars and the splashing of gregarious fish.
Find this true paradise in Tikehau, a splattering of atolls on the farther reaches of the Societies. The Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort is pretty much “it” here for civilization.
There are 24 suites and overwater bungalows, and 13 beach bungalows on this precious 10-acre property. And every cottage is on or facing the water. The best swimming spots are near the garden bungalows in waters so clear you do not need goggles to gander at the menagerie of fish life below the surface.
This is not the spot for those who need to be entertained or have to be moving all the time. The resort is a bit of a throwback. Wifi works some of the time, overwater bungalow beds are shrouded in mosquito netting in suites that are cooled by the breezes (garden bungalows have the air conditioning). Dining is casual and the wine list is decent, however the menu does not change often.
Visitors here are not looking for hype and style, they are looking for that deserted South Pacific island experience they pine for every time it snows, every time they get a traffic ticket, every time they get a squeeze memo at work.
Action in this perfect paradise is taking a boat across the water to another atoll where birds of every feather and stripe seem to find nirvana in nesting. From there it is onto another island for an amazing picnic and lazy swims between snoozes under the palms.
Paradise has its Price
Tahiti delivers when it comes to fulfilling escape fantasies and romance requirements. And it is just beyond Hawaii in distance, around eight hours from the U.S. West Coast. However, Tahiti is expensive. French in nationality, the food and wine culture can be outstanding here. But at a price. Tahiti grows little of her own food stocks and imports everything that hits the tables or the markets. If these items do not come from France, they likely come from the U.S., New Zealand, or Australia.
Still, time away in a well-perfected South Pacific paradise can be priceless.
More information: Tahiti Tourism