French Polynesian Honeymoon
A Dream Vacation to Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd get to go to the Society Islands in French Polynesia for my honeymoon. In fact, my then husband-to-be, Len, surprised me with it. He successfully kept me in the dark for all of our 11-week engagement --even throwing me off the trail by leaving a fake itinerary 'just lying around' for me to stumble upon. Until we boarded the plane for our connection in Los Angeles, I'd thought that we were going to Aruba. Fortunately, Len made sure that I'd packed well for our real destination: Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora.
While I didn't know much about French Polynesia beforehand to know that it would be better than I could ever imagine. Len, fascinated with Bora Bora since his tween years, did his research to make our time there spectacular. If you've ever thought of heading to the South Pacific to enjoy the wonders of French Polynesia, I hope my account of our honeymoon inspires you to go to the Society Islands in French Polynesia. May your trip be equally fabulous!
Yes, it is that beautiful. Actually, even more so.
photo credit (overwater bungalow in Bora Bora): http://www.flickr.com/photos/loulou/249803539/ used via a creative commons license
Have You Ever Been to Tahiti, Moorea or Bora Bora?
So, have you been?
Tip: Use a Travel Agent
Especially if you are new to international travel, or especially if it's for your honeymoon
In my humble opinion, it pays to utilize the resources of a travel agent when you're traveling all the way around the world to somewhere you're visiting for the first time. Especially if it's your honeymoon, you're visiting several islands, and you want to make it a vacation to remember...in a good way. I have too many friends with horror stories about honeymoon plans gone awry. Some pathetically funny in hindsight, and some just pathetic.
I know my then-fiance totally appreciated the hints from our travel agent on how to save money on our honeymoon while still having it be an amazing experience. She pointed him to resorts that were the best bang for the buck; not necessarily the most popular ones. The results were fantastic.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikecogh/2563768389/
Travel Guides for French Polynesia - Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and More
Do some extra research and reading about these gorgeous islands and their people before you travel.
Moorea - A gem of an island right next to Tahiti
It's pretty amazing to think that even though just a mile of water separates Tahiti and Moorea, that many locals rarely travel between the two. Moorea's much smaller, greener and has dramatic mountains perfect for gorgeous photo opportunities. We took a lot of the opportunities.
photo credit: BunnyFabulous
You just must splurge for these. Or, at the very least, a half-over-land-half-over-water bungalow.
There's just no experience like staying in an overwater bungalow in the South Pacific.
It's amazingly relaxing to hear the water gently lapping on the supports of your bungalow. You keep the door to your porch open so that the south seas breeze wafts gently through. There's no air conditioning; you don't need it. The decor and furnishings (at least in where we stayed) are well-appointed and fit with your locale. It feels like a luxurious floating house without the movement or seasickness.
Our overwater bungalow in Bora Bora had a cube-shaped glass coffee table that allowed you to see right under your bungalow to the water below and the brilliant-hued tropical fish. It was gorgeous during the day, but if you took extra rolls from the restaurant at dinner (which was encouraged by the staff), you got an amazing show. The top of the coffee table slid off, and with the flick of a light switch illuminating the water under our bungalow, hordes of gorgeous fish appeared, ready to be fed. We obliged, breaking off bits of bread to toss down to them.
Another benefit of the overwater bungalows is that there's almost always a ladder from your back porch right down into the water. If you're into snorkeling even the least bit, it's a real treat to be able to just put on your snorkel, mask and fins and get right into the water, then return straight to your bungalow. Even the bungalow in Moorea where we were partially over the water had a ladder down into a few feet of water.
Did I mention that the bungalows are really romantic too?
Photo credit: BunnyFabulous
I know, you can do stuff like this all over the world, but there's something special about playing with dolphins in the South Pacific
Something I've always wanted to do!
While we didn't actually swim with the dolphins, we got a one-on-one experience spending time with a dolphin trainer learning about these magnificent aquatic mammals and got to interact with two dolphins in their enclosure. I loved getting to do some simple training exercises with the dolphins and to touch their smooth, kind of rubbery-feeling skin. The photo was a totally posed, but pretty cool nevertheless.
The resort we were staying at, InterContinental Moorea Resort and Spa is actually the home of the Moorea Dolphin Center. The dolphins with which we interacted were in retirement from working with the American Navy to help detect underwater mines, and proceeds from the center fund marine wildlife research.
Photo is property of BunnyFabulous
'It's a Small World' Moment
The French dolphin trainer we spent time with at the Moorea Dolphin Center moved to Moorea from Central Florida. He'd worked at Disney's Epcot Center and had lived not far from my first apartment in the Orlando area.
Excursions in Moorea
Exploring the island with a guided tour is easy and extremely fun. You can also set up excursions for parasailing, surfing and much more, but I think you'd miss out if you didn't do this Land Rover island tour.
Most, if not all resorts in French Polynesia will present you with a list of available excursions to explore the surrounding island paradise. They're at an additional cost, so be prepared to bring extra money if you want to take advantage of the extra fun.
We did a tour of Moorea in an open-top Land Rover, which gave us some spectacular views of the mountains, gorgeous waterfalls and took us up into the forest over some rough terrain. I'll never forget our guide, Eddie. He'd lived in Moorea his whole life and gave us some great insights into French Polynesian culture, both current and historical. For example:
- Bread is delivered daily to homes on Moorea and is put in bread boxes that look like the old newspaper boxes in the US.
- The police are French, and new ones come every several years. They're pretty strict for the first couple of months, then lighten up a lot and mostly surf.
- Hawaii's surf conditions are approximately 5 days ahead of the Society Islands, so whatever Hawaii gets, 5 days later it'll be the same type of waves in Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and the rest of the island chain.
- School can be cancelled if the waves are good, and the teachers appreciate the extra time to surf as much as the students.
- Instead of sacrificing virgins to their gods, ancient Tahitians sacrificed the best warrior. The reason was that the god would be appeased the most effectively by the very best sacrifice.
Eddie also told us lots of folklore and traditional stories. After each, he'd say "We do not know if that is true or not. It is just a legend" and would look back at the six of us (hubby and I, a Canadian couple and a Japanese couple) with a huge smile. To this day, when my husband and I tell each other something that we've heard but not sure is true, we repeat Eddie's line. I wish every tour guide had the engaging friendliness and well-communicated knowledge of Eddie.
There were times I wondered whether the Land Rover would fall of the side of the mountain because the terrain we were going over was pretty rough, but maybe I was just being paranoid. In any case, Eddie got us safely up to a gorgeous lookout, and then to a rocky trail leading to a secluded waterfall with a lovely pool. It looked like it should be in a movie. Nearly equally impressive was the wife of the Japanese couple who made the whole hike in heels and a dress. She did as well as the rest of us who had much more appropriate footwear and attire.
When we got back to the Land Rover, Eddie had cut fruit that he'd picked from the surrounding trees and laid it out in a lovely display. It was the best coconut, pineapple and mango I'd ever tasted.
This excursion had so much appeal to me: quirkiness, adventure, history, cultural appreciation, a great guide, amazing scenery, playing in a waterfall and delicious fruit.
Photo credits: BunnyFabulous
Welcome to Bora Bora - Me on the boat ride from the landing strip on Bora Bora to our resort on another motu.
I loved all the flowers and lushness of Bora Bora. Had to hold my little floral circlet (a gift to new arrivals in Bora Bora) on because it was windy and we were going so fast. Mt. Otemanu is in the background.
This photo just reminds me of feeling happy and free, newly married to the love of my life and getting to experience paradise on earth.
Photo credit: BunnyFabulous
What's a Motu?
A motu is a small island that makes up the perimeter of a lagoon. Most of the most spectacular beaches in the Society Islands are on motus surrounding the larger islands like Bora Bora and Moorea.
Bora Bora's Lagoon. Breathtakingly, Stunningly Beautiful - The locals and tour guides told us that there are five colors of water in Bora Bora's Lagoon. Can you
Seeing the island of Bora Bora come into view from the airplane we flew in from Moorea was an almost otherworldly experience. I almost couldn't believe that what I was seeing was quite real. And even better...that we'd be staying there for five days.
Photo credit: BunnyFabulous
Exploring Bora Bora
by Land Rover and kayak
We explored the hills around Mount Otemanu via Land Rover and while I enjoyed it immensely, my husband loved this part even more. The reason? World War II history. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States covertly sent troops to Bora Bora for 'Operation Bob Cat,' setting up cannons and anti-aircraft guns as an outpost in the Pacific. The battle never made it to French Polynesia, so the huge cannons just sat there until tourist like us came to learn about them and marvel at the vistas they overlooked.
Just like in Moorea, there were coconut trees everywhere and our guide picked fresh fruit for us. The guide caught some members of our party just in time when they picked up a broken coconut off the ground and were about to taste it, saying "I would not do that if I were you. The rats eat those." Good to know.
It was totally worth it to rent a 2-person kayak to explore the shallow transparently light blue waters at the edges of the lagoon between the motus. There's something to be said about being right near the surface of the water when a young shark's fin spears the surface beside you and rockets through the water after its prey. Very cool, but a bit too close for comfort for me to do that on a regular basis. That's why it's a dream vacation, right?
We paddled within 50 yards of a small motu just to get a closer look. It was a quintessential tiny South Pacific island, resplendent with trees and no sign of people. Suddenly a man burst out of the vegetation, waving his arms at us and screaming 'PRIVATE ISLAND! PRIVATE ISLAND!' He seemed pretty stressed, a stark contrast to the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of pretty much everything else in Bora Bora. Needless to say, we turned around. This turned into another honeymoon-ism of ours: when someones' overreacting, my husband and I sometimes joke about the 'private island' guy.
Photo credits: BunnyFabulous
The 'big island' in French Polynesia
The last two nights of our honeymoon were in Tahiti itself. While I'd always heard about the lush beauty of this exotic island, what we mostly saw was the capitol city of Papeete. None of French Polynesia is commercialized, but Papeete was the closest it got. While we did do a few fun activities, I greatly preferred our time on Moorea and Bora Bora.
We toured the island and visited the Paul Gauguin museum. They didn't allow photography there, so I can't really show you anything, but it was reasonably interesting for someone like me who appreciates art.
The open air market in downtown Papeete had lots of lovely wares. I ended up getting a small pocketbook woven out of palm fronds.
Since French Polynesia is a French territory, there's quite a French influence in the cuisine. We ate at a lovely little French restaurant -- I wish I remembered the name. I'd thoroughly enjoyed the traditional Polynesian delicacies, but you really can't go wrong with good French cooking.
Read More About Paul Gauguin - the post-impressionist painter who made his home in Tahiti
Are You Up for a Surprise Vacation? - Some of my friends freaked out that my then-fiance was surprising me with our honeymoon plans. I thought it was a pretty c
What would you think if your spouse/significant other planned a surprise dream vacation for the two of you?
Helpful Resources for Travel to Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora
- Speak Tahitian
Some key words and phrases in Tahitian
- Tahiti Tourism - North America
A comprehensive site including attractions, photo galleries, information about each of the islands as well as history and culture
- Tahiti Guide
There's a personal touch to the wealth of information on this site. The navigation on this site looks a bit dated, but the content is great.