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Tahiti - a French experience close to home

‘Ia Orana Tahiti’ or ‘Hello Tahiti’!

Who could say ‘no’ to a taste of Europe that’s practically located right on our very doorstep? It may not be Paris but after a short five-hour flight - ‘voila’ - you’re amidst of a whole bunch of Frenchness in a very nice climate. If you’re a fan of French food and language, this is the place for you to visit.

We left Wellington on a beautiful winters day in June and connected with a flight via Auckland to arrive in Papeete in the evening. Disembarking the Air Tahiti Nui flight with no air bridge is a delight when you’re met with a balmy 25 degrees, a silky smooth breeze and some traditional island music being sung by the locals.

Arriving on an EU passport was even better as EU passengers have their own much shorter line to queue up in - it makes you feel right at home! I will mention here though that on the return flight it was a bit of a hassle and very slow through the French airport customs.   

The local currency is XPF (French Polynesian Franc) and there’s no need to barter in Tahiti, as prices are set. Tipping is optional and not expected. If you don’t hire a car or have transfers pre-booked, then airport taxi transfers are very similar in price to New Zealand. Most taxi drivers are English-speaking so take the opportunity to gain some information about the Islands  on your transfer.

Pape'ete

For our first two nights we stayed at the Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti, which is a great resort for couples, families and single travellers alike as it offers both hotel rooms and apartments. They also offer convenient shuttles into town. The Radisson felt like a sanctuary with its black beach backing straight onto the beautiful pool area, and hearing the waves breaking onto the beach (there is no reef outside the resort) through the wide open doors of our accommodation at night made us feel as though we’d arrived in paradise. The sea was lovely to swim in too.       

On our first day at the Radisson, we took a taxi to ‘Carrefour’, a large supermarket located 10 minutes away. I'm not a supermarket fan but if you’ve ever been to France and have a liking for French food, then you understand the temptation of buying lots of cheese, pates, salamis, hams and last but not least, a few baguettes. The baguettes are subsidised by the government and cost only 50xpf each, so that’s about 75c New Zealand each. Where else in the world could you get such great bread at such low prices?

Is it expensive?

Talking about prices, everybody says that Tahiti is really expensive. I agree that parts of it are but it doesn't have to be. If you stay in self-catering accommodation where you can buy all your own food and prepare it yourself, then you can have a very reasonable vacation. There are plenty of smaller suparettes scattered around the islands, so it is very easy to pick up a fresh baguette and other food first thing in the morning.

The Tahitians’ main income is tourism, with the majority coming from USA, Japan & Europe. They’ve taken a big hit in recent years due to the world recession but for us, it makes for a lovely uncrowded destination close to home. The local Tahitians are a beautiful and friendly people, always greeting you, and if your French isn’t too good, not to worry as most understand English.

Papeete is located on Tahiti Nui, an island with black beaches on one side and light coral beaches on the other. It has a great market (open from early every day) where you can find a good selection of food, handicrafts and the fresh vanilla you can smell in most places. Papeete may not be a European city but the people and their language make you feel as if you are somewhere other than in the Pacific. The shopping is not what you would expect from a traditional French-speaking city with black pearls sold everywhere. If you plan on buying some good quality pearls, make sure you go to a place like Tahiti Pearl Market or Robert Wan, where they’ll provide you with a certificate of authenticity, as the real McCoy has a high price tag.

Off to Moorea

After a few days on Tahiti Nui we took a catamaran ferry across to Moorea. The ferry takes 30 minutes and is a fantastic way to get out to this beautiful island. We picked up a rental car at the ferry terminal but you can also take a transfer, taxi or the local bus.

I’d suggest a rental car as it’s a great way to see some of the island. It only takes about an hour to drive around Moorea, and at the same time you’ve sorted your transfer, will have a chance to pick up some groceries, all while doing some sightseeing along the way. The speed limit is 60km/h and is a very relaxing drive with few other cars on the road. Which is a positive seeing as how you are now driving on the right!

We also took the opportunity to drive up to Belvedere to admire the view of Cook’s Bay, Opunohu Bay and the spectacular scenery of the caldera. The ocean colours are exactly as what you see in all photographs from Tahiti and her Islands, as is the beautiful high, rugged and bush-clad volcanic landscape.

The following two nights we stayed at Legends Resort Moorea up on the hillside. Our private villa had the most breathtaking views with a Jacuzzi on the deck and all the modern commodities you would need in paradise. The resort also has a horizon pool by the lobby and a restaurant. As you are located on the hillside, they have a 24/7 golf cart pick up service - just dial the reception and they swing by to collect you! Legends Resort Moorea also own part of Motu Island just a few minutes away by speedboat, with several departures every day. It’s a great little day outing to a lovely little island. Like most places around Moorea, the corals are grey with little colour but the variety and colour of fish is beautiful.

Next stop was Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa. The garden bungalows here all have their own plunge pools, and the over water bungalows come with their own deck and landing to get into the sea. Although there are several restaurants to choose from at the Hilton, my favourite was a happy-hour bar found amongst the over-water bungalows that served the best crepes I’ve ever had. You can snorkel straight off their lovely beach – it’s very easy and safe with no currents at all and something everybody can try out. The variety of fish is good and will keep you entertained for ages.

We took a kayak trip early one morning through the shallow lagoon waters - there was coral everywhere! We made our way to where all the boats, yachts and ships were moored; most of them privately owned and from all over the world. There were some serious sized yachts, or what I would call ‘private ships’ due to their enormous size! I think via water must be the best way to see the Tahitian Islands and I’m very tempted to come back and sail around some of the Tahitian Island group.

Homeward bound

After our wonderful time on Moorea, we headed back to Papeete to connect with our flight departing the following morning. On arrival, we were too early for the "roulottes" – or food stalls - so we ended up in a lovely restaurant where we had a wonderful dinner and absorbed the French way for the last time – for this visit anyhow. Or as they say in France, ’A tout a l’heure’, see you later!

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