This has been an active year for Betsey and me as we celebrate our birthdays, and to top it off, Betsey's mother was our benefactor for a vacation of our choice. We looked around the globe for a place to go and eventually were drawn back to where we started it all, Tahiti. Whether it was the memories of some wonderful adventures, the soothing island breezes, the warm tropical sun or just the thoughts of lying on a quiet beach without a care in the world, we jumped at the opportunity.
Our trip started with a foggy day, not at SFO but down in Los Angeles. We had set up a long connection but as we watched the time compress, thoughts of a mad dash thru LAX came to mind. Fortunately, Alaska airlines arrived at the terminal right next to the International Departures and it was a rather anti-climatic stroll. Air Tahiti Nui was our arranged airline and while they had relatively new airplanes (A340-300), a very gracious on board staff and comfortable seating arrangements, the meal service left much to be desired. I was expecting more on a flight of 8 hours, and with Betsey's garlic allergy they were unable to tell us what the meal ingredients consisted of, so it was a fight to get her fed. Take Air France if you go, even though their flight times are a bit inconvenient
Enough of that. Once we arrived at Papeete, we were met and driven to the Inter-Continental for our first night stay. We awoke to the fresh ocean air, a bit of rain but in paradise. Off to the pearl markets! This was to be Betsey's shopping spree for her 50th birthday and she was wearing a big smile after we contributed to the local economy. The airport was our afternoon destination and an Air Tahiti island hopper (ATR72) from Papeete to Bora Bora to Raitea. The clouds were bringing rain, wind and dark ominous clouds so our ride was bumpy and lengthy and we did a go around on approach to Raitea, but we landed in one piece. Now for the final leg, a 45 minute boat ride across the stormy inner lagoon to the private island that would be home for the next 6 days.
After a wet introduction and short tour of the facilities, we were escorted to our over-the-water bungalow. We have stayed at some fine hotels/resorts over the years but this was as over the top as we have been. Each bungalow had approx. 100 square meters of living space, divided up between a large bedroom with a king plus size bed, a bathroom behind sliding panels and two decks. The main deck had two teak lounge chairs with a lanai that covered a table, bench and chairs so you could enjoy the outdoors even in a tropical rain shower, and a lower deck with steps to the lagoon and an outdoor shower.
The large living area was well-designed with a comfortable bed centered in the room, a glass table with a swing open top that allowedBed view Oct 2006 you to feed the fishBungalow Floor Plan Oct 2006 down below, window benches covered with soft pillows, plenty of recessed closet space to stow your clothes and gear and a picture window that spanned one wall and was our morning view of spectacular sunrises. Each set of bungalows, as there were two piers that split to create two walkways, had its own unique view, ranging from our Raitea sunrise, to a Bora Bora sunset, to the Raitea lagoon or to the motus (reef islands) that lined the outer lagoon. No mater where you were situated, there was not aBungalow bathroom Oct 2006 bad seat in the house. The interior motif was set with tropical woods, Tahitian painted inlays and thatched roofs, that surrounded you with that comfortable tropical feeling. And as you would expect, beside the local charm, each bungalow had all the modern touches you would find at any elegant hotel, espresso machine, Internet access (which we did not use at all!!), mini-bar and on down the list.
The grounds were laid out with an open sense so that you felt comfortable wherever you ventured. The design showed an eco-friendly side, with the main building nestled between tropical trees, that were left in place during the construction that blended into the motu. Bungalows were built over a sandy lagoon, instead of coral reef as many prior resorts exploited. In fact, the Tahitians have it right with strong building codes that do not allow for runaway construction and high rise madness- enough of a reason to visit, to see this part of the world that is not spoiled by unrestricted development.
The service was non-stop. From the stormy day we arrived when we ordered room service to be greeted with a smile from a rain soaked staff member, to the dining, to the activities we were constantly met with friendly greetings and a helpful attitude. After learning of Betsey's allergy, the Maitre' d was always ready with recommendations and would arrange substitutions so she could choose whatever she wished off the menu. For one of the buffet's, the sous chef actually came out and guided Betsey on what was prepared without garlic.
Breakfast was casual and served buffet style. As you sat down, the wait staff would take your entree' selection and then you were free to roam the various stations. Fresh breads and croissants, just squeezed juices, cold cuts and cheeses, tropical fruits, hot breakfast side dishes, it just went on and on. And the quality was five star, as you would expect for a Relais & Chateaux property. Dinner was in the open air restaurant nestled in the trees. For five nights a week the fare was menu style and two nights buffet, Tahitian and Seafood. The seafood buffet was exceptional, with a wide choice of preparations and lobster everywhere. Nothing like fresh seafood to complete the day. If you do decide to visit anywhere in Tahiti we recommend that you purchase a meal plan when making your reservation. Food is astronomical when bought ala carte in most resorts. We usually get the breakfast and dinner option, as that is enough food on its own and it leaves us free to have lunch locally or not all.
To tell the truth, we spent most of the time relaxing in the sun, on the beach or snorkeling. Not a typical Mark and Bets vacation when we take in as much of the local sights and culture as possible. However, we did venture one day to Taha'a for an island trip. But first a little geology and background.
Taha'a shares the same barrier reef as Raitea. They are both old eroding volcanoes sustaining the coral reef as they sink into the sea. Tropical reefs can only survive in shallow waters (65ft) and temperatures above 71°F, which makes them a bellwether for climatic changes. As the islands fade away, the erosion below sea level is at a slower pace and continues the support of reef life even after the original volcano mass has submerged below the ocean level. That explains why many atolls in the Pacific harbor spectacular sea life.
Taha'a is 90 sq. km with a 42 mile coastal road that connects the small communities and a population around 5000. The main activity is farming vanilla as this island produces anywhere from 50% to 80% of Tahiti's 'black gold.' Fishing and farming are the main stay of the local population, with a small amount of tourism scattered about. The island is quiet and picturesque. And as with the rest of French Polynesia, pearl farming is here too, but only a handful of farmers, lending to the slow pace of this charming spot.
The great part about this trip was that we had no schedule, no itinerary and no need to rush off every day. We did find some of the best snorkeling we have experienced right at the resort. All it took was a wade across a shallow lagoon, a short hike and you just dropped into the current between two motus, and your were floating in a underwater fireworks display. There was coral of all colors, tropical fish saturating the reef and everywhere you turned some other surprise was bursting on the scene. We saw stingrays, moray eels, reef sharks and fish we have never seen before fill the clear blue waters. Well, as all good things must come to an end this trip did, and we departed for the long trip home (Boat ride to Raitea, puddle jumper to Papeete, overnight to LAX, and then a 2 hour wait for ATC clearance into SFO). And we call this civilization!!! I will leave you with some final shots from our trip that I hope inspire you to take a walk in this beautiful part of the world.
May our paths & errands meet