Category Archives: South Pacific

Moorea – the heart shaped island

Bali Hai on Moorea from the sea

From the sea Moorea is striking – far more so than her more famous sister Bora Bora.  Great jagged peaks reach up into the sky, their slopes covered with lush foliage.   A well maintained road circles the island making it pretty hard to get lost and offering the chance to dine out at local restaurants to get a real flavour of the island. 

The lagoons teem with life and the waters are crystal clear making snorkelling and diving fairly easy, even for a novice.  Our motu and snorkelling trip took us out to a shallow area in the lagoon where we met the local stingrays – and oh my goodness were they keen to meet us!  They obviously recognised the fact that “treats” were going to be distributed and behaved like naughty puppies, surrounding the boat and almost jumping up in their eagerness for the fishy snacks.  It is quite disconcerting to begin with but after a while you do get used to the silky feel of them as they gracefully slide over and around.  There were a few panicky moments when my leg touched someone else’s and we both let out shrieks of alarm enough to frighten away the banshees – but apparently not the stingrays.  It was an amazing experience. 

Playing with the rays on a deserted motu in Moorea

And then came the sharks – yes I swam with sharks and now I can cross that off the list as well.  I think they were called black tipped reef sharks and you know how water magnifies. Well  – they looked big to me.  We then headed out to a deserted motu where we were greeted by a ferocious looking, tattooed local Tahitian.  Actually up close he was not that ferocious – he only had one tooth and he looked after us with freshly chopped coconut and pineapple and made sure we had plenty of loungers under the shade of the palm trees.  What a great day.

In fact we enjoyed our visit to Moorea so much that after the ship docked in Papeete we took the express ferry back to Moorea to spend a couple of nights in an overwater bungalow.

Our overwater bungalow at the Hilton Moorea

  Now this is indeed pure indulgence.  Our overwater bungalow at the Hilton Moorea has everything our hearts could desire; a large verandah with private diving deck with shower, huge sliding doors next to a king side bed and a bathroom fit for a king. 

Eating out in Moorea is easy as most of the restaurants will send a driver to do a pick up from your hotel and this is a great way to go local.  Rudy’s was our stop last night.  This cute little restaurant featured only a few tables and offered an excellent spread of local seafood specialities.  We were persuaded to try the parrot fish – although my husband did say he felt a bit guilty eating such a beautiful fish and that it was like eating a cocker spaniel!  It was tasty but I think my prawn curry was better – you somehow don’t get that emotionally attached to a prawn.

This island has a wonderful atmosphere of peace, tranquility and harmony amongst its people.  It is easy to see why so many people come to Tahiti and stay and the mixture of different races and nationalities is obvious in the resident families.  French customs prevail and it is gratifying to see teenage boys greeting older male and female family members with the traditional kiss on each cheek.  Coming from North America where rap music and tough attitudes rule it’s good to see the gentler side here in paradise.

Taha’a – French Polynesia’s secret island

This little island is tucked inside the protective reef of Raiatea.  Not much happens here apart from fishing and farming the large plantations of vanilla.  From the sea it looks like we are stepping into the movie set for Jurassic Park.  Incredibly dense jungle climbing up steep mountain slopes which seem to be slightly steaming in the hot humid midday heat.

So are we going to be doing an Indiana Jones in all of this jungly type scenery?  No siree.  Us folks are on the good old ship Paul Gauguin and we are some spoilt children.  Before we even think of taking the elevator down to deck 3 for the tender to our private Motu our trusty Paul Gauguin crew have been wending their way to and fro to set up a first class BBQ buffet for us poor starving cruisers.  Crates of champagne, vodka, gin, rum and who knows what else has been shaped up and shipped out.  The Motu’s coconut trees have been stripped bare of young nuts (no not the locals) in order to provide tropical style coconut drinks for them thar tourists.  Crikey – we are a spoilt bunch.

All we have to do now is get our flippers on and mask and snorkel securely fixed.  Now that’s no easy task.  Better to get yourself down to the water’s edge and plonk your butt down in the crunchy sand while you drag on flippers in preparation for your “Jacques Cousteau” moment.  Ouch – was that a conch??

Seriously though folks – the underwater scenery is just like being in your orthodontist’s aquarium.  It’s all there – well except for the little plastic diver with bubbles coming out of his helmet.  The colours are really incredible and there is just no way to describe the delight of weightlessly floating over this coral garden.  In fact it is particularly gratifying to feel weightless taking into consideration the calorie free chocolates I find on my pillow every night. 

If you have ever wondered what it feels like to be a star – then there is only one way to find out – sail with Paul Gauguin and you feel Hollywood every single minute.  Really darling – it’s true!

Do you have a Bora Bora on your bucket list?

First sight of Bora Bora

The first sighting of Bora Bora is always exciting – the beautiful proudly dominant mountain Otemanu looking down on the multi-coloured seas surrounding the island.  It has become known as a lover’s island and really nowhere could be more romantic.  The smell of frangipani blooms and everywhere flowers;  hibiscus bushes towering over small roadside houses sheltered by massive palm trees.  Really the whole thing does look like a film set.

The island boasts a whole host of hotels, many with overwater bungalows.  From a convenience point of view it may well be better to be on one of the hotels situated on the main island of Bora Bora as transportation around the island is easy.  However some of those “once in a lifetime” hotels (Four Seasons, St Regis, Intercontinental) are located on outer motus surrounding the island and therefore transfer from your hotel to the main island would be by way of motor launch shuttle. 

Check your shoes or sandals and take a stool at Bloody Mary's

Once on the main island one of the easiest ways to get around is to use the shuttle trucks which ferry passengers between the little town of Vaitape and various points around the island.  A must visit is Bloody Mary’s.  This bar/restaurant was established back in the ‘50s after the film South Pacific became famous.  One of the characters in the film is an old tough Tahitian Mama who dishes out advice to the GI’s based on the island in WW2.  It has a sandy floor, great serviceand atmosphere – despite the fact that we sat next to someone’s grave just next to us in the garden.  It is Polynesian tradition to bury their families in the garden as they don’t really have a municipal cemetery – at least not on Bora Bora.  The proprietor did not know who this chap was and said the grave must have been there when the restaurant was built.  Anyway we raised our glasses to our unknown neighbour!

From here we travelled on to Matire Beach.  Can I keep using the word gorgeous without it getting boring?  Stunning beach – there we go!  Right next to the Intercontinental Moana which I had inspected.  Lovely overwater bungalows at reasonable prices.

Two days in Bora Bora was not nearly enough but we set sail tonight for Taha’a.  Here Paul Gauguin has their own private Motu in the lagoon called Motu Mahana where they will serve a buffet lunch.  Another wonderful day awaits.

In the meantime our onboard Tahitian singers serenade while we wave goodbye to Bora Bora

Laid back Huahine

So this must be what it was like in Hawaii 50 years ago – sleepy little villages, amazing beaches, crystal clear waters all crowned with dense tropical foliage. 

Lesley goes snorkelling in beautiful Huahine

Our Paul Gauguin cruise itinerary brought us to the shores of this island to spend a magical day.  We decided against any of the organised excursions and instead took the tender to the island and then hopped on “le truck” which bounced us all the way into Fare, one of the “towns”.  No concessions on the beach here – no umbrellas or loungers for rent – it is all just as nature intended.  After a morning of swimming and snorkelling we had amazingly worked up an appetite. 

On the main street of Fare we found Chez Guynette, a small oceanfront pension offering private rooms and also a hostel type dormitory.  On the terrasse we joined the locals for cold beers, sandwiches and frites.  What a cute place – you can stay there for $20 a night in the dormitory as long as you don’t mind sharing a bathroom.  Now this is something I might have gone for in my youth. 

Snacks at Chez Guynette in Huahine

The island seems to be a bit of a retreat as well for those wanting to escape the cold North American winters.  Lovely beachfront houses are available to rent from about $700 a month and a daily market offers fruit, veggies and lots of local produce at very reasonable prices.

At the end of our day however it was lovely to get back to our Paul Gauguin cruise.  The  ship is so small and intimate and the atmosphere is definitely “clubby”.  Already we have made friends with such interesting people and the singles travelling on this ship are very definitely never “alone”.

Tomorrow we are off to Bora Bora – the “bucket list” destination island for beach lovers and romantics alike.

Crepes and eels in French Polynesia

As I sit on the balcony of my suite on the lovely Paul Gauguin the magical island of Huahine sits bathed in early morning sunshine.  Last night’s crossing from Papeete was a little tippy but then we are on a rather small ship and one designed specifically for the shallow waters of the lagoons surrounding these beautiful islands. Rather than “tippy” it was more like being rocked to sleep. We left Papeete after midnight

Huahine from my balcony

which gave us a chance to enjoy the weekend highlight of Papeete harbour – les roulettes. These mobile restaurants set up shop every Friday and Saturday night and compete happily side by side. Chairs and tables are laid out all around the roulettes. There were a few tourists here and there but for the most part these were local families. Mom, Dad, kids, babies, grannies – you name it. The teens were having fun too with a large area set aside for skateboarding daredevils who were admired by groups of giggling teen girls. So after we had enjoyed a fabulous meal on board the Paul Gauguin we declined dessert and made tracks for the roulettes so as to experience

Lining for the the crepes

their speciality – crepes. Oh my goodness – you can have them sweet or savoury, filled with just about anything your imagination can conjure up. We were somewhat conservative and stuck to banana with vanilla and – yes –it was divine. The crepe was paper thin and light as a feather and consisted of no calories at all – right? Now as we get closer to Huahine I can see the aquamarine water of the lagoon. The island is the site of great archeological importance with many ceremonial temples known as Maraes. It is also the home of the sacred eels – apparently they grow up to six feet and have translucent cold blue eyes …. Mmm they sound a bit scary but my Paul Gauguin info sheet tells me that they are gentle and harmless and are only interested in “sacred mackerel” from “sacred cans” that can be purchased at any “sacred market” on the island. Ok then! Let’s go discover Huahine.

Back from Tahiti

Well I had to come back to work I guess.  They wouldn’t let me stow away on the lovely Paul Gauguin so I really had no choice.  Check out my story about Tahiti and you will understand why I really have to go back there soon.  In fact I am planning a return in May 2011 so stay tuned for more on that.

The South African World Cup is getting closer and flights into South Africa over that period are either hugely expensive or just not available.  Some wholesalers are holding group space with hotels and game tickets included but this does not help the expat South Africans who want to go back to visit family over this time.  Nevertheless this is a great opportunity for South Africa.  As I saw when I went back in November last year the development of roads and facilities in cities all over South Africa have provided much needed employment – especially in areas such as Mpumulanga (near Kruger National Park).

You have no doubt read about the Canadian man who was shot in Mazatlan.  That has raised a lot of questions in the media as to whether or not Mexico is a safe destination.  The Mexican Tourism officials are working hard to soothe travellers’ fears and it really is a shame that they have been hit with this now.  I certainly haven’t noticed a significant number of people not wanting to travel to Mexico – the main concern seems to be with getting the right deal.  And let’s face it – you could just as easily be attacked in downtown Calgary.

And finally could we really have a non stop flight from Calgary to Dubai?  That would open up so many destinations such as Africa and the Indian Ocean islands including the Maldives.  Air Canada is crying “No Fair” – but I like the idea of a night or two in Dubai on my way to South Africa.  We’ll see.