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Green Gems in the Pacific

We traveled to Tahiti the last week in June during the crescendo of news covering the rash of cancelled airline flights in the US. We had a group of 16 going from all over the country, meeting in Los Angeles for an overnight flight to Papeete.

The news about massive flight cancelations was disturbing for us, and we worried constantly about our group arriving in Tahiti in time for our cruise. We were a bit lucky that only one couple had any issues and that the couple in question had planned on an early arrival in LA anyway.

We always suggest building in time between flights and cruise departures as that will lower your stress when travelling, and if something happens to cause a delay, you will be glad you had the time built in.

French Polynesia has been a possession of France since 1842. The country has evolved from a directly administered colony to an “Overseas Country.” Citizens of French Polynesia are citizens of France; however, the country is self-governing within French law. This relationship is complicated.

A citizen of Moorea (one of the islands we visited) told me that they were a French colony but had their own government. When we decided to go to Tahiti, we thought we were going to a country called Tahiti, but it turns out that was not the case.

Tahiti is an island in the Society islands. The Society islands are one of the five island groups that make up French Polynesia. Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia and the most populous, with over 60% of the total population of French Polynesia living there. Papeete, located on Tahiti, is the capital of French Polynesia.

The only international airport is the Fa'a'ā International Airport near Papeete on Tahiti. The airport does not use jetways, so you will walk downstairs when you deplane. Customs are indoors with air conditioning, thus extremely comfortable. We had to be a bit patient with the immigration systems.

The location of the airport is roughly 5 KM from Papeete, so if you are staying in Papeete, your drive to your resort will be short. Traffic when we were transferring in Papeete was never heavy.

Papeete has some shopping and some nightlife if you like to go out at night for a cocktail or for some dancing.

Shopping throughout the islands varies depending on the tourist traffic as that is the primary source of revenue to many of the islands. Those with more resorts have more shopping opportunities. The most sought-after shopping item in French Polynesia is their black pearls. You will have opportunities to purchase these on every island you visit (if you are visiting more than Tahiti). Also available were blown glass vases, paper weights and other sculptures from French artists. Every island offered chances to shop for treasures to remind you of your visit to French Polynesia. In addition to the more expensive items, you could buy t-shirts and island fashions such as the Pareo, the traditional wrap-around skirt of French Polynesia.

There are two types of islands in French Polynesia, high islands and atols. A high island is an ancient volcano thrust up from the ocean floor. The big islands of Hawaii are another example of high islands. These islands are verticle, they have high mountain peaks, very litle flat land and very steep slopes.

All the islands we visited were heavily forested with a few farm fields visible from the ocean. There is some farming in French Polynesia, primarily pineapple, vanilla, and coconuts. All the islands we visited were high islands - Tahiti, Moorea, Tahaa, Raiatea, Bora Bora, and Huahine. Lushly forested mountains seem to rise right at contact with the ocean. The contrast between the green of the mountains and the blue of the water is something that takes your breath away when you first see it, but three days later it becomes expected, and you look deeper for more beauty.

Atols are more ancient volcanoes where the center of the volcano has eroded back into the oceans (or collapsed). These islands are charachterized by small islets surounding a central lagoon. They typically are very flat. Those can be visited as day trips or via a cruise itinerary.

Moorea is an island visible from Tahiti. This island was the inspiration for the song Bali High from the movie South Pacific. Moorea is spectacularly beautiful with forest covered mountains, an amazing public beach, great snorkeling, some world class resorts and a golf course. There are pineapple farms to visit on an island tour if you choose, and you can hike the Three Coconut Trail if you need some physical activity.

Taha’a and Raiatea are two islands that legend says were one until the tail of a conger eel that was possessed by the spirit of a princess separated them. Raiatea is known as the sacred island as it was important to the native religion in ancient times. Taha’a is known as the vanilla island as up to 80% of the vanilla produced by French Polynesia comes from this island. These islands share one barrier reef and are only separated by a narrow channel.

Bora Bora is known as the Pearl of The Pacific and is known for its majestic mountains seeming to rise out of the ocean. The waters surrounding Bora Bora are noted for the iridescent blue coloring. Many people that visit Bora Bora say this is the most beautiful place they have ever seen. The snorkeling and diving around Bora Bora are noted for the variety and color of the fish and coral that you will. We swam with sharks, coral fish, sea turtles, and eels and saw some amazing clams that had spectacular coloring. Look at the blue on this clam.

French Polynesia cannot be described without mentioning the colors of the sunset and sunrise.

Every sunset and sunrise showed brilliant coloring and spectacular sunrays of clouds. I suppose the native Polynesians get used to the sunsets like all of us get used to the things we see near our homes, but I cannot imagine not being in awe of the beauty of our planet when seeing these miracles of color, light, and shadow twice every day.

You can experience Tahiti and the rest of French Polynesia by taking a cruise around the islands on the Windstar Wind Spirit.

This ship is a combination sailing ship and motor driven cruise ship. The captain will raise the sails when the wind is blowing in the right direction to move the ship. This is a wonderful way to see many different islands. If you do not like cruising or if you want to add on a few days after a cruise, there are many wonderful resorts throughout the Society islands, and you can stay in overwater bungalows.

This is a great option for a honeymoon! Tahiti is ready for visitors.

Visit our website, call us at 770-339-9961, or email us t to book your Tahiti vacation.

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