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Archive for July, 2009

Day 14: A Little Nightlife Jul 20

Most medium to large resorts host lavish themed dinner and entertainment nights each week. These are very convenient but a little outside nightlife is a good change of pace. On several nights this week, I will have pre-arranged transfers and dinner reservations for one of my favorite local restaurants for my group guests.

Tonight, we are going to the Tiki Village,  a living Tahitian village. Members of the resident community will guide you through areas where artists and artisans work during the day and performers entertain at night. Others will unearth the underground oven where the evening meal has been prepared and discuss the local ingredients, typical of the Tahitian feast, that you will enjoy a little later.

The Floating House

The Floating House

As an interesting side note, while it is NOT currently possible to have a legally binding marriage in French Polynesia due to 30 day residency requirement, it is possible to have a Tahitian wedding ceremony here at the Tiki Village with a full contingent of performers in traditional dress. The Floating House  is also available for a unique overnight stay for the honeymoon or anniversary couple.

After the live pareo show and a generous buffet dinner, the show will begin. This is NOT a slick, high production hotel show like ones you may have seen in Papeete or perhaps Hawaii. You will see different styles of group and individual dances as well as the always exhilarating fire dances. Choreography may not be perfectly precise but there is a sense of fun and slight mistakes are laughed off lightly. In my opinion, the performance goes on a little too long but I think they can be forgiven for overproviding.

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Day 13: Close Encounters Jul 17

dolphin-quest-1The Moorea Dolphin Center, located on the grounds of the Moorea Inter-Continental Resort (formerly the Dolphin Quest Program), has 4 bottlenose dolphins that were born in lagoonariums and have not lived out in open water. They spend their days interacting with children and adults in a variety of programs, including local school field trip groups.

The basic program, conducted with onsite trainers, is part education and part entertainment. As a participant, you may gently touch the dolphin as instructed by your guide and applaud when it performs dramatic  water “tricks” on cue. The Apnea Program even allows you to swim under water with a dolphin in tandem, just the two of you, for the length of the pool, several times. Of course, there are deliberate photo ops for each person as delightful souvenirs. And a video that is available for purchase.

 

dolphin-quest-2I have done this myself and have to admit that it was quite thrilling. I never knew dolphins were so strong. I had to hold on tight as mine pulled me beneath the surface and along the bottom. I was surprised I could “hitchike” and hold my breath for that long.

People are naturally drawn to dolphins and you can see guests standing at the bridge throughout the day, observing the ongoing activities. It engages anyone and everyone who passes by, to be at least a spectator or to sign up for this close encounter.

If you prefer a more free and natural setting, then yesterday’s tour with Nani & Heifara would have served that purpose well. If you feel you need a little more direct contact, this will have you soaring. 

Generally, people are excited to have this rare opportunity but I have heard some concerns voiced for the welfare of animals that live in captivity. I can say that the dolphins seem to be well cared for and certainly have  a large fan club.

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Day 12: Captain Courageous Jul 16

stingrays-2Captain Heifara Dutertre is the owner and founder of Moorea Boat Tours and our private guide for today’s water experiences.  Together with his wife Nani, they run a small local family owned and operated business. They share their first-hand knowledge on an intimate and educational day tour for my small groups.

Here, he stands on a sandbar in waist deep water handfeeding graceful stringrays. As you wade in beside him, they will glide past and lightly brush up against you like silent gray ghosts in the water. Heifara will be happy to show you how to safely pet their soft velvety surface.

Heifara was born and raised on the island of Moorea and is very experienced with the resident marine life. He knows the best locations for snorkeling with tropical fish, black tip shark and gray reef sharks. He can take us out to meet spinner dolphins in the passes of the barrier reef and encounter humpback whales in season (July-November). Nani and Heifara will also let you know if there is an opportunity to slip over the side of the boat into the water with dolphins or whales for a more personal encounter. of course, it will be from a respectful and safe distance for both marine life and humans.

la-plage-beach-bar-1I also request a stop at a tiny offshore  islet, Motu Moea, for a little break and lunch at my favorite beach bar La Plage. This tiny open-air restaurant serves Tahitian and French cuisine.  Note that La Plage literally translates as “The Beach” and that it is only accessible by boat, only for lunch and only on certain days of the week. I know the owner and this is the way he likes it. Anyway, we have time to enjoy good food, good company and relax on the sand before we head back.

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Day 11: Under the Sea Jul 15
Photo Courtesy of tahiti Tourism

Photo Courtesy of tahiti Tourism

With a little instruction and practice, almost anyone can learn to float on the surface with mask and fins in one easy lesson. The warm, shallow waters around the island of Moorea are ideal for snorkeling year round, with a lack of strong currents and an abundance of marine life. There are many snorkeling spots close to the resorts and around the island. Complimentary gear is available at most resort dive shops for guest use. Tour companies will also provide all necessary equipment.

 

Photo Courtesy of Tahiti Tourism

Photo Courtesy of Tahiti Tourism

Scuba diving is also available for certified divers. I know that resorts often promote introductory dives and on site programs. As a certified diver myself, I advise you to enroll in  a full course in your home city at your own pace and comfort level beforehand. To be relaxed and ENJOY the experience, it is important that you are familiar with the equipment and procedures before attempting a first dive in open water in an unknown location. I have seen what can happen when a first time diver becomes overwhelmed and panics 25 feet under the surface. Be fully prepared or choose an alternative.

An interesting and intermediate option that you might want to try is snuba. This invloves walking along the lagoon bottom in a diving helmet with an attached air hose. You are fully immersed under water yet able to move slowly & breath fairly normally. The other advantage is that no formal training is required.

I will discuss scuba diving in more detail when we travel to the Tuamotus islands of Tahiti another month. The diving there is just exceptional and in a class all its own.

Tomorrow, I will introduce you to someone very special who will take us to an underwater grotto. We will have time to snorkel between submerged giant tikis (statues) and meet its resident 5 foot barracuda.  And there’s even more to see & do before we return to our home base.

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Day 10: Off the Paved Road Jul 14

Once you leave the island of Tahiti, you will find that public transportation is very limited or non-existent on outer islands. Taxis and rental cars are astronomically expensive. So, once again, I have arranged in advance for door-to-door pick up and drop off service for you, my guests, for convenience. There are several FUN options for today’s activities. Let’s discuss some options.

The majestic mountains of Moorea invite you to hike up the winding rainforest trails to dramatic high lookouts and there are ample opportunities to participate in guided treks. There is one company that currently offers horseback riding excursions on Moorea as well. And helicopter tours can fly you along the ridgetops and into canyons for the bird’s eye view.

Photo Courtesy of tahiti Tourism

Photo Courtesy of tahiti Tourism

I find that a 4 wheel drive land safari is a good way to circle the island to get your bearings and also go off road to explore the interior’s deep valleys, passing through plantations, crossing  streams and discovering hidden waterfalls. Your driver-guide will impart information about the flora and fauna as well as a little history and culture along the way.

At some point, the tour usually includes a stop at an ancient  marae or temple, perhaps on the way up to the Belvedere Lookout Point. These sacred spaces exist throughout the islands and consist of rock formations that mark official places for meeting, ceremonies, and worship.

The rich soil found in the valleys has proved to be fertile ground for cotton, coffee, sugar cane and pineapple plantations. Unlike the larger variety produced in Hawaii, the smaller pineapples grown here are particularly sweet. These are usually offered each morning at breakfast along with other tropical fruits such as local papaya & banana  . . . and some absolutely scrumptuous French pastries.

Well, we’ve spent two weeks together on our adventure so far.
Next time, remember to bring your swimsuit & a towel. We’re going to get wet!

Note: This travel blog is meant to be interactive. I welcome your comments and questions. Just remember this is a public forum. Personal or private inquiries may also be sent via e-mail.
Jacintha@IslandGetawaysTravel.com

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Day 9: A Room with a View Jul 13

Location, location, location.

view from Moorea Inter-Continental

view from Moorea Inter-Continental

There are three important considerations when deciding where to stay: 1) convenience and facilities at the location, 2) proximity to sightseeing, activities, restaurants/shopping, etc and 3) a room with a view. 
I don’t think you came all this way to spend time in traffic getting to places or to look out & see shrubbery or the back of another bungalow.

The Tahiti Inter-Continental is a full service resort. It is one of the two hotels closest to the airport & also offers easy access to downtown Papeete. It enjoys a prime waterfront location. However, it does not have  a beach as there is none on this part of the island. The majority of its rooms have a lagoon view or panoranic view of the Sea of the Moon and Moorea. (See Day 1 Post or Photo Album – “Love at First Sight”)

I recommend the hotel rooms and I stay here myself. I have spent early morning hours on the balcony, sipping complimentary cups of tea from mini bar, mesmerized by that spectacular view, watching the daily activity below: gardeners manicuring the grounds, guests jogging along the path, local canoe clubs paddling back and forth. Honeymoon couples taking those priceless vacation photos.

The Moorea Inter-Continental is close to Opunohu Bay, nestled between the mountains and the sea, with a beachfront location. The individual thatched-roof bungalows are larger than a hotel room with separate living and sleeping sections plus a porch or deck. These can even house families with a twin size day bed and a pull out trundle bed underneath.

beach bungalows

beach bungalows

Garden units have a view of the tropical landscaping or other bungalows whereas the beach bungalows sit directly at the edge of the sandy beach.
I do recommend the lovely hotel rooms which are centrally located  and well apppointed. However, I would consider upgrading to a beach bungalow for the unique opportunity to live in your own very comfortable “little grass shack” on the beach.

Both resorts do have overwater bungalows. I would describe these as partial or shallow overwater units. These are built on land with a deck that extends out a few feet over the water or they are directly over very shallow water just off shore. For the full overwater experience. there are other more spectacular  locations which I will discuss later.

Of course, other properties have their distinct features and benefits as well but the same points apply.

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Day 8: R-E-L-A-X into Your Stay Jul 10
Entrance to Helene Spa

Entrance to Helene Spa

Since we’ll be here at the Moorea Inter-Continental Resort for the next  few days, let’s relax into our stay. First, a leisurely lunch by the pool with a view of the lagoon beyond. Then, a special treat.

Don’t worry, those handsome young men from Bell Services will deliver your luggage to your accommodations. It will all be there waiting for you.

owner, Helene Sillinger

owner, Helene Sillinger

I have prearranged for my group guests to have a welcome treatment at the award-winning on site Helene Spa. Owner/founder Helene Sillinger is the originator of the first polynesian spa in French Polynesia and has created a tranquil oasis where ancient Tahitian traditions and indigenous spa products are honored.

 

My guests  have a choice of a neck and shoulders mini massage or a hands and feet mini massage with silky smooth virgin coconut oil. The locally produced monoi oil comes with its natural scent or lightly fragranced with floral or fruit essences.

During our stay, guests may return for other services from a full menu of treatments.

An attendant walks you back along a narrow path through a lush garden of dense foliage in the secluded rear courtyard. She leads you to a small open air pavillion and instructs you to hang up your spa robe and lie face down on the raised platform in the center before she leaves. Broad showerheads suspended above sprinkle down a warm, gentle rainshower on your back from head to toe for about 10 minutes. Once you have toweled off and donned your robe, your therapist returns to escort you to a treatment room for your Tahitian full body massage, an invigorating scrub or an exotic body wrap.

flower bath

flower bath

Since there is an abundant profusion of tropical flowers everywhere – giant pink and red hibiscus, creamy white frangipani (plumeria), bright -colored bouganvilla, fragrant jasmine - you may prefer to soak in a Tahitian flower bath full of these blossoms prior to your services instead.

 

 

river bath

river bath

Another unique experience is the rock-lined riverbath. Water flows in from the back and through the pool, cascading out the front. The best time to book an appointment for this is during sunset because you have a direct view from here.

Now that we’re totally relaxed, we need a transfer back to our accommodations in one of those cute little golf carts.

Our luggage is wondering where we are!

Day 7: Bali Hai Beckons Jul 09
Photo Courtesy of Tahiti Tourism

Photo Courtesy of Tahiti Tourism

Time permitting, I recommend that travelers spend a day or two on the island of  Tahiti, the gateway to French Polynesia, and then head for the magical isle of Moorea. This is the place that polynesian daydreams are made of. It is one of my personal favorites – an island that is relatively easy to get to and  has a lot to offer – even for repeat visitors.

Moorea, the mythical Bali Hai of author James Michener’s book Tales of the South Pacific, rises out of the wide, shallow lagoon in soaring emerald mountain ridges. This famous and captivating landscape has long inspired artists, writers and romantics from around the world.

As we depart the ferry dock and drive along the single narrow coastal road that circles the island, we pass dramatic peaks, sandy beaches, turquoise waters and deep valleys. 

Cook’s Bay is magnificent but misnamed. Captain Cook actually stopped at Opunohu Bay, next along this route, where you frequently see a yacht or small ship anchored. This is where the HMS Bounty landed to search for breadfruit and the origin of the infamous Mutiny on the Bounty. If you have seen the movie(s) of the same name, you have already been transported here once. Driving up the winding inland road from Cooks Bay to the Belvedere Lookout Point will give you a bird’s eye view of both these spectacular bays.

As we continue around the island, you will see local villages, roadside stands, small boutiques, restaurants, and resorts/hotels sprinkled along the circumference of the island. There are no freeways , high rise hotels or shopping malls here.

Once we get comfortably relaxed and settled in, we will explore both land and sea and more
We’re almost “home”.

Day 6: Slow Boat to Moorea Jul 08
Aremiti Ferry

Aremiti Ferry

Of course, you could take the 7 minute flight on the teeny, tiny 15 passenger Air Moorea commuter flight between Tahiti and Moorea. It’s basically up-over-down before you know it and ONLY if you travel very light and are not claustrophobic. It’s really too short to even get a good view of anything.

Top Deck

Top Deck

It seems like a slow boat in comparison but I much prefer the 30 minute high-speed Aremiti catamaran ferry service that shuttles back and forth all day between these two islands. I’ll race you to the top deck for the best views of Papeete’s downtown marina area as you leave and the dramatic high mountain peaks as you approach Moorea.

If you prefer, you can sit in air-conditoned comfort inside in airline-style seats and even enjoy a beverage from the small snack bar on board. There are large windows all the way around so you won’t miss the crossing.

It can be quite interesting to spend some time at the ferry landing just watching the larger slower vehicle ferries load & unload, spilling forth everything from small passenger cars to huge trucks plus a wide assortment of people and cargo.

Sturdy metal crates are wheeled off containing our caged luggage. Arms reach in from every direction, in a free-for-all fashion, to snatch up bags and boxes. Naturally, you wouldn’t have turned over anything important, valuable or breakable to this informal process.

Gather up your belongings. Our driver is waiting with our pre-arranged transfer to the resort.

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Day 5: Tahitian Tapestry Jul 07
pareos displayed

pareos displayed

Tahiti enjoys a tropical climate year round with sunny, pleasant days and an average temperature of 79F. In the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. Summer is from November through April with slightly warmer and more humid weather. Winter extends from May through October when the climate is slightly cooler and dryer.

Loose-fitting, comfortable clothing in natural fabrics work best. Pack just enough t-shirts, sport shirts, walking shorts, casual slacks, sundresses, swim suits (of course!), sandals and reef walkers so you can travel light. Don’t forget a wide-brimmed or sun visor and sunglasses.

An item you may want to  pick up before you leave Le Marche is a pareo or sarong.  You can see from the wall display above that a dizzying variety of bold colors and designs are available. However, I did once see a young woman wearing a striking black and white pareo with a large gecko (lizard) on each side. It was beautiful in its simplicity.

Basically, each consists of 2 meters of fabric which can be worn in a multitude of ways by both men and women. A pareo show is a fascinating demonstration of  ways in which to dress the body with one or more of these. Tahitian pareos are typically made from cotton but you will also find many imported Indonesian rayon batik sarongs as well. Think of them as wearable art and free free to express yourself.

Those of you who have traveled with me have seen a mini parade of exotic designs from Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, Australia and Bali. I have an entire wardrobe of these and wear them when I am in the islands and – in a few other warm places. I just toss a few into my small rolling suitcase and I’m ready to go.

Now let’s stroll over to the waterfront where we will ferry across to the neighboring island of Moorea.
Don’t miss the boat!

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