While I thoroughly enjoyed my entire trip traveling solo through French Polynesia — specifically the islands of Tahiti, Fakarava, Tahaa and Raiatea — there were a few moments in particular that stuck out. To help give you an idea of some of the destination’s top experiences, here are my 10 memorable moments in French Polynesia.
1. Staying On A Private Island
I’ve always dreamed of staying on a white sand, palm tree-studded private island. During my trip to French Polynesia I was given the opportunity by staying at Vahine Private Island Resort off mainland Tahaa. As soon as you arrive by boat staff greet you with a welcome drink. Everything from the bar to the rooms are made with locally-sourced natural materials. Moreover, rooms are designed to make you feel like you’re in the home of a local with peue-woven bathroom walls and accents, shell-adorned showers and bardau shingled roofs, allowing for an opulent yet local experience. Some highlights of the stay included snorkeling in their vibrant coral garden, enjoying a 3-course meal of French dishes made with local ingredients in their open-air beach restaurant, feeding fish through the translucent coffee table in my over-water bungalow and getting a traditional Monoi oil massage on my patio while listening to the waves gently splashing against wood.
2. Fish Feeding At The Coral Gardens
While there are many coral gardens around French Polynesia, if you’re in Tahaa the main coral gardens are next to La Taha’a…. The space is enormous, with translucent waters filled with vibrant corals of all shapes and sizes as well as tropical fish. While the gardens themselves were memorable, the experience was enhanced when my guide (from Fare Pea Iti accommodation) gave me a chunk of bread and snorkeling gear to hand feed the fish. Immediately I had hundreds of Sergent Majors eating from the palm of my hand and nibbling at my fingers without a care in the world. It was truly priceless.
3. Visiting A Vanilla Plantation
No trip to Tahaa would be complete without a visit to a vanilla plantation, as over 80% of Tahitian vanilla comes from Tahaa. I was able to take a guided tour of Valle de la Vanille, an organic vanilla plantation that also grows bananas, coconuts, mangoes, limes, sugar came (so they can soon make their own rum) and more. I was able to see and learn about the process from harvest to production, as well as browse their shop’s impressive array of vanilla-infused products like rum, coffee, shampoo, perfume, oil, volcano rocks, sea salt, cooking oil and more. Best of all, tours are free and include fresh fruit and juice. Fun fact: Out of the over 23,000 varieties of orchids in the world, vanilla is the only to produce something edible.
4. Kayaking To A Motu
Nowhere in the world are motus — small islands …. — as densely populated as in French Polynesia. This means you have the unique opportunity to hop in a kayak and paddle over translucent coral- and tropical fish-filled waters to these deserted white sand paradises. I did the excursion in a self-guided fashion from Raiatea to Motu Miri Miri, and while it only took about 15-20 minutes each way it truly felt like an accomplishment. Moreover, having an island all to yourself is something everyone should experience at least once.
5. Dining From Tahiti’s Les Roulottes
Tahiti’s version of food trucks is Les Roulottes, mobile dining trucks selling everything from Chinese to Vietnamese to French to Italian. The best way to experience this part of the culture is in Vaiete Square after 6pm. The square is full of people, as well as local bands and artisans selling jewelry and bags. Fridays and Saturdays are when it’s most lively, although any night aside for Monday holds a vibrant scene. I recommend pursuing the extensive crepe menus of the creperie trucks, with everything from ham, egg and gruyere to chocolate, banana and ice cream.
6. Experiencing Pensions
I had always assumed Tahiti was only for those who made six figures or had saved up for 10 years just to go on vacation. The truth is, there’s more to French Polynesia than 5-star resorts and over-water bungalows. Pensions are simple family-run accommodations that are not only affordable, but give you a glimpse into local culture through home-cooked meals and getting to stay with a family. My favorite pension I stayed at was Fare Pea Iti, a romantic pension on Tahaa with beach and garden bungalows, 3-course candlelit dinners and free activities like cycling, kayaking, canoeing and snorkeling.
7. Wandering The Botanical Gardens At Le Meridien
While most luxury hotels in Tahiti have gardens, Le Meridien takes theirs to the next level. You could literally spend hours just wandering the more than 300 plant species, seeing the enormous fish in their carp pond and strolling over their whimsical wooden bridge. I loved taking photographs of the plants as well as learning about the local flora. Bonus: Reception can give you a map of the garden with labels of the plants so you know what you’re looking at.
8. Finding A Fish I Enjoy
I’m not a big fan of fish. In fact, up until my trip to French Polynesia I believed I was allergic as it always made me feel nauseous. That is, until I tried unicorn fish prepared at Fare Pea Iti. It’s more like chicken than fish, with a thick, meat-like consistency and a flavor similar to chicken. Additionally, the pension helped me realize my love of Poisson Cru — which I originally didn’t like — as the owner prepared it for me without the lime and coconut milk, more like a tartar.
9. Touring The Maroto Valley by 4×4
The Maroto Valley is an escape from the city on bustling Tahiti. Filled with waterfalls, mountains, reservoirs, archeological sites, colorful flowers and fresh fruits, it’s a jungle paradise. While the views were spectacular and Marae Fare Hapi was interesting, the best part for me was foraging and learning what each fruit and plant was good for. We ate wild strawberries, macadamia nuts and guava while learning about how natural coconut juice aids digestion and noni cures mosquito bite itch. As the ancient Polynesians lived off the land it was interesting to learn how they used what was available to them. For a guide, I recommend Marama Tours. I had Rocky as a guide who regaled the group with stories of his grandmother and ancestors. He was extremely knowledgeable, and made the tour interesting and fun. Plus he spoke English and French!
10. Having A Traditional Massage On The Deck Of My Over-Water Bungalow
As stated above, I was lucky enough to get to experience having a traditional massage with vanilla-infused Monoi oil on the deck of my over-water bungalow. The experience is an escape in itself, as you hear the gentle lapping of waves and can watch tropical fish swimming through the slits in the deck. Additionally, the vanilla Monoi oil is a sweet smelling an relaxing way to experience local agriculture.
The Time I Took Myself To A Private Island In French Polynesia [Blog Inspiration]
Cocktails In Tahiti by Richard Bondurant [Sippable Stories]
Rockland Luggage 2-Piece Carry-On Set [Travel Gear]
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