The true definition of a bucket-list destination, the Islands of Tahiti are far more accessible than you may think, and well worth the journey.
Located in the South Pacific, French Polynesia to be exact, it seems almost redundant to call the Islands of Tahiti (118 in fact) breathtakingly beautiful, but that is exactly what they are. Picture this: vertiginous green peeks, pristine white sandy motos (tiny islets), and crystalline reefs you can’t quite articulate the specific shade of blue of. Indeed, the chorus of our trip was ‘look how blue that water is’. Endlessly mesmeric, it’s no wonder Tahiti was the artists residence of both Paul Gaugin and Matisse – with awe-inspiring landscapes and a rich culture quite like no other.
We landed slightly discombobulated after a 22-hour journey in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti. Spirits instantly lifted by a ukulele-playing band donning traditional pareu and floral crowns – indeed the biggest signifier we had arrived in paradise. Air thick with humidity, and with the first of many tiare flower leis placed ceremoniously around our necks, our adventure had begun.
The Packing Edit
Handily located a mere five-minute drive from Fa’aa International Airport, this hotel offers a comfortable and soft place to land post-flight. Engulfed by flowering gardens and verdant lawns, with dramatic sunset views of Moorea, Hotel Hilton Tahiti offers the first taste of the postcard-perfect views which dominate your stay. The hotel’s large pool, complete which chic cabana beds and a cohort of sun loungers, serviced by the most attentive of staff, ready to erect a parasol the minute you recline, or deliver an exotic fruity cocktail in an instant, is the perfect jet-lag remedy. Rooms are comfortable and simply decorated, with chic accents of wood and rattan, and balconies overlooking palm-studded gardens. Bathrooms boast expansive walk-in showers, generously laden with Crabtree & Evelyn products for a post-flight refresh.
Vahine Island Private Island Resort
Having reluctantly stepped off our private catamaran – more on that later – we found ourselves in paradise once again on the private Motu Tuvahine. This charming boutique hotel offers an unpretentious take on luxury, with a distinct rustic feel. Comprising just nine over-water bungalows and the piece de resistance – La Villa Royale– a gargantuan villa with six bedrooms which can be individually rented or exclusively booked out for a large group. Gigantic rooms here are dominated by traditional tapestries, large rattan chairs, lots of bamboo, and every surface adorned with sweet hibiscus flowers. Bathrooms boast mirrors ordained with shells and large sunken baths with views over the coconut grove. Large balconies provide prime spots to watch the lapping waves. You might need tempting to exit your expansive suite, were it not for the highly Instagrammable indoor-outdoor pool which snakes from the interior of the house to the surrounding grounds. Daily activities at Vahine Island Private Resort consist of snorkelling in the private lagoon, kayaking out in the bath-like waters, a spot of reef shark watching, and sipping cocktails in the rum shack. Half-board is mandatory: expect lavish breakfasts of fresh fruit and patisseries with local coconut jam, whilst dinners serve up local fish dishes. The atmosphere is intimate and staff are hugely attentive staff, meaning you won’t be tempted to venture to the popularised Bora Bora which can be spotted in the distance.
Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort
A short ferry across from Papeete, you will find yourself in Moorea. Dubbed a cross between Tahiti and glitzier Bora Bora (surprisingly shunned by locals for being too touristy and far less beautiful than the less inhabited islands) Moorea has a cool hippie-ish vibe.
This hotel, set within hibiscus and palm-studded gardens, spills out onto a private beach set against an impressively untouched kaleidoscopically hued coral reef that begs exploring (stop by the dive centre for complimentary goggles and fins). The restaurant plays host to live music and traditional Tahitian dancing to really submerge guests in the local culture. Accommodation consists of individual beach huts with rustic grass roofs, each facing out onto the beach (a slight maze to locate your fellow traveller but charming nonetheless). The Le Jardin Spa and Beauty, boasts an extensive massage menu: from hot stone through to more invigorating traditional Polynesian massage to work on travel-worn limbs.
Tahiti Yacht Charter
A catamaran tour is the most immersive way to explore the motus of Taha’a and Raiatea. We stepped onto a 52-foot palatial vessel (sleeping four with a skipper and host) and instantly felt a home (unsurprisingly). Falling asleep in my comfortable private cabin, lulled by the gentle rock and bubbling of waves, I awoke early to watch the cotton-like clouds passing across far off volcanoes, the peachy sky emerge from behind dramatic thunderstorms – magical.
Alongside prime sunbathing and indeed Instagram opportunities, a Tahiti Yacht Charter Cruise proves the best way to explore the rich culture and local trades: from learning how Tahiti’s famed black pearls, and the ‘reject’ keshi pearls, are farmed at Champon Pearl Farm, through to exploring the under-water paradisiacal coral reefs with our tour guide. We experienced an early morning sharpener at Domain Pari Pari for a private distillery tour and rum tasting as well as exploring their decadent skincare products using sugar cane and coconut oil. What makes the island of Taha’a truly remarkable is vanilla. Polynesian vanilla is known throughout the world for its unique flavour, and Taha’a is the centre of production. More than 70% of all vanilla in French Polynesia comes from this island.
Enlivened by our explorations we refuelled back onboard, feasting on poisson cru, and the pinkest prawns I’ve ever seen, boiled in a moreish coconut broth, rounded off with refreshing chunks of local watermelon.
View this post on Instagram
Take a private excursion with Corallina Tours tailored to your desired activities. It’s the best way to view Moorea’s emerald-green peaks and icy-blue lagoon, whilst experiencing swimming with reef sharks and rays – a magical experience not to be missed. Full-day tours include lunch at Coco Beach, a cool spot where locals dine on fresh barbecued fish washed down with Hinano beer.