Recently I was lucky enough to tick off my no1 destination on my Bucket List… and when I say tick it off; I mean with a super large tick. I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience, so I decided I had to make the most of my trip and here’s how I did it:
I stayed onboard the m/s Paul Gauguin, which personally I think is a great way to get the most out of your trip to French Polynesia as it allows you to explore all the different islands without having to constantly pack/unpack, keep checking in and out of hotels and more importantly being an all-inclusive ship it’s far more cost effective. The ship was designed specifically to sail the shallow seas of Tahiti, Fiji, and the South Pacific, visiting small ports that larger ships can’t reach and effortlessly blending into the stunning natural beauty of the South Seas.
1. Immerse yourself in the culture; it’s a place like no other.
There’s no point going to the other side of the world, if you treat it as though you’ve gone down the road. Luckily my trip coincided with the annual event ‘Heiva I Bora Bora 2015’. This was the annual singing, dance and sports competition that all the islands in French Polynesia took part in. Talk about amazing, it was a one-off experience and it was such a cool thing to see. What was such a quiet place during the day had been completely transformed in the evening. They had art and craft stalls, a huge stadium for the show and it was bustling with locals – talk about a truly authentic experience. From learning a few basic Polynesian words to wearing a Lei it’s nice to feel more connected to the locals and their culture.
2. Instead of looking at the pictures in magazines and buying the postcards, take the pictures yourself.
Whilst in Bora Bora I decided on an off the road adventure excursion, it was described as a way of reaching parts of the islands only accessible by a land rover, it promised stunning views and a guided tour of the island. It seriously did not disappoint – what an incredible excursion…. And when it said off the road, it really did mean off the road! There were some serious holding on to your chair moments when the Land Rover took on steep hills that you wouldn’t think possible and you got a bit too close to the edge of a cliff than you’d like but when you reached the top you literally skipped a breath at the views in front of you. I simply can’t put in to words the view I saw, it was like looking at a postcard, jaw-dropping and inspiring.
3. Visit a private island; if you’re going to do it you may as well do it in style.
I always considered Bora Bora and the surrounding islands as quite possibly the most luxurious destination in the world so when I had the opportunity to visit a private Motu I of course jumped at the chance. Paul Gauguin own their own private islet by the island Taha’a, called Motu Mahana and the best thing about it, they brought the ‘all-inclusive’ ashore. From sunbeds to drinks and from water sports to a barbeque they had it all covered. It really was an amazing day; it felt very exclusive knowing that the Motu wasn’t accessible for anyone other than those sailing with Paul Gauguin Cruises.
4. Test your taste buds and try new things
A staple of the Tahitian diet is fresh fish, I have to admit I’m not a huge fish lover but I figured I’d try a few local dishes whilst out there. I tried Moon fish and mahi mahi –both were absolutely delicious. Not only that but I had quite possibly the freshest tuna I’ve ever tasted. The food in French Polynesia was always exquisite; it was so different from anything you’d normally get and it was so nice to try new cuisine.
5. Make the most of your flights, it’s a long way – but the end destination is worth it.
The only ‘downside’, if you could even call it that, of going to French Polynesia from the UK is the travelling. It’s rather far, but it’s also another opportunity to take in more sights along the way. The easiest thing would be flying from London with a night or two in Los Angeles before continuing on to Tahiti. I’d also highly recommend a night or two once you’ve touched down just so you can really settle yourself so you’re ready for your adventures ahead. Whether it be to join a cruise or to island hop by boat/plane there’s no point arriving and going full steam ahead as the jet lag will kick in – trust me! If you’re going to go, make your trip worth it and give yourself an extra day or so just so you really start your experience properly.
6. Take something home with you, you’ll want to remember your trip
Souvenirs on holiday for me are always a must! Not only should you enjoy your trip whilst you’re there, but it’s always nice to have something to remind you once you’re back. Whether it be a fridge magnet, a pareo or one of their local pearls it’s always nice to have a reminder that you did actually go there, it wasn’t a dream and that places like that really do exist!
7. Take an excursion that you wouldn’t normally do, you may surprise yourself.
If I’d have been anywhere else in the world I wouldn’t have done it – that’s a fact, I’m not a big fan of the creatures of the ocean… but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and if there was anywhere in the world ‘water activities’ had to be done, it was in the Society Islands! I decided to try the underwater walk in Moorea, priced at $129pp it was worth every penny and more! As a small group of 7 we were taken on a little boat out into the lagoon area in-between two little Motus where we went 12ft underwater. As soon as we got down there the fishes swam straight over to investigate as we were given food to hold which brought all the marine life over to us. The biggest surprise for me was the Stingrays, they were so soft to touch and far cuter than I’d imagined. It was such a brilliant experience and despite being a bit dubious to start with I really enjoyed it and was so pleased I’d done it. Whether it be this excursion or a different one I’d highly recommend trying something you wouldn’t normally do. On the boat ride back our guide told us to look out for sharks in the waters below and I actually spotted one! Having said that, I was pleased to spot one but even more pleased I was back on the boat for the viewing!
8. Get up early and catch the sunrise, it’s breathtaking.
I found myself waking early for the first few days due to jet lag so I decided to embrace it and get up to make the most of my day. The first night I was staying in a hotel – the Intercontinental Tahiti as part of my cruise package and I had the most fabulous lagoon view balcony where not only could I see the whole resort but across the water was Moorea in the distance. The sunrise was amazing, so beautiful and it was a great way to start my trip. I managed to watch the sun rise on quite a few occasions throughout my time away. My favourite of all being the sunrise on the day we were sailing to the private island. Awake at 5am I decided to head to up on the pool deck for a bit of fresh air and I don’t actually think I can put into words how beautiful the view was. Sailing in and out through the tiny islands, catching the sun bounce off the 14 shades of turquoise – it was a really special moment and one I’ll always remember.
9. Visit as many of the Islands you can, they’ll all become your favourite
Being on a cruise ship made my experience of ‘island hopping’ far easier and more relaxed however it’s just as easy to island hop staying in resorts along the way travelling by plane, boat and even helicopter from island to island. I stayed purely in the Society Islands, but French Polynesia itself has over 100 islands so there are plenty of options for travellers out there. We started in Tahiti (Papeete), it was stunning from the moment I stepped off the plane, it really was simply beautiful and I honestly didn’t think it could get much better than this. We visited Huahine, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea. I loved every single one, from the stunning look of Bora Bora to the lush vegetation and the feel of Moorea. Each island we went to soon became my favourite, replacing the one from the day before.
10. Trips like this don’t always have to be ‘once in a lifetime’ – save some things for the next time as trust me, you’ll want to go back
I honestly thought my trip would be a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ and don’t get me wrong, it was to a certain extent but it was so good I honestly don’t think I’ll be satisfied with only visiting French Polynesia the one time. I’m a true believer in life being for living, how you only get one shot and that you should make the most of every opportunity you’re given and that’s why I think it’s always good to leave something to look forward to. My next ‘to-do’ things for my return trip are to stay in an overwater bungalow and to visit more islands. It’s always great to do your research, plan your trip and itinerary fully but unless you are going to spend a long time there, there will always be something you’ll miss but don’t worry, just save it for the next time!