A scenic, music-filled boat ride in French Polynesia is a sure-fire way to escape everyday stress. This paradise of swaying palms, soft breezes, mostly cloudless skies and an average air and water temperature of 79°F is Eden-like. I cannot help but think of Tahiti, Bora Bora, Raiatea, Moorea and Huahine every time I smell jasmine. These flowers are everywhere.
Located between South America and Australia, the French Polynesian Society Islands are about chilling out. No pollution and no crowds. Be forewarned: a visit to this idyllic destination comes with a steep price tag. For example, at one hotel, I pay nearly US$50 for a small salad, small bottle of Perrier and some tapas.
But, there is a way around this - a Windstar cruise. The Wind Spirit, a 148-person yacht, boasts comfortable and modern cabins. It is casual, personalized and geared toward Americans. There are no elevators, so be prepared to get lots of exercise walking stairs.
Even if you travel solo like I do, the 90-person crew will make you feel like part of their family. They quickly learn passenger’s name and habits. Every morning they bring me English Breakfast Tea because they know it’s my favorite.
Moorea is an overnight sail from Tahiti. Covered with verdant craggy mountains, there’s no main town, just some villages like Maharepa Town. It has a couple of restaurants, souvenir shops, a tattoo shop, a bank and a jewelry store that sells black pearls - a popular French Polynesian purchase.
The sky clouds up and a mist hangs over the mountains on a Moorea photo safari. Our 4x4 vehicle fords streams and rumbles over back roads passing a pineapple farm, a horse ranch and the 2,499-foot tall Moua Roa which resembles Bali Hai Mountain in the film “South Pacific.” Flowers, ferns and palm trees blanket the landscape. Distillerie et Usine de Jus de Fruits offers tastings and sells vanilla, a prized product of French Polynesia. (I never knew that vanilla comes from the pods of white orchids.)
The waterfront of the Intercontinental Moorea is perfect for photo ops. Besides classic Polynesian overwater bungalows, there’s a private lagoon where dolphins play and so do turtles. The hotel has a Sea Turtle Clinic that treats and protects injured hawksbill and green turtles.
Back at the boat on the top deck, Windstar’s unique and nightly “Sail Away” begins. The dramatic sounds of Vangelis’ “1492: Conquest of Paradise” boom over the speakers. Huge sails unfurl and the trade winds carry the craft toward Taha’a.
But, tonight’s sail is rocky. The ship sways from side to side making me feel like a baby in a cradle.
Calm reigns the next day and I get to do one of the cruise’s fun things - spend time on a private island, Taha’a. The crew has already set up a bar, gift shop and all kinds of water sports. They begin to prepare a lunch feast that includes steak and ice cream. For me, this lazy, pleasant day includes catching rays, snorkeling and kayaking.
The Wind Spirit, has two private islands. The second, Motu Tapu (motu means island) hosts the Celebration Festival a few days later. It starts in late afternoon. White tablecloths cover picnic tables and two roasted pigs - one wearing glasses - plus watermelons carved into roses decorate the bountiful buffet. It is incredible that the crew schlepped all this stuff from the boat. After an amazing sunset, Polynesian dancers and fire
Wind Spirit also has on-board diversions including nightly live music in the lounge. One afternoon, the Mamas and the Papas, a Polynesian group, entertains. They demonstrate how to wear a pareo (sarong) and create flower jewelry. Piles of colorful flowers are dumped on the floor. Jasmine scent permeates the top deck as passengers create flower bracelets, headpieces and leis. To demonstrate dance techniques, they pull people out of the audience. Some passengers get it while others are klutzy.
But, my most pleasant time is spent on islands like Raiatea and Bora Bora. Raiatea is multiple shades of green. Light-leafed palms and dark green trees slither up its mountains. I kayak in a narrow, forested lagoon dotted with hibiscus.
Two days are spent on Bora Bora. The lagoon and culture tour, is on the first day. Our launch heads for Tuapua (pronounced Too-pu-a) Island. Thatched roofed hotel cottages that sit on stilts fly by as we whiz over the water.
Our guide, Teri, a rotund, funny fellow with an easy smile has us jump into the mirror-like water. He throws out bread for the fish. Blacktip and larger lemon sharks soon surround us. No worries. Fish are their meal of choice. Long white creatures, pilot fish, swim around the sharks to
In another spot where the waters are shallow, stingrays swarm around us looking to be petted like puppies. Black tipped sharks swim by while above, frigate birds soar and circle, looking for dinner.
Our third stop, the colorful coral gardens, are crowded and the currents are strong. There’s an abundance of brightly colored fish including sergeant majors, zebra fish, trumpet fish and moray eels. Teri coaxes the slithery creatures out of their holes. They look like they are smiling but when they open their mouths, their pointy teeth look menacing.
Back on the boat, Teri sings as we fly across the vibrant, aqua waters on our way to Motu Petit. He points out the jagged Mount Otemanu. Bora Bora’s highest peak (2,385 feet). It also looks like “South Pacific’s” Bali Hai Mountain. The scene is idyllic. I say to myself, “it doesn’t get better than this.”
On island, natives welcome us with flowered headbands. They also create tie-dyed pareos for us. Lunch is served on woven palm-leafed plates. Later, Teri shows us how to make them. He also teaches us how to open coconuts, shred the meat and make coconut milk. All the while, he strikes poses in his red, Superman-styled pareo.
During some free time, I visit the Wind Spirit bridge which is the nerve center of the ship. A room located on the top deck, it is blanketed with computer screens and control buttons for charts, sails, latitude/longitude and depth. Three huge generators power the ship.
All too soon we anchor at our last port, Huahine (pronounced hwa-heenee). The island reeks of Polynesian history and bumpy roads. Ancient altars stand outside the Fare Potee Museum. Inside are artifacts like axes, fishhooks and a huge mural signifying Creation, Polynesian style. A climb up Mata’trea Hill, across the road, reveals centuries-old burial platforms, terraces and fortification walls.
Because we find Huahine’s sacred, fresh water, blue-eyed eels swimming in a muddy ditch, their baby blues are not visible. They just look like slithering snakes.
On this, our last night, the crew sings a goodbye song. It is sad to leave these serene, beautiful islands and the Wind Spirit. Though not really a cruise person, floating in this paradise with a caring crew makes me think twice about another cruise.