Cruising the South Pacific

Yes, it’s as exotic as it sounds. There’s nothing like it! Sailing from one heavenly island to another, waking up to picturesque scenery, and reveling in a feeling of pure bliss. This is a trip of a lifetime and we’re so grateful to have had the chance to experience it.

Our itinerary was round trip from Papeete, Tahiti and included 4 islands in the Society Islands Archipelago and one day in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Adding a few days to explore Tahiti is a must. We added one day before and stayed for 3 after.

Tahiti, Queen of the Pacific

Leaving Papeete, Tahiti’s capital, behind and sailing away into the sunset (literally) and being escorted by a group of outrigger canoes was a wonderful way to say: “Nānā!” (Until next time!)

Our first evening was spent exploring the ship and meeting our dining companions and waitstaff for the week. We discovered that we had common interests with our tablemates (Steven and Roxanne) and we ended up spending some time ashore together throughout the week. On some islands, we rented a car and stopped at interesting landmarks or snorkeling spots. Good times!

Huahine, the Garden Island

Seeing this lush tropical foliage rising up from a lagoon of the purest blue filled me with so much anticipation. Soon I would set foot on this faraway land and revel in all that it had to offer. Legend has it that Huahine was once one island and that it was split in two when Hiro, God of thieves, ran his canoe into it. (The most probable reason is geological activity.)

Approaching Huahine

To our delight, we saw our delayed bags waiting for us on the dock. Happy and relieved to know we would have something more proper to wear for dinner; we left them there and went exploring! After tendering to shore we hooked up with other passengers and went on an island tour with a local taxi driver. He took us to various landmarks including a pristine beach of the purest white and to our surprise we could see the fish swimming around in the crystal-clear water, just like looking through a window, no need for a mask and snorkel. Amazing!

Our first stop was to the town of Fare where arts and crafts can be purchased. Then we were off to visit the remnants of a marae (sacred temple).

Marae (Ancient Temple)

Next stop, Lake Fauna Nui to see an ancient v-shaped fish trap made of blocks of corals. The fish get trapped in an enclosure from which there is no escape and will eventually become someone’s dinner! We stopped for a few minutes at a little bridge near the village of Faie to have a look at some sacred blue-eyed eels resting in the stream below. Then, we ended our tour with a swim in the warm waters of Huahine before returning to our ship and sailing away to new horizons.

Polynesian fish trap

Sea day

Waking-up to the Captain’s greeting: “Welcome to the middle of nowhere!” which proved to be quite accurate, as we didn’t see any land or ships all day! We were really in the middle of the South Pacific and this fact made the cruise director’s list of funny questions from passengers he collected over the years even funnier. My personal favorite: “Does the crew sleep on board?”

We were on our way to the Cook Islands Archipelagos located in the heart of the South Pacific…

Rarotonga, the Endless Lagoon

Here, we decided to rent a car with our new friends to explore the island at our own pace and stop wherever it looked interesting. First things first, to drive in Rarotonga, one needs to obtain a local driver’s license. The cost was 10$ for a 4-year permit, not bad, so we paid, had our picture taken, and waited 10 minutes for our documents and that was that, off we went! Driving on the ‘wrong side of the street’ (a.k.a. left) took some getting used to, but it was worth it to have the freedom of exploring at our own pace.

The island is covered with jungle-like foliage and is mountainous. We mostly stuck to the belt road and stopped at various scenic points, as our limited time in port didn’t permit further exploration.

We all loved snorkeling; therefore, we spent most of our free time in the crystal-clear water of the lagoon. The shallow water allowed people to walk to a motu islet, although a cute little triggerfish was biting those that did! Since I was swimming, I didn’t get bitten. I would bite too if people were trampling my eggs! Wouldn’t You?

We had a late lunch of fresh fish and assorted ‘french-fries’ made from various root veggies at a beach side restaurant. Then one last look… before making our way back to the harbor, return the car and catch a tender boat to our ship.

Sea day

One more glorious day at sea! Once again, just our ship in the middle of the big blue ocean…

Glorious sunset at sea!

Sea days are perfect to relax and partake in the cruise activities, indulge in a fancier dinner or simply take time to recharge for the next port of call. We tend to get antsy if we stay put for too long, so for us one day is plenty!

Raiatea, the Sacred Island

This was the only port where we docked, for all the other ones we had to tender back and forth to the ship. Not having to wait for a specific time to disembark, we were some of the first ones out, but since it was very early, there were no tour operators or taxi drivers waiting to take us around unlike we had seen elsewhere. With no pre-booked ship shore excursion or any other arrangements we were left scrambling at the last minute. Eventually, we saw someone we had met on board and we were invited to join her group for an island tour.

Raiatea’s port area

Our island tour included a visit to a seaside traditional temple. Many temples are scattered around the island including French Polynesia’s most sacred one, the Taputapuatea Marae and the oldest one found on Raiatea, the Tainuu Marae, which has petroglyphs carved into the basaltic stones.

Raiatea’s botanical garden

We had an interesting tour of the botanical garden where the guide gave information on the local flora. Tahiti’s flower, the Tiaré is a type of gardenia with a fragrant enticing smell. Soaking the Tiaré flowers in coconut oil makes Monoï oil that is used in the fabrication of body and hair products. They are also used to make leis; a flower strands used to greet visitors or returning family members. It is said that if available men and women wear a flower behind their right ear and if taken, on the left. Just be sure to put it behind the correct ear not to send the wrong message!

Tahitian Pearl farm

A boat ride was necessary to get to our final stop, a pearl farm built on stilts in the ocean. We watched an artisan at work. He was grafting oysters by inserting a nucleolus made from a tiny piece of shell and mantle from a donor oyster inside oysters that he gently and carefully pried open. Then the oysters are tied on ropes before being submerged in the ocean. The nucleolus will grow over time. It’ a long, delicate process and this is probably why black pearls are pricy; some even cost thousands of dollars!

After the tour we still had plenty of time to do something else; our ship was sailing away only the following morning. By then, all the locals were ready to take cruise goers on tours. We found a boat operator ready to take us to a motu for 20$ but he was leaving in a few minutes and we barely had time to go up to our stateroom and grab our mask and Snorkel. The snorkeling was phenomenal! It was like going through a garden of coral and the further we went we saw the same fish, only they got bigger and bigger. The best snorkeling we had done in our life!

Motu

Being in port overnight has its perks! Local musicians and dancers were invited on board to perform traditional dances. This is something we really enjoyed and we appreciated that the cruise operator encouraged the local talent and economy.

Tahaa, the Vanilla Island

This small island shares the same lagoon as Raiatea. However, this time around we had to enjoy it from afar while we were on our way to our next port. We could see pearl farms dotting the ocean; they looked so small from our vantage point!

Bora Bora, the Pearl of the Pacific

This is the island that comes to mind when we think about the some of the most romantic places in the world, the place that many only dream about. We had high expectations and seeing her for the first time was very exiting. Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu appeared to be floating over a stunning lagoon of all shades of blues. Mesmerizing!

Bora Bora’s lagoon

Luxurious overwater bungalows branching out from the ring of motus over the lagoon can only make you wish you were there. Many come with glass floors windows offering a view onto the marine world down below and all have direct access to the crystal-clear lagoon. Making this a prime destination for honeymooners, at least those fortunate enough to afford the hefty price tag. Overwater bungalows are not unique to Bora Bora, but none other are located over such a pristine lagoon.

Once again we rented a car, the ship was staying overnight so we had plenty of time to explore the island. We found plenty of excellent scenic points with lovely white sand beaches nestled in-between lush mountains peaks and a picture-perfect lagoon.

I have to say that we found the area near the port a bit to commercialized in comparison with the other islands we visited. If luxury shopping is on your list, this is the place to go, but it’s not for us.

The next day we participated in an excursion with the ship, we went helmet diving. This was before we became certified scuba divers and having the chance to stay underwater and discover the underwater world was appealing. Back then I was really afraid of sharks, and as luck would have it, I was the first one in and the last one out. We saw a multitude of colorful reef fish and loved every moment of it!

Moorea, the Magical Island

Ship anchored in Cook’s Bay, Moorea

We didn’t see much of Moorea, since we opted for a shore excursion to a motu islet for swimming, snorkeling and a barbeque. The excursion also involved stingray petting and feeding. I’m not proud to say that I did participate; in my defense I didn’t know that it was harmful for them, now I do and wouldn’t partake. The only positive is that my love for rays began at that specific moment when I realized that they are softer than silk. Overall, we had a fantastic day and the food was delicious. The meats (pork, fish and chicken) were cooked in an underground oven and to my surprise I enjoyed the fish, something new for me.

The ship was anchored in Cook’s Bay, one of the prettiest bays I had ever seen. The island looked inviting… Nānā!

Moorea is a short ferry ride away from Tahiti and it’s usually possible to disembark and spend a few days on the island before returning to Tahiti. That time around we didn’t have the luxury to indulge, but we hope, one day, to return and explore more of Tahiti’s sister island.

Tahitian sunset over Moorea

Now that we are certified scuba divers, we would love to dive in French Polynesia and see more of the underwater world.

We have read that this area is for very experienced divers due to strong currents and sharp drop offs. Perhaps we have some more practicing to do but one day we hope to return with our dive gear.

I’ll never forget this trip—it’s imbedded in my memory and in my heart!


French Polynesia

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2 thoughts on “Cruising the South Pacific”

  1. Beautiful Nathalie!!! Thank you and hello to Jaan. I miss you guys and really enjoy reading about your adventures!Much love Amy

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