Crystal clear waters, white sand beaches, palm trees and bungalows – the photos of the South Pacific Islands are incredibly stunning. But transporting yourself to the scenery of your desktop background isn’t a likely option for many.
Growing up in the US, I felt like these destinations were unreachable. With crazy high flight costs, getting to the remote South Pacific just isn’t practical. And even if you could afford the airfare, staying in a private overwater bungalow just seems completely unrealistic. Long ago I wrote off travelling to places like Bora Bora, classifying it as something that would simply never happen.
But living in New Zealand, these tropical island destinations are actually the closest surrounding countries. In fact, Fiji, New Caledonia and Tonga (plus others you’ve probably never heard of) are even closer than Australia. (That just goes to show how remote New Zealand really is…)
When Brett’s parents were planning their New Zealand visit and proposed we all go to an island as a stopover on their way home, we jumped at the idea. Was this really an option?
We did some research into travel times and realised it was doable. The only thing going against us was the weather. The Christmas and New Year holidays fell within the region’s rainy season. Islands to the east (towards Australia) are more prone to cyclones over this time, but the further west you go (towards Hawaii), your chances for blue skies improve.
So, we settled on French Polynesia – nearly 2,500 miles due south of Hawaii. Specifically, Tahiti, which is the biggest and most affordable of French Polynesia’s chain of islands, and is home to the capital city of Papeete. Don’t get me wrong, Tahiti still a splurge vacation if you want to stay in a nice resort, but staying in Bora Bora was just unreasonable.
Over 60% of all residents of French Polynesia live on the island, in and around the capital city of Papeete. It’s the business district, and not very tourism-focused. But we still found plenty cool things to keep us entertained, and spent a lot of time relaxing at our amazing resort, the InterContinental Tahiti. Plus – the best part of the trip? Visiting the neighbouring island of Moorea.
What to do in Downtown Papeete:
Check out the Municipal Market and the Pearl Market (where you can pick out your own black pearl – a perfect gift for my mom’s birthday!). For casual food, there are Les Roulottes food carts that open for dinner each night – or you can splurge on French fare at Le Le Soufflé.
Our Tahiti Inner Island Tour:
We booked a Jeep tour to explore the interior of Tahiti, taking us into the rainforest. The Jeep was really just a truck with a cart to ride in the back, but we still saw some of the beautiful jungle, lookout points and swam in a crystal clear river.
Best for last…. Ferry to Moorea:
A huge benefit of staying near Papeete is its proximity to Moorea – an absolutely beautiful island just 40 minutes away by ferry. We were able to visit twice. The first time, we went with Brett’s dad for an off-road ATV tour that allowed us to take muddy back roads to the base of mountains, through pineapple fields, up to epic lookout points, and even stop at a local ice cream stall.
This was one of the best travel days we’ve ever had, and an amazing experience all around! The best spots were the Opunohu Valley, Belvedere Lookout and Magic Mountain (the name is incredible in itself).
The second time, we had a DIY adventure with both Brett’s parents. We rented a car and drove the circuit road (37 miles) around the entire island, stopping at highlights along the way. The weather changed every hour, but we were lucky enough to visit a beach or two and show Brett’s mom the famous Belvedere lookout point before the rain came in. Brett and I had some trails in mind that we wanted to hike, but it was way too muddy. We did make it part of the way to the Afareaitu waterfall, which was beautiful!
Bonus… we celebrated New Years in Tahiti – one of the very last places in the world to hit 12:00am. Our hotel put on an epic buffet and Tahitian dance show. We’ll never forget ringing in 2018!