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Trip Report Trip Report: Moorea, Taha'a, Bora Bora (May 2011)

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My husband and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary by spending 15 nights in French Polynesia. The idea for visiting FP came when we saw the St. Regis Bora Bora come up on SkyAuction dot com. We’d used SkyAuction for a previous anniversary trip to Grenada and had a great experience, so we’d been scouring it for deals ever since. After we won a 5 night stay in an overwater bungalow, we planned the rest of the trip from there. We managed to win another auction, granting us certificates to use at most Small Luxury Hotels, so we added Vahine Island, Taha’a to our trip. Knowing we also wanted to see Moorea, I searched around for home rentals and found Fare Hamara- we were sold as soon as we saw photos of the view. All in all, for air (including inter-island flights) and hotels, we spent about $8700.

TAHITI:

Flights

Our Air Tahiti Nui flight to Papeete was about as comfortable as could be expected. The baggie with socks, ear plugs, eye mask, and the special head phones was nice. I’m young, so I don’t remember ever having a full meal on an airplane before. I thought both meals were pretty good for airplane food. We watched a couple movies and stretched our legs in between. The only thing I didn’t like was that the movies run on a continuous loop- you can’t watch 5 minutes of one and switch to another without missing the beginning.

Hotel- Manava Suite Resort

In Tahiti, we stayed one night at Manava. It was a bit farther from the airport than some of the other hotels, but only by a few minutes. It reminded us of a Courtyard Marriott trying to be super trendy. The view of Moorea is beautiful, and although we didn’t use it, the pool is quite pretty. If you need a comfortable, easy, <$200 place to stay, Manava was fine.

MOOREA:

Flights

Our flight to Moorea was similar to all our other Air Tahiti experiences. We were very happy with them. Having flown the Caribbean inter-island airline (LIAT- Leaves Island Any Time), we were pleasantly surprised that Air Tahiti was actually quite punctual. All of the flights were smooth, and once we were able to switch a flight with no issues (actually, the staff at Vahine called for us, and said that it was no problem, but we’d have to pay about 6000CFP/person to switch. We agreed, but when we got to the airport later, they didn’t even mention an extra charge).

Lodging- Fare Hamara

On Moorea, we just loved Fare Hamara. First of all, it has the only recognizable street sign on the whole island :) Coming up the driveway, which is steep and surrounded by trees, we weren’t quite sure what to expect at the top (beyond the pics, of course). When we parked the car and got out, I’m pretty sure our jaws were on the floor. Jacques was there to greet us and show us how everything worked, and then we only saw him when we had questions. The house is very comfortable (though the king mattress is a bit firm for me personally, my husband loved it) and really has spectacular views. We loved seeing the sunset each night and being able to cook our own breakfasts. It’s very private and peaceful. I would absolutely recommend it, especially if you have a family, since there’s plenty of space. Bob was also very helpful by email and here on the TA forums.

Activities

We rented a car through Avis the whole time, so we were able to explore a lot on our own. I would highly recommend doing this for at least part of your trip. During our stay, we stocked up on groceries at Champion, drove up to Belvedere and did the hike (is it Three Coconuts?), checked out all the hotels, visited the fruit juice factory (it was closed that day, so we only saw the gift shop) and saw the show at Tiki Village. We tried to find the Nature House and the waterfall, but somehow couldn’t locate either. I think we just didn’t drive our small car far enough up the bumpy Nature House road, but we couldn’t find the road for the waterfall at all (and nobody around spoke enough English to help us- we need to learn French!).

We and 40 of our friends did Albert’s lagoon tour one day. It was the only day it rained, but to me it doesn’t matter when you’re already on the water. We saw lots of dolphins on our way out to the snorkeling/ray/shark area. This was my first time swimming with rays or sharks and I loved it! It was so much fun and they were all very friendly- I never felt unsafe. We had lunch on a motu and gathered around to watch the $90 video they were selling before going home. They were dropping people off at their hotel docks instead of taking everyone back to the Bali Hai, so since we were at Fare Hamara, they dropped us off in someone’s yard across the street from the house. There was a barbed-wire fence, so we had to walk around the yard and open their driveway gate to get out- hope they didn’t mind!

We bought pearls with both Woody and Eva. Woody’s shop is very laid-back and not a traditional jewelry store set-up. The pearls were not top quality, so they were a bit more affordable. We bought a bracelet for my sister-in-law here. Eva’s pearls are definitely high-quality, and the pricing reflects that. We chose a beautiful pendant for my mom. Eva is really very lovely and easy to work with.

Food

We cooked all our breakfasts and a couple lunches at Fare Hamara, but did manage to make it to a few restaurants.

We went to Club Bali Hai for lunch twice- the view of Cook’s Bay is unbeatable! The poisson cru is delicious (and did I mention the view?). We also got ice cream at Carameline’s. The coconut and taro were yummy, but the woman behind the counter was the only non-completely-friendly Tahitian we encountered and was off in the back smoking and scowling between scoops.

We made it to Pizza Daniel twice for late lunches. The seafood pizza is fantastic and we enjoyed watching Daniel make them in front of us. It was very quick and inexpensive.

As for dinners, we’d heard there was a happy hour at Villa des Sens so we showed up one night at 5:30. We were the only people there! There were no drink specials after all, but we each had a drink then decided to go ahead and stay for dinner (luckily other people showed up :) ). The atmosphere there is very trendy and could fit in well in New York. DH had foie gras with pinapple chutney and I had tuna carpaccio with truffle oil; both were quite good, but DH said mine was better. We shared the mahi with a risotto for our entrée and skipped dessert.

One evening we ate at Rudy’s. We hadn’t made a reservation and the place was packed. They thought at first they wouldn’t have room for us, but quickly found a table. Because there were only a few people working, service started off very slowly. We probably waited 45 minutes for our appetizers (poisson cru again and a goat cheese salad). The poisson cru was the best we had on any of the islands, with a little avocado on top. The salad didn’t actually have goat cheese, but we couldn’t identify what they’d replaced it with. We shared the parrot fish with crab as our main course and agreed it was only okay. I know most people rave about it, but DH said to him, it tasted like something you might get at Red Lobster. We had a pineapple upside down tart with ice cream for dessert, which I really enjoyed.

On our last night, we headed to Mayflower. We ran into Woody and his family eating, as well as a group of women we’d seen at some of the pearl shops earlier that day. DH had the crustacean soup and the tuna steak, and I had the tuna sashimi. All were good, and we’d rank the dinner restaurants as 1) Villa des Sens, 2) Mayflower, and 3) Rudy’s.

Summary:

We had a great time on Moorea. We were very busy trying to see everything, and there was another stunning view around every corner. Of the three islands, we felt this one was the busiest, but also the one you could visit longest before running out of something new to experience. Although the hotels were beautiful (we particularly liked the look of Legends, up on the hill), I would definitely recommend Fare Hamara for people looking for space, privacy, and the feel of having your very own home in paradise :)

TAHA’A

Hotel- Vahine Island

We were extremely sad to be leaving Moorea and Fare Hamara, but as soon as we got on the ferry taking us to Vahine Island from Raiatea, we got excited again. Vahine was an absolute dream for us. I would come to French Polynesia just to stay there. It’s small (9 rooms, and I would guess at most 6 were full during our entire stay), has international clientele, and the atmosphere is simply heaven. On our first day, I went to the front desk to ask whether it was possible to change our flight to Bora Bora to a later time since we didn’t want to leave Vahine so early, and they took care of everything for me

We were in a regular beach bungalow (#5) and we were extremely happy with it. Our view of Bora Bora to the left, a motu directly ahead, and the reef on the right was stunning. We spent a lot of time on the comfortable chaises or the hammock, playing Bananagrams and reading. The room itself was nice, with a desk, TV/DVD (never used), AC, dual sinks, and a shower. Two of the walls served as the sliding doors to outside, so we had a nice breeze and views whenever we left them open. Having lived in Manhattan for a few years, we agreed we could have happily lived in that small room.

Activities

The staff leave you alone unless you ask for something, and then they are very helpful. They happily arranged our day trip to Taha’a and a fishing trip. We did the pearl farm/vanilla tour with Dave, and I would highly recommend it. We saw some great views of the water from the Belvedere lookout (another Belvedere!) and Dave pointed out a lot of interesting things about the animals and plants we passed. The pearl farm was fascinating to me because I knew nothing about how scientifically they were created. We had a chance to buy pearls after the tour there, and prices were similar to everywhere else. I enjoyed the vanilla farm as well, and we purchased some vanilla items for ourselves and as gifts. We were gone from about 9:30 to 2, I believe, and it was a great way to spend the morning.

My husband also went fishing with Roy, the beach boy, while I went along for the boat ride. We stopped by Roy’s house on Taha’a to get his spear guns and DH got REALLY excited (he’d expected fly fishing). Roy speared three fish for us (which they served us at dinner and breakfast), and helped DH attempt to spear as well. We finally gave up on DH catching anything (don't tell him I told you!) as the sun went down.

Mostly, we spent our time reading and snorkeling. The snorkel masks provided aren’t great, so bring your own if you have one. Definitely bring water shoes, as the water is filled with coral. The fish were great, and there were several sharks circling around. We enjoyed seeing their fins above the water. The water is very shallow- one day, we walked several hundred feet from the beach and were still only in chest-deep water.

Food

We did the breakfast/dinner meal plan and had packed a few snacks to get us through the afternoon in case we got hungry. We rarely did, because the breakfasts were so huge and delicious. Every morning, we were served fresh juice, fruit, homemade vanilla yogurt, eggs, and a big basket of croissants and toast with assorted coconut butters and jellies. I have a mild gluten allergy, but I had heard that sometimes less engineered forms of gluten from other countries can be safe. I tested it out here one morning and was fine. This was a great discovery because those croissants were as delicious as I’ve tasted (btw- if you typically avoid gluten, too, but are considering trying it in FP, this was the only place where I didn’t have a reaction. Moorea and Bora Bora gave me the same results as US gluten). We left breakfast stuffed by 9AM every morning and had no issues waiting for 7PM dinner.

We chose our dinner options every morning at breakfast. There were two choices for each of the three courses, and the entrees and desserts had a lot of variety. The appetizers appeared to as well, but most of the salads were pretty much the same. All the food was quite good, especially for FP, and we loved the atmosphere of the restaurant at night. We ordered the same cocktails every evening- I had the Tanae, which had ginger and vanilla in it, and my husband got the Vahine. I’m not sure they have a set recipe because the drinks tasted different every night (sometimes strong, sometimes practically non-alcoholic), but they were very refreshing.

Summary

All in all, this was my favorite part of the trip. Because there literally isn’t anything to do on Vahine itself besides snorkel, sleep, read, and eat, we were able to relax completely and not feel like we were missing out on anything. This is a very special place, not for people who need a lot of activity and go-go-go, but for those who can go on vacation and just enjoy. I can’t say enough how happy I was here.

BORA BORA

Hotel- St. Regis

I wrote a more detailed review on TA, but in sum: the St. Regis was undoubtedly a very nice property, but it wasn’t for us. Coming from such private accommodations on Moorea and Taha’a, the St. Regis was oddly stressful- such a large resort with rooms close together. I am sure that many people would be very happy at this resort, but we would not return. The service was great, our bungalow was lovely, and the views are pretty spectacular. However, it’s very manicured, Disney-fied, and comparatively crowded. Also note- you can’t get/exchange any cash here; you have to go to Vaitape to do so.

Activities

We did Patrick’s ¾ day tour. It was very similar to our tour with Albert’s on Moorea (snorkel, rays, sharks, lunch), but we enjoyed this one much more because the snorkeling was better and there were only 6 of us on the boat. Patrick’s brother Mareto/Mark was our “guide,” but he had very little to say. If you’re interested in hearing a little history or having some of the sights described, Patrick is probably better. We had lots of fun with the rays again, though, and Mareto/Mark did cook a great lunch for us.

We also took a jet ski tour around the island through St. Regis. My husband especially enjoyed this, but as it was one of the windiest days on the trip, the water was a bit choppy for me.

On our last day, we did the 4x4 tour (I’m not sure who it was through; the St. Regis arranged it) and we were so glad we did. We’d gone to the main island for dinner and to go to Vaitape, but we hadn’t driven around at all. Our guide, Daniel, gave us a lot of interesting information and took us to some of the most incredible views from our entire trip. I would highly recommend doing a tour like this.

Snorkeling around our bungalow was not great; there were some fish closer to the bridge in the middle of the lagoon- and mountain-view bungalows, but very few anywhere else. The lagoonarium near the spa is a lot of fun though. Because the fish are so tame, they surround you the minute you climb down the latter. The St. Regis’ snorkel equipment was much better than on Vahine, and we didn’t need water shoes here.

Food

The Lagoon restaurant was quite good, though we preferred the cocktails and appetizers to the main courses. The rice-cracker crusted tuna and crab cake apps were our favorites. For the main course, I had the mahi and my husband had the fresh lagoon fish. Both were cooked well, but the sauces were a little off in our opinion. The view from outside is wonderful, and we enjoyed sitting on the terrace in the evenings before sunset. Our waitress recognized us after the first evening and, like every Tahitian we met, was very friendly. It’s a much trendier vibe than any other restaurant from our trip (except Villa des Sens on Moorea).

Although we enjoyed the food at Sushi Take (especially the Volcano roll), the service was very, very poor. We ate there twice, thinking the first time was a fluke, but our second visit confirmed that big improvements could be made here. Our first time, we hadn’t made a reservation, and when we showed up at 7, we were asked to come back at 8:30. Our fault for not making one, but only two tables (out of perhaps 10 or 12) were taken at that time, and when we hadn’t made a reservation at Lagoon, they quickly set up a table with a great view outside for us. We came back at 8:30 and were seated outside. There only appeared to be two people working; one was a guy who seemed like he was new on the job, and the second was a woman he referred to as the manager. The man was very forgetful and slow- we had to ask twice for water, for example. I know that service is slower on islands, and I’m okay with that, but this was extreme. The same two people worked the next night, and we had the same experience with slow, absent-minded service. It may not have been so bad if we were at a restaurant off property, but it was such a marked contrast compared to the rest of St. Regis service.

We ordered lunch from Te Pahu a couple of times. The poached shrimp appetizer was very good, and my husband ate the mahi burger twice. The restaurant is near the beach, which is nice, but we preferred just ordering room service.

We did enjoy dinner at Villa Mahana one night. We each did the exotic menu with wine pairings and loved everything but the risotto served with lobster and scallops. The vanilla mahi was possibly my favorite dish from the trip (aside from poisson cru!). For us, it was definitely worth the price. The restaurant itself wasn’t quite what I expected- it was VERY brightly lit and I had been expected a more traditional, dim/candle-lit dinner environment, but it did allow us to enjoy the art on the walls a bit more. (Random VM story- at one point during dinner, a cat jumped up on the banquette next to me. I enjoy animals, and this was clearly someone’s pet, so I reached over and gave it a pat. The couple sitting next to me and were visibly shocked at the animal and cowering from it. The wife looked at me with big eyes and asked, “Is that yours??” Like I would bring my cat to a restaurant on vacation with me :) Anyway if you go, watch out for the kitty! )

Summary

Staying at the St. Regis was the axis around which the rest of our trip was planned, and that was the best thing about it. Without winning the auction, we wouldn’t have gotten to experience stunning Moorea, peaceful Vahine, or blue, blue, blue Bora Bora. It is a very nice property for people who prefer very manicured, American-ized travel. People who prefer boutique hotels would probably not be such a fan. Bora Bora itself was beautiful, but I do believe everyone who says it’s “ruined” now compared to where it was 30 years ago. Moorea had more dramatic mountains, IMO, but the water of Bora Bora is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

If you've made it this far, you get three gold stars. Please let me know if you have any questions about our trip! Happy to help.

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