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Aitutaki, Bora Bora, Huahine, Moorea, Raiatea or Rarotonga??

Aitutaki, Bora Bora, Huahine, Moorea, Raiatea or Rarotonga??

Old Jul 24th, 2004, 11:28 PM
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Aitutaki, Bora Bora, Huahine, Moorea, Raiatea or Rarotonga??

We are in the beginning stages of planning a first trip to the South Pacific. We are pretty much decided that what we want to do is spend our time on one island, really getting the feel of it and relaxing, rather than spending time travelling from island to island. We plan about nine or ten days on that island.

Finding the right island seems more important to us than trying to pick the best resort. We feel that once we've made our island choice, we'll start looking for where we'll stay on it, although we don't have a clear impression of the range of accommodations available on each of these islands and how that may vary from island to island.

From what I have heard and read here, Tahiti the island is not the most desirable one to choose. I've read discussions of French Polynesia vs. the Cook Islands, and praises of Bora Bora and Moorea, but I'm not getting a clear idea of which we'd prefer, or if we chose one or the other, which of the islands there we'd like most. That is, I don't know how we'd decide Bora Bora vs. Moorea or Aitutaki vs. Rarotonga. I haven't seen too much discussion of Huahine and Raiatea on this board (although I remember reading one absolute rave for Huahine) so my listing of them is from conversations I've had in years past with people who had been to them. In some ways, as less visited islands in French Polynesia, it seemed to me they might offer some of the best advantages of both French Polynesia and the Cooks.

A bit about my preferences and those of my companion--we do not see high-end nightlife or dining as a major consideration on this trip. Good, moderate restaurants (especially with some local color) would be an advantage, although we prefer quieter, more relaxed/romantic to noisy and lively. We do look forward to some open air dining.

Given that we understand that this is a very expensive area, we would generally be looking for mid-range (as defined there, we realize that means very pricey by almost all other standards) rather than super-luxe accommodations, although we would like them to be comfortable and preferably with a place we could sit and enjoy a good water or mountain (or preferably both!) view while reading or talking or cuddling.

A splurge on a couple of nights at a more expensive place, particularly one offering the over-the-water-bungalow-experience, is an attractive possibility if we can find something both satisfactory and relatively moderate for the rest of the time. Do over-the-water bungalows exist on any of the other islands I have mentioned besides Bora Bora and Moorea? At any of the more moderate resorts on those last two islands? (I haven't got a sense yet of whether there is much price variation in the resorts on those two or whether they are all higher end than the less-well known islands.)

Finally, I think that our number one priority is natural beauty. We are attracted by the uncrowdedness and exoticness and seclusion offered by the Cooks (and perhaps of Huahine and Raiatea as well) but I am intrigued by comments I have read here that French Polynesia is more beautiful than the Cooks, and that Bora Bora and Moorea are the most beautiful of all. While we value seclusion and being off the well-beatren tourist track, we can find these things closer by; I think we want to go to the most exotically beautiful island there is. On the other hand, between two islands of roughly comparable beauty, we would prefer the less crowded one.

As to our definition of beauty--we are not just beach people, although we like them and would like our island to have some good ones for us to swim and linger at. But we've discussed the fact that for us, the South Pacific is jagged peaks rising up from the ocean, and we don't have an idea of how mountainous these islands are relative to each other, and how exotically shaped their formations are. We'd like an island which offers good opportunities to drive or bike through mountain scenery that is unlike what we've seen elsewhere, rather than a flatter, more predominantly "beachy" island.

I don't want to sound like I'm giving a college essay exam--but might these preferences help any of you with experience in these islands "compare and contrast" them in how they meet our criteria? Thanks!
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Old Jul 25th, 2004, 09:38 AM
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First off, I'm not sure how long you are going for, but you mention that you'd like to spend your time on ONE island. This is fine if your stay is fairly brief (a week or so) but if you are planning on a longer stay, I would really choose to visit at least 2 islands. Remember - these islands are pretty darned tiny and you can get a pretty good feel for them in a very short period of time. Also, your cost to get to the general area is going to be rather high and so it seems a shame not to spend the bit extra you need to see a second nearby island. So I really do recommend that you visit at least 2 islands if you have the time.

This is fairly easy/cheap in FP as some of the islands are very close together (you can see one island from another in many cases) - and not so easy/cheap in the Cooks (where the islands are further apart). Much as I love these places, they are TINY and sometimes people begin to go stir crazy on them. An e-mail acquaintance went to Aitutaki for whole month (and not to Rarotonga) and was MORE than ready to return home at the end of that time. He and his wife had a great time but did begin to experience "island fever". So my advice is that if you are staying longer than a week, visit at least 2 islands.

Raiatea (read about it here: http://www.raiatea.com/) is actually one of a pair of islands that share the same reef (look here: http://www.thetahititraveler.com/isl...iateaintro.asp), is a less visited location and has a wide variety of accomodations available (including OW bungalows) so it may make a fine choice. the pair are mountainous, but apparently not as dramatically so either Bora Bora or Moorea (the most dramatically mountainous islands you mention).

Raro is pretty mountainous, though again, not as dramatically so as either Moorea or Bora Bora. Aitutaki is pretty low, with the highest point being a mere 300 feet or so. It's also more open, with more grassland and less trees. It's very small, even by the stands of the other islands you mention.

Hope this helps a bit,

Ken
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Old Jul 25th, 2004, 10:21 AM
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Opps! Sorry I just notice you DID say 9 or 10 days. Still thnk that perhaps Raiatea/Tahaa may suit you as it looks to have everything you require except perhaps really rugged mountains.

Ken
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Old Jul 25th, 2004, 03:12 PM
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Thank you, Ken. You seem to be very knowledgeable about these islands, and we're very glad you chose to respond.

Sounds like we would not want to spend all our time on Aitutaki, from what you say, but if we take in more than one island as you suggest, we might combine it with Rarotonga. You mention these two islands are quite some distance from each other. Would it be more practical/less expensive to combine Rarotonga with one of the FP islands rather than with Aitutaki? Do you have to go through Papeete anyway if you are going to Rarotonga from the U.S.?

We'll certainly look into Raiatea/Tahaa. As I said, a person who I talked to a few years ago loved Raiatea and could not wait to return. I remember that he had not stayed at a hotel, though, but with French/Tahitian (Raiatean?) friends who had moved there. If maybe we could get an over the water bungalow there for considerably less than on Bora Bora or Moorea, it would be a big argument for making it at least one of two islands we visit.

Any comments on Huahine, Ken? I remember the rave I read about it was from someone who really liked their hotel there, although I got little idea of what the island was like except that it was relatively secluded.

You seem to confirm the impression we have gotten that Bora Bora and Moorea, even if more crowded, are the most jaggedly mountainous of these islands. Since that has been our image of where we want to go, even though we are definitely still considering a less crowded island, could you compare those two for beauty, crowdedness, and availability of accommodations below the very top price range? Which would you choose if you could only visit one?
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Old Jul 26th, 2004, 08:16 AM
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You're welcome.

Actaully, it's not that I'm all that much of an expert, it's just that I'm willing to share what I know (both from personal experience and research).

As to your questions -

Dispite the distance (40 - 50 minute flight depending on the type of plane) Aitutaki IS the closest island to Rarotonga. The islands of FP are much, much further away.

I THINK the Air New Zealand flights from LA to the Cooks are now stopping off in Papeete (FYI - pronounced "Pap eh eh tay") before heading onward to New Zealand, while the Aloha flights pass through Honolulu on their way to the Cooks. These are the only 2 airlines flying to the Cooks right now.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you won't find any bargain overwater bungalows on Tahha/Raiatea. The 2 places that I know of are both part of the Pearl Beach Resorts chain and are pretty pricy. On the plus side though, the Tahaa Pearl Beach is probably considered to be the nicest "overwater" resort in FP - of course it's also one of the most expensive. Cheapest overwater bungalows I know of in FP are the Hotel Bali Hai on Moorea (not on a sandy beach though) and the Le Maitai Polynesia on Bora Bora. Coconuts Beach Resort in Samoa is pretty reasonable too - but the fact is, none of these places are anything near cheap. There are cheaper places to say on Raiatea/Tahaa (and the other islands as well) though so maybe you can stay at one of these for most of your trip and splurge a couple of nights at the Pearl Beach before you come home. Keep in mind however that some of the cheaper places will probably be pretty basic, so do your research so you'll know what to expect.

Huahine seems to get universally rave reviews (I've not been myself). I've always been somewhat intrigued by the Relais Mahana resort though as the prices there seem pretty reasonable and the beach very nice. The Pearl Beach of course always gets rave reviews but again is pretty darned pricey. Like Tahaa/Raiatea, Huahine is very quiet and peaceful. Not a lot to do there - but that's the whole point of going to a place like that.

Between Bora Bora and Moorea, Bora Bora is definitely more expensive and has fewer choices at the lower end for accomodations. It's somewhat of a "rich man's" island so plan accordingly. Moorea is still expensive, but does have a bit more choice at the lower/mid-range end. The ISLAND of Moorea is far more beautiful that the ISLAND of Bora Bora (Bora Bora is a bit "scruffy") but Bora Bora's LAGOON is more magnificient. Some folks prefer one, some folks the other, but both are incredible in their own way. Both are much more developed than either Huahine or Tahh/Raiatea - though by most standards none of these islands are really what most folks would consider crowded.

The thing to remember is that all of these islands are beautiful and exotic, so do what your budget allows and rest assured that these places are all amazing and that you will enjoy yourselves. I love Hawaii, but these places feel much more exotic and tropical, and are pretty much the vision that most people have of a tropical paradise. So don't feel bad no matter which you choose. As long as you are aware that there is almost no nightlife and that these places are really most suited for just snorkeling, laying back and relaxing you will probably like it a lot.

Ken
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Old Jul 27th, 2004, 04:34 PM
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Ken, thank you again for the great generosity of your replies. Certainly we're not especting to find "cheap" there, nor do we want to deal with what it would probably be like if we found it. We are looking forward to a couple of nights of real splurging. But we will need to stay at places which are below the very top rung most nights, although we still expect to pay plenty for the second or third rungs.

We'll continue to research with an open mind, but based on your comments combined with our likes, we're developing a tentative feeling that we'll choose to divide our time between Moorea and either Raiatea or Tahaa.
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Old Jul 27th, 2004, 06:58 PM
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GeBo.

You might want to check out the following website as it gives the most extensive info on all of French Polynesia and there are lots of experienced travellers who can further answer any questions you may have.
www.tahiti-explorer.com
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Old Jul 27th, 2004, 10:08 PM
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Yes, the Tahiti-Explorer board is the BEST source of personal experience info about French Polynesia. Some of the folks get a bit nasty sometimes, but there is no denying their knowledge.

Ken
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