Manava Beach Resort and Spa is the perfect place to unwind. It has everything you would expect of a luxury tropical resort, and a coral nursery, to ensure that the reef remains healthy for future generations.Moorea is a land of primordial magnificence; a lost world of lush green forests and rich red earth, with a core of improbable parabolic mountains. You fully expect to see dinosaurs or King Kong crashing through the trees, but the reality of the wildlife – small lizards, land crabs, and wild chickens – does nothing to diminish the awe-inspiring landscape. Its toothy silhouette is visible from the Tahitian mainland, which is just 40 minutes away using the comfortable passenger ferry.
Tourists have certain expectations of a trip to French Polynesia, so there is a certain sameness to the layout of the higher end hotels. On Moorea there was an infinity pool, and bungalows over-water, or inland with a private pool, but having said that, the Manava Beach Resort and Spa is the perfect place to unwind. It has everything you would expect of a luxury tropical resort, and a coral nursery, to ensure that the reef remains healthy for future generations. Riding on a quad-bike, with ATV Moorea Tours, is a fun way to explore inland; fording streams and snaking up hillsides to more breathtaking views. But for a truly eye-opening experience join Sam and his wife Sylvie, whose Moorea Maori Tours lets guests participate in a range of Polynesian cultural activities, including gardening in a traditional plantation, paddling outrigger canoes, and net-fishing on a reef, and then enjoy a meal made with the bounty of land and sea. Sam – who is extensively inked – also works in his brother-in-law’s tattoo studio, so anyone wanting a permanent souvenir should consider making a booking. Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia; the location of its international airport and capital. A major urban centre, Papeete’s markets allow visitors to get a taste of local life. The covered municipal market is one of the oldest tourist attractions, packing in vendors selling all kinds of t-shirts, jewellery, postcards, ornaments, exotic fruits, fresh fish, monoï oil, fabrics, handicrafts, sea shells, and street foods. After dark there is a night market on the waterfront, where food trucks feed locals and tourists alike.
If you were anywhere else, seeing dozens of dolphins would be the highlight of the trip, but after a few days in Tahiti I had become almost inured to the majesty of nature; I wanted them to get out of the way so that I could see a damn whale.Teuai, from Iaorana Tahiti Expéditions, will take you on a 4×4 tour through the Tahitian interior; along the Papeno’o Valley, through steaming rainforest and craggy peaks, up to a tunnel which passes through the mountain at the centre of the island. Teuai is a renaissance man – a polyglot, athlete, and dancer – whose knowledge of, and passion for, the traditions of French Polynesia is inspirational. If you were anywhere else, seeing dozens of dolphins would be the highlight of the trip, but after a few days in Tahiti I had become almost inured to the majesty of nature; I wanted them to get out of the way so that I could see a damn whale. Every spring, humpback whales come to Tahitian waters, to mate and give birth before returning to the Antarctic. Operating out of Papeete, TopDive offers visitors the chance to snorkel with these majestic leviathans, seeking them out in covered boats, crewed with experienced diving instructors to ensure the safety of everyone; people, whales and whale calves. While swimming with sharks is exhilarating, swimming with humpbacks is transformative. It’s impossible not to read intelligence into their large, blinking eyes. Nothing demonstrates the vivid hyperreality of a visit to French Polynesia quite so powerfully as returning home however. It’s like Dorothy’s transition from the technicolour spectacle of Oz, to the dull, sepia-toned banality of Kansas (especially if you fly back into Southend). And while you can find comfort in the familiar, your thoughts will drift back to the fantasy, again and again and again.