Destination Guide: French Polynesia

French Polynesia 3

Etienne Boutin has lived nearly 30 years in French Polynesia. He’s spent 20 of them servicing luxury yachts visiting Tahiti and her islands. Boutin established Tahiti Ocean in 1995 as the first agency exclusively for this purpose. He has organized many itineraries for megayacht owners and charter guests in French Polynesia. Here, Boutin shares “my dream itinerary” for French Polynesia, “the one I would do for my guests and myself.”

 

On Day 1, I will make sure all my guests are welcomed at Faa’a Airport with flowers and local music. I arrived in Tahiti from Paris in 1984, landing on an old DC8 at 4 a.m., and I still remember that first amazing sensation of flower scents spreading from everywhere and the band playing ukulele with smiles on their faces that did not exist in mainland France.

Then, we’ll spend a few hours walking along Papeete city center. We’ll get into the mood of the fish market, the Retro bar, or the little Chinese shops that sell anything from fortune cookies to iPhones. I will also take my guests to the Wan pearl museum because one can learn a lot there about this superb gem of the ocean. My wife prefers the gold-colored pearls. I love the blue and grey ones. The traditional color of the Tahitian pearl is a dark green nicely called poerava.

I’ll take my guests to Coco’s restaurant for dinner because they just have the best setting and the best food in Tahiti.

French Polynesia 1

Day 2, we will move the yacht to neighbor island Moorea. It is a commuting destination for Papeete city white collars but also the place where I spend most of my vacation. I hope my guests will enjoy the same relaxing feeling I have when touring the island with a quad or a moped. I will lead them up the belvedere dominating the two main bays and then through the pineapple plantations to Opunohu Bay. Amazing scenery marks the old volcano caldera. Finally, we’ll head up the magic mountain for a breathtaking view over the lagoon and its many shades of blue.

In the evening, I will make sure the artists from the Tiki village come and visit the yacht at anchor. They’ll play dangerously with fire sticks on their canoes and then dance for us on the aft deck. Polynesian people have been able to revive their traditional culture after the grey years of Christian intolerance, and dances are their most spectacular success.

Day 3 will see us cruise to Huahine in the Leeward Islands. We’ll enter Maroe bay early morning to feel like 18th-century discoverers in search for the seventh continent. I will take my guests on a land tour while the yacht relocates at Bourayne Bay on the other side of the island. Huahine is special to me. It is my favorite island in French Polynesia. It may come from the 1,000-year-old Maeva village remains, nicely restored by archeologists. It’s a special place where I can travel in time and imagine the Maohi people spreading all over the Pacific from island to island. They did so in double canoes at times when my European ancestors were most probably farmers or beggars.

French Polynesia picnic

For lunch, I will ask my friend Marc to organize one of his famous picnics in the water (above). That will most likely take us late into the afternoon, just when the sun sets on Huahine’s west coast in a spectacular blossom of warm colors.

Day 4, we’ll make the 25-mile cruise to Raiatea early morning and explore the Faaroa river with kayaks. It’s our little Amazon, and the ancient temple of Taputapuatea is next door. This marae is considered the most sacred place on earth by the natives of the Polynesian triangle and requires due deference.

In the afternoon, I will take the gang onto a dive at Teavapiti pass for a drift dive with hundreds of fish and reef sharks. Hopefully a sea turtle or some dolphins come along, too. Dinner will most likely happen ashore at Apooiti Marina yacht club. It’s where yachties gather to tell all sorts of stories about their travels around the world, true or not.

French Polynesia 4

On Day 5, we will move the yacht north inside the lagoon to neighbor Taha’a and tour all around this wild island inside the reef. Taha’a is well known for its vanilla, which the best chefs in the world like to use. We will learn how to marry–a funny name for this intimate interaction with Mother Nature–the vanilla flowers so they can produce the famous beans. Taha’a Private Island Resort is a good place to enjoy the Polynesian skills at massages. Local masseuses have been able to mix the modern techniques with the art of turumi, a skill only granted to ancient healers. Massage on the beach at sunset? What else?

We will arrive in Bora Bora on Day 6, after a quick morning cruise. We’ll be sure to enter the main pass early enough to benefit from the best light. Light is key in the South Pacific islands and certainly one good reason for Gauguin and many following artists to stick around. Maybe me, too! I’d like my guests to enjoy this marvelous feeling when entering Bora Bora pass. It’s like the first day on earth. A mystic experience.

There is plenty to do: visit World War II remains by quad, go hunting for mahi mahi or yellowfin tuna onboard the striker Luna Sea, go feed the sharks and rays with charismatic local guide Patrick… This island is also the perfect place to organize a traditional Tahitian meal. We will rent a small islet called motu here. The local people will dig a big hole, heat stones, and cook on them breadfruit, taro roots, plantains, chicken, and a delicious roasted piglet that we will enjoy dipped in fresh coconut milk. We’ll also drink the local Hinano beer with dancers and musicians. We’ll make sure they not only perform for us, but stay after the show to share a bit of their instinctive ability to party.

On Day 7, we will rent a helicopter and fly to Maupiti, 30 miles away. People describe this island as Bora Bora 50 years ago, and I agree it has the tasty flavor of an old-kept secret. We’ll snorkel with the manta rays, lie on the beach, bicycle around the mainland to meet the gentle people, and get the feel for times when Wi-Fi did not exist.

French Polynesia 2

I’ll make sure my guests return to Papeete, Tahiti in the evening by air to catch their international flight so they can avoid bouncing too much against head seas. Once they are gone, I will ask the captain to sneak back into Bourayne Bay, in Huahine, where I may spend the rest of my life.

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