We reminisce on our time when we were saving money for our adventure, in our bedroom in Dublin, looking at the world map we bought during Christmas 2011, upon which we stuck thumb tacks on the countries we hoped to visit. We plotted our route, changed our minds, consulted travel guides and blogs, one pin was particularly memorable, a tiny dot in the middle of the pacific ocean: French Polynesia.
The dream destination for many, though often unaffordable, a playground for celebrities, the rich and famous and honeymooners. Yet it is there that we decided to spend eleven days after our visit to New Zealand. The solution: camping and couchsurfing. The first does not need to be explained, we had bought a secondhand tent in New Zealand, regarding the second, this is an English term that could mean to “move from a couch to another.” You can see also an allusion to surf the internet to find a couch to sleep. The image is that of the traveler discovering the planet and its inhabitants with the sofa as a means of locomotion. Participation in the site is free and members are free to seek accommodation with other members. This accommodation is always based on the concept of free housing. A few weeks before arriving, Thomas had taken the trouble to send requests via the website
The idea was to arrive in Papeete on the island of Tahiti, then head straight to the “leeward islands‘ the most popular being Moorea and Bora Bora.
The inter-island pass cost us just over 80,000 XPF which is 750EUR for two. There is also a catamaran that connects Papeete to Moorea in less than an hour, however it was cheaper to take the inter-islands pass including Moorea-Bora-Tahiti by plane.
We arrived at the airport in Papeete after a great flight of about 6 hours via an Airbus A340-300 with Air New Zealand (which is also strongly recommended, especially for their friendly service, but also for their very funny safety instructions video, featuring several All Blacks rugby players!) we step onto the tarmac at Faa’a international airport and feel the heat, and hear the music.
It is 2am but we are greeted by a small group of Polynesian performers in traditional costume. A heavily scented flower garland is given to all passengers on the flight. As we did not want to visit Papeete (polluted, dirty, and not too much of interest) we would go directly to Moorea. The only problem is that the airplane is at 7:50 am so we will spend 5 hours in this tiny airport where almost everything is closed and the staff are as friendly a prison door. Yes, even at 15,000 km away, the French (metropolitan) manage to be as unsympathetic as those in Paris.
We were exhausted but the excitement and uncomfortable seating kept us awake. It is 7:10 when we board the ATR-72 of Air Tahiti. Direction: Moorea. Flight time: 7 minutes.
It will probably remain the shortest flight of our lives for a while. Moreover, there is a feeling that we are flying by private jet, the plane is almost empty because of the delay of the Air France flight from Los Angeles so we are 4 passengers on a 65 seater plane!
During the flight, the picturesque blue lagoons are clearly distinguishable while we fly over the island of Moorea.
Once at the airport two solutions are available to the budget traveller, who does not have a luxury hotel waiting to whisk them away to the resorts: Take the bus for 300 Pacific Francs (about either 2.5EUR) or hitchhike. Either way, we need to walk 10 minutes to the main road, it looks exactly like a French country road.The roadsigns are the same, as are the road markings, only the scenery changes. The bus fails to arrive and we are finally picked up by an employee of the airport who dropped us at the Hotel InterContinental Moorea, where we would meet with our couchsurfing hostess.
What we did not know was that she is employed by the InterContinental. So we will stay at her home in the staff accommodation (just steps from the hotel) for a few days, with a nice double room and the kitchen, bathroom, terrace and a washing machine at our disposal. The icing on the cake is that we can use the hotel allocated red towels and have access to the pool, the bar, the lagoon and the private beach, as well as sunbeds. We were absolutely gobsmacked, we felt so lucky just to have a comfortable bed on this beautiful, though expensive island, and now we could enjoy the facilities of a five star hotel too!
After a long night’s sleep, we went to the beach to discover the colors of the lagoon. We sunbathed on the soft, white sand and walked along the shore in the shallow waters… and then time for some exercise. We decided to rent a kayak for 1000 Pacific Francs (about 8EUR) an hour to visit the stingrays, sharks and fish in the lagoon.
The least we can say is that we were not disappointed. In no time at all we were surrounded by stingrays and black tip sharks, some of whom exceeded two meters long!
The next day we rented a scooter for 24 hours to explore the island. Price: 5500 Pacific Francs or 46eur. A world of difference with the prices in Asia (we rented a scooter for 3eur/day in Bali, and a motorcycle for 10eur/day in Thailand) but with free housing, we can afford that little extra. First stop, the splendid views of the Belvedere, from where you can see Mount Rotui surrounded by the bay of Cook and Opunohu. A classic for visitors to Moorea. We also met a lot of couples, mostly American or Japanese honeymooners, plus a few wealthy Europeans.
We toured the Agricultural College which is located on the road to Belvedere. The college runs educational courses in agriculture, and makes products from the fruit that it grows on site. We walked through the lemon groves, pineapple fields and papaya and banana tree plantations. We ended our visit with a tasting of delicious jams including our favorite, with pineapple and Tahitian vanilla. A delight. The college makes ice creams and sorbets from the fruits, we sampled a pineapple sorbet and vanilla ice-cream which were sensational.
We travelled to the west coast of the island, quite a distance in our little scooter to shop at the Champion store in Vaiare, a district of the island. It was an opportunity to once again enjoy the pleasures of cheese, saucisson and rillettes after many months in Asia.
Prices are higher than in France though still affordable, except for Roquefort, Reblochon or goat cheese. Baguettes, red wine and charcuterie made up the rest of our shop and a French gourmet feast to enjoy that evening in the company of our lovely hostess.
The next day we took advantage of our last morning with the scooter to climb to the top of Magic Mountain for a new 180-degree panorama of the north of the island.
On the way back, we visited the Post Office to send some cards, and also to stamp our passport as a souvenir, for customs at the airport can not do it on European passports. On our way home we grabbed a couple of beers at the local store and walked down to the little beach on the north-west side of the island to enjoy the spectacular evening sky, where the colours changed constantly.
Unfortunately time was flying and we did not had enough time with the scooter to go hunting for legendary Tahitian black pearls. With orders from the family and gifts for others, we walked in the hot sun after unsuccessfully trying to hitchhike to the small village.
Two jewelers were recommended: Herman Pearls and Paimoana Pearls.The reception was awful in the latter, a young sales assistant, perhaps fooled by our casual dress was quite rude to us, considering that in any event we would not spend much money in the shop. To remain courteous, we still looked at some pearls but quickly ended the visit. No doubt she preferred assisting the rich American clients, dressed with their Louis Vuitton bags & Prada sunglasses.
In contrast to Herman Pearls where we received quite a different experience. Maryvonne, the saleswoman, a French lady, resident for over 12 years in Polynesia, explained with great patience and kindness the types of pearls available, greatly facilitating our comfort and choice. We spent over two hours in jewelry store, looking at the many beautiful items: rings, earrings, necklaces and loose pearls, studying every detail: the shape, diameter, luster and color shades. Once our choice was final, Maryvonne also gave us a nice discount on the total price. The jewelry store has its own pearl farm, and their prices are more reasonable than stores that sell stones purchased from growing farms. Certificates of authenticity are issued for each purchase. We were very pleased with the service we received, the pearls we bought and can highly recommend Herman Pearls.
The next two days, we spent on the beach and beside the hotel pool, soaking up the sun alongside the hotel guests (some of whom pay more than 1000eur/night for an overwater bungalow! ), and eagerly awaiting the bar’s Happy Hour (buy one, get one free), from 16:30 to 17:30 (at 1400 Pacific Francs per cocktail or 12EUR), the cocktails came with a large bowls of tasty olives and fresh coconut. The cocktails were made with fresh fruit, lots of alcohol and were very refreshing, especially when sat in the warm evening sun, watching the sun set across the bay.
On our final night we invited our hostess and her son to a French restaurant on the island, to thank her for her hospitality, her trust in opening her home to us and the kindness that we experienced during our stay. At “Le Mayflower” restaurant, we enjoyed ravioli of lobster, tuna carpaccio, chocolate fondant and creme brulee. This was our only restaurant visit during our stay and was quite expensive, however as we had free accommodation for 7 nights, we could enjoy the experience while keeping within our overall budget.
We left for Bora Bora the next morning with the first flight at 7:30.