Sunday, March 1, 2015

What to Do in Paradise

PHOTO: Paul Gauguin features a ship picnic and swimming on a motu just off Taha’a.

A cruise through the islands of French Polynesia just might be everyone’s definition of paradise, but what exactly can you do in paradise? Paul Gauguin Cruises’ 332-passenger Paul Gauguin features a seven-night Society Islands Tahiti sailing that cruises roundtrip out of Papeete with stops at Huahine, Ta’ha, Bora Bora and Moorea. 

Sailing the Tahitian Dream CRUISE 

Each island has its own character, spectacular beauty and unique Tahitian culture. The experiences you can have on each island are similar, so it’s best to select different activities at every port of call. Here’s a rundown of recommendations on what to do at each stop.

Huahine: Known as the “Garden Island” for its lush rainforests and dramatic terrain, Huahine is a great way to start out on this cruise of paradise. With only a small population and few resorts, Huahine features sacred Tahitian sites and landmarks that are among the best-preserved archaeological remains in French Polynesia. You also can enjoy snorkeling or Scuba diving in the lagoon, or have a picnic on the beach.

For a great introduction to Tahitian culture, one tour option is the Motu Picnic, lasting six hours with snorkeling, it includes a tour of the lagoon and a visit to a motu to have lunch with a local family. The boat picks up guests from the pier for a brief ride to a snorkeling spot in one of Huahine’s main lagoons.

After snorkeling, the boat takes a long cruise to the Motu Murimahora, where a local family prepares lunch, including island specialties. They also provide demonstrations on how to open a coconut and wear different styles of parae sarongs. There’s also time to walk to the beach beyond the motu, where waves crash ashore in spectacular fashion. 

Other tour programs take in the cultural highlights of Huahine, exploring the island main village called Fare and visiting Maeva, one of Polynesia’s most important archaeological sites. The tour concludes with a stop at Huahine’s Belvedere Point for great views and photo opportunities.

There’s also a lagoon cruise and snorkeling expedition to explore the island’s lagoon, landscapes and white-sand beaches. Yet another option is a day at the beach at Maitai Lapita Village Hotel, a discover Scuba diving theory and pool, a Scuba refresher course and Huahine Safari Expedition, an off-road vehicle tour that is repeated on almost every other island that takes guests into the interior jungles and small villages. 

There’s also an island tour with snorkeling, an island tour by Wave Runner, which again is offered on the other islands as well, and a “sacred sites and legendary places” tour that visits the capital town of Fare and Maeva village, considered to be one of French Polynesia’s most important archaeological areas and home to the largest prehistoric habitation site in Polynesia. The tour also visits a local family run vanilla plantation where guests have the opportunity to purchase various vanilla products before seeing 500-year-old fish traps still being used by the people of Maeva Village.

Taha’a: This island, also not well-populated and with few resorts, is surrounded by motus (mini-islands that are located between the reef and the main island). Motu Mahana, an islet adjacent to Taha’a, is used as Paul Gauguin’s private island, featuring white-sand beaches with palms, brilliant blue and green waters and ocean breezes. 

Guests can spend a full day on the motu swimming, sunning, playing volleyball or going kayaking or water biking. Also included is a barbecue lunch and Polynesian entertainment with local musicians and singers. So in this case, it’s probably not necessary to do yet another shore excursion, though a number of other options are available.

Other tour programs available on Taha’a include a Coral Garden drift snorkeling excursion, an exploration of Taha’a and its ancient culture in an off-road tour, a beginner dive, a Scuba two-tank dive off the coast of the island, a snorkel and black pearl farm adventure and a Taha’a Cultural Tour.

Bora Bora: Author James Michener called Bora Bora “the most beautiful island in the world” and some believe it’s one of his inspirations for Bali Hai in the novel “Tales of the South Pacific,” which was then turned into the musical “South Pacific.” The island is dominated from all views by Mount Otemanu, a giant extinct volcano, and surrounded by a lagoon protected by low-lying coral reefs.

The Paul Gauguin spends nearly two full days at this highlight port of call so guests can explore its lagoon on a snorkeling tour or underwater walk, enjoy a helicopter tour or take a sunset tour by jetboat. Guests can also explore the island on a jitney tour on “Le Truck” or by a glass-bottom boat ride. Also available is an overnight at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.

 PHOTO: A 4x4 adventure takes guests up steep roads in mountainous Bora Bora.

But a great way to get a real feeling for the entire island is to go on a 4X4 jeep ride up into the mountains just below Mount Otemanu. This excursion gives guests access to the lush jungle interiors of the island, including a visit to an artist’s studio just below the main mountain. The 4X4 also takes guests high into the hills to see old U.S. Navy gun emplacements, which were positioned there to protect the island against a Japanese invasion (which never came).

The tour also stops numerous times so guests can take amazing photos of the waters and motus surrounding Bora Bora, offering some of the most spectacular views of the trip. The excursion is on steep, mountainous roads that often can be bumpy, but the ride is one of the most thrilling guests will have during the cruise. 

Another great way to see Bora Bora is to take a Wave Runner tour circumnavigating the island. The is the best way to get great views from all angles of Mount Otemanu, as well as to explore the motus surrounding the island, which themselves are the locations for some of Bora Bora’s posh resorts, such as the St. Regis and Four Seasons. A speedy Wave Runner tour around the island, including stops for eating fruit and swimming, takes around three hours.

Other excursions on Bora Bora include an Aqua Safari underwater walk, a 15-minutes helicopter flightseeing experience, a Scuba Toopua experience for certified divers, a day at the beach at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa, an aqua bike adventure, a Blue Lagoon, a Bora Bora island by Le Truck excursion, a snorkeling tour, a glass-bottom boat sailing, a 30-minute helicopter flightseeing, a lagoon cruise and Polynesian feast, a lagoon excursion with Maohi Nui, a Lagoonarium open-air aquarium snorkeling experience, a land and sea safari with snorkeling, a rays and snorkeling by Jetboat excursion, a shark and ray watching by glass-bottom boat excursion, a stingray ballet and snorkel safari, a sunset Blue Lagoon escapade and a sunset lagoon adventure by Jetboat. 

Moorea: The Paul Gauguin spends another two days in Moorea, the second island highlight of the cruise. Moorea has a beauty all its own, with its green jungles, pineapple plantations and tremendous views of the lagoons from the mountains above. During a visit, you can shop for local crafts, embark on a dolphin-watching expedition with a marine biologist or try out some of the local pineapples or sample pineapple wines.

Once again one of the best excursions to book is the 4X4 drive, which takes guests up steep roads to see incredible views around the island. It also visits the ruins of a Tahitian temple and stops at a local pineapple shop, complete with pineapple wine, and then proceeds up through narrow valleys into the island’s pineapple plantations. 

For a change of pace, another option is an AquaBlue underwater walk, a tour underwater in a special “diving bell,” which fits over your head as air is blown through a tube into the helmet. You can watch the fish, play with lots of rays and engage with your fellow divers for a two-hour experience.

Other excursions on Moorea include a sunset sail, a day at the beach, an ATV guided tour, a BBQ on a motu and snorkeling, a botanical and agricultural walk, a Capture Moorea photo adventure, a catamaran sail and snorkel, a discover Scuba diving theory and pool, a dolphin-watching expedition, an island drive and Belvedere viewing, a Scuba shark gallery for beginner divers or certified divers, a hiking tour of the three coconut trails of Moorea, a trek on the Trails of the Ancients, and a Wave Runner adventure.



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