Our final stop on our 11 day French Polynesia trip was the island of Huahine (pronounced 'oooh-ah-hee-nay'). Huahine is actually two islands that are connected by a small sand bank at low tide. Huahine Nui is the, "big Huahine", and Huahine Iti is the, "small Huahine". For this leg of our journey, we stayed at the Maitai Lapita Village in the town of Fare, which is on the island of Huahine Nui. In contrast to Moorea and Bora Bora, Huahine is less "touristy" feeling. While the island is still very popular, it does not have the volume of resort accommodations that the other islands have.
We spent three nights in Huahine, but our first day on the island was essentially a half-day. We spent the day checking out the resort, walking into town and making plans for the next two days. On our second day in Huahine, we decided to do a lagoon tour. The lagoons and snorkeling in Huahine are spectacular, but they are not accessible directly from the resort - you need to take a boat to get to them. We arranged the tour through the hotel, and we were picked up the very next morning by a shuttle driver, who drove us to a little dock where our guide was waiting for us in a motorized outrigger canoe. We were on the tour with about 8 other people - all of them were visiting from France. Our local Tahitian guide was amazingly awesome - he gave his entire tour in both French and English.
I'm not usually a huge fan of "tours", but I am so glad we decided to do this one. We were able to see some of the most incredible lagoons and we got to do some amazing "drift snorkeling" - our guide took us to a lagoon passage and we hopped off the boat, and literally drifted with the tide through some of the most amazing coral reefs I have ever seen. After some snorkeling, we paid a visit to the Huahine Pearl Farm. This farm is owned by an American, who is a potter by trade. He fell in love with Huahine, got married and built a pottery shop and a pearl farm on the island - he also happens to be the owner of the resort that we were staying in, and we had the chance to meet him as well.
After visiting the pearl farm and some more snorkeling, it was time for the most important part of the day - lunch. Our guide docked our boat on a tiny motu - so surreal and picturesque! There is a Tahitian traditional fish dish called "Poisson cru" - basically, it is raw tuna, coconut milk, lime juice and vegetables. I had been so tempted to try it throughout the entire trip, but I kept wimping out on it, because I wasn't sure if I would want to eat an entire pile of raw fish. On this tour, however, our guide actually gave us a demonstration in preparing the dish - including a demo on how to open a coconut without using a knife! I've never opened a coconut without smashing it with a hammer, so apparently I was doing it wrong. The poisson cru was absolutely delicious - not fishy at all. The lime juice and the coconut soak into the fish, giving it a wonderful flavor and texture. The lunch was absolutely dreamlike - we sat at a partially-submerged-in-the-water picnic table and sipped rum punch and nibbled on fresh chicken and fruit and poisson cru while our guide played the ukelele and sang for us. Again, it was another one of those "pinch me" days, which French Polynesia seems to hand out like candy.
For the "grand finale" of the tour, we got to do something extremely unique - we had the opportunity to snorkel with black-tipped sharks. We saw sharks at the crepe restaurant at the Hilton on Moorea, but swimming with them? I wasn't sure if I wanted to do that, but the guide assured us that it was, "safe" - I think he indicated (with a smirk) that, "only a few" tourists were eaten by the sharks on each tour. He piloted the outrigger canoe to an anchored boat that was shaped like a platform. Very quickly, we saw mass quantities of sharks flocking to the area - obviously aware that they were going to be given some scraps of fish. By the time we descended into the water, I would venture to guess that there were at least three dozen sharks circling the area - and these were not miniature sharks - the largest one appeared to be over 10ft in length! Hesitantly, I slipped into the water and submerged myself below the surface. We were surrounded on every side by sharks - a few times, the sharks would swim directly at my face, before pivoting away at the last second. Needless to say it was slightly intimidating, but also completely awe-inspiring at the same time. The sharks were spectacularly beautiful, and having the opportunity to see them so closely was such an incredibly unique experience. I'm happy to report that Aaron and I both survived the adventure completely unscathed.
On our third day in Huahine, we decided to rent a car and explore the island. Huahine is known for its archaeological sites - "marae" are the altars from previous temple sites that are literally scattered by the dozen throughout the island. Using our guide books, we were able to drive around the island to visit many of these places. A few of the marae required short, but easy hikes.
While we were driving around, we saw a note about some "blue-eyed eels" in our guide book. It sounded interesting, so we stopped to find them. While some people might think that blue-eyed eels are amazing (they are supposedly sacred on Huahine), I thought they were absolutely disgusting. They were massive, slimy, blobular (yes, that's a word) slithering disgustingness. I don't know why they freaked me out so much, but they were really creepy - their eyes were indeed blue, but the way that the eels just sat in a heap together in a shallow channel was pretty creepy. Needless to say, I did not pay the $5 to purchase some food to feed the blue eels.
Naturally, this day had to include climbing a mountain. As I mentioned before, there are no marked trailheads in Tahiti - so, if you want to be 100% sure that you are actually going to find the hike and/or end up on the hike that you actually intended to do, hiring a guide is the best course of action. Personally, I love the spontaneity and the challenge of actually locating the hiking areas, especially because most people do not travel to Tahiti for hiking. On Huahine, we decided to climb Mt. Pohue Rahi, a 462m peak on Huahine Iti. I found a vague description of how to locate the trail, which literally included photos of what appeared to be an abandoned house along the road and a hand-drawn arrow pointing to a patch of vegetation. Apparently, this patch of vegetation was the start of the hike. Sure enough, we found a parking spot and hiked along the road for a bit ... we passed the run down house, spotted the vegetation, and - bam! - a somewhat-trail-ish looking thing appeared. Excited that we might actually be on the right path this time, we headed up.
The hike started on what felt like a, "logging road" through a dense, humid jungle. As we continued to hike, Aaron was really struggling with the heat of the day - after living and hiking in the PNW for so many years, we are definitely not accustomed to hiking in 80 degrees weather. I was hot and exhausted, but not struggling nearly as much as he was. Slurping as much water as humanly possible, we continued on. Gradually, we reached a beautiful little plateau with our first views of the surrounding landscape. The wide trail started to deteriorate into more of a, "trail" - ahhhh, yes! This was the French Polynesia that I was learning to love. The brush was so overgrown, that only a tiny, barely 6-inch wide path was visible. We pushed upwards, and finally popped out on the summit. We were surrounded by the mountainous peaks of Huahine, the deep blue of the ocean and the intense turquoise of the lagoons.
On the way down, we did two important things. First, we discovered why Aaron had been overheating. He took off his shirt to cool down for a moment, and noticed that his sunburn from our time in Bora Bora was peeling and that all of his sweat was trapped underneath the peeling layers of skin - yes, it's gross, I know. As soon as he rubbed the peeling skin and released the sweat from its imprisonment, his body was instantly cooled. Disgusting.
Secondly, we opened a coconut without using any drills or hammers! Or, rather, I should say that Aaron opened a coconut while I watched and provided moral support. We used the technique that our lagoon guide had showed us, and sure enough - we were able to completely open a raw coconut - including husk removal! I had already learned my lesson about eating massive quantities of fresh coconut on Moorea (just take my word for it - don't do it), so I limited my consumption - but wow, I swear that a hand-shucked coconut tastes 67% better than a normal one.
After finishing the hike, we headed back to the hotel to clean up and get ready for dinner. For our final night in Huahine, we decided to try a restaurant called Chez Tara. This restaurant got amazing reviews, and it sounded like it would be perfect for our last night in French Polynesia <insert devastated sobbing here>. The lady at our front desk called the restaurant and made a reservation for us. The restaurant was a 25 minute drive from the hotel, and she thought that we were crazy for driving 25 minutes to go out to eat. Apparently, locals rarely even travel from Huahine Nui to Huahine Iti on a regular basis - so the fact that we were willing to drive to, "the other island", for dinner was completely a foreign concept. Needless to say, we were excited for a special dinner together and we headed off in our little Renault rental vehicle.
Chez Tara is located directly on the water, near the town of Parea on Huahine Iti. On this particular night, we were literally the only guests at the entire restaurant - yep, that's right, we had the entire place to ourselves. They seated us at a table directly looking over the water - we sipped wine as we ate our dinner and watched crabs scurry along the sand. As the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, we watched the melting colors on the horizon as sailboats drifted by in the distance. As absolutely amazing as this moment was, it was hard to avoid that slight twinge of sadness that the trip was rapidly drawing to a close.
Visiting French Polynesia was a lifelong dream for me. After spending 11 days and visiting three different islands, I am happy to report that it is everything that I had hoped it would be and more. A few tidbits of advice for anybody who is planning a trip to French Polynesia:
- work with a travel agent for your flights/hotels (unless you want to go the AirBNB route), they will be able to get you the best price. I used Alison Adam at Tahiti Travel Mate, and she was amazing (email@example.com)
- we brought a SteriPen and a 1 quart Nalgene bottle so that we could sterilize the water in each hotel room - this saved us a significant amount of money, as purchasing water at the hotel is extremely expensive, and the water is not recommended to drink out of the tap for tourists
- we brought our own snacks/bars for lunches and for use while hiking ... this saved a TON of money and a lot of time (otherwise, we would have needed to spend more time grocery shopping)
- if you want to go hiking, come prepared with a lightweight pair of hiking pants to prevent excessive scratching due to the fact that the trails are not maintained and extremely overgrown. I also recommend bringing hiking poles, since the trails are EXTREMELY slick. We used trail runner shoes, and those worked great on all the hikes. We each brought a small daypack for the trip (Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20) with our Platypus hydration bladders. Treating the water in the hotel room and filling up the bladder before hikes made this very simple. I would also recommend scouring the internet prior to arriving in Tahiti, as the guide books do not give good descriptions on how to find any of the hiking areas - print out copies of previous "trip reports" (or send me a message, and I'll tell you where to go).
- Expect to spend at least $100 per night on dinner (includes 2 glasses of wine only). The least expensive island we visited was Huahine and Bora Bora was by far the most expensive.
- Our entire vacation cost in the vicinity of $10,000 - that included airfare our wedding and photographer in Moorea. You could do the vacation for much cheaper if you didn't care about accommodations, but you would likely need to rent a car (around $85/$100 per day). That being said, according to the internet (which you can obviously believe), the average cost of a wedding (not including the honeymoon) in the United States is currently $24,645. TWENTY FOUR THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED AND FORTY FIVE DOLLARS??? For 6 hours of bad dancing and awkward silences?? We spent less than half that amount and we have 11 days of the most amazing memories together. I do not regret it for a second, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
If you have any questions at all about visiting French Polynesia, please post in the comments below. I am by no means an expert, but would be happy to help if I can!
Reflecting back on our time together in French Polynesia over these past three blog posts has been so nourishing for my heart. It is so hard to believe that it has been over a full year since we travelled to those magical island gems. So much has happened in the past year - so much growth, so many adventures, so much laughter, and of course, difficult and sad times too. When our Air Tahiti Nui flight departed Tahiti, I remember thinking that I didn't want it to end, but also, experiencing the realization that our lives together were really just beginning. Visiting French Polynesia was indeed a dream - picnicking on a deserted island, sleeping in an overwater bungalow, climbing a jungle peak - these are decidedly the things that dreams are made of. It was beyond fun to spend 11 days together in paradise, but paradise is merely a perspective. As I look at my "normal" life at home - the quiet nights we spend together, the hiking in the rain, playing with our cats, talking at the end of a long day and watching football and eating pizza... I've realized that these things are paradise too. Realizing a dream is a special opportunity in life, and things like traveling and adventure add so much "shine" and excitement, but when it comes down to it - nurturing relationships and being "OK" with being normal is just as exciting. I'm not writing this from an overwater bungalow while receiving a massage - I'm at our home in the Pacific Northwest. I went to the gym today, ran some quite ordinary errands and attempted to motivate myself (unsuccessfully) to fold laundry. As I sit here typing in my messy mountaineering gear room right now, waiting for my husband to get home from work so that we can eat dinner together, I know without a shadow of a doubt that there is absolute no place in the world I would rather be.