Society Islands Itinerary French Polynesia Tahiti to Bora Bora – 8 Days
Written by Missy Johnston
Arrive early am to be met at the airport for direct transfer to board. Leave for a quiet anchorage to settle in and have a swim.
Tahiti is often called the “Island of Love” and it’s easy to see why. The largest of the 115 islands and atolls that constitute French Polynesia, Tahiti has lush forest peaks, translucent waters revealing colorful coral reefs and ebony sand, and volcanic peaks that tower over rainforests filled with cascading waterfalls, rivers and streams. Tahiti-Nui and Tahiti-Iti, and the connecting Plateau of Taravao isthmus, are the large and small land masses that create Tahiti.
The Botanical Gardens and Gauguin Museum houses an exhibit highlighting the famous artist’s last 12 years of his life, which were spent in French Polynesia and includes sculptures, wood carvings and engravings. The Maraa Fern Grotto off the Paea shore-line is, according to local legend, the home to evil spirits lurking in its depths. The Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands in Punaauia features exhibits on Polynesian history, culture, environment and ethnology ranging from tattoos to thatched roofs and fishing. Cruise to Moorea to enjoy traditional evening entertainment of Polynesian Dancing and traditional buffet and overnight.
Spend the day in Moorea where land excursions await. This is a great location for ATV touring. Exotic Moorea, with its white sand beaches and clear lagoons, is a true tropical paradise. Moorea is the second largest of the Society Islands, covering 53 square miles. It’s easy to understand why James Michener based his mythical Bali Hai on Moorea. The clear waters of Oponohu Bay reflect towering peaks that rise dramatically from the sea. And a wide lagoon surrounds the waterfall-filled mountains and gentle meadows. While there are no true towns on Moorea, there are settled areas with restaurants, food and gift stores. A glance up the side of the volcanic mountains will show rain forests and pineapple plantations. Moorea pineapples are well known as the sweetest in the island group and are sought after by cruisers and locals alike.
A well paved road runs along the 40 mile shore for an ATV tour. The Belvedere Lookout offers truly spectacular vistas and is located in the island’s interior between Cook’s and Oponohu Bay. The village of Afareaitu offers access to a dramatic waterfall. And in Paopao is an open air market and church with beautiful painted murals.
Other activities specific to Moorea are a visit to the Pineapple Factory and Fruit Juice Distillery. The juices are marketed throughout French Polynesia under the name of Rotui and you are sure to be served some of the company’s fruit juice at some point during your travels in this area. There is no specific tour of the factory, however you are welcome to show up during working hours and simply wander through the factory watching the various jobs being done and then visit the factory shop to taste the various juices being made, including fruit liquors and local rum, all available for purchasing as well.
There are several ancient Marae sites located on Moorea, worth visiting, which were cultural and religious centers for earlier civilizations living in the area.
And you may want to visit The Tiki Village Cultural Center. Here you can see the traditions and life-style of an old Tahitian village, and see local demonstrations of weaving, stone carving, tattooing and painting.
After a day filled with fun, settle in on board for an overnight cruise to the island of Huahine.
There are two bays to choose from depending on weather conditions. Picturesque Huahine has many titles: “the secret island”, “the rebel island” and “the garden island” and each tell visitors what they’ll encounter when they set foot on this wild, interesting gem known for its past, fierce warriors, its current resistance to change and relaxing ambiance. Huahine is off the tourist track and still reflective of traditional Polynesian life.
Essentially, Huahine is an old volcano whose sunken center was filled by the sea. Like Tahiti, the island consists of two mountainous masses: the large Huahine Nui and the small Huahini Iti. The bays of Maroe and Bourayne separate the two lands. The geographically diverse terrain has long white sand beaches, fruit and vegetable groves, indented bays and lush tropical foliage creating a jungle-like ambiance. It also boasts the Maeva marae, a well preserved archaeological site at the foot of Mount Mouatapu and along the shores of Lake Fauna Nui. In the narrow areas of the Lake you can see “V” shaped stone fishing traps believed to have been made centuries ago, however still in use by the locals today for fresh fish for dinner.
Huahine does have one main town, named Fare, with a grocery store, main quay, several shops and restaurants. In the evening, outdoor mobile restaurants magically appear on the quay with little cooking kitchens and folding tables and chairs, each serving local foods. If you happen to be near Fare on days when the local supply vessel arrives, the harbor area will be filled with bustling colorful activity.
Sacred Blue Eyes Eels
A road circumnavigates both Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti, sometimes paved, sometimes dirt, it is worth a drive around to see the island. Huahine is a very fertile island, perhaps because the name Huahine means “pregnant woman”, which refers to the shape of the island as seen from afar. However most likely the fertility of the soil is due to the volcanic origins of the island. Huahine is home to plantations of taro, coffee, vanilla and melons. In fact many of the cays along the surrounding barrier reef have fields of watermelon and cantaloupe.
While passing alongside the river, stop to see the Sacred Blue Eels, part of Polynesian mythology. The eels are found only on Tahiti and Huahine, are from 3 – 6 feet long and have eyes of a cold blue translucent color. Swimming in a shallow area of the river, these eels are accustomed to visitors and swim near for any tasty food tidbits.
Move to a second anchorage in Huahine. Huahine is a great location for a total group Jet Ski tour around the island and through the lagoon and is also a great location for fishing. Have the Jet Ski tour in the morning exploring the lagoon. Meanwhile, the yacht crew can organize a beach picnic on a deserted Motu for lunch to enjoy the beach, snorkeling, and fishing. We can check on locations as well to swim with the sharks and dolphins.
The authentic flavor of Polynesia is truly found in the reef enclosed Tahaa. With no airport, this round island with fjord-like inlets is accessible only by boat. It is often called the Vanilla Island as it produces 80 percent of all vanilla produced in French Polynesia and the vanilla sweet scent perfumes the island breezes. The 42-mile coastal road weaves through small villages and into the hills, providing sweeping views of the indented bays. Visitors enjoy the beautiful beaches, coral gardens and small, sandy deserted motus.
Tahaa Vanilla Plantation
This is the location for a tour of a Vanilla Plantation a “must do” while in this area where Vanilla is king to see how this rich spice grows and is harvested. Vanilla is derived from the bean pod grown from the vanilla orchid. To grow the bean pod, each orchid must be pollinated by hand; a laborious but very interesting process to create what is often called the “Black Gold” of the islands. Many local products are made with the vanilla pod, so you can bring home your own bit of Black Gold. A sea turtle reserve is located in the Tahaa Lagoon, where many species of sea turtles can be seen in their natural habitat.
Raiatea is known throughout the Society Islands as the “Sacred Island” and cultural heart of this island group. Uturoa is the largest city on Raiatea and home to the daily market, which is very colorful and well worth visiting. This bustling marketplace along the harbor starts at sunrise with the fresh fish of the day, homemade foods, fruits, pastries and local arts and crafts. Wednesday and Fridays are the busiest as this is when vendors from the nearby island of Tahaa come to the market to sell their wares. This is a good location for purchasing products locally made featuring vanilla, coconut, and the Tiare flower.
Many believe Raiatea to have been the cultural and religious center of the ancient Polynesian civilization. Known then as Havai’i, this island is thought to be the island that Polynesians left from to settle Hawaii, given the same name as ancient Raiatea. There are many archaeological remains on Raiatea supporting this island as the most important in ancient times, including one of largest and most well preserved ruins, the Taputapuetea Marea, an ancient religious center. Wander the area yourself, or have a guided tour for full explanation of the history of this area, and the island.
Every October Raiatea is part of a 3 day canoeing event called the Hawaiki Nui Va, with over 100 outrigger canoe teams racing between Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora. As you travel through the islands, you may see locals out practicing for the new-found sport of outrigger canoe racing that has been resurrected from ancient times.
Raiatea is the location for a taste of scuba diving. Those that are certified can have a refresher course and those that are not can have a resort course on one of the local shallow water beaches. And then off to dive on the “Nordby” a 3 masted ship that sunk in 1900. The “Nordby” is the best shipwreck diving location in the Society Islands, and much can be seen at shallow levels for beginning divers.
Black Pearl Oyster
The Society Islands are well known not only for Vanilla, the “Black Gold” but also for Black Pearls. Visit a Black Pearl Farm to have both a quick lesson in how these fabulously colored and unique pearls are farmed, but also to have an opportunity to buy Black Pearls at a terrific price, right at the source. For those interested in history and Polynesian culture, this island offers the best in Polynesian archaeology. The Taputapuetea Marea in Raiatea is the best example of archaeological remains of this ancient culture in the Society Islands.
Try to visit Maupiti, which is weather dependent, but fantastic to explore. This is an island that is hard to see; therefore few have ever been there. The local underwater life in the lagoons is outstanding and hours can be spent exploring and snorkeling. If not possible to visit Maupiti, there is a lot more to do in the Tahaa-Raiatea area, as these islands are so close, they almost touch one another. In the afternoon, head to Bora Bora for dinner ashore.
Blacktip reef shark cruising Bora Bora lagoon with angelfish and rays
Today is the day to really enjoy Bora Bora where there are miles of fun in the lagoon.
Mystical, mythical Bora Bora is renowned for its spectacular scenery, romance and a brilliant blue lagoon and reef that James Michener hailed the most beautiful in the world. The island is an extinct volcano that formed two towering black peaks on the center of the island. Many visitors are drawn to the central lagoon, famed as a great dive site with a variety of sharks, rays, and tropical fish. Those seeking expansive beaches will be disappointed as there are relatively few beaches on the main island; however, there are miles of sandy cays along the reef line, with secluded beach areas, home only to sand crabs and palm trees that are ideal for a picnic and shelling. It is the stunning lagoon, Bora Bora’s treasured feature that draws visitors to swim, snorkel, dive, windsurf and Jet Ski. Surrounding the island with shallow waters, that warm easily in the sun, this lagoon area is filled with coral gardens and marine life.
Snorkeling is fabulous in this lagoon in shallow sun warmed waters over neon lipped giant clams imbedded in the coral. Manta rays can be seen resting on the bottom and sea turtles often swim by. The various types and colors of the coral are outstanding and never ending. And for those that like tame under water life up close and personal, visit the Bora Bora Lagoonarium for fish feeding and careful visiting with manta rays.
Bloody Mary’s in Bora Bora
For a dash ashore, the famous restaurant Bloody Mary’s is located along the shore road, to dine sitting on coconut stumps set on a sand floor. Bloody Mary’s always features the local fresh caught “fish of the day”, and of course, their signature drink, The Bloody Mary. Bora Bora is also the last stop for Black Pearl shopping with many shops and “factories” and even a local market near the ferry where low grade black pearl souvenir jewelry can be found at very reasonable prices.
Enjoy Bora Bora to the very end of the day until time to head in the ship’s tender to the airport for a flight in the pm back to Papeete for international flights home and the end of this Polynesian Extravaganza.