Two Tickets to Paradise: French Polynesia Highlights
Hi! I am Moran, a passionate traveler who marks a place on the globe and finds a way to get there. My partner in crime is my husband Gal who supports and encourages me to keep on dreaming about the most magical destinations to travel to. In this post, I’ll share with you highlights from our return visit to paradise.
Written and photographed by Moran Weiss & Gal Afgon
I have a long history with the Polynesian islands. I had this destination on my mind for a long time and our honeymoon was a perfect excuse to visit after a trip to New Zealand. On our flight back we made a promise to ourselves to return one day.
We used to travel every year for one month, but we didn’t imagine that two years later, we would return. So, in September 2019, we did it, and in grand fashion. We made the decision only in mid-July, so we had to be very quick to plan our 21-day visit. We had to make some tough decisions by choosing which islands to visit and which ones to leave for our next trip. Once we started our planning, it was kind of a Sudoku, finding available flights and pensions, and with a lot of tenacity, we were lucky to have a perfect plan for us!
Let’s head back to some of the top places we visited.
Heading off to French Polynesia? In-depth island guides to all 5 archipelagos await you, including sample itineraries and essential travel tips & tricks.
We started our journey in Nuku Hiva, the capital of the Marquesas Islands. This was a dream come true for us. Nuku Hiva is one of the most isolated islands in the world and we can definitely support this claim as it took us 29 hours of flying to get there. The island is characterized by a steep, rocky coastline. Along the coastline, there are multiple deep bays.
The arrival from the airport to our Hotel was challenging for me with a lot of winding roads, making the driver stop several times…
Our first day trip on the island was to Hakaui Bay. We took a boat from Taioha’e because it’s the only way to reach the bay, from where we embarked on a four-hour hike to see the highest waterfall in French Polynesia, Vaipō Waterfall.
On our second day, we hired a local guide who took us on a 4WD tour to explore the island. We visited a few artisan markets, ancient tiki statues, and the famous cathedral in Hatiheu village. The rest of the time was dedicated to meeting local people, seeing the rehearsals for the annual festival in the Marquesas, and playing the ukulele with locals. We looked for our own ukulele, and surprisingly we found a famous Marquesan artisan, who taught Gal how to play.
Tahiti is the connecting island between some flights, especially between archipelagos. After a five-hour flight from Nuku Hiva with a stop in Hiva Oa we arrived again in Tahiti. Our time in Tahiti was split into two parts, one after visiting Nuku Hiva and the second at the end of the trip.
The first part was breathtaking, as we got to swim with a humpback whale. This is an unforgettable moment for us. We joined two tours on the same day. In the first one, we had the chance to see a mom, her baby, and a father who actually tried to attack the baby, while the mother defended him. They jumped over and over and over, and we couldn’t stop our excitement every single time.
Since the whales weren’t calm, we couldn’t get into the water with them. After a while, we jumped to the water, but couldn’t see the whale. It was an amazing experience, but I wanted to swim close to a whale. We met two German guys who came to Polynesia only to swim with whales, and they needed two more people to open a group for the afternoon cruise. We didn’t hesitate! We had a short lunch and joined them.
This time a whale expert joined us so we had plenty of stories to hear. We spent about 90 minutes scouting and then I heard a noise which sounded like something is going on. Two crew members jumped into the water and I couldn’t forget their faces at that moment. They shouted to hurry up and to jump quietly into the water. After entering the water we looked down and noticed we’d literally been over an 18-m whale, which was singing loud!
The third stop was Fakarava. This island was on our top 10 list, part of the Tuamotu group of islands, and is considered a diver’s paradise. The island’s diving spots are considered to be among the best in the whole world and the island itself is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The flat coral atoll has two passes that connect its inner lagoon with the Pacific Ocean. Because of high and low tides, there are strong currents in these passes throughout the day.
The first trip we did was to the south pass of the island. The pass is narrow so you can see many sharks and fish from a close distance. The current enables you to drift (so much fun!!) while viewing the beautiful underwater scenery, just like in a movie but on a water couch. After a great barbeque, we visited the pink sand beach.
On the second day, we split as I didn’t want to dive to a 30-meter depth. Gal went diving in the north pass to see a wall of sharks and I had a trip to the Blue Lagoon, a magical place straight out of a movie scene about paradise.
Gal came back and said he hadn’t seen so many sharks in his life. No matter where you look, you see dozens of sharks waiting for prey, so if you are a diver I highly recommend it!
On our third day on the island, we rented a motorbike and drove on the single road on the island to see the market, the beautiful PK9 beach, and eat local poisson cru, the national dish made of raw chunks of tuna marinated in coconut milk and lime. One of the best poisson cru we ate was in Fakarava in Snack Chez Elda.
The third island we visited was Rangiroa, or as known by the locals Rangi. The island is also part of the Tuamotu group of islands and is the largest one in the group. We stayed there for four days of which two were dedicated for trips in the southern part of the island and the others for touring the main village – Avatoru.
Our first afternoon on the island began with a visit to a unique winery, actually the only winery in the world located on a coral atoll!! After experiencing New Zealand wineries, we can’t say it’s the best, but the whole experience is nice and fun before dinner!
The first trip we took was to see the Blue Lagoon, also called lagon bleu in french. This was definitely one of my favorite days!! The boat ride took approximately one hour and was pretty smooth as we cruised inside the lagoon. The blue lagoon has more than 50 shades of blue. The trip involved a short walking tour between islets in the shallow turquoise water of the lagoon (keeping the bags above our head sometimes), swimming, and chilling to the sounds of a peaceful remote island.
The second trip we took was to the famous ile aux recifs also called Reef Island. The place is a collection of multiple fossil coral formations that have risen above water and created natural pools. Walking there was like walking on a different planet. We went for a short walk, part of it was in shallow waters, and snorkeled in one of the clearest water we’ve ever seen.
When returning to Avatoru, we had an encounter with the only rainstorm we had on this trip. Lucky for us, we had our swimsuits on and were treated to a double rainbow.
Each one of these trip days ended with two lovely surprises! On the first excursions, our guides took us to the lagoon pass at a time when dolphins were jumping over the waves. On the second excursion, we finished things off at “The Aquarium”, an amazing snorkeling spot. Only when you get your head into the water do you understand why this place got its name.
The third day was mainly dedicated to touring around the island. We rented bikes from our pension and biked along the main and only road on the island. Stopping in small shops and some interesting highlights.
Rangi was so special for us, not only because of the views that we saw but also because of the people we met! We had amazing hosts in our pension. The lady saw our ukulele and decided to take all the girls, dress them in pareos and teach us some dancing moves. After “rehearsals”, Gal had to play and everyone was singing and dancing.
That’s why we love French Polynesia!
The next stop was the magical island as we like to call it. Bora Bora is an absolute gem. This was our second visit to the island, having honeymooned here two years ago. This time we chose to stay in different accommodation and not to go to a luxury hotel.
Since we hadn’t visited the neighboring island of Taha’a, we took the Maupiti Express boat and went to visit the magical Vanilla Island, where some of the world’s finest vanilla is grown. We visited a vanilla farm, a coral garden (#1 rank among the 4-5 coral gardens we’ve visited), a rum distillery, and a pearl farm. This day was unforgettable and included the first time we ever saw a sea anemone.
At the end of the tour, we took the boat back to Bora Bora. This trip is not advised for those who tend to experience seasickness. This is a rough ride, long and bumpy. I’m pretty sensitive, but one pill (Travamin) solves everything 🙂
On the following day, we went on a lagoon tour around the island with a tour guide we already met on our first visit. If you are wondering why do the same trip twice, you have to circle Bora Bora and see for yourself. This lagoon tour is one of the greatest we had in French Polynesia. I couldn’t stop taking pictures over and over. We snorkeled with stingrays, in a coral garden, and swam with blacktip & lemon sharks in the ocean.
One more place you can’t miss is Matira Beach! This beach is spectacular and considered one of the top in the world. We walked on the beach that was partially empty next to the blue hues that were changing from time to time.
On our first trip, Bora Bora wasn’t on our plan as people told us it’s overrated and super-expensive. In a very spontaneous move, we changed plans and bought tickets from New Zealand. We truly believe this place is one of the most beautiful lagoons in French Polynesia and one of the most beautiful places in the world! Our advice is to spend time out of the luxury hotel scene and explore the main island as well.
Part of the decision to visit Bora Bora was to get to Maupiti, our fifth stop. This is the “secret” island, not very well known around the world, but the few who do visit, do whatever they can to get there including booking flights and spaces in pensions up to a year in advance. This explains why we had to call every place on the island before we found a small room on one of the motus. It wasn’t easy to get there but it was definitely worth it!
Locals say the island is like Bora Bora back in the ’50s. There are only a few flights per week to this magical island. We took the time to circle the island, joined a lagoon tour to see the coral garden, and swim with three large manta rays. We even crossed a shallow area in the lagoon on foot to a nearby motu, where we found a beautiful and extremely peaceful beach for ourselves.
On our last day in Maupiti, we took a flight back to Tahiti (their tiny airport is the funniest you’ve ever seen, no buildings just some benches ).
In Tahiti, we had two more days to spend. We rented a car, woke up early, and circled the whole Island, with many stops and short hikes.
During the two days, we came back to the Papeete Market to buy souvenirs, buy fresh juice, and food. I had the time to look for my second black pearl and after a long search, I found a special one graded “A” in its quality (we are already pearls experts)! In the evening we went to see a Marquesan cultural show. It wasn’t as authentic as the real one we saw in Nuku Hiva, but it was fun and a great way to spend the last evening with a cocktail.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. We had to say Goodbye and head back to the airport, this time to take an international flight back home. Nothing can explain the feeling you have when visiting the Polynesian islands. This trip was a sensational experience, the place, the people, the culture, the amazing food – all have such a warm place in our hearts.
Moran & Gal
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