Saturday, January 25, 2020

French Polynesia

I haven't touched this piece of the internet in YEARS and it's been even longer since I shared anything of value here but we recently took a trip to French Polynesia and so many people have asked me for the details I thought I'd break it all down here. This is a long, detailed post of our 5 day trip.

For starters, none of this would have been possible without Scott's Cheap Flights.  A friend turned me on to this service a few years ago and it has saved us $1,000s on on airfare over the last few years.  If you travel even just once a year it's totally worth the $39 annual fee for the premium account (and that link there will save you 10% on your membership). There is also a free option but the deals aren't quite as good or frequent. I don't know how they work their magic but when you sign up you set your departure airport(s) and then you'll receive an email, sometimes 2, a day with great flight deals from your area. Tahiti wasn't even on our radar for our anniversary trip this year until I got an email from SCF!
Air Tahiti Nui wins cutest airplane ever

Before we even booked our flights we had discussed the overwater bungalows Tahiti is known for and knew it was something we wanted to splurge on.  We decided to split our time in French Polynesia between Tahiti and the nearby, lesser known island of Mo'orea.  After doing some research we settled on the Manava Beach Spa and Resort Mo'orea for 2 nights in an overwater bungalow.  If I could change anything about this trip, I probably only would have done it for one night and save a ton of money staying in normal room the other night.  This place was...fine.  For what we paid ($670/night) I expected more. The room was nice but not $700 nice and the staff was just ok and the food was not great.  The water was very deep under our bungalow, we had a patch of coral under our bungalow that we were able to swim over-at least my husband did, I chickened out-but as we drove by a few of the other resorts that offered overwater bungalows, but I noticed that the water under their bungalows looked a little more shallow and like it might have better snorkeling.  Overall, I would not recommend Manava.  If you're considering an overwater bungalow in Mo'orea, I would look at the Hilton, Sofitel, and InterContinental.  The InterContinental has a dolphin center that cares for retired US Navy dolphins!
Overwater bungalows at Manava
Our premium overwater room at Manava

View from inside our premium overwater room at Manava

Watching the fish swim under our bungalow

My husband swimming under our bungalow

My husband swimming under our bungalow

Our first night we stayed in an AMAZING AirBNB.  I wish we would have spent more time there. It was right on the water, had a beautiful covered outdoor space, and there were kayaks and snorkel gear available to us.  Just a short 5 min paddle out there was a sand bar where the water was knee-hip deep and full of coral and fish.  You could walk around and just stick your head in and see fish swimming everywhere.  It's a great spot if you aren't a great swimmer or are just uncomfortable in the open ocean like I am. It was a 10 minute walk from a fantastic 24 hour market.

Bedroom at the Airbnb

Outdoor space at the Airbnb

Standing on the sandbar we paddled to from the Airbnb

Snorkeling around the edge of the sandbar

"Snorkeling" on the sandbar. I was kneeling in the sand with my  head in the water, you can see Jason swimming in the top right corner

Rinsing off on the back deck of the Airbnb

View of the sandbar from the Airbnb-all the boats are parked over it

Our last night in FP was spent at the Intercontinental Tahiti and it was an excellent choice.  We were greeted with welcome drinks, the room was nice, we had a great view, the amenities, food, and staff were fantastic and best of all they were cool about letting us hang out until our flight at midnight even after we checked out at 11am.  They stored our bags, allowed us to use the facilities all day, and when we were ready to leave they provided us with a key to a "transit room" where we could shower and change for our flight home.
Welcome drinks while we waited for our room at InterContinental

View from our room at InterContinental

View of the ocean from InterContinental

I was so happy to spend a day at the pool and not be in the ocean.

We had time to kill before our late flight so we stayed for the show at InterContinental.

The transit room at InterContinental. SO convenient!

The transit room at InterContinental. SO convenient!

With discounted plane tickets purchased and rooms settled it was time to start planning our activities.  We mostly wanted to just relax but when I saw tours that took you to swim with sharks and stingrays I knew it was something Jason would love and I would attempt.  There are quite a few options and I'm sure most of them are pretty similar but I went with Mo'orea Miti Tours because the price was good and they were the only one that promised me a handmade palm frond hat. What can I say, your girl has priorities! This was our favorite part of our trip.  Kakiu and Elvis were incredible hosts, they know so much about the island and the local culture and gladly shared it with all of us. Not only did we get to swim with sharks and stingrays, we also saw dolphins and sea turtles! They taught us how to husk and crack open a coconut and I'm confident I could now survive on a deserted least for a day ha ha! We then used that coconut to make coconut milk that was used to make their local dish, poisson cru, for lunch.
Our guide, Elvis, searching the water for sea turtles

I'm still in shock that I actually did this!

Kissing stingrays!  Their skin is surprisingly soft and silky.

Our boat parked at our lunch spot

Jason removed the husk...

Then I cracked it open!

Kakiu then shaved the coconut meat (bottom bowl), added it to a piece of cheese cloth and squeezed the milk out of it!

Poisson cru or "raw fish", is so simple yet SO good!

Jason made a friend at lunch, this guy just swam right up to him.

Elvis made me the most amazing hat! You aren't legally permitted to bring it back to the States when it's green.  Elvis suggested putting it in the freezer overnight then letting it sit in the sun but we didn't have access to a freezer. Someone also mentioned that there was a person on the island that would "bake" the hat but that sounded like an ordeal so I went with the last suggestion I was given; soak it in the salt water then put it in the sun.  I did this several times and it only barely started to dry out by the time we left so I risked it and just packed it in my suitcase half green and it made it back with me.

The spot where we swam with the sharks and stingrays

Beautiful water!

Speaking of lunch, I guess we should talk about food.  Everything in French Polynesia is expensive, the food included.  We went to the restaurant at the Manava hotel for breakfast one morning where I had toast, fruit, coffee and bread, Jason had an omelette, potatoes, fruit and a juice and our bill came to $85!  We immediately walked to the nearest market and grabbed a baguette, cheese, and fruit for the next day and even that was $30! A liter of water will set you back about $8 and a can of coke is $5.

Getting around the islands isn't always easy.  You can rent a scooter for about $50 for half a day, or a car for not much more.  Cabs are expensive, a 10 min ride will set you back $20.  Our last day on Mo'orea we wanted to hit up Manutea Tahiti, the local juice factory/distillery, and a restaurant we had heard about.  We almost skipped it because it was going to cost a fortune to get there and we didn't want to be responsible for a rental while sampling the local liquors but we decided to go for it because at that point we already knew we'd never be coming back.  The distillery was a self guided tour and at the end they gave out samples of several different liquors made on site along with a few juices. The best part was it was all FREE, definitely worth the $20 taxi ride there. We also picked up a couple cartons of "Tahiti Drink", a local mixed drink, one to drink while we were there to save money on drinks, and one to bring home with us. Our lunch at Snack Mahana was also worth the additional $20 cab ride, for me, it was the best meal I had on the island. We didn't get to explore the mountains on the island which is the one other thing we likely would have done if we'd had one more day.
Distillery tour

Delicious juice samples

Snack Mahana

Jason's lunch at Snack Mahana

And mine, more poisson cru-this was the best I had!

The Aremiti ferry between the two islands was easy to use, the schedule is posted and tickets are always available at the counter just before it leaves.  No need to purchase in advance. The ferry was comfortable, air conditioned, and even though I get motion sick easily I had no issues on the ferry in either direction.
Aremiti ferry to Mo'orea

Overall, French Polynesia is very French.  If you've ever been to France you'll understand what I mean.  The culture is different than it is in America, everything is much slower than we're used to, meals can take hours, and nothing seems to be quick or urgent.

Like I mentioned before, this was not a cheap trip. We did the math and for what we spent for 5 days in French Polynesia, we could have spent a month on Koh Lanta, our favorite island in Thailand.  While we had a great trip and we're glad we had the privilege to visit these beautiful islands, this is not a vacation we will be repeating! Here is a general price breakdown of our trip.

Airfare $1408
Lodging $1866
Transportation $195
Food $987
Tour $188

Total $4,644

If you're thinking about booking a trip to Tahiti or Mo'orea and have questions I'm happy to do my best to answer them.  I struggled to find good information while I was doing research so I hope this helps someone else.



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