Catching the Polynesian vibe at Huahine and Moorea

During the planning of our worldtrip we were trying to figure out what the best option was to fly from Indonesia to Chile. We knew that we wanted to go to Easter Island and as it turned out the best option was to fly from Bali via Auckland to Papeete and then to Hanga Roa. So that’s how French Polynesia made it to our itinerary. With little expectations, besides that it would be a costly affair, we left Auckland and headed for Papeete, the capital city of French Polynesia on the island of Tahiti. Since our plane would land late in the evening we decided to spend one night in Tahiti before continuing to one of the other islands. After spending a night at a very expensive mattress on the floor-style Airbnb, we headed towards the airport to catch an early flight to Huahine, the first of the two islands we were going to visit. French Polynesia consists of many small islands, of which Bora Bora, with its blue lagoon, is probably the most famous. It is known as the typical honeymoon destination and for that reason the resorts on the island are crazy expensive. Together with Moorea, Tahaa, Raiatea, Huahine and Maupiti they form the Society Islands. Diving is supposed to be the best in the Tuamotu islands and the Marquesas are the most remote. We decided to go to Huahine for the real Polynesian vibe, since it is less touristic, and to Moorea, only 30 minutes from Tahiti by ferry and the cheaper sister of Bora Bora. Possibly the other islands are more beautiful but since plane tickets are expensive between the islands and we are on a budget, these two were our best choice.

At the airport our heavy backpacks turned out to be a problem. Your luggage allowance is 20 kg and 5 for your hand luggage. Both are heavier, since we carry bottles of wine which we bought at the airport in Auckland. With your PADI license you get a few extra kilos and after some repacking and some desperate faces from our side the lady at the check in counter gives up and approves our luggage. From the plane you have a nice view over the lagoons of the island. The reefs around these islands create a white protective circle and calm and bright blue lagoons are a result of this. Huahine airport is super tiny and Philippe our Airbnb host is welcoming us with the famous flower necklace. It gives you the feeling that you really have arrived in Polynesia. Everything in Polynesia is celebrated with flowers. They are an important part of Polynesian culture. All the airports smell like flowers. Philippe let us stop at the only supermarket on the Island to stock up on food. If you want to do Polynesia on a budget you have to cook yourself. It turns out that the Super U has everything we could wish for and since Polynesia is still French they have a nice selection of French Cheese and freshly baked baguettes. So after we are done with the shopping we are ready to go to our cottage, which is 13km away from Huahine’s main town. Philippe and his wife Helène have been living in Polynesia for the past 25 years. Philippe used to own restaurants on the island but recently they have decided to move back to France to be closer to their children. While pointing out some nice places on the island, he explains that we are his final guests and that we are invited to their goodbye party at the end of the week. Our cottage is amazing, we have a really nice view over a bay. We have a small kitchen, nice bathroom and a little balcony. Everything is decorated in a nautical theme and Helène has put nice smelling flowers everywhere. We love it! Philippe explains that we can rent a small Jeep and mountain bikes and we can use the kayaks and snorkeling gear for free.

We first decide to relax a bit and have a nice baguette for lunch. The sun is shining, but there is quite some wind. In the afternoon we grab the kayak to explore the lagoon and to snorkel around the small motu Philippe pointed out to us. A motu is a sandbank with palms on it inside the lagoon. Most of them are privately owned, but at some you can enjoy the beaches. We have to be careful to not hit the reef while exiting the bay. As soon as we arrive in the lagoon we can feel the wind and there is a strong current. This makes it impossible to reach the small motu so we decide to go back and just snorkel around the bay. After Indonesia we have become snorkeling addicts and our expectations of the underwater world of Polynesia were high. We have to say that we were a little disappointed, the coral is not as colorful and exists out of small patches and it does not have the abundance of fish we were used to. I guess Indonesia’s waters spoiled us a bit. After 1,5 hours in the water it is time to go back, take a shower and enjoy our first glass of wine with some baguette and brie in a very long time. Sitting in the sun, sipping your wine and having some cheese, this is definitely something we could get used to.

The day after, we sleep in a bit and enjoy the sun and the view on the bay. We have time to read a book. It almost feels like vacation ?. After a day of relaxing it is time to work those muscles and to cycle around the southern island of Huahine. Guess what?! Huahine is not flat so it’s actually a real workout. The first stop is an archeological site, a marae or coral temple. Beside the marae is a public beach. In Polynesia most beaches are private, so if you see a nice white sand beach and it’s public you better enjoy it for a while. We have lunch with a fantastic view on the big motu and the blue lagoon. We continue to the next stop Philippe recommended us, one of the few hotels left on Huahine. This hotel has one of the nicest beaches on the islands and if you have a drink here you can use the beach and snorkel in the bay. In the bay in front of the hotel you can find one of Huahine’s coral gardens. This bay is more secluded from the wind, so the water has less waves and less currents. We keep the snorkeling for another day and after a refreshing drink we continue our tour. Around halfway the weather changes and it starts to rain. December is known as Polynesians wet season. But it never rains the entire day, so after a short shower the rain stops and the sun reappears. Along the road there are some amazing viewpoints. Huahine is surprisingly green and has some high volcanic peaks. Best part of it all, you almost see no tourists. It feels like you have the island for yourself. After about 27 km up and down, we reach the gate of our cottage again. Time for a refreshing glass of wine and a nice meal.

The next day Philippe offers to bring us to the other side of the lagoon by boat. From there we can snorkel for an hour, following the current and Philippe will pick us up at the end and bring us back home. The waters in Polynesia are super blue, due to the sandy bottom. But the combination of the current and the white sand also means that the waters are not as clear as in the Togeans or Banda islands. Where there is current, you will experience lower visibility due to the amount of sand floating around. We are still not really impressed by the underwater world of Polynesia, but it is nice to be in the water again. The rest of the afternoon we relax in the sun. We decide to rent the small Jeep to explore the Northern island of Huahine the next day, and on the way back stop for some additional groceries at the supermarket. First stop is the abandoned Sofitel hotel. Philippe explained us the previous day, that a lot of the hotels closed after the financial crisis hit the US and Europe. Less tourists came, and the monopoly of the airliner Tahiti Nui keeps the price of plane tickets high, which didn’t help. The old Sofitel hotel is officially off limits but it has a nice beach and coral garden in front, which makes it a stop worthwhile. After some snorkeling and sunbathing we continue. We stop for lunch at one of Huahine’s roulottes. These food trucks offer fish, sandwiches, pizza or poisson cru. The roulotte we stop at is famous for its pizzas. And after some time waiting in the sun, a delicious pizza prosciutto appears with real Parmesan cheese. It is the best pizza we have had in a very long time, mouthwatering good.

Since we were done early with our tour of the north we decided to do some snorkeling at the hotel on the Southern island. But after 5 minutes in the water it started to rain. This made snorkeling a chilly experience, but we did enjoy the corals. The rain stopped again and after a drink it was time to go to the supermarket to stock up for the rest of our stay in Huahine. We got back into the car, right in time because the whole way back to the cottage it rains like crazy. It’s one of those typical tropical showers. Heavy but relatively short. By the time we reach the cottage it is dry again. The next few days we kayak in the lagoon and relax at the cottage. Before we know it, it’s Sunday morning and we have to get ready for the goodbye party of Philippe and Helène. The previous day Helène brought me a flower crown, it is common for the women to wear these crowns during festivities. I felt very honored, since she and the new owner took the time and effort to make me one. The party took place on one of Huahine’s motu’s, so we have to take a boat. Together with Veronique, Helène drives us to a dock, where friends are waiting with a small motorboat. After many tries, it becomes clear that the motor refuses its duty so Helène calls Philippe to pick us up. With a full boat we arrive on the beach where the party takes place. The “bar” is decorated with palms and flowers. Two women sit on a chair in the water of the lagoon preparing the fish for the poisson cru and more and more boats arrive with coolboxes with beers. Philippe works as a taxi driver a couple of times more and then the party can start. The departing couple receives many flower necklaces and the dance group of Helène performs a traditional Polynesian dance. It is the perfect day, full sun the entire day, good music and good vibes. Philippe has made enough sangria to get the whole island in the right mood, people are chilling in the lagoon with a fresh beer, play some pétanque and just enjoy the day. Lunch is huge and consists of many traditional Polynesian dishes. Not everything is our taste, but it is definitely a traditional goodbye party. We feel blessed that we are able to share this experience, it is something that we otherwise would never experience. Late in the evening -after dark- it is time to go home. The boat of Philippe has motor problems so we are towed by friends/neighbors towards our bay. The two men clearly know their way in these waters, since we never get stuck on the very shallow reef. During the ride we can enjoy the full moon shining over the island. What a perfect way to end our last day at Huahine.

Next morning it is time to head back to the airport since we are hopping to the next island, Moorea. We say goodbye to our wonderful hosts and promise them to visit them in their new Airbnb in France. 45 Minutes later we arrive in Papeete and take a taxi to the dock where a Ferry/Catamaran will take us to Moorea.
Once we arrive on Moorea we have to wait 1,5 hours on the bus. Moorea’s busses ride on the schedule of the departing Aremiti Ferry’s. One takes on the South of the Island and the other takes on the Northern route. It would have been much easier to take a taxi, but taxis are extremely expensive and this saves us 35 euro. Around 14.00 we arrive at our new home for the week. Our new hosts are Eliane and Cécile, who have moved from France to Moorea to teach the upcoming four years at the local school. We stay in the cottage next to their house. We spend the afternoon doing some grocery shopping and we walk to the private beach at the end of the road. The next day we snorkel on the reef in front of the house, some real exercise since there is a lot of current, we however do spot a turtle and our first stingray. The afternoon we just relax a bit and read in our books. Next day it is time to see some more of the island. We decide to cycle to one of the famous spots on Moorea, the beach of the Les Tipaniers hotel. This hotel has one of the few accessible beaches on the island. And the beach is what you imagine if you think about Polynesia: fifty shades of blue water, palm trees and white sand. The perfect spot to spend the afternoon chilling and snorkeling in the Lagoon. It is here where I have my first stingray encounter. I was casually filming another fish when a giant stingray appeared on my left side. It gracefully swam underneath me, but I didn’t not feel very comfortable with that tail pointing at me, so I kept my distance. We don’t want a Steve Irwin situation. Koen also wanted to see it, but had no luck. Time to go back to the house. Tired after 24km on a less then perfect bike, we arrived back in the cottage. Cécile and Eliane had friends over and invited us for a beer.

To circle the island in a good way you either have to rent a car or rent a scooter. We decided to rent a scooter for two days. The first evening we drove to a beautiful viewpoint from which you could see both bays, which together create the W or M shape of the island. We had a beautiful sunset behind the mountains. The next day we decided to drive around the entire island. Our first stop was a public beach near the Sofitel resort. It is strange on one stretch of beach people pay 300 euro per night and the public beach next to it is free. We took our snorkeling gear with us and this time Koen was lucky while looking for rays. The next stop was at the other side of the island. After we bought some baguettes, we chilled at the public beach that was created next to the old Club Met. It is a nice park with benches and the perfect stretch of white sand. Snorkeling here was excellent. Since we did not had a sunset at the waterfront we decided to jump back on the scooter after dinner. We arrived at a small restaurant where we had a drink and see the sun disappearing into the ocean. I am happy that we were able to cook ourselves and did not depend on hotels and restaurants. Two drinks costed us 20 euro. Can you imagine if you head out for dinner everyday, you will be bankrupt by the end of the vacation. We heard somewhere that you could buy day passes to stay on the nearby Beach at the Hilton hotel. We went to the reception, but they charge 90$ a day per person for lunch and use of the beach. So for us, travelers on a budget, it became the park and beach at the end of the road.
On our final day we wanted to enjoy our last day at the lagoon and beach, so we rented the scooter for one more day to spend an afternoon kayaking at Les Tipaniers. Here you have a certain spot where you can spot black tip reef sharks and stingrays. We saw so many, and they were big. It still feels a bit scary though, having sharks circle around you while you are swimming.

The last morning before our departure we decided to go back to the former Club Met beach. Fully relaxed after a morning of swimming and sunbathing it was time to say goodbye to our hosts and wait for the bus. Which of course did not show up, so we ended up taking an expensive taxi, and we were just in time for the last ferry of the day. Once arrived in Papeete we had dinner at the roulottes in the harbor. Just before 8 o’ clock we took a cab, because after 8 the taxis double their prices. And then the waiting game could start at the airport. We needed to wait 6 hours because our plane would leave at 2 in the night. We had some time to think about our stay in Polynesia. We liked it a lot more than we expected and were able to do it on a budget. The islands are beautiful but some are definitely crowded with honeymooners and cruise boat passengers. We would never spend the money on a plane ticket from Europe to Polynesia. But we have to say we are extremely happy that we had a stop over in this little paradise on earth and we enjoyed every minute of it. Mauruuruu Polynesia you were wonderful! Off to the next island in the Pacific, the remote Easter Island!!!!

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