So, this week the ezine is written by the quieter half of J5Travel (or should I say the more resistant to social media), Helen Rees, yes that is me in the photo below. While John was in India, I was extremely fortunate to take a trip with a small group of travel advisors led by Meredith Hill, the CEO of GIFTE, our host travel agency learning arm, to French Polynesia with Paul Gauguin luxury cruises.
This was a 7-night cruise aboard the Paul Gauguin of the Society Islands and Tahiti Iti and wow was it beautiful – the turquoise seas, colorful Tahitian dancers, outstanding excursions and a chance to visit 5 different islands was such an amazing experience, and did you know that the flight from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti is only 2 hours longer than to Honolulu, Hawaii?
Top 5 - French Polynesia
1. The Islands
Why not try French Polynesia as an alternative to Hawaii? French Polynesia has 250,000 tourists a year compared to 10 million to Hawaii. The islands such as Moorea (above), are still so unspoilt, easy to get around, unbelievably picturesque (think Jurassic Park, overwater bungalows and turquoise lagoons), and of course the Tahitian men and women love to dance and show off their beautiful tattooed bodies (below). In ancient Tahitian culture there were strict religious and traditional codes governing the use of tattooing, but today tattoos have deep meanings reflecting aspects of your life and are an expression of who you are and what is important to you.
2. The Ship (below)
The MS Paul Gauguin is a small luxury cruise ship built specifically to sail the waters of Tahiti, French Polynesia, and the South Pacific. With just 332 passengers and a crew-to-guest ratio of 1:1.5, one of the highest of any luxury cruise ship, they offer several itineraries (including gratuities, all meals and drinks) ranging from 7-14 nights, with a relaxed and incredibly friendly vibe. They have an extensive excursion program (extra) and a very cool watersports marina for kayaking, paddle boarding, and PADI SCUBA diving programs. Having just been taken over by Ponant, we are looking forward to seeing even more improvements to this ship in the near future.
3. Vanilla (below)
French Polynesia has no natural resources of its own and relies on aid from France of approximately $2bn per year. They import most produce, but do grow pineapples, cantaloupe melons and vanilla. I visited a vanilla plantation and met the owner who showed us how they pollinate each flower by hand as they do not have the right bees there to do it naturally (his daughter can do 1000 per hour). The beans take about 9 months to grow to maturity and then need to be sundried for about a month. This is why vanilla is so expensive, but still cheaper to buy here than in the US and of course essential for the perfect vanilla crème brulee or rice pudding! Black pearls are also famous here and another great purchase to bring home.
4. Whales, Sharks and Rays
I’ve always wanted to see a whale and I had no idea it could be done in French Polynesia.
Between mid-August to the end of October, humpback whales (below) come to the area and I could not believe it when I saw one breech from the back of the ship when in Moorea. We were told that breeding females come to deliver their calves in the warm waters off Moorea and the other adults come to find a mate while being sheltered from their natural off shore predators. I was also lucky to see a lemon shark during a dive in Bora Bora, which as a very new diver, was absolutely incredible. Manta Rays are very common in this area too between July to September and there are excursions available where you can swim with rays and sharks if you dare.
5. St Regis Bora Bora (above)
We were so privileged to be invited to spend a day at the St Regis Bora Bora with a guided tour of the property and full use of the pools and watersports facilities. This must be one of the most beautiful properties I have visited and is great for both families and couples. There is a private lagoonarium (below) that runs through the property allowing safe snorkeling for children of all ages. Featuring both overwater and land villas, five restaurants, a fitness center, full-service spa and swim-up bar, an adults only pool and a beautiful beach with all non-motorized sports (paddleboards, kayaks, a Hobie Cat, and more) included.
This is indeed paradise- let us take you there.
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