Last November, my biggest travel dream finally came true: I flew with my new husband to French Polynesia! We were preparing to test two ways of traveling through the islands: first, as part of a cruise offered by NCL aboard the Norwegian Spirit; second, by traveling through the islands on our own.
We took off from Los Angeles on one of these superb Air Tahiti Nui 787-Dreamliner aircraft, heading for Papeete.
Already in the air, the Polynesian atmosphere began to envelop us. We were seduced by the quality of the food and the service on board this 8h30 flight.
How to save with points for a trip to French Polynesia
Points are a great way to lower the cost of a cruise. Simply redeem the points for an account credit. Here are some examples of reward programs to use:
- NBC Rewards: Through their À la carte Travel Agency or by reimbursing the expense yourself with your points (every 10,000 to 12,000 NBC points earns $100 in credit).
- American Express Membership Rewards points: By applying your points to the amount spent yourself (every 10,000 points gives you $100 in credit)
- Scene+: Pay for the expense yourself with your points (every 10,000 Scene+ points gives $100 credit)
If the payment is made in a foreign currency, you can double dip ! Take a credit card that :
- Avoids paying the 2.5% conversion fee
- Allows you to use points to get a cheaper cruise
Like the following credit card:
How to go to French Polynesia with Aeroplan points
It is possible to travel to French Polynesia with Aeroplan points. Depending on the date and class of ticket, the cost is a minimum of 50,000 Aeroplan points for one-way travel.
Then, the same number of points is required for the return trip, in economy class. The total is 100,000 Aeroplan points and $290 for an adult.
Economy airfare from Montreal to Tahiti normally costs around $2,000.
7 day cruise through the islands
This week-long cruise aboard the NCL Spirit, a newly renovated $100 million ship, took us to the main Society Islands.
The Society Archipelago is the most populated of the five island groups that make up French Polynesia. It is itself divided into two groups: the îles du Vent, including Tahiti and Moorea, and the îles Sous-le-Vent.
We embarked in Tahiti on our ship which was heading to the îles Sous-le-Vent, with the discovery of Huahine (day 2), Raiatea and Tahaa (day 3), then the unavoidable Bora Bora (days 4 and 5).
The ship then returned to the îles du Vent, to Moorea for 2 days, before setting sail again for Tahiti where the cruise ended.
In general, we enjoyed visiting the islands on a cruise, as it allowed us to visit several islands in a few days, without having to pay the big price for each trip. Also, we were saving time since the boat was moving mostly at night.
On board, we found the restaurants delicious, even if we would sometimes have preferred to dine on the islands to enjoy more of the local specialties. Unfortunately, in the evening, the schedule meant that we often had to return to the boat early. Moreover, getting out of this ship with a capacity of some 2000 passengers was not always easy. But apart from these details, we enjoyed our cruise and its itinerary.
Here is an overview of the islands we visited.
Huahine, known as the “woman” island, has a population of approximately 6,075. It is said to be the best kept secret of Tahiti and her islands!
Huahine enchanted us with its wild landscape and lush vegetation, its beautiful bays, beaches and picturesque villages. When we got off the boat, we easily found cabs to get around. Ours was driven by a charming local woman with whom we toured the island at a good price.
Reminiscent of the Polynesia of yesteryear, the island seems to have escaped the developments of modern society. Its soil is very fertile and produces abundant crops of vanilla, melons and bananas.
My husband loved to go swimming with the sacred eels while I enjoyed the sweetness of the landscape and its inhabitants. Here, the way of life is slow and quiet. We feel like we are in paradise.
Raiatea and Taha'a
Raiatea can be recognized by its mountains covered with greenery that rise towards the clouds from which emerges Mount Temehani. The fourth largest island in Polynesia, Raiatea is known as the “Sacred Island” because it hosts the legendary sacred marae of Taputapuatea.
It is necessary to know that the expansion of the Polynesians in all the Pacific started exactly from this site. The ancient navigators received blessings during sacred ceremonies and then left by pirogue to conquer the sea. This is how they ended up reaching Hawaii to the north and New Zealand to the west.
As for Taha’a, the “vanilla” island, it shares the same lagoon as Raiatea. With its tiny motu and white sandy beaches, it is a quiet island where the air is scented with vanilla.
It is on this island that we visited a vanilla farm (one of the best places in the country to buy vanilla), as well as a pearl farm, two experiences not to be missed in French Polynesia.
We were eager to see if Bora Bora lived up to its reputation. A popular tourist destination for its luxury resorts with stilt villas, Bora Bora is the ultimate romantic destination. In the center of the island rises Mount Otemanu, a dormant volcano culminating at 727 m that offers a majestic spectacle to our eyes.
So, our verdict: no, Bora Bora’s reputation is not overrated. The island is unique in the world, with its incredible lagoon and its magical atmosphere. In the waters of Bora Bora, one can easily contemplate dolphins, rays, sharks and multicolored fish of all kinds.
Among the activities not to be missed: a day at the Bora Bora Beach Club, swimming with sharks and rays in the open sea, and snorkeling to discover the multicolored corals.
One of my favorite activities: a traditional and musical dinner on an island paradise! It’s not every day that you can eat with your feet in the water, while watching the fish, the rays and the little sharks!
Moorea, Tahiti’s small neighbor, is known for its blue lagoon, steep volcanic peaks and beautiful sandy beaches. Inland, hiking trails wind through the rainforest that covers the slopes of Mount Tohiea.
Here, the villages breathe simplicity and authenticity. Houses painted in pastel colors stand next to gardens of hibiscus and birds of paradise.
From the harbor, we headed to a lovely outdoor restaurant to soak up the island’s atmosphere. We also toured the island by Jeep, with several stops, including the beautiful public beach, the Moorea lookout for a panoramic view and a pineapple field.
A week in a hotel, from island to island
Return to Moorea
Once our cruise was over, from the port, we walked to the terminal of the ferry we had booked, theAremiti. The terminal was located only a few meters from the ship and the crossing to Moorea took about 55 minutes.
In Moorea, we had booked at the Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort where we would finally realize my dream of a villa on stilts. We spent two unforgettable days there tasting local specialties, including the famous raw fish in coconut milk, and snorkeling right from our villa. We went down a few steps, and hop, we found ourselves among corals and multicolored fish as we had never seen elsewhere!
Return to Bora Bora
We had already spent two days in Bora Bora during the cruise, but since overnights were not possible, we decided to go back for the ultimate honeymoon experience: sleeping on stilts in Bora Bora!
To travel from Moorea to Bora Bora, we had easily booked online (a few months in advance) a domestic flight with Air Tahiti.
Once we arrived at the Bora Bora airport, we went to the InterContinental Hotels & Resorts counter where a charming hostess was waiting for us. The latter gave us a nice flower necklace and assisted us with our luggage before taking us to our boat.
Between the lagoon, the mountains and the view of the villas on stilts of the other resorts, the boat ride to the hotel is already a sight to behold!
Finally arriving at the legendary InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, the unique welcome set the tone for the two-night stay ahead!
And as long as we wanted to realize our dream of honeymoon in Bora Bora, we spoiled ourselves by booking a villa on stilts with its private swimming pool. I will summarize this stay as follows: serenity and outstanding service in this paradise at the end of the world!
The last two days of our trip were used to discover Tahiti, the largest island of French Polynesia. With its black sand beaches, its lagoons, its waterfalls and its 2 extinct volcanoes, the island is well worth a visit, even if the tourists are often only passing through.
Papeete, the country’s capital, has international hotels, fine restaurants, nightclubs, spas, pearl stores, beautiful boutiques and a large, vibrant market worth visiting. We enjoyed walking around the city and mingling with the locals, especially at a nice restaurant-bar downtown.
In Tahiti, we stayed at two different hotels: the InterContinental Tahiti, where we enjoyed a beautiful Polynesian show; and the Te Moana Tahiti Resort, a less expensive hotel that we loved for its enchanting exterior.
As we were traveling in November and the rainy season had begun, we were often inconvenienced by the rain that could last for several hours. I therefore recommend, if possible, to visit French Polynesia between April and October (November to March being the rainiest months).
Although we preferred the second portion of our trip, which allowed us to better immerse ourselves in the culture and beauty of the islands, I think the cruise option is still worthwhile, as it allows us to see more of the islands in one stay, while limiting the complications of travel and the high cost of food throughout the islands.
Of course, it is important to be well informed, to plan your budget accordingly and to be patient if you are short of funds, before embarking on an individual trip to French Polynesia. That said, this is the price to pay for this kind of trip of a lifetime, in a destination isolated from the rest of the world, and which makes us feel like in paradise!