Lazy, Hazy Days of Winter
by Shane Boocock
On the upper outside deck of the ferry two couples sat cross-legged and chatted in French, some older Tahitians were playing a card game as a group of foreign backpackers used the gangway steps as a deckchair. I took another slug on my can of Hinano beer, the local brew, as Papeete receded in the distance. The glaring afternoon sun reflected off the white deck, in turn heating the metal handrails. An hour later I was lolling on my deck in a paradisiacal bliss with the sound of chickens cackling in the foliage.
Heading up to Tahiti and its dramatic monolithic islands for a few days in the dead of winter can be both rewarding and a great way to take a well-earned break from all our cold weather and it doesn’t have to cost you the earth, especially if you do some homework before you leave.
On my first morning I became a passenger sitting alongside locals in their unique form of transport called, ‘Le Truck.’ These Mercedes trucks are converted to whimsical buses brightly painted in red and white with two bench seats down each side. They run all day and night and usually only cost between 400-500 CFP for a round trip into town (under NZ$8).
Another way to keep costs down is to stop off at a local store to buy supplies for your hotel balcony such as fresh French baguettes, a few soft cheeses, some dips and chips, cold cuts and wine, (or safely secrete in your checked luggage a few bottles of your favourite Kiwi vino) as you will almost certainly find most hotel restaurants are very expensive to both drink and eat lunch or dinner in. ??Yet another alternative is to eat at a local roulottes (French for caravans), roadside ‘meals on wheels’.
One evening I caught ‘Le Truck’ to the port in Papeete where any night of the week there are dozens of roulottes cooking up local favourites like Mahi Mahi, steak and fries, Chinese stir fry or French crepes. It’s simply a great spot for families and couples to eat well, at a minimum cost. The fun part is choosing from a range of blackboard specials or badly photographed food shots and then finding some plastic stools and a table. On that balmy night, I ordered a rare steak with frites and a cold drink for under NZ$20.
Another lazy afternoon I wandered inside the colourful Municipal Market, which is worth browsing as the prices are usually lower than supermarkets and they display and sell a dazzling array of tropical fruits, strange looking vegetables and boxes of fresh seafood and iced whole fish. I watched in awe as old women haggled for a variety of fish they then heaved into plastic bags.
A few days later a shuttle bus driver told me, “My wife eats fish for breakfast every day – it’s a Tahiti thing.” The upper level housed Tahitian arts and crafts and a popular café that has no views but keeps prices within reason. ??For a change of Tahitian scenery I navigated my way over to Moorea (population just 9,000), one of the most popular islands in French Polynesia for New Zealand and Australian travellers and just a short, inexpensive 35-minute ferry ride from the port in Papeete (under NZ$40 round trip).
It is rumoured that James Michener based his mythical, idealised island, Bali Hai on Moorea – and it’s not hard to understand why. ??This is an easy island to drive around, so either hire a car or just hop on local transport. Here, you’ll find the real South Seas’ island experience – a casual, barefoot existence amidst white sand beaches and iceberg-blue lagoons, shadowed by serrated volcanic spires that seem to spear high clouds.
Moorea is famous for its six mountains, including Mt. Rotui that offers spectacular views of Opunohu Bay and the rest of the island. Most visitors go snorkelling at some stage and a good place to do it is on a motu (island). A half day trip can be arranged through the Intercontinental Hotel which includes a barbeque lunch and a lesson on how to make “poisson cru” (raw fish washed in saltwater with lime, fresh coconut milk, chopped cucumber, onions and tomatoes splashed with lemon juice). It’s also a place where some very friendly stingrays, that like humans, come into the shallow water for a bit of petting and feeding!
For a mammal experience to remember there is also the chance to swim with dolphins at the Intercontinental Resort.??The fact is, in the heat of the day on Moorea, I lazily reclined on a beach further along from the resort sipping cold beers I bought from a small bar, reading a good book under the broad leaves of a thriving coconut palm, occasionally venturing into the warm sapphire waters to cool off. At this time of year, that’s what I regard as, “the lazy, hazy days of winter.”
Accommodation in Tahiti
If you can’t afford a five-star, ‘over the water bungalow,’ finding a family friendly hotel is the first step. Look for package rates such as ‘stay seven nights, get two free’ with inclusions like airport transfers and buffet breakfasts. On a recent trip I stayed at the Radisson Plaza resort just 12km from the airport and 7km to the ferry quay. It’s located in historical Matavai Bay, overlooking Lafayette Beach. The hotel offers a range of rich Polynesian traditions such as learning to prepare marinated fish from an old recipe, you can also learn how to dance the Tahitian tamure, try a range of activities from yoga, spa, fitness and aqua gym or you can get free use of the hotel’s kayaks.
Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti, www.radisson.com/tahiti
Accommodation on Moorea
There is a list of high-end over-the-water type hotels on Moorea such as the Intercontinental, the Hilton or Sofitel, which all have specials or package prices with Air Tahiti Nui or your local travel agent. But to keep those costs lower, try staying in a small family hotel such as Fare Vai Moana. The hotel is located in the northwest of Moorea on edge of a splendid white sand beach, at one of the most beautiful locations on the island. The other option is to go for self catering. On the day I arrived, I took local transport to the legends resort, a luxury property offering two and three bedroom villas perched on a hillside above a bay with stunning views, with your very own Jacuzzi. At the local store I stocked up with fresh supplies and some inexpensive table wine and cooked a delicious meal as the last of the golden rays set across the lagoon to the horizon. ??Fai Vai Moana, www.fare-vaimoana.com / Legends Resort, www.legendsresort.fr
Shane Boocock would like to thank Air Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Tourisme in Papeete especially Rolfi, Maire and Hinata for their hospitality during his trip to Tahiti.