Growing up in our family business, I have been very fortunate to experience many great destinations around the world. Since Kristene started working for Frontiers ten years ago, it has been fun to have her join me at many new ports of call as well. All of us at Frontiers have a bucket list of destinations that we want to experience worldwide. Staying in an overwater bungalow at Bora Bora in French Polynesia has consistently been at the top of our “wish to travel list.” As we were planning our familiarization trip to New Zealand, we received an incredible invitation from Four Seasons to see their Bora Bora property with a group of Preferred Partner travel companies. With nonstop air service from Auckland, we jumped at the opportunity!
French Polynesia is composed of 118 geographically dispersed islands in total (67 of which are inhabited) stretching over an expanse of over 1,200 miles. It is actually one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans. There is also quite a bit of history from World War II. The island of Tahiti is the largest in the chain, which is where the city of Papeete (population of 135,000) and the airport are located. French Polynesia is in the Southern Hemisphere and in the same time zone as Hawaii. Ironically, it is south of the Equator, almost the same distance Hawaii is to the north.
After a great day in Auckland, we boarded our Air New Zealand flight to Papeete, which is about 2,500 miles northeast of Auckland. The five hour flight crosses the date line and we arrived into Papeete very late in the evening. Air New Zealand and Air Tahiti Nui operate this schedule a few days each week. French Polynesia is a year-round destination. The islands do, however, get a lot more rain from early December through March. For our clients traveling to New Zealand early in the season or during the autumn months, a visit to French Polynesia is a great way to end your trip on the way back to the United States!
Based on the flight schedules from the United States and other international countries (like New Zealand) it is often necessary to spend one night in Papeete before connecting to one of the out islands like Bora Bora. There are a number of hotel options not too far from the Papeete airport. Without question, our top recommendation is the InterContinental Tahiti Resort and Spa. First of all, it is only a five to ten minute drive from the airport to the check-in desk at the hotel, making it super convenient.
The resort is located on 32 acres of lush, tropical gardens alongside a beautiful lagoon. There are two good restaurants, multiple pools, and fun bars—one of which you can only access by swimming. There are 250 rooms in various buildings—most offering pleasant views of the beach, ocean, and the island of Mo’orea. For guests that just have a night or two in Papeete and are heading to the out islands, we feel that the standard ocean view guest rooms are more than adequate with comfortable private, ensuite facilities and convenient access to the pools, bar and dining areas. The check-in and concierge staffs were exceptionally friendly. Room service arrived very quickly and always with a genuine smile.
We were asked, why travel that far when we have so many wonderful saltwater resort destinations much closer to home? First of all, there is something special about French Polynesia. Crime is virtually nonexistent; the native people are incredibly friendly and genuinely want you to have a good time while visiting. Combining those elements with an incredible climate, some of the prettiest clear water and atolls in the Pacific and a family of hotel groups dedicated to excellence, you have a great destination. Since it is only eight hours away from Los Angeles, it is probably easier to access than certain islands in the Caribbean for our Western U.S. customers.
After our very busy itinerary in New Zealand and with the cooler autumn temperatures there, we fully embraced the sunshine with temperatures in the mid-eighties. We completed a full tour of the hotel, then settled in poolside and enjoyed a taste test between Hinano, Tahiti and Tabu beers trying to determine our local favorite!
When we were in Queenstown, New Zealand, we met a fun Kiwi couple and told them we were headed to French Polynesia after our stay and will be in Papeete for a night. They highly recommended that we visit the food trucks (Les Roulottes) in Vai’ete Square at the Waterfront Esplanade. While the popularity of food trucks is trending in the States, I was a little apprehensive about trying “cuisine” from a kitchen on wheels in a remote, central Pacific island country. In any event, it wasn’t out of the question – at least just to check it out. Once we were in Papeete, we inquired more about the food trucks and sure enough, it was highly recommended to us from a number of sources.
We took the short 15 minute cab ride to the harbor wharf where we found 20 – 30 food trucks preparing for a very busy Friday night! We were most impressed by the number of local families, as well as international visitors. It was very clear to us that this place is incredibly popular… and probably even more so later into the evening. There was everything from Asian to barbeque to American-style hamburgers to Italian to crepes and even sushi. After a couple of “walk-arounds” we got up our courage and settled onto a picnic table next to a truck that looked particularly popular, offering crepes galettes, hamburgers, salads, waffles, and ice cream. We thoroughly enjoyed a selection of crepes with andouille sausage, hams and a variety of cheeses. The people-watching was as enjoyable as our meal!
After our very fun dinner experience, we returned to the InterContinental just in time to watch a traditional Tahitian show with fire dancers. It was a great way to end a fun evening.
We meet the rest of our group tomorrow morning and head to Bora Bora!