Dennis and Rosamund Knill set sail on a luxury five-star clipper to experience the charm and unspoiled beauty of French Polynesia.
Boarding the aircraft for our return journey home we can only imagine how Captain Cook must have felt when he hoisted the sails on the Endeavour all those years ago. So moved was Cook that he wrote in the ships log, “scarcely a spot in the universe affords a more luxurious prospect.”
Tahiti conjures up thoughts of romance, sandy beaches, blue lagoons, swaying palm trees and one of the last bastions of French colonialism. It was the English that claimed credit for discovering this tropical paradise, Wallis in 1769, followed soon after by Cook, but it will always be Bligh and HMS Bounty in 1788 that will forever be associated with legendary Tahiti.
Mid-afternoon berthed alongside Fingers Pier is my Wind Spirit. Based in Tahiti for an extended cruise season this magnificent clipper is the ideal ship for first-timers or serial cruisers who want luxury without having to share the experience with 3,000 other passengers. Weighing in at 5,700 tons with 2,220 square metres of canvas, this 134-metre floating 5-star hotel is more affordable than you think, offering value for money for New Zealand holidaymakers.
There can be no better way to explore these idyllic islands than to set sail on a luxury clipper. With an itinerary spread over a single week you can explore the six draw cards that make up the Society Islands: Papeete, Moorea, Taha’a, Raiatea, Huahine and Bora Bora. Putting this island-hopping experience together by plane will not only cost you considerably more but you will loose precious holiday time packing your bags and sitting around airports, when you could be on deck sipping pina coladas and feeling thoroughly pampered.
We line up patiently with the other passengers for a security check before receiving clearance to go aboard. Stepping off the gangplank we’re greeted by the captain and the hotel manager who direct us to the upper deck for passport and credit card clearance and ID cards. The convivial crew are on hand to assist us with our luggage and escort us to our cabin.
Unpacking our luggage is our first priority, then the opportunity to explore this floating palace and its outstanding amenities. There’s a restaurant, library, business centre, lounge bar, boutique, swimming pool, jacuzzi and a casino. And then there’s the accommodation : ompact yet sophisticated cabins with air conditioning, lots of storage, mini bar, flat screen television, DVD player, free wi-fi, queen-size bed, Egyptian linen, robes and a cleverly designed bathroom complete with L’Occitane toiletries.
Preparations for departure began with a customary cocktail party on the main deck. The mood was decidedly United Nations as we meet and greet some of the other 130 passengers. 6pm and we cast off with the sounds of “Conquest of Paradise” by Vangelis carried by the gentle breeze.
Ever wondered what it was like for pirates in search of treasure or ancient mariners that sailed the high seas? Well, we were about to find out. Faster than we could say “splice the main brace” we watched in awe as huge clouds of canvas majestically unfurled and billowed upwards as they filled with the balmy tropical breeze. So now we’re sailing and ready to submit to a seven-day dose of French Polynesia. First stop Moorea the second most visited island in Tahiti.
We had slept very little, if at all, the night before. It had been a long day and sleep was seductive. We awakened late but refreshed and just in time for a scrumptious breakfast. Anchored in the calm waters of Cook’s Bay with a background of jagged volcanic mountain peaks that featured in that old classic musical and movie South Pacific, Moorea is one of the prettiest and friendliest islands in Tahiti. After breakfasting on the outside deck the adventurous opt for water sports while we go ashore to explore the island.
Next port of call is Taha’a where we spend the day on a private motu (island) for some of the best snorkelling amongst coral gardens with a barbecue lunch thrown in for good measure. We dock overnight in Raiatea, located within a wide and deep lagoon rich with marine life, mountains and archaeological sites, pearl farms and duty-free shopping.
Day four and we set sail for a two-night stay at the most northern island, super-exclusive Bora Bora. Much has been written about Bora Bora. It’s all true and one of the crown jewels of Tahiti. With its mountainous heart, three towering peaks of sheer black rock that dominate the skyline, Bora Bora is one of the most stunningly beautiful lagoons in the world. Most fly in and fly out, but for cruise ships there is only one entrance through a narrow passage enclosed by small isles from one end of the reef to the other.
Bora Bora has survived the US Navy, filmmakers, movie stars and entrepreneurs but cultural shocks have a way of being absorbed. Life here is not sudden or dramatic, it’s a wildly romantic destination and a favourite haunt for the rich and famous. James Michener once said no other island on earth was synonymous with South Pacific paradise — he may well be right. We dined at the famous Bloody Mary’s, a must-do and just a short taxi ride from the pier. On our last night we barbecued at another private motu but not before we watched the sunset explode into a masterful assembly of red, orange and magenta before the sun disappeared over the horizon. To round off the evening we are treated to a dazzling dance and fire twirling, tied together loosely by a thread of Polynesian history.
Our last port of call is Huahine, commonly referred to as the ‘Garden of Eden’ with its lush forests, tropical landscapes and quaint villages. Here the pace of life is slower and the island life more authentic.
All good things must come to an end and back in Papeete we reflect on the Wind Spirits unique qualities — the superb cuisine, exemplary crew, impeccable service, destinations and adventures — that sets it apart from others. The closest life can come to paradise. The food, guided by Chef Klaus with high standards the rule, continued to surprise and delight with menus often supplemented by local seafood and produce. Few would disagree that the BBQ’s, with splendid displays of continental and island specialties would exceed expectations.
Crossing the gangplank Captain Pinzon asks us, “well, what do you think about our backyard?” Had Cook been on board he most surely would have stayed longer!
NEED TO KNOW:
Air New Zealand and Air Tahiti Nui have four direct flights a week.
Where to stay:
Depending on your flights you will more than likely need to arrange accommodation either side of the cruise. Tahiti Pearl Resort is one of the best and most affordable places to stay in Tahiti. Overlooking Matavai Bay its location captures all the history here. This is where Cook first anchored and where Fletcher Christian set sail from after staging that infamous mutiny.
Lonely Planet Guide to Tahiti and French Polynesia by Hillary Rogers, The Tahiti and French Polynesia Travel Survival Kit by Rob Kay
Dennis and Rosamund Knill were assisted by Tahiti Tourisme, Air New Zealand Parking and Southern Cross Travel Insurance.
For further information contact
Francis Travel Marketing
09 444 2298