The Society Islands, in the South Pacific, are a dream destination for cruising. Charter in this area and you will feel like you have arrived at the center of Polynesian culture; for it is true: everyone does wear a flower behind their ear, dugout canoes with outriggers are often seen, a long wrap of stenciled fabric is acceptable wear for both men and women, and singing and playing the ukulele is a daily pastime. Top that with the fresh fish salad made with coconut milk called Poisson Cru, and you will feel you have arrived in the heart of heaven.
Bora Bora, Raiatea, Tahaa, and Huahine are part of the Windward Society Islands. To reach this area, fly into Papeete, Tahiti. From Papeete, there are constant domestic air flights throughout the area, to begin your idyllic crewed yacht charter. Cruising is between lovely atolls, with peaked volcanic land masses piercing through the clouds, surrounded by crystal clear water in lagoons filled with coral and marine life.
Mystical, mythical Bora Bora is renowned for its spectacular scenery, romance and a brilliant blue lagoon and reef that James Michener hailed the most beautiful in the world. The island is an extinct volcano that formed two towering black peaks of land. Many visitors are drawn to the central lagoon, famed as a great dive site with a variety of sharks, rays, and tropical fish. Those seeking expansive beaches will be thrilled as while there are relatively few beaches on the main island; there are miles of sandy cays along the reef line, with secluded beach areas, home only to sand crabs and palm trees that are ideal for a picnic and shelling in complete privacy. However, it is the stunning lagoon, a treasured feature that draws visitors to swim, snorkel, dive, and windsurf. Surrounding the island with shallow waters, that warm easily in the sun, this lagoon area is filled with coral and marine life.
Other activities include a visit to Tiki Village, where tourists can see traditional life in an authentically recreated village. Visitors will see the making of the crowns of flowers called lei as well as tattooing, carving and paraeo painting. The village also showcases a spectacular Polynesian dance and an island feast. For a once in a lifetime thrill, view shark feeding close up on the outer reef. Using a snorkel and flippers visitors enter the water while Tahitian divers hand feed black-tip sharks. Helicopter sightseeing tours are available to view the multi hued lagoon and lushly forested interior, and this is a wonderful opportunity to closely look at Mount Otemanu.
Visit the Bora Bora Lagoonarium where you will be given a mask and fins to swim in shallow waters alongside a wide variety of tropical fish, rays and sand sharks. Trained guides are there to help with any questions and bread is available to feed the hungry underwater life that will swim right to your side for a meal.
On shore are various resorts offering cocktails or meals and numerous spas for a relaxing treatment using local herbs and spices. In fact Bora Bora probably has more resorts, all in a wide price range, than any other island. Many have an area of shops, which are also found along the roadside, a large number of which feature Black Pearls.
The famous restaurant Bloody Mary’s is located along the shore road, to dine sitting on coconut stumps set on a sand floor. Bloody Mary’s always features the local fresh caught “fish of the day”, and of course, their signature drink, The Bloody Mary.
Raiatea is known throughout the Society Islands as the “Sacred Island” and cultural heart of this group. Uturoa is the largest city on Raiatea and home of the daily market, which is very colorful and well worth visiting. This bustling market place along the harbor starts at sunrise with the fresh fish of the day, homemade foods, fruits, pastries and local arts and crafts. Wednesday and Fridays are the busiest as this is when vendors from the nearby island of Tahaa come to the market to sell their wares. This is a good location for purchasing products locally made featuring vanilla, coconut, and the Tiare flower.
Many believe Raiatea to have been the cultural and religious center of the ancient Polynesian civilization. Known then as Havai’i, this island is thought to be from where Polynesians left to settle Hawaii, given the same name as ancient Raiatea. There are many archaeological remains suggesting that this island was the most important in ancient times, which include one of largest and most well preserved ruins, the Taputapuetea Marea, an ancient religious center. Wander the area yourself, or have a guided tour for full explanation of culture and history.
Every October Raiatea is part of a 3 day canoeing event called the Hawaiki Nui Va, with over 100 outrigger canoe teams racing between Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora. As you travel through the islands, you may see locals out practicing for the new found sport of outrigger canoe racing that has been resurrected from ancient times.
The authentic flavor of Polynesia is truly found in the reef enclosed Tahaa. With no airport, this round island with fjord-like inlets is accessible only by boat. It is often called the Vanilla Island as it produces 80 percent of all vanilla in French Polynesia and its sweet scent perfumes the island breezes. The 42-mile coastal road weaves through small villages and into the hills, providing sweeping views of the indented bays. Visitors enjoy the beautiful beaches, coral gardens and small, sandy deserted motus.
Try to make time for a tour of a Vanilla Plantation, to see how this rich spice grows and is harvested. Vanilla is derived from the bean pod grown from the vanilla orchid. To grow the bean pod, each orchid must be pollinated by hand; a laborious but very interesting process to create what is often called the “Black Gold” of the islands. Many local products are made with the vanilla pod, so you can bring home your own bit of Black Gold.
Tahaa has the only navigable river in French Polynesia, the Faaroa River, which cuts up through a gorge in the island. River tours are available via motorized canoes to see the natural wildlife, flora and fauna, alongside this river and in the interior of the island.
Open since 2002, Le Tahaa Resort and Spa strives to be the best resort in French Polynesia. Stop by for a cocktail, meal or even a spa treatment. Or begin or end or charter there with your private yacht charter.
A sea turtle reserve is located in the Tahaa Lagoon, where many species of sea turtles can be seen in their natural habitat. And as always, look for the Black Pearl Farms that always welcome visitors.
Picturesque Huahine has many titles: “the secret island”, “the rebel island” and “the garden island” and each tell visitors what they’ll encounter when they set foot on this wild, interesting gem known for its past, fierce warriors, and its current resistance to change and relaxing ambiance. Huahine is off the tourist track and still reflective of traditional Polynesian life.
Essentially, Huahine is an old volcano whose sunken center was filled by the sea. Like Tahiti, the island consists of two mountainous masses: the large Huahine Nui and the small Huahini Iti. The bays of Maroe and Bourayne separate the two lands. The geographically diverse terrain includes long white sand beaches, fruit and vegetable groves, indented bays and lush tropical foliage creating a jungle-like ambiance. Huahine also boasts the Maeva marae, a well preserved archaeological site at the foot of Mount Mouatapu and along the shores of Lake Fauna Nui. In the narrow areas of the Lake you can see “V” shaped stone fishing traps believed to have been made centuries ago, however still in use by the locals today for fresh fish for dinner.
Huahine does have one main town, named Fare, with a grocery store, main quay, several shops and restaurants. In the evening, outdoor mobile restaurants magically appear on the quay with little cooking kitchens and folding tables and chairs, each serving local foods. If you happen to be near Fare on days when the local supply vessel arrives, the harbor area will be filled with bustling colorful activity.
A road circumnavigates both Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti. While sometimes paved, sometimes dirt, it is worth a drive around to see the island. Huahine is a very fertile island, perhaps because the name Huahine means “pregnant woman”, which refers to the shape of the island as seen from afar. However most likely the fertility of the soil is due to the volcanic origins of the island. Huahine is home to plantations of taro, coffee, vanilla and melons. In fact many of the cays along the surrounding barrier reef have fields of watermelon and cantaloupe.
While passing alongside the river, stop to see the Sacred Blue Eels, part of Polynesian mythology. The eels, found only on Tahiti and Huahine, are from 3 – 6 feet long and have eyes of a cold blue translucent color. Swimming in a shallow area of the river, these eels are accustomed to visitors and swim near for any tasty food tidbits.
And as always, Huahine is home to a Black Pearl Farm, where visitors and shoppers are welcomed with tours and information on the Black Pearl Farming process, and cases with loose Black Pearls and Black Pearl jewelry are for sale.
After boarding in Bora Bora and cruising through Raiatea and Tahaa, and visiting Huahine, disembark in Huahine for a return flight to Papeete. There are frequent return domestic air flights available from Huahine, to Papeete, Tahiti, for an international air flight home.