Cruising Through Tahiti


By: Douglas Peebles

Hawaii has always had a bond with the Islands of Tahiti. It started with the migration of Polynesians to Hawaii from the Marquesas around 300-600 AD. In 1976 an important return trip was made in the double hulled sailing canoe Hokulea. Nainoa Thomson was the navigator and he used only Polynesian star charts and bird movements as his guide. This voyage renewed and strengthened the ties between the islands. Today you can ask any sailor in Hawaii where they would like to take their boat and the answer is almost always Tahiti.


Of course it is a lot easier to just fly there. That is what my wife Margaret and I have done the past couple years to take two cruises through the islands of Tahiti, or as they are officially known, the Society Islands of French Polynesia. There are several cruise lines that pass through these islands, but the are two that sail there year round. Those are Paul Gauguin Cruises and Windstar Cruises.

We were on the Paul Gauguin. It works well for Hawaiian residents because its 7 and 14 day cruises start and end on Saturday. That ties in perfectly with Hawaiian Airlines once weekly flights to Tahiti which are also on Saturdays. It is a small/medium size cruise ship that holds 332 passengers in very nice cabins. The Paul Gauguin is known for its staff and excellent food. The posted rates for the 7 day cruise go from $4,945 for a Porthole Stateroom to $11,245 for the Grand Suite. This includes all food and drink and there is no tipping expected. Shore excursions are extra.


If you want to spend some extra time in French Polynesia, or you are willing to fly trough Los Angeles, Windstar Cruises would be a good choice. They sail on the 148 passenger, four masted Wind Spirit. It is powered by both diesel engines and sails and can reach 15 knots if the wind is right. I have not been on the Wind Spirit but I have only heard good things about it. Windstar offers 7, 10, and 11 day cruises starting at $4,199 for the 7 day cruise.
The rates posted above for both cruise lines include air fare from Los Angeles. If you get you own ticket from Hawaii you get a discount. Cruise fares are more complicated, and change quicker, than any other travel and it may be a good idea to work with a travel agent.


Our cruises started in Papeete on the Island of Tahiti and went to, Huahine, Tahaa, Bora Bora, and Moorea. Our first stop was in Huahine, which is just slightly larger than Molokai and has about the same population of 6,500 people. Huahine is split into two parts with a short bridge connecting them. On both trips though we mainly stayed in the water by doing the Motu Picnic excursion. This took us under the bridge to the far side of the island for some excellent snorkeling. After that we returned to a motu for a very unique lunch. It involved sitting at a table in the water on plastic chairs eating poison cru and salads while hundreds of small fish swam around out feet. After that we went snorkeling a second time on the outside edge of the motu.


Our second Island was Tahaa. The island of Tahaa is a little larger than Huahine with about a thousand less people. It is mainly known for vanilla production a there are a couple of island tours available. We decided to do a morning drift dive. This involves snorkeling through a pass while riding the current. when you are done you walk up and do it again. We made three passes. The water was clear and there were a lot of fish. It is a bit tricky because it is shallow and you have to be careful nor to run into the coral.


Our afternoon was spent on Motu Mahana which is a private island where they have a beach barbecue and unlimited bar. This is a free excursion. It is a beautiful spot, and a big party that most everyone on the ship goes to. The Windstar Cruises use this motu on their sailings as well.

On their 7 day cruises the Paul Gauguin spends two days at Bora Bora. This is a good thing because the is a lot to do there. There are many people who consider Bora Bora the most beautiful island in the world. Mt. Otemanu and Mt. Pahai rise up in the middle of a very blue lagoon. Several small motus, surrounded by beaches and coral, circle the island. There are now over 800 overwater bungalows in Bora Bora yet some it still does not seem crowded. This may be because the bungalows are so expensive occupancy is low. In fact many have closed. To me it seems our overwater bungalow onboard is a better way to go.


We spent a morning shopping and exploring in the area around the main town of Vaitape however most of our time was again in the water. There are several tours that offer, boat cruises, snorkeling, and swimming with sharks and sting rays in the lagoon. We did a lagoon cruise which had 3 stops. First we snorkeled in 30ft deep water with lemon sharks and tropical fish, then we went into waist deep water with black tip sharks and sting rays and lastly we were snorkeling in 10 foot deep waters around coral and even more tropical fish.


We spent a morning shopping and exploring in the area around the main town of Vaitape however most of our time was again in the water. There are several tours that offer, boat cruises, snorkeling, and swimming with sharks and sting rays in the lagoon. We did a lagoon cruise which had 3 stops. First we snorkeled in 30ft deep water with lemon sharks and tropical fish, then we went into waist deep water with black tip sharks and sting rays and lastly we were snorkeling in 10 foot deep waters around coral and even more tropical fish.
Moorea is the last island we visit and the ship stays 2 days here as well. On our first day we rented a car and drove around the island. I have been going to Tahiti for 30 years and, to me, Moorea seems to be the island that has changed the least. There are not many new resorts and the bars and restaurants that I enjoy like are still there. Our favorite area is Tiahura. This is where the shark and sting ray tours go which is something we did on both trips. Tiahura is also home to my favorite beach bar and restaurant Les Tipaniers. The ship also offers a couple of interesting hikes across the island.


The Paul Gauguin got back Saturday morning to Papeete on the island of Tahiti. We had to get off the ship by 9:30 a.m and Hawaiian Air to Honolulu, and Air Tahiti to Los Angeles, do not fly out until about midnight. The cruise line does offer a day room at a couple resorts, however these are expensive and involve a couple bus rides. We opted to reserve our own room at Hotel Tiare in Papeete. It was not a great place, but it is just a short walk from the cruise ship and allowed us to explore Papeete for the day.
Cruising through Tahiti for a week is about as good as ship travel can be. We are in fact hoping to go back next year on the 14 day cruise that also goes through the Tuamotus and Marquesas.