• Jan Umbach



The French Society Islands are located in the middle of the South Pacific about 7,000km from Los Angeles, just over 8 hours flight. We have just spent a wonderful and special 9 days in the Society Islands visiting the islands of Tahiti, Huahine, Taha'a, Moorea and Bora Bora - we loved every moment of every day.

Taha'a Paul Gauguin Bartender

PAPEETE We spent 2 nights in the basic Hotel Tiare Tahiti in Papeete when we arrived which gave us time to tour the interior of Tahiti with its' wonderful extinct caldera, lush tropical foliage, see the sacred blue eyed eels at the Queen's lake, glorious waterfalls. We were just 4 blocks from the fabulous ? market where we saw large selections of handicrafts including hand dyed pareo's (sarongs), basket weaving, pearl jewellery of every shape, size and colour, ladies making fresh flower leis and heis, fresh fruits and produce of all sorts - an upstairs pearl market where you could buy one pearl or huge strings of pearls of every quality. And a restaurant and bar with cold beer, free WIFI and love music and singers - we spent hours at the market! We also visited the truck restaurants set up nightly at the harbour side where the trucks gather to cook and sell the favourite Tahitian Poisson Cru - raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk, along with other fresh meat and fish dishes with rice and fries, and you eat sitting with the locals and other tourists at picnic benches sharing stories in French, English and Tahitian - and sharing scarce coverage and umbrellas when the rain deluge hits for 10 or 20 minutes!

PAUL GAUGUIN CRUISE SHIP, FLIGHTS & HOTELS Then we boarded the ultra luxury Paul Gauguin cruise ship, with only 200 passengers and a staff ratio of more than 1staff member to every guest. The Paul Gauguin cruise ship, named after the famous French Painter who lived, died and is now buried in Tahiti, is the only ship that was built specially to cruise the shallow lagoons of French Polynesia and sails here 12 months of the year. It has a mix of oceanview and verandah staterooms. PG is large enough to have 3 restaurants, several bars, a swimming pool, small casino, boutique, extensive diving program with a marina (drop down at the ship aft), excellent evening entertainment - supplement with a very high staff to guest ratio, 5 star meal selection, all inclusive everything, and a staff with a "can do" attitude for whatever you need - it is the perfect ship for Tahiti and the South Pacific.

PG Cruises have a relationship with Air Tahiti Nui who fly many of the guests several times daily to and from Los Angeles, Paris (via LAX) and New Zealand so the cruise rates include air from Los Angeles with extensions from some other cities (a discount given if flights not required). PG Cruises also have a relationship with InterContinental Hotels and will arrange pre and post cruise hotels and transfers on any island. The exclusive BRANDO hotel is also available for booking via PG Cruises.

HUAHINE It was an amazing 7 nights starting with the tiny island of Huahine where we took a local pickup truck tour of a quiet and beautiful island with blue eyed eels and an amazing historical marae from previous generations living on Huahine. We ended the day on the island by visiting the vanilla family plantation of our Tahitian driver and enjoyed ice cold coconut water right out of the coconut picked fresh from the tree. Back on board about 30 local Huahine children who are learning their Tahitian language, culture, music and dances came on board and gave us an amazing show. They finished by presenting us with their very own beautiful fresh flower and leaf leis and heis (head leis) that they had made themselves especially for the show on PG.

TAHA'A MOTU MAHANA Next day was Motu Mahana in the Taha'a lagoon - we started with a drift snorkel gazing underwater at the healthy purple corals, the flourescent orange anemones, and myriads of brightly coloured tropical fish in the coral nursery. Then we landed on a private white sand beach where we spent hours in the warm impossibly blue waters with freshly prepared drinks delivered by Glenn, our waiter with the floating bar right on the ocean! The PG staff brought everything on to the beach to give us all a tasty BBQ with many salads, sausage, beef burgers, chicken, ribs and fish! Then dessert choices afterwards! We were almost the last to leave but had time for a refreshing shower on board before a 4 course dinner spent on deck under the stars.

BORA BORA Needless to say each night was early to bed after days in the hot sun, but Bora Bora was calling us! We rented a car from Europcar and drove around the island - another beautiful scene around each corner! The coast road all the way around the island is less than 40 km yet it took us 7 hours including a stop for lunch at the Bora Bora Yacht Club! The fact that a car ran into our rental vehicle while we had lunch didn't stop us from enjoying every moment and ultimately the other driver was found and the accident was at no cost to us. That evening we had arranged a private sunset sail and private dinner on the back marina deck on the PG - unfortunately about 5 minutes before our set time the heavens opened and a huge rainstorm cancelled that event for the evening! Our next day was also on Bora Bora which is set within a wide barrier reef and PG have a private beach arranged on a glorious white sandy Motu with warm waters - we spent hours lying on the beach in the shade of palm tree fronds or sitting in the shallow waters just gazing at the scenery around us, looking over the water to the basaltic Mountain Otemanu on the main island of Bora Bora - sipping on rum punch and watching large Southern stingrays glide by us just a few feet away. It was hard to leave the Motu behind and catch the hourly tender back to PG but shortly afterwards we were watching Bora Bora disappear behind us while relaxing at La Pallette on deck 6 aft as we headed towards the island of Moorea.

MOOREA We were sitting on our verandah with room service coffee and fresh pastries delivered before 6am watching Moorea come into sight - Moorea may be the most spectacular island - it is beautiful with majestic ridges and mountain peaks, covered in lush green foliage. We watched for a couple of hours before we anchored in Cook's Bay at 8am - at times it appeared as if there were large rain showers over the mountains - we even had a beautiful rainbow. Our AVIs rental car took us around the island and again it took us 7 hours stopping at every beautiful beach and enjoying a wonderful fresh mahi mahi with ginger sauce at La P???? located right at the water's edge - you can gaze for ever at these unimaginably blue waters inside the barrier reef. The PG arranges for the Tahitian ladies to come on board and we all had a fresh flower lei or hei - the smell was incredible between the tiere, plumeria and hibiscus - talk about sights and smells, all these beautiful ladies wearing their own fresh flower leis and heis sitting cross legged with thousands of flowers and leaves in front of them, every colour imaginable, and each one they make unique and beautiful! We finished the day with a wonderful dinner on deck 8 at La Grille sitting by the pool under a full moon and a sky full of brilliant stars including the Southern Cross. Next day we had a slow start with coffee and pastries on our private verandah before breakfast outdoors at La Grille - Ariel the waiter ready for us with fresh lattes and mochas as we sit down - then it's fresh breads pastries fruits eggs bacon sausage salmon - you name it! Then we took the tender over to the pier and took a slow walk into the shops just to enjoy the local area. On the return we had a drink and bite at the Moorea Beach Yacht Club Restaurant and Cafe. The Sea Breeze with vodka, grapefruit juice and cranberry juice so refreshing while we sat at water's edge and gazed at the reef and water, the catamaran returning, the glass bottom boat gliding over the corals and meanwhile the fresh breezes blowing over us cooling us down - it had been a very hot morning and walk. On board we cooled off in the swimming pool and a mud slide from Michael at the bar. We finished the afternoon at 5pm with a special invitation by Captain for a sail away through the tricky exit through the pass as we headed to Papeete, Tahiti. We could hardly believe this was our last sail away and tonight would be our last night on board.

TAHITI After watching the sunset over the horizon then disappear behind Moorea, we had two tug boats, one each side of the PG, as we pulled into the Papeete harbour just as it got dark around 630pm. A last 5 star dinner at L'Etoile with escargot, cannelloni, kiwi soup and grilled chops, chocolate ganache cake with vanilla ice cream before back to our stateroom to pack the last of our items - still took nearly one hour. Then just a few short hours of sleep before disembarking at 430am for our 720am flight to Los Angeles - what were our thoughts? How soon can we come back to the Paul Gauguin and the wonderful islands of Tahiti?

ISLANDS & PEARLS There are many islands making up French Polynesia - including The Astrals, the Marquesas, the Gambiers, the Tuamotus, and the Society Islands (often referred to as Tahiti). The Tuamotus are where there are many pearl farms on the atolls with crystal clear lagoons. Tahitian Black Pearls are known world wide for their wonderful black pearls which grow well here mostly in the remote and beautiful Tuamotus, due to the incredibly healthy, clean and clear waters. A few years ago we visited FAKARAVA in the Tuamtous and bought beautiful pearls right from the showroom of the well known designer TAHIA at her pearl farm.

By the way, the black Tahitian pearls come in various colours from gold, purple, red, green, silver, grey and yes, some black! The other difference with Tahitian Pearls these days is the multitude shapes of the pearls being sold. The black lipped oysters are kept tied together underwater in a pearl "farm". To make a pearl, the farmer carefully forces the oyster open with a very sharp knife and a small round ball or nucleus is inserted into the black lipped oyster with a tiny piece of the mantel from another oyster and quickly closed again. The oyster has just been removed from the ocean and is quickly replaced back in the ocean. The nucleus inserted into the black lipped oyster is round - but to extract the nucleus a couple of years later and have a perfectly round pearl is rare, and to have round pearls with no blemishes is even more difficult. But today all pearls are being sold, those with strange shapes, blemishes and colours - they are all beautiful in their own way. Some have names such as baroque and k? Also the nacre is the coating that grows on the nucleus to form the pearl - the size of the pearl, the colour, thickness and lustre of the nacre are what determine the value and price of the pearl from very inexpensive ($1) to thousands of dollars. This week we saw one beautiful Tahitian black pearl 18.5mm in Bora Bora which was $45,000USD and very similar to the strand of pearls that we saw in Broome Australia some 12 years ago which was offered at $1 million USD.

When they think of Tahiti, many people think of the three main islands: Tahiti (where the capital city of Papeete is located), Moorea - just a short 46km hop across the Ocean, and Bora Bora - some 175 miles away from Tahiti. Other French Society islands include Rangiroa, Tetiaroa, HUAHINE, TAHA'A, Raiatea, Maupiti, Tupai, Maupihaa, Manuae, Motu One, Maiao, Mehetia amongst other islands. Marlon Brando, who was always extremely ecologically friendly, owned the ? island where recently the exclusive BRANDO resort opened at $3000 USD + per night. Leonardo DiCaprio has already stayed there along with other famous personalities looking for refuge from the world in a beautiful location.

INTER ISLAND TRAVEL There are many ferries that make the short ferry trip between the islands of Tahiti and Moorea every day - about $10 each per direction. For the island of Bora Bora you will need to take the $450USD round trip flight, there is no ferry to Bora Bora from Tahiti.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL This was truly a wonderful 8 days in Tahiti which we would repeat in a flash exactly as it was! We take a ferry from home to Vancouver airport, then a 2 hour flight to Los Angeles connecting to the 3pm 8 hour non stop flight from Los Angeles arriving into Papeete on the island of Tahiti arriving around 10pm. There are flights leaving during the day and overnight so you can select your preferred time of day for flying - the travel can be a little tiring, but it's so worth it when you arrive into the warm breezes and sunny skies of Papeete! Everyone here speaks French and Tahitian, with some folks speaking a few words of English - tip - bring your French English dictionary with you!

TIME ZONE This last week (first week of March) Tahiti was 2 hours behind Pacific time Zone in BC Canada where we live. But they don't change time zones so this weekend when we put our cllocks forward one hour for Spring that will mean only 1 hour difference between BC and Tahiti. So with only a 1 or 2 hour time zone change this is not an issue - we continued to rise early and go to bed early pretty much on BC time zone while in Tahiti.

ACCOMMODATION The Tahitian Islands are truly romantic and many lucky folks make their first visit here for their honeymoon - that brings to mind the "over water" bungalows where your room is on stilts in the crystal clear lagoons and you have your own steps leading into the water to swim or snorkel. These over water bungalows are joined together by wooden decks and pathways also built on stilts leading out from the island or main lodge facilities. They are also pricey - typically $700 USD per night up with meals, beverages and activities at extra cost. There are major chains here situated on the islands and usually with private white sand beaches, like Inter Continental, Hilton, Sofitel, Meridien etc. There are also many private pensions, villas for rent, and small locally run hotels - such as the 2 star Hotel Tahiti Tiare on the harbour front in Papeete which gave us a wonderful view of the ferries and other boat traffic coming and going each day, as well as a glorious view of the island of Moorea from sunrise to sunset. This hotel was less than $200 USD per night for a small waterfront room with balcony including a basic continental breakfast and a convenient 4 blocks away from the 2 level city market.

TOPOGRAPHY The French Society islands are volcanic and were formed millions of years ago - they are spectacular to look at and tour with incredibly high peaks and ridges covered in dense lush vegetation, and on Tahiti we saw beautiful incredibly high waterfalls cascading down the sheer cliff faces. Do take the time to sign up for a safari tour to get into the centre of these islands and enjoy Mother Nature at her best!

The islands are also protected by barrier reefs which form shallow lagoons around the islands which is great for all varieties of boats - catamarans, wind surfs, paddle boards, kayaks, small fishing boats and outriggers - and outriggers are favoured by the locals! Every day you see the locals out paddling in their outriggers and racing with each other. As you drive around the islands there are outriggers sitting everywhere on the shorelines - waiting for their owner to finish work for the day and then to come paddling at the end of each afternoon or early morning. The water levels in the lagoons are pretty constant, but we noticed that most small fishing boat owners have a set up consisting of 4 wooden pillars set into the sandy bottom of the ocean close to the shallow shoreline with a large wheel - using this wheel with pulleys attached to the boat, this allows them to lift their boats out of the water when not in use which protects the boat from any wave action or growth on the bottoms of the boats from sitting in the water 24 hours every day.

LANGUAGES & MONEY Most Tahitians speak their own language and French. Many in the tourism industry speak good English, large numbers of the population speak a fewEnglish words, and most speak no English - be prepared with your English French dictionary!

The XPF is the Tahitian franc - and very approximately 96 to $1 USD. Many give an exchange of 100 XPF to $1 so if something is 495 000 XPF that would be $4,950 USD. Add on another 30% at the moment to convert to Canadian $! The zeros are the killer and sometimes you double or triple check yourself to determine was that three hundred or three thousand $? Cover the last two zeros in the XPF amount and you have US$. Many stores and even the markets will take US$ currency from you, and then another time you reach a local supermarket who refuses to take USD currency from you. Be prepared. You can use your bank card to get XPF from the ATM in the Papeete airport when you arrive and in the banks in Papeete. Our taxi driver accepted USD from us for our ride from the Faare airport to Papeete ($42 for 4 including luggage - you pay 100XPF or $1 for every heavy bag or bag over 5KG so that is everyone's carryon luggage these days!).

TAHITIAN MUSIC The first annual Tahitian music awards sponsored by Air Tahiti Nui and held at the To'oata Plaza were held on November 21, 2014. Some artists and song titles below that I liked from the plane MUSIC - modern MOOREA UNAUNA PAHOHO HAWAIKI NUI TO MATO'U AI'A - ukele HO'I I TE FARE HOMAI NA MAHANA - easy listening crooner E HINA - solo singer + easy listening + piano E AROHA HIMENE A VAU group of the year PE PENA revelattion of the year: MAVEANA Male artist of the year TEIVA LC Female artist of the year EVA ARIITAI Song of the Year: Je te veux tout pres de moi from the Mixtape featuring Eva Ariitai

CHINESE IN TAHITI - slavery, discrimination, racist Paul Gauguin and nuclear bombs. In 1865 - 337 Cantonese Chinese labourers from Guangdong China boarded the Prussian 3 masted ship and headed to Tahiti looking for adventure and opportunity. The Tahiti Cotton and Coffee Plantation had hired them to exploit the land of Atimaono on the western side of Tahiti. Slavery was abolished by France in 1848 and the landowners were looking for cheap labour. Two other convoys arrived in 1865, a total of more than 1,000 "coolies" which is what labourers of Oriental origin were known as. They slaved away 12 to 15 hours each day to grow cotton, coffee and sugar cane. The plantation company went bankrupt in 1873 and abandoned the workers after which many returned to China leaving less than 350 Chinese in Tahiti in 1892.

But the Chinese Community banded together to form a close community and another 4663 immigrants came in the years 1907 through 1928 and became successful business owners with many of the bachelors integrating into Tahitian society by marrying Polynesian girls and their children raised as Tahitian. At times they were discriminated against by the European settlers and Business Owners, and at one point had to pay a head tax when they came to Tahiti. The Chinese banded together to hire a lawyer to contest the discrimination. Two years later in 1899 when the State Council eventually determined that the Chinese were to be treated as equals, Paul Gauguin was especially offensive and brutal towards the Chinese Community stating that " ...this yellow stain that defiles our National flag makes my face redden with shame ....Foreigners, like us, live with a certain degree of luxury, and if they become rich, they spend more, maintaining an economic system while contributing to public assets: with the Chinese, there is none of this. Their money goes into the till then gets sent back to China.... We can see with which ease and speed the Chinese absorb all we have to offer, then they leave us behind in the dust....those of us to whom Tahiti is home, this French land....they leave us with nothing to chew on." The Chinese maintained their own communities and schools and always talked about returning to China. But after WWII when China was liberated from Japan and many Chinese did return to China it was to a very different Communist regime under Mao Zedong. At this point the Chinese in Tahiti realised they would be staying in Tahiti and attitudes changed and the Chinese schools shifted to a French curriculum, and missionaries helped convert Chinese to Christianity and sent children to private Catholic Schools. After China detonated its atomic bomb in 1964, Charles de Gaulle led France in the world wide arms race and built an experimental site in 1964 located 1200km southeast of Tahiti on the Fangataufa and Moruroa atolls in French Polynesia and launched its' first missile in July 1966 and consequently French Polynesia became a highly restricted strategic area for France. SASt this time in the 1960's there was already an independence move afoot, and so France wanted to naturalise as many Chinese as possible who would support France. So over 100 years from when the first Chinese arrived in Tahiti, in 1973 over 10,000 Chinese immigrants were granted French Citizenship. Then the International airport was built in Tahiti and Tahiti now was open for business to the rest of the world and how lucky we are to be here now!!


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