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Carmen Bird Photography, Travel Writer

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The unique mixture of French and Polynesian culture make French Polynesia a tropical paradise with a difference.

I’d never really considered French Polynesia for a holiday until earlier this year when my husband suggested it. We wanted to try somewhere new so French Polynesia it was! We decided on Moorea to minimize travelling time and the extra flight out to Bora Bora – which had been our other option. French Poylnesia is made up of 118 islands and atolls but the two most common tourist destinations are Moorea and Bora Bora.

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The French, after visiting on passing ships, took over the islands in 1842. It is now a diverse multi cultural mix of French and Tahitian locals, speaking a mix of both languages. We didn’t come across many New Zealanders which was kind of nice, it felt like a bit more of an adventure than the usual pacific island holidays.

Papette (the capital of Tahiti which is the main island of French Polynesia)  is a 4 ½ hour flight from Auckland and Moorea is an hour ferry from the main land of Tahiti, arriving in to the picturesque bay of Vai’are surrounded by impressive towering volcanic mountains and tropical greenery. Our hotel the Hilton was a short 30 minute bus trip away. The over water bungalows instantly immersed us into holiday mode. They just seem so exotic and tropical with private decks, five steps off the deck before dropping off in to the water for a spot of snorkelling any time of day.

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My friend Sharyn told me I’d love the bread, I told her I wasn’t going to be eating any of the bread, you know low carb diet etc…well famous last words! I’m not sure if it’s the French influence (didn’t they invent croissants?) but the bread was insane – the beautiful breakfast buffet was made more impressive with a whole table dedicated to every bread you could think of from prune bread to mouth-watering croissants all deliciously fresh and totally irresistible.

If you are a relaxer or an explorer there is plenty to choose from… we opted to spend our days doing the latter. We started out by hiring the cutest little yellow jeep and spent a day driving around the island stopping at the local villages, looking at black pearls of every shade size and shape and price you could I imagine. Plenty of handmade sarongs and Hanomi (the local beer) souvenirs to buy at the shops dotted along the road that wrapped the circumference the island. Another day we hired mopeds and took the winding route up through the lush forests to the top of the island Belvedere, what a spectacular view out across the majestic volcanic mountains and  bays below us.

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I’d highly recommend a late lunch/early dinner at the Beach Café decorated with every Veuve accessory you could imagine from lanterns to umbrellas. The fresh homemade pizzas were perfect with a glass of French Champagne and the café was an ideal spot to watch the sun go down over the glistening yachts on the horizon.

The highlight of our trip was the jet ski adventure with Moorea Activities Center. We booked a 3 hour trip and jetted off around the island and out and beyond the reef for a bit which was a little intimating with the steely dark blue of the ocean and knowing  it was a zillion metres deep on the outside of the reef. Back inside the reef we stopped  at the local spot known for its sealife. Jumping in to the crystal blue water the sharks and giant mantra rays seemed to frolic around us, our guide told us how intelligent the rays were and how they remembered him as they skimmed past us. As the rays glided past us we patted them, they were so silky and soft which I hadn’t expected. The sharks darted all around but didn’t seem that interested in us…which was fine by me.

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We grabbed paddleboards and kayaks a few times in the late afternoon spending time  in the protected lagoon which was a serene and peaceful way to end the day.

We loved Moorea, the bread, the adventures, the water, the weather and especially the stingrays. As we had our last morning enjoying breakfast with our blissful tropical beach view we made plans to come back next year… maybe with the kids if they play their cards right.

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