Beautiful sunsets seen from a private overwater bungalow were the motivation to keep going during the slog of wedding planning. We plotted an insane honeymoon that ticked off many of our usual adventure travel requirements…multiple destinations, a plethora of activities with little rest, and a few splurges along the way.
Tahiti is a collection of islands in the South Pacific and the name can refer to the entire collection or just the solitary island. Following the advice of many savvy planners before us, we used Tahiti as a jumping off point and headed to many of the more remote and pristine islands to get that true South Pacific feel. Our trip included Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and Tahaa all in a whirlwind 10 days. While Tahiti is an expensive locale, with some creative planning, you can still construct an affordable trip…AND get that all important overwater bungalow.
Use Those Air Miles!
First, a world about award travel. I was determined to use my miles to pay for the airfare portion of this trip. This, I concede, is a costly flight and being able to get there on miles surely saved a bundle. It does take a PhD in award travel to make this one happen though. As you may know, on American Airlines, you can generally only book award travel on their direct airline. As soon a trip involves partner airline, you must call to explore feasible dates. The problem is that Air Tahiti Nui does not offer a large number of award seats and you could conceivably be on the phone for days attempting to find a workable flight from the East Coast to LAX then Tahiti with award seats. Know that award seats usually open about 270 days in advance; be ready to book early. The other suggestion is use Expert Flyer which is a $5 per month subscription (or one month free after you sign up which is all you need for this endeavor) which lets you search Air Tahiti Nui’s airline for available award seats. Arm yourself with all your flight numbers before you call to reserve. And then in the word’s of Tahiti’s native language..Voila!
The flight from LAX to Tahiti is roughly 8 hours and will arrive early in the morning, so I’d advise having the hotel store your luggage and freshen up before you venture out on Day 1. (Also, grab 2 bottles each of duty free liquor if you choose as it is quite costly on the islands) Tahiti has a bustling downtown with a large open air market and many shops. It’s definitely has the city feel and not exactly what many people envision when they book to Tahiti…they are thinking along the lines of Bora Bora. Nevertheless, we rented a car to tour the main stops which was absolutely worthwhile. We visited Teahupoo a world famous surfing destination known for an enormous break that crashes directly over a reef…not a place for amateurs. We also made a stop at the Arahoho blowhole, a natural rock formation that channels a forceful incoming wave into a small rock tunnel creating a huge blowing spit of water. Our accommodation for the night was the Manava Inn and Suites which is a newer hotel with an amazing infinity pool just perfect for catching that first South Pacific sunset. We dined at the nearby Blue Banana which sits on the water and offers typical Polynesian fare heavy on seafood. The next day we hit up the open air market and grabbed some incredibly fresh smoothies before heading back the airport to head to Moorea.
Air Tahiti Multi Island Pass
Another quick point on airfare between islands. There is a ferry from Tahiti to Moorea that is pretty affordable and would be much cheaper than the plane. However, if you are planning to visit multiple islands, Air Tahiti offers a pass that lets you hop multiple islands for a fixed price. We chose the Bora Bora pass which included potential visits to Bora Bora, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea (from here you can ferry to Tahaa), and Maupiti. Their guidelines for these passes are that they must start or finish in Tahiti or Moorea, you must visit at least 2 islands, each island can only be visited once, and you have to book all of your flights at the time of booking the pass. We capitalized on this pass as it allowed us to visit more islands without tacking on a costly plane ticket each time.
In Moorea, we definitely saved the most as we rented an airbnb and cooked most meals for the 3 days we stayed. Our airbnb was incredible and you can view it here. It overlooked the ocean and was constructed mainly out of wood which they imported from Asia with a vast deck with small whirlpool and free kayaks to use. As an added touch, the caretaker greeted us with leis and fresh pineapples and bananas. Check out our video tour of the property! We also rented a small car (the Twingo) which was just large enough for 2 people and 2 suitcases, but it was quite useful for getting around. I would recommend a car for Moorea…there is a lot to see and even if you are staying in a resort, get out and explore! The island is very navigable. Moorea has a main road that circles the entire Island and the drive can be made in about an hour and a half and the driving is the same side as the US which makes it simple.
Places we stopped included a drive up to the Belvedere Lookout where you can overlook Opunohu and Cook’s bay separated by the mighty Mount Rotui, a snorkel at Motu Beach at Les Tipaniers Hotel, and a stop at the Moorea Juice Factory (lots of delicious samples!). We chose not to do any organized snorkeling tours here as we planned that later in the trip though it is rumored to be amazing on this island. The island also has a lot of hiking and we did a few short hikes to idyllic waterfalls. Mostly, we enjoyed our waterfront rental with incredible kayaking and snorkeling in front of our door. We also loved using the ample kitchen and having private dining for two (my husband is quite the chef! Me..not so much). Groceries could be pricey but if you capitalize on the items that the French are known for, you’ll find it isn’t so terrible. For example, bread and cheese are both delicious here and you can grab an entire baguette for about 1 USD. In fact, baguettes are so popular here that they have adorable baguette mailboxes where you can get fresh baguettes delivered daily! We definitely indulged in a good portion of cheese and bread! My final cuisine tip is to grab the local produce. We stopped at several roadside fruit stands and grabbed from the tree pineapple which was mouthwatering.
The next island up on our mini Tahitian tour was the famous Bora Bora. There are some that say it’s overrated…but I really think it’s beloved for a reason. It is beautiful beyond words. I mean the island is literally shaped like a heart…can you beat that for a honeymoon? Flying in you can glimpse the iconic Mounts Otemanu and Pahia rising up in the middle of a turquoise lagoon surrounding by numerous small motus (small reef islands surrounding an atoll). A large number of the resorts are located on motus surrounding the main island. The Bora Bora airport is also located on a motu so everyone who arrives will need a boat transfer to get to the main island. Most accommodations will arrange this for you. However, it is simple if you are doing it unaided. Air Tahiti offers a free shuttle ferry that leaves the airport about 20 minutes after your flight arrives and transports you to Vaitape village, one of the main villages on the island. We used this on the return trip to the airport and it was easy. Arrive to Vaitape about 1.5 hours ahead of your flight and there is a luggage trolley to place your bags, the cost is free, and it will take about 30 minutes to the airport.
We stayed at the Sofitel Bora Bora which offers both a mainland option and a private island option. We lucked out a bit here as we booked the mainland option in an overwater bungalow. However, the mainland resort was under construction during our stay and they moved us out of our overwater bungalow. We got ourselves an upgrade to the Sofitel Private Island so we could still have that iconic bungalow. They have a private boat transfer from the airport (at a cost) and as we arrived in Bora Bora on my birthday, we splurged and arrived to the resort in high style! The bungalow here was incredible with a huge bed on which they’d written Happy Birthday in flowers, a glass window in the floor to view the fish swimming below, and a large deck and swim platform. Their private island included the use of kayaks, a gorgeous deck to watch the sunset, and a free shuttle to the mainland. Take your kayak around their island and when you are about 180 degrees from the resort, get snorkeling…there is a hidden underwater message made of coral that says “I LOVE BORA BORA” that makes for quite the underwater photo. Their restaurant on the island was delicious but, as with most resort dining, pricey. Cocktails run about 20 USD each and meals around 30-50 USD. However, an ample breakfast buffet was included.
While it is easy to stay in your gorgeous resort for your ENTIRE stay, get out and explore Bora Bora! We rented this adorable tiny car called a Twizzy which essentially felt like a go-cart (see pics) but got us around. If you’re feeling peckish, there are multiple “snack” stands on the beach offering basic Polynesian fare and sandwiches, salads, fries. We ate at Snack Matira on Matira Beach, a large white sand public beach with a beautiful turquoise lagoon. A must do is the obligatory visit to legendary Bloody Mary’s where scores of celebrities have eaten and their names are written on a large wooden board outside of the door. Here you’ll find casual tables atop a sand floor and roaming roosters throughout the restaurant. I’d advise going for lunch as it gets packed at dinner time. Finally, we did a one day swimming with sharks tour which I’d highly recommend. We used Shark Boy Bora Bora which was a half day tour of sharks and stingrays. They picked us up at the hotel and we had a small group that went just outside of the lagoon to swim with black tipped reef sharks (and one very large lemon shark and a moray eel!). On our way back, we stopped to feed the stingrays. The guides were super personable and everyone aboard had a great time…don’t forget lots of sunscreen and your waterproof camera!
Our final island stop was the flower shaped island of Tahaa where breezes carry the sweet vanilla aroma down from numerous vanilla farms that dot the island. We boarded a nighttime flight to Tahaa and arrived around 7 pm. This island was our honeymoon finale and our splurge luxury accomodation. Here we stayed at the impeccable Le Taha’a Private Island Resort and Spa which costs about 700 USD per night. This was definitely way above our usual travel budget but we wanted that final overwater bungalow honeymoon experience. Here though, I will add that I initially booked this many months ahead of time on Orbitz at the 700 rate but I always try to book refundable rates and as the date approaches recheck. I lucked out as about 2 weeks before, the rate reduced to around 500 or so per night so I cancelled my initial reservation and rebooked saving hundreds. I love Orbitz!
The service at this Relais and Chateaux hotel was excellent. From the moment our bags hit the luggage carousel, a representative from the hotel had them in hand and whisked them and us to a spectacular teak boat that would transport us to the resort located on it’s own private motu. The boat ride is about 45 minutes and if we could, we’d have chosen an earlier flight from Bora Bora to make this trip in the daylight; however, the arrival was no less impressive with a cavernous open air lobby and fragrant flower crowns for our heads. The room was nothing short of incredible…a huge bed in the middle of a very spacious room adorned with a bed of flowers fashioned into a heart shape greeted us. There was also a glass topped chest at the foot of the bed that could be opened to view the fish. A huge soaking tub (with another small fish window) and large polynesian wooden doors separated the bathroom from the main room. A huge floor to ceiling glass slider gave us a dream worthy view of the turquoise waters surrounding the motu and a giant private deck with lounge chair completed the very impressive bungalow. You could also walk down the wooden steps from your deck directly into the water for a quick dip to cool off. I think this was the MOST spectacular room in which we have stayed.
The rest of the resort packed no less of a punch. There is a large infinity pool with a pool bar, named Le Place, and two other on side restaurants, Le Vanille, the main restaurant which feels like you’re eating in a treehouse, and Ohiri, a reservations only dining space. Similar to other Tahiti resorts, the food here is very costly, heavily seafood based and cocktails cost about 20 USD. We did dine here a few times and it was very delicious; however, we much preferred room service where they would set up more basic fare (club sandwiches, burgers, pastas) on your private deck and the setup was pretty grand. The final tip is that you can take their free shuttle to the mainland and there is a basic pizza place, Ma’a Viti Pizza, located there to grab a quick bite.
It is really the only place near the resort to dine that you can get to from the resort’s private motu and the food is inexpensive and it is a nice contrast from the pricey resort options. Of note, the resort frowns up bringing this back to their motu, so you can either eat it there or you’ll have to smuggle it in!
Mostly we relaxed at the resort and enjoyed their Coral Garden teeming with thousands of fish located just steps from the bungalow located in the channel between the resort and the neighboring motu. It was really simple to don your suit and snorkel gear and hop in numerous times a day. Tip: Walk all the way up the garden to the very end were the current enters and then you can just float through the coral garden with the current and feel completely weightless while you watch beautiful fish pass by. Here we also saw an octopus and a lion fish! They also supply kayaks and paddleboards for free so you can get out and explore the crystal clear waters and watch rays pass under your board.
We did one full day tour while in Tahaa which was quite a packed day including a tour to a rum distillery, a stop at Iaorana Pearl Farm, a vanilla farm, and a ride out to swim again with black tipped reef sharks. It was the utmost in convenience with a pick up and drop off right at Le Taha’a’s dock and a midday stop at a private motu for a Polynesian lunch. We did actually book this tour directly from the hotel, which we rarely do, as it was convenient to get the dockside pickup.
We ended our honeymoon at Le Taha’a watching the sunsets on the western part of the motu which overlooks Bora Bora…not a bad way to end a honeymoon.
Le Tahaa was our major splurge this trip. We NEVER spend this much per night on an accommodation, but Le Taha’a is glamorous. While costly, it still is a bargain compared to splurging on an overwater bungalow on say Bora Bora which can easily cost $1K per night or more. My advice would be to pick a place to splurge for just a few nights and use less expensive options like an airbnb on the other days.
There is no better place in the world to purchase vanilla than on Tahaa…the Vanilla Island. Tahaa produces 80% of French Polynesia’s vanilla and a visit to a farm is an educational experience to learn this labor intensive process. We visited La Vallee de la Vanille which gave us an overview of the process and we purchased some vanilla to take home. Decadently fragrant and worth the cost!
- Take advantage of duty free liquor while at the airport. Liquor and cocktails are pricey in Tahiti and you can take 2 bottles of liquor AND 2 bottles of wine/champagne per person and they don’t count toward you luggage weight!
- Consider the Air Tahiti multi island pass if you plan on visiting more than one island. It can result in substantial savings.
- You’ll need more sunscreen than you think! and it is pricey out in Tahiti so make sure you pack enough for your stay.
- For those with longer hair, consider a spray detangler for your hair. I find this to be essential for snorkeling. It helps to smooth hair that may have been snagged by a snorkel mask or seaweed.
- You really need a waterproof camera for this trip – the wildlife is all under the water and you’ll want to capture the proof that you had a shark weaving it’s way toward you.
- One of the major costs of your Tahitian adventure is dining. Try to get off the resort if you can and you’ll find local food much more reasonable. Or, even better, use an airbnb for some of your stay and you can do some cooking. Eat like the French with baguettes and cheese and you’ll save quite a bit.
- Do spurge for the overwater bungalow for the quintessential experience but you won’t need it for every night of your stay…switch things up and use it for only part of your journey.