French Polynesia – Society Islands

Since it has been two years since I have taken a Windstar cruise, Ginni and I decided to take the cruise of the French Polynesia Society Islands on the Wind Spirit.

January 26: I was up super early this morning in order to be ready for the shuttle pick up at 4:45 a.m. Snowed had come down the night before on top of ice so it was very slow going to the airport. With having to de-ice and the airport of Cedar Rapids only having one truck for that purpose, I arrived in Minneapolis with just enough time to get to gate and board the plane heading to LAX. Because of de-icing and a medical emergency which required our going back to the departure gate, we arrived at LAX about 35 minutes late. My friend from college, Ann, lives in Los Angeles and she picked me, along with my luggage, up. It was a great afternoon with lunch at a Mexican restaurant, driving by Ann’s place of employment, viewing her residence and having coffee, going to the beach and walking.

Ann at the beach

Ann at the beach

Ann had a doctor’s appointment and I killed time at the mall across the street. We then picked Ginni, who had arrived an hour earlier, up at the airport and went to dinner at Second City Bistro. Ann dropped us back at the airport, we checked our bags, and went to the Air Tahiti first class lounge for a few glasses of wine. Boarding the plane went quite smooth; the plane was Airbus 340-300 and seemed huge! Once in the air, we had a nightcap and settled down to sleep; leaving at 11:30 p.m. LAX time guaranteed we were both quite tired.

January 27: Woke up to the airline personnel preparing our breakfast. After eating, we only had an hour before landing at around 5:30 a.m. local time. The landing was smooth; we retrieved our luggage, passed through Customs, and grabbed a taxi for our hotel, Le Meridien. Our room was not ready so explored the grounds and was able to get into our room around 9:30 local time. By the time, both of us were wilting so we took a nap. After showering and getting into clean clothes, we had lunch at one of the hotel’s restaurants. The afternoon was spent relaxing with our walking to a local supermarket for some wine later in the day. We went to happy hour in the bar and ate at the other hotel restaurant; both of us had lamb kabobs and the food was delicious. Back to our room for a nightcap and bed.

Front of LeMeridien

Front of LeMeridien

Swimming pool and ocean beyond

Swimming pool and ocean beyond

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

January 28: A tour of Tahiti was scheduled so we ate breakfast and waited for the tour operator to arrive. It turns out that operator who was scheduled for our tour did not show up so another operator stepped; since she was excellent, it turned out lucky for us. We drove all the way around the island and was given much history; among all the 118 society islands, there are 300K people with 185K residing on Tahiti alone. Highlights of the tour included viewing black sand beaches, Point Venus, looking at Arahōhō Blowhoe, and walking to three grottos.  During one walk, we came across a family building their own house; it is made out of the palm tree with branches used for the roof, takes approximately 3 full days to build, and lasts about 5 years.

Ginni and I at scenic overlook

Ginni and I at scenic overlook

Scenic overlook

Scenic overlook

Black sand at Point Venus

Black sand at Point Venus

Arahōhō Blowhoe

Arahōhō Blowhoe

One of many waterfalls

One of many waterfalls

Constructing house

Constructing house

Grotto

Grotto

After the tour, we had lunch at the pool restaurant and then walked to a nearby supermarket to purchase wine to take on our cruise. That evening we listened to a couple performing at the pool bar while watching the sunset. After dinner, back to our room for a glass of wine before going to bed.

January 29: This was the boarding day for the Wind Spirit, a 148 passenger sailing vessel; here is the link  Wind Spirit.  Both of us were looking forward to leaving Tahiti and getting the cruise underway. After breakfast, we finalized our packing and left our bags outside our room for pick up by the bell crew. Checked out of the hotel and waited in the lobby for Windstar folks to appear.

Waiting for transportation

Waiting for transportation

Boarded the transport to the pier at 1:00 and was in our cabin by 2:00. Our luggage had not arrived so we went to lunch where we were joined by two other gals from Georgia and South Carolina. After eating, we explored the ship; even though we both had sailed on this ship before, it had been many years and re-design had occurred. That evening we joined two other couples for dinner; John and Mary from St. Louis and Gregg and Chris from Australia. A delightful evening; every Windstar cruise that I have been on, I’ve always experienced the other passengers being congenial and interesting to talk to! After dinner, everyone went their separate ways; Ginni and I went to the pool lounge for a nightcap while listening to a couple play the piano and sing. Their names were Tony and Dana with him from Australia and she Malaysia; they were fair, at best. Retired to bed around 10:30.

January 30: Since we had a tour scheduled at 8:00, we were up by 6:30. Both of us had a great night sleep; the ship had left Tahiti and arrived outside Moorea during the night. Moorea is known as one of the most beautiful of the Polynesian islands. The island is only 11 miles to the northwest of Tahiti and is about 83 square miles with the widest point being 10 miles wide. After having breakfast, we went to the main lounge to meet up with our fellow tourists for the island tour. Our tour guide was called Tom and very informative; great communicator with many detailed facts regarding the island, the environment, and nature.

Our guide, Tom

Our guide, Tom

The first recorded sighting of the island by a foreigner was in 1606 but it was not until the 1760s that the Europeans came. Among those was James Cook in 1769 who first settled the area now known as Cook’s Bay. Copra, the dried white meat of the coconut, and vanilla were once very important crops for Moorea but it is now the pineapple growing center of French Polynesia. We visited Belvedere Point which provided a beautiful view of Cook’s and Opunohu Bays; two symmetrical bays that give the island a very distinctive coastline on the map. We also saw sacred sites known as maras. As an added bonus, our guide stopped at the UC Berkeley’s Gump Research Station which is one of two on the island. This station makes the island as one of the most studied in the world.

Approaching Moorea

Approaching Moorea

Temple built 1887

Temple built 1887

Banana tree

Banana tree

Belvedere Point

Belvedere Point

One of many residents of the island

One of many residents of the island

Sacred sites called mara

Sacred sites called mara

Part of Gump Research Station

Part of Gump Research Station

Once the tour concluded, we went back to the ship for lunch. Spent the afternoon by the pool updating my notes and reading. Because of the late hour of leaving port the night before, there was no “sail away” gathering so, with a 6:00 p.m. departure time, we had one this evening. Everyone gathered by the pool and watched the sails being hoisted while listening to music; even though I have been on many Windstar cruises, this sight and sound is one that never fails to move me.

Sails opening up

Sails opening up

Leaving Moorea behind

Leaving Moorea behind

We had dinner with four other passengers; Chuck, Eloise, Ed, and Linda. I the fresh tuna caught that day; excellent! After dinner, we went back to our cabin where we got ready for bed and retired around 10:00.

January 31: Today we docked at Taha’a which is known as “The Vanilla Island” because it produces 70% to 80% of all French Polynesia’s vanilla and is of high quality. Current production of vanilla for all of French Polynesia is about 25 tons annually. There are around 6K people living on the island. We went on the “Scenic Exploration of Taha’s” which involved an off-road vehicle for a drive around the island. Our guide talked about the traditional use of local plants and trees. We were given a tour of how vanilla is produced while visiting a family plantation. Another stop was a black pearl farm where we learned how these treasures are cultivated and harvested.

Ready to board our "Le Truck" bus

Ready to board our “Le Truck” bus

Island scene

Island scene

Guide serving fresh fruit

Guide serving fresh fruit

Vanilla plantation

Vanilla plantation

Coconuts being stored; common in many homes

Coconuts being stored; common in many homes

Black pearl farm

Black pearl farm

Making plate out of leaves

Making plate out of leaves

We were to have a BBQ on a motu but, because it rained most of the morning, it was moved to the ship. After a delicious lunch, we went to the pool area for reading and checking emails. At 3:30 we headed to the area where a wine tasting was being held; there were 4 of us participating and we tasted 5 different wines; a rose, sauvignon blanc, burgundy, cabernet/merlot combination, and zinfandel with the zinfandel being the favorite at $70/bottle. Our tasting buddies were Gerald and Mary Sean.

Wine tasters

Wine tasters

Waiter joining the tasting

Waiter joining the tasting

We got ready for dinner and went to the lounge for the talk about tomorrow’s activities by the tour director. Dinner was ate in the main dining room with the company of Eloise, Chuck, Ginni, and Linda. After dinner, we went to the lounge for a nightcap and played music trivia; our group got the lowest score but it was still fun. Then off to bed around 10:30 or so.

February 1: Woke up docked at Uturoa, a town on the island Raiatea; the island is considered the administrative center for the Leeward Islands of the Society Islands. It is 65 square miles making it the second largest of the Society Islands and is considered the second most important economic center of the islands. After breakfast, we met in the lounge to meet other passengers who were going on the tour “Raiatea, the Sacred Island”. Our 78-year old tour guide entertained us with tales of life on Raiatea along with stories that told the listener what his life is like; no job or money because land inherited from his ancestors provide all the food and needs necessary to live. He fathered his first child at age 14 and has 20 children with 4 different wives who live under the same roof. We went through the town, around the Bay of Faaroa, by the Fetuna Crater, and visited the Marae Taputapuatea which is Raiatea most famous landmark. The Marae is an open-air temple comprised of seven sacred sites built of stone and coral, and dedicated to Oro, the bloodthirsty God of war who demanded human sacrifices. Returned to the ship and had lunch.

Greeting by the locals and tour guide

Greeting by the locals and tour guide

Shells

Shells

Scenic view

Scenic view

Fetuna Crater

Fetuna Crater

Guide at marae

Guide at marae

In the afternoon, sat under the shade at the pool and read current news along with updating my notes. Around 4:00, a local group came on board and played music while dancing to the local traditions. The women showed how to make leis plus how to wrap the local Pareto for various styles of cover.

Local band

Local band

Dancing to local music

Dancing to local music

Showing how to make leis

Showing how to make leis

Waist lei

Waist lei

Learning a local dance

Learning a local dance

After the demonstration, Ginni and I went to our cabin to change for the evening. We listened in the lounge as to what the activities for the next day were going to be. We adjoined to the pool deck where the crew had sit up a BBQ; what a feast! Dinner was eaten with Réal, Diane, Ed, And Linda. After dinner, we were entertained by the crew who sang and danced; what a great time.

Tables of food at feast

Tables of food at feast

Pork anyone?

Pork anyone?

Crew entertaining us

Crew entertaining us

Around 10:00, we started to sail away and the parting music played while the sails unfurled.

Sails coming out

Sails coming out

Linda, Ginni, and I went to the main lounge where we had a nightcap before adjourning to our cabin for the evening.

February 2: Overnight we had sailed to Bora Bora so, upon waking, discovered we were anchored outside of the island. After getting dressed, we went to the Veranda for breakfast and then to the lounge where people were gathering for the “Island Discovery” tour. Bora Bora is 142 miles northwest of Tahiti. It is dominated by two peaks at the center of the island, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, which are remnants of an extinct volcano. In 1999, Tom and I came to this island (we stayed at the Le Meridian in an over-the-water bungalow on a motu outside Bora Bora) for our 25th wedding anniversary so this is a very special place for me. For the tour, we boarded an open-air truck with individual cushioned bucket seats. Our guide gave us some history of the Bora Borans, we saw how the Pareto is made, fed tupa crabs fresh flowers, tasted some local fruit, and saw relics left behind by the US military after World War II. Stopped at various scenic areas where we captured the changing colors of their famous lagoon, experienced the prettiest beach of the island at Matira Point, and got close up pictures of Mount Otemanu. Last stop was at the famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant where we were given a drink while we looked around and took pictures.

Local church

Local church

Left by US Military

Left by US Military

Coloring the pareto fabric

Local, using me as model, demonstrates how to tie pareto

Local, using me as model, demonstrates how to tie pareto

Tupa crabs and flowers

Tupa crabs and flowers

View of beautiful bay

View of beautiful bay

Beach and beautiful lagoon

Beach and beautiful lagoon

Inside Bloody Mary's

Inside Bloody Mary’s

Enjoying Bloody Mary

Enjoying Bloody Mary

Tender arrived at the pier and, once on board, we went to our cabin to unload things and then to the veranda for lunch. Updated notes, read latest news, and took a few spins around the deck before going to a lecture on black opals in the main lounge late afternoon. What a lengthy lecture; close to a couple hours! We quickly got ready for the evening and attended the “repeats” reception; a cocktail party honoring those who have been on earlier Windstar cruises. After the reception, we went to the lounge to listen about the next day’s activities. Ginni and I were invited to join the Hotel Manager at his table for dinner which we accepted; it was a very delightful meal with three other fellow passengers plus Henri, the manager. We adjoined to the lounge and were joined by John, Patricia, Linda, and Ed; another evening of music trivia in which we did get a decent score but we did not win. After the game was over, we went to our cabin and bed.

February 3: We had no plans this morning so slept in and had a late breakfast. And then into the town for shopping; Ginni found a beautiful black pearl necklace while I found nothing. After lunch, we spent the afternoon under the shade by the pool reading and relaxing. A private event called Bora Bora: Celbration Festival was in the evening. We took a catamaran to a private island owned by Hilton where the dining room and bar staff had sit up tables of food plus a bar. We were greeted by Amanda, reception manager, and Henri, hotel manager, with fresh leis.

Our transport to motu

Our transport to motu

Greetings from Amanda and Henri

Greetings from Amanda and Henri

Getting into the spirit of the celebration

Getting into the spirit of the celebration

After taking some pictures, we got some wine and settled at our table with Linda, Patricia, and John. Food was gotten based on table number so the lines flowed quite smoothly. After dinner, we were entertained by a local group of dancers and flame throwers; added to the mix was a beautiful sunset. What a delightful evening! We were taken back to the ship and sailed away at 9:00.

Tables of food

Tables of food

Fresh tuna

Fresh tuna

Dining staff

Dining staff

Lovely sunset

Lovely sunset

Local dancers

Local dancers

Flame throwers

Flame throwers

Another sail away

Another sail away

We had a nightcap and retired to our cabin to prepare for an early rise up in the morning.

February 4: During the night we sailed to Huahine where I took the Safari Expedition tour. This island is 29 square miles and only 8 miles at its widest point. It is made up of Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti which are joined at low tide by a sandbar. Our guide drove us around the island stopping at vanilla house, took an outrigger to a pearl and pottery farm, drove a sand path to the beach that had large waves due to the reef along, viewed open-air stone temples, got close to the island’s only waterfall which flows only 6 months out of the year, and crossed the bridge which links the Nui and Iti. I was really impressed with this island’s pristine appearance; they value their environment and there are severe penalties for those not abiding to the environmental laws.

Maraes

Maraes

Along the beach

Along the beach

Roaring waves

Roaring waves

Above ground maraes

Above ground maraes

Huahine Pearl Farm and Pottery

Huahine Pearl Farm and Pottery

Blue-eyed eel

Blue-eyed eel

View of colorful bay

View of colorful bay

The only waterfall

The only waterfall

We returned to the town center and walked to a shop where local items are made and sold. After searching at every cruise stop, I finally found a cute outfit for my granddaughter. The afternoon was spent reading and packing our luggage in preparation to disembark in the morning. We were heading back to Papeete that evening so we attended the sail away party by the pool bar at 5:30; Réal, Diane, Linda, Ed, Patricia, and John sat with us. After the sails were unfurled, we adjourned to the lounge people and a farewell speech from the captain and the rest of the crew who sang a farewell song to us. We walked to the dining room for dinner with everyone in our group except Patricia and John who were going to another restaurant on the ship. Back to the cabin after eating; we packed last minute items and set our luggage, except for carry on, outside the door for pick up during the night.

February 5: We were part of the group going to the Le Meridien so our departure was scheduled at 8:30 which gave us time for breakfast and one last farewell to the dining crew. There was a bus at the dock were luggage and people were loaded for the trip to the hotel. Arrived at the hotel and quite a check in experience; first room had been assigned to another person in which we were given keys, second Ron had a king bed where we needed two separate beds, and the third one was an upgrade to the 6th floor…it was fine except the air conditioning was not working properly but got fixed later in the evening. After settling into the room, we got a taxi to take us to the city center and the famous Papeete market. What a mass of people and “cheap” items; if a person wanted fresh fruit, vegetables, or flowers the market would be the perfect place for shopping but that was not what I was looking. We did find a couple shops that had items created by local people so I make some purchases. And then we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel; both of us were relieved to get out of the crowded, noisy downtown area. Lunch was along the ocean at the hotel restaurant. After lunch, we retired to our room where I read and Ginni took a nap. Then I took a shower and changed evening attire. Dinner was at the same restaurant as lunch but with very slow, stuck up staff; it took over two hours to bring us our entrée of mahi mahi. Needless to say, I did not leave a tip which is quite unusual for me but I could reward rude, slow staff. Back to the room and preparation for bed.

Papeete market

Papeete market

View of landscape and pool from room

View of landscape and pool from room

Another great sunset

Another great sunset

February 6: Upon waking, I dressed and updated my notes. Ginni woke up and, after she took a shower, we went downstairs for breakfast. On the way, we stopped at the front desk to check with Aimata (wonderful reception clerk) who ordered us a taxi for our departure to the airport that evening and agreed to put us in for a late check out of 8:00 P.M. It was a beautiful day so both of us decided to go swimming; we started in the ocean and then moved the hotel pool which had a sand bottom. Since it was sunny and warm, the water felt very refreshing.

To the beach

To the beach

Can't believe I am in a swimsuit!

Can’t believe I am in a swimsuit!

Lunch was at the pool bar; the afternoon was spent reading, typing up notes, and relaxing. We checked out of the hotel around 7:30; our taxi arrived and took us to the airport where we checked in without any problems and adjourned to the first class lounge. Our flight was announced about 11:00 P.M.; we boarded, settled into our seats, and had little an hour before we departed. Since it was so late, I turned my seat into a bed and settled down for a good night’s rest. We were awoken at 6:30 to the sound of breakfast being prepared. Flight arrived in LAX at around 9:30 a.m.; I got through Customs and was on my way to the Delta ticket counter by 10:00 in hopes of being able to catch an earlier flight. But it did not work out so I killed about 2 hours before boarding the plane to Minneapolis. Arrived in Minneapolis and had close to 4 hours to kill before my flight departed to Cedar Rapids. Went to the gate area and watched the Super Bowl on my iPad. Got into Cedar Rapids around 10:30, retrieved my luggage, and got the shuttle for home.

Home again

Home again

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