Journalist Christine Germyn shares her experience aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin sailing the 7-night Tahiti & the Society Islands itinerary.
Taste of Tahiti & Society Islands On Board the Luxurious m/s Paul Gauguin
Eight hours by plane from Los Angeles exists the tiny archipelago of French Polynesia otherwise known as the Society Islands. Located approximately 2,700 miles southeast of Hawaii this isolated paradise possess an abundance of activities for travelers ranging from hikes and water sports for the physically demanding to simply appreciating the splendid scenery that the islands offer for those more sedentary. The best, most enjoyable and memorable way to experience the often visited Society Islands of Tahiti, Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora, and Moorea is by taking Paul Gauguin Cruises.
Operating on a year-round basis, Paul Gauguin Cruises is the only luxurious cruise line plying the waters of French Polynesia. This boutique cruise line offers a unique unparalleled experience not found anywhere else in the cruise industry. With a 332 maximum passenger capacity and a crew to guest ratio 1 to 1.5 coupled with over 70% balconies, the m/s Paul Gauguin truly is a floating masterpiece worthy of such a name.
After arriving at 6 a.m. in Papeete, Tahiti at Faa’a International airport we walked down the staircase from the aircraft onto the tarmac which lead to a small open aired terminal where we were greeted by locals playing traditional French Polynesians music while clearing customs.
One of the impressive features about this cruise package from Paul Gauguin Cruises is their attention to detail and this couldn’t be expressed any better than being provided with a day room at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort to rest and freshen up.
Arriving at the cruise terminal we were welcomed with live Polynesian entertainment courtesy of the ship’s Les Gauguin’s and Les Gauguine’s entertainment troupe. Our host then escorted us to the ship entrance leading to the Grand Salon where we were welcomed with a glass of champagne followed by checking in.
I received a warm welcome from Apryl, my cabin attendant who showed me to my stateroom. I must say it was a perfect size featuring lots of closet space, a couch, a desk, an ample size bathroom complimented with bath products from L’Occitane. I also enjoyed the tropical flower arrangement accompanied with a fresh fruit basket, box of Godiva chocolates and a bottle of champagne. This was a gift for me and is available for purchase from the Bon Voyage gift list. What a perfect gesture to celebrate sailing Tahiti & the Society Islands on the luxurious m/s Paul Gauguin.
Located down the hall from my stateroom is a fitness room and a Deep Nature Spa by Algotherm. On deck 8 is a quaint pool bar which serves an assortment of refreshing beverages and the La Palette lounge which served cocktails, delicious fresh juices prepared in the morning accompanied with a continental breakfast.
Dining on the m/s Paul Gauguin is truly fine dining at its best. The three dining venues, La Veranda located on deck 6, L’Etoile located on deck 5 and Le Grill located on deck 8 each provide a unique dining experience. Reservations are recommended.
La Veranda is a dining must! This 134 seat restaurant boasts the finest French dining on the high seas compliments of Chef Jean-Pierre Vigato. La Veranda's floor-to-ceiling windows, indoor and al fresco seating and refined atmosphere make it the perfect place to enjoy a buffet breakfast and lunch often featuring international themes. À la carte menus are also available. In the evening, La Veranda is transformed into an elegant, reservation-only dining venue featuring gourmet creations by Chef Vigato who is owner and Chef Propriétaire of one of the finest restaurants in Paris, the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Apicius.
I experienced Chef Vigato’s gastronomic delights by appeasing my palate with a delicate crab cake served with chillie garlic aioli, frisée herb salad and smoked paprika. This was complimented by a grilled yellow fish with roasted garlic mashed potato, onion compote, a green bean wrapped in bacon and dosed with champagne and chervil beurre blanc. Dessert was a creamy Tahitian vanilla crème brûlèe.
For my dining at L’Etoile, I ordered Shrimp Escabeche marinated with plump, juicy, shrimp with saffron carrots, onion and coriander complimented with a chilled local papaya and ginger soup. From the Specialties choices, I ordered the grilled moonfish fillet, wow! The flavour was in-between a salmon and tuna and the sauce was a hit consisting of rosemary onion, sautéed potatoes garnished with marinated arugula salad.
Le Grill offers an array of choices. I started with a crisp Chop Chop Salad served with a melody of veggies diced and tossed on a bed of romaine salad, grilled chicken and goat cheese all laced with tarragon vinaigrette.
The first stopover is the island of Raiatea which means “bright sky.” Somewhat smaller than Tahiti, Raiatea is the second largest of the Society Islands in French Polynesia. Being the largest of the Leeward Islands, Raiatea lies within the same barrier reef as the island of Taha’a, a 20 minute boat ride away. These two islands, both enclosed by the same coral reef, may once have been a single island.
In the early afternoon we rendezvoused at the Grand Salon prior to boarding the ship’s tender for a snorkel and black pearl farm tour to Taha’a. This pre-tour of Taha’a provided by our tour guide was via outrigger canoe which allowed for a truly scenic ride to the farm.
The process of the pearl making was very interesting and the guide very informative. The idea that a grain of sand, once lodged into an oyster, and repeatedly layered over a number of years with the natural excretion nakar would produce such a tapestry of color is simply nature’s beauty at its best. Pearls take approximately 5 years to become commercially viable upon which time they are graded for sale.
Departing the pearl farm we headed to a shallow lagoon for the snorkeling part of the tour. There's water, water everywhere and some of the islands' best views lie beneath its shimmering surface so slip on your snorkel mask and fins and float in warm clear aqua water above a kaleidoscope of nature. Witness the checkerboard wrasse or the lemonpeel angle fish’s dart playfully in and out of sight as you slowly drift.
After snorkeling, we arrived back to the ship just in time for afternoon tea located at Le Grill. Each day, there is an assortment of tea, sweet treats, fruits, ice-cream and some hot foods offered in mid-afternoon.
If you happen to miss afternoon tea you can utilize the complimentary 24-hour room service. Or for special VIP’s they are adorned with daily canapés while staying in staterooms category B and higher.
The ship has a variety of live entertainment featuring a piano bar, La Palette lounge, and the Grand Salon which offers French Polynesia entertainment and comedy shows.
The second stopover is Taha`a. It is often called the “Vanilla Island" for its numerous plantations of “black gold” as vanilla is otherwise known as. Watersports are a definite highlight in French Polynesia and one would be remiss if they missed out on participating. One of the many unique features to the m/s Paul Gauguin's naval architecture is the small footprint it possesses allowing it to take full advantage and navigate the shallow waters which other ships don`t dare to ply. The retracting onboard watersports marina brings you down to sea level, where you can hop aboard a windsurfer, paddle board, a kayak or zodiac.
Yes, a well-equipped marina, for watersports...what fun. Scuba diving is also popular and you can take onboard scuba lessons as the m/s Paul Gauguin is the only luxury ship in French Polynesia to offer PADI Certification on board for novice divers.
It`s time to explore the Motu Mahana off the coast of Taha’a which is a private island exclusively for m/s Paul Gauguin guests to enjoy. Spend the afternoon swimming followed by a delicious barbeque lunch prepared by the crew members. Guests take the tender back and forth from Motu Mahana.
The third stopover of Bora Bora which is known as “a little jewel of an island” is set within a wide barrier reef through which there is only one pass known as Te Ava Nui. Like other Leeward Islands, Bora Bora is the eroded cone of an extinct and extensive volcano. The eastern part of the island is dominated by the spectacular basaltic mountain named, Otemanu, meaning “sea of birds” while the isles of Toopua and Toopua-iti are the remnants of the western rim. The ancient Polynesians called this island Porapora or first born believing that it was the first island to rise after Havaì (Raiatea).
As the ship is docked for two days in Bora Bora, you can make reservations to stay overnight at either the four-star InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort or at the five-star InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.
The five-star, InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa has a chic appeal as weddings are very popular; also on property, there is a beautiful wedding chapel viewing Mt. Otemanu. Inside this charming chapel there are views of Otemanu and the reef, which is directly underfoot. The over-water bungalows are luxurious inside and offer an outstanding view of Mt. Otemanu.
We had the opportunity to experience an overnight stay at the InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort. Upon arrival, we were met by our gracious host who showed us to our assigned beach bungalows. The layout of the property was so inviting; I fell in love with my adorable beach bungalow. I could open my sliding door and step down from the deck directly onto the soft white sand which leads to sparkling pristine water for a delightful plunge…ah, this is paradise!
Following an afternoon of relaxation, we had a delicious dinner buffet accompanied by live entertainment.
After a restful sleep we met for breakfast and departed the resort by zodiac. Taking the zodiac on calm early-morning waters showcases the incredible backdrop of Bora Bora’s breathtaking views. I can see why Bora Bora is a world-wide wedding destination.
Arriving back at the m/s Paul Gauguin, I prepared my beach bag and met the tender for a short ride to the Bora Bora Motu. This motu is a strip of isolated white sand, shading palm trees and spectacular clear turquoise waters. What a gorgeous setting, highlighting Bora Bora on a higher note.
The last port of call is Moorea (moe oh-ray-ah). Moorea is a rugged mountainous island, roughly triangular in shape, measuring approximately 51 sq. miles offering a lush natural surrounding with high mountain peaks which can be seen from Tahiti.
To have the opportunity to swim with manta rays and blacktip reef sharks is truly a unique experience. The shallow waters and lagoons surrounding Moorea offer an excellent chance to experience such an occasion.
Approaching the lagoon near the island’s outer reef our guide shut off the motor and as we drifted silently into the waist high water we could see manta rays and blacktip reef sharks slowly starting to surround the zodiac. After perhaps a few minutes we were in the company of over a dozen rays and sharks loitering about. As our guide plunged into the water assuring us it was safe, he said “keep close to the manta rays as they intimidate the sharks.” Who knew? Rays can actually be quite entertaining!
In the early evening, we boarded the zodiac to view an unbelievable sunset exhibiting shades of bright pink with a hue of magnificent orange. As the remnants of the setting sun slowly melted away we were left with a patchwork of stars dotting the inky black sky.
Returning to the ship, the marina’s platform was prepared elegantly with a table setting for five. This was more than a surprise as we were about to have dinner under the stars. This was a perfectly touching way for our last evening on the ship.
Departing the ship the next morning we took the tender to Moorea where we were taken to the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa. This resort has a natural setting featuring a dolphin centre, turtle sanctuary, and an assortment of birds.
Here, I was appointed an overwater bungalow, where I had access for a swim from my deck. The resort offers: kayaking, snorkeling, a swimming pool and an enclosed lagoon along with a natural spa featuring island made ingredients for spa services.
The following day, departing the resort we took the 30-minute ferry ride back to Papeete harbour and proceeded to the InterContinental Tahiti Resort to relax prior to the long flight back home. In one week, I had the opportunity to experience Tahiti & the Society Islands. This outstanding trip was a remarkable one indeed. I look forward to my next voyage.
What to bring:
Evening dining: ladies & gentlemen smart dress
What to expect:
Tropical weather as it can be very humid and hot (depending on the time of travel)
Overnight stay at resorts in Bora Bora or Moorea
PADI certification and scuba diving
Airline flights between Papeete, Tahiti and Los Angeles, California
Spacious, ocean view accommodations
All shipboard meals, in your choice of venues (open seating dining)
Complimentary room service
Complimentary beverages, including select wines and spirits, drinks, bottled water, and hot beverages served throughout the ship
Refrigerator replenished daily with soft drinks, beer, and bottled water
All shipboard entertainment
All onboard gratuities included for room stewards and dining staff
Watersports including complimentary kayaking, windsurfing, and paddle boarding