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A Life Exotic

By Patti Dickey | May 14, 2015 | Articles

Whether jetting off for a fun girls’ weekend or a relaxing getaway with your beloved, the sultry South Pacific promises everything needed for a one-of-a-kind, magical escape. Get swept away on this idyllic three-island hop—starting your voyage on the picturesque island of Tahiti.

Manava Suite Resort Tahiti
After a thoroughly relaxing and delightful flight on Air Tahiti Nui (their staff is among the best in terms of service and genuine friendliness), we land on the island of Tahiti around midnight. We know we’re in the South Pacific when that first wave of balmy air greets us! Quickly, we are swept through customs and onto a shuttle taking us to our four-star overnight accommodation, Manava Suite Resort Tahiti, located just minutes from Fa’a’ā International Airport (located in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia). We are checked in swiftly and off to our Lagoon Suite, which is spacious, sporting a comfy king-size bed and a kitchenette (too bad we won’t be here long enough to take advantage of it!). The Garden Suites also boast this amenity. Our view of the infinity pool and the outline of the island of Moorea in the distance (a foreshadow of treats to come) make this the perfect stop to stretch out and decompress after a long flight. An all too brief yet comfortable night is followed by a buffet breakfast in the Vaitohi restaurant—a pleasant introduction to our upcoming island life! The staff’s warm and friendly service is a welcome touch. Hopping back on a shuttle, we bid a fond adieu to Manava Suite Resort Tahiti and are whisked away to Fa’a’ā International Airport once again to begin our adventure! Rates starting from $185, Lagoon Suite rate from $275

Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort
Next stop: Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort. Meaning “peaceful landing,” this pink-sand gem shines amid clear, stunning turquoise water. Following a ferry transfer across sparkling seas from the airport to the quay, my travel companion and I watch with delightful anticipation as this enchanted resort comes into view. We glide past a row of Overwater Bungalows to the dock, where we are warmly greeted by cool towels and refreshing pineapple juice. After a quick check-in, we’re swept away to our own romantic island abode built on stilts above the water. Spacious and airy, this bungalow (and all other overwater accommodations) boasts its own private deck with direct, private access to the lagoon below. Guests can take in the view of the abundant, beautiful sea life that swims by underneath their private quarters through a square of thick glass set into the floor, topped by a glass table.

Limited cell service turns out to be a plus in our effort to just kick back, relax and disconnect from the real world. Exploring the resort unveils more treasures: Bungalows that aren’t of the overwater variety are nicely nestled on the island with direct access to the beach. Also on offer resortwide is snorkeling gear, of which we quickly make use, wading into incredibly glassy seas that provide an unclouded glimpse of the plentiful surplus of colorful sea life. Thankfully, I’ve wisely heeded advice to bring along sunscreen with a high SPF, as the rays here are as intense as the views are vibrant. Obviously, dress is casual-chic at the beach, but that continues throughout the resort, allowing for a truly relaxed island experience.

Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort has a low-key vibe, with staff taking rightful pride in delivering an excellent yet discreet level of service. This is immediately evident during what is a wonderful treat for early risers: a private breakfast on the beach. For this, a table is set up in shallow water, and breakfast is accompanied by schools of small fish swimming around my feet, devouring the occasional scrap thrown their way. Following this unique and delicious wake-up call, an absolute must is a trip to Bird Island, a beautiful avian sanctuary just a quick boat ride across the lagoon. The all-day picnic excursion is another must: Think an exhilarating quick cruise to a remote island with its own private lagoon. There, prepare to devour a sumptuous feast that, with any luck, will look a little like ours did: freshly prepared fish, char-grilled chicken, coconut rice and fresh fruit, all accompanied by deliciously chilled wine and Champagne. … Robinson Crusoe never had it so good!

Satiated and relaxed, we contemplate our next move on a slower, more leisurely boat ride back. I debate between a massage at the Manea Spa or a nap in one of the comfy hammocks on the beach. I opt for the massage, but the hammock sure does look good! The spa choice works wonders though: As with all Pearl Resorts, the services are world-class, and the massages are superb—a perfect way to top off a wonderful stay. Rates starting from $500, premium overwater rate from $765, beach villa rate from $850

Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa
It’s with some reluctance that we eventually depart Tikehau, but our next stop is the Pearl Resorts’ outpost on Moorea, the magical island of French Polynesia. Retracing our steps back to Tahiti, we board an ultramodern ferry (a walk upstairs to the outdoor deck proves more than worth it, with unobstructed views and intoxicating breezy salt air), which, in a mere 30 minutes, delivers us to Moorea. This island also sports its own airport for true high-fliers who prefer to take a quick 15-minute flight. Approaching Moorea, I’m struck by the size of the proud mountains rising from the depths of the sea. Home to two magnificent bays, Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay, the island is a study in blue waters and lush, green foliage.

It’s also home to the Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa. The beauty of this property is revealed as you stroll through an exquisite pavilion located just minutes from the ferry landing that opens to an arresting ocean view. The feel here is a bit more sophisticated than at Tikehau, but the staff exudes the same friendliness and warmth. The dress is casual on the beach and around the island, and a bit dressier at dinner.

Our Overwater Bungalow, one of only 28 on the property, issues its own gracious welcome. Guests can expect beautifully furnished surrounds with an outside terrace that—no surprise at this point—offers direct lagoon access, along with comfy loungers and the lure of a beautifully dressed king-size bed adorned with welcoming flowers. Similar to Tikehau, this bungalow also features glass in the floor, covered by a glass-topped coffee table. The sudden return of reliable cell service is seen as a mixed blessing.

Along with the resort’s eight beach bungalows come 28 garden counterparts with private pools, plus 22 single guest rooms and eight duplexes overlooking the gardens at the front of the property. The view of the resort’s infinity pool melting into the beach is impressive, and the bar, which overlooks the pool, beckons us to linger and watch kayakers and snorkelers exploring the lagoon—all equipment courtesy of the resort. Not far from our bungalow is a coral reef just begging to be discovered.

Breakfast is delivered by canoe to our bungalow; it’s a delightfully original way to start a day of new experiences and excursions, which for us includes a 4x4 tour of the island. This particular thrill ride includes a hairpin, hair-raising trip up a mountain that culminates in a hike to its uppermost crest, ultimately resulting in a bird’s-eye view of Cook’s Bay and surrounding environs. Absolutely breathtaking, the water is so blue it hardly seems real! After a white-knuckle trip back down the mountain, we stop by the spectacular Botanical Garden, feed the resident hound and then head back to the resort. The promise of a private candlelit dinner on the beach awaits. To prepare, we unwind and sample the delights offered by the Manea Spa. The Tahitians call massages taurumi, and the taurumi experience here is not to be missed. Prepare to be pampered from head to toe—literally. In addition to various full-body massages, featuring 100-percent natural products crafted from the island’s plants and flowers, the spa also features a massage that concentrates on your scalp and the soles of your feet (heavenly!). The Manea Spa signature massage, Rumiavai, is a unique experience delivered in a dedicated spa pool. Your floating body is massaged and stretched in a way no land-based massage ever could, leaving you refreshed and free of all tension. Of course, the relaxing hibiscus flower bath in the Jacuzzi with a bottle of Champagne could very well run a close second to that treatment!

Totally refreshed, we stroll out to enjoy our softly lit beach dinner in celebration of our last night on the island. Prepared by chef Pascal Bionaz at the resort’s gourmet restaurant, Le Matiehani, the meal is a magical pairing of food and wine, wonderfully enhanced by the beach setting. The Mahana’i Restaurant, the resort’s other venue, offers a more casual vibe, featuring buffet breakfasts and a Polynesian-themed evening each Saturday, complete with a show. We spend one last comfortable night in our bungalow, where gentle waves lull us to sleep. Rates starting from $300, premium overwater rate from $625, premium beach rate from $500

Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa
Now, we’re off to our next stop on this grand adventure: the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa. Known as the Pearl of the South Pacific, Bora Bora is the ultimate Polynesian destination—in fact, it’s nearly mythic in legend, and “created by the gods” is the meaning behind its ancestral name. We take off from Fa’a’ā International Airport and arrive at Bora Bora, located 165 miles northwest of Tahiti, making the last part of the trek in the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa water taxi. A quick trip across the lagoon reveals the resort in a series of Overwater Bungalows. Once docked, we see inviting public spaces and bold Polynesian architecture that beckon to be explored. An utterly delightful combination of verdant tropical gardens and vivid turquoise water lapping at the white-sand beaches, this landscape helps the resort typify the South Pacific dream—it’s lush, sensual and private—and features a congenial staff. While escorted to a Garden Pool Bungalow, we find the magic of this island is accessible by simply opening the door: Facing us is our jewel of a private walled garden, complete with a personal pool and a covered dining area. (There’s also a king-size bed fronting the garden and an inviting outdoor shower.)

The shark- and stingray-feeding island tour is one of the resort’s many highlights. We start inside the reef and anchor in the shallow waters to play with the stingrays (while keeping a wary eye out for small—and harmless—sharks). What an incredible feeling it is to touch the hard yet smooth and springy skin of the stingray. They swim up to me, brushing me gently. Farther out, moving toward the ocean, we snorkel amid coral reefs teeming with colorful sea creatures. We marvel at how clear the water is and how far down we can actually see. Reluctantly, we board the boat and motor over to a private island, anticipation growing as the beautiful landscape draws near. After accepting a cold beverage, we learn how to weave our own plates from palm fronds, and, mouths watering, we descend on the picnic lunch spread before us. Casual in style, the meal is distinctly delicious, as only the freshest of food is, especially when you weave palm fronds to create your own plate! This particular island features its own private lagoon, allowing us to work off our lunch while swimming in splendid seclusion. And, lo and behold, cellphones work, even in this remote locale. I even take a call while in the middle of the ocean en route back to the resort.

We occasionally glimpse other resort guests on the beach or around the pool, but the only time we encounter groups of vacationers like us is at dinner, when they gather in the Tevairoa Restaurant, the resort’s main culinary outpost. The chef serves refined international cuisine, sourcing local ingredients to highlight Polynesian delicacies, while catering to many palates. On the particular evening we’re here, an after-dinner show featuring authentic Polynesian dancers is fun and engaging. Fare Ambrosia, the resort’s newly refurbished fine-dining Italian option, is open for dinner by reservation only. The Miki Miki Pool Bar and Restaurant, serving burgers, pizza and pasta, in addition to Tahitian raw or grilled fish dishes, is the casual go-to when on property, especially when lounging around the pool.

Like the other Manea Spa concepts, this iteration is an ode to tranquility. Nestled in tropical gardens and accessed over a foot bridge, the exotic wood-paneled treatment rooms are set on stilts above a lily pond, evoking a blissful mood that envelops you in a cocoon of warmth and relaxation. Offering services both comprehensive and unique, the menu includes the Avae Taurumi barefoot body massage (a hands-free treatment!), the Romantic Rendez-Vous (a couples experience culminating with Champagne and a bubble bath), and the Four Hands Hot Stone Massage.

For a bit of fun, the services of a Polynesian tattoo artist may be requested. Visitors have been grateful ever since Capt. James Cook arrived in Tahiti and explored the magical locales of the Palliser Islands in 1774. We count ourselves among them. The South Pacific is, after all, worth every bit of its legendary status, especially if you’re searching for a rejuvenating, refreshing, relaxing escape in picturesque surroundings, with first-rate accommodations. Rates starting from $475, garden pool rate from $675

Fly to Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui connecting through Los Angeles International Airport. The airline’s superb business class offers fully reclining seats, delicious meals and attentive service. A current five-day getaway round-trip fare offers tickets from around $2,800 per person.

Time Change
South Pacific islands are six hours behind Eastern Standard Time.

Pacific francs and major credit cards are widely accepted.

During the day, temperatures hover in the mid- to upper-80s, dropping to the mid-70s in the evening. The sun is intense; pack sunscreen with a high SPF quotient.

Pack comfortable, light summer clothing with a jacket or wrap for evenings. Rubberized beach and/or pool shoes come in handy for exploring the rocky beds of the lagoons. All this, plus the requisite tropical essentials: sunglasses, hats and an adventurous attitude!


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