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Ia Ora Na and Nana Tahiti…

Posted on 30 September 2010

In September 2009, my wife, Carol, and I attended the Society of Incentive Travel Executives (Site) Classic Golf Tournament in Fort Worth, TX. During the final night of this great business networking event, there are two fundraising auctions; a silent and live auction. Proceeds from these auctions and also from the event sponsors fund independent research to support the incentive travel industry.

 

In reviewing the prospectus for live auctions, we noticed there was a trip to Tahiti. Tahiti, as luck would have it, was in our “bucket list” of destinations. After sizing up the bidding competition for the trip, I raised my paddle and began bidding on this fabulous trip. After a few minutes of table chatter with fellow attendees, I heard, going once, going twice, sold! I raised my paddle at just the right time and won the Tahiti trip!

 

After clearing schedule conflicts we found ourselves ready to embark on our Tahiti trip in September 2010.  In preparing for our visit we read several articles and books on Tahiti. In Tahiti, English, French, and Tahitian are spoken. Carol and I speak French casually, however, two Tahitian words are a must; “ia ora na” pronounced, “ee-ah or-a-nah”, means hello or good day, and “nana” means goodbye.

 

These are but two words Carol and I learned during our recent 9-day trip to Tahiti in French Polynesia. Our trip began when we boarded an Air Tahiti Nui Airbus 340-300 in Los Angeles (LAX) bound for Papeete. The flight leaves LAX late in the afternoon and arrives 8 hours and 5 minutes later (approximately 9:30pm at night) in Papeete on the island of Tahiti.

 

Upon our arrival, and after clearing a very easy immigration and customs process, we were met by Mr. Moana Holi of Paradise Tours. Mr. Moana is the President of Paradise Tours and he provides destination services on Papeete. Mr. Moana is Hawaiian by birth and married a Tahitian lady who attended school in Hawaii. After six-years…she became homesick and he followed her back to her native Tahiti…that was 26 years ago. He is professional, cordial and prompt, and his services are impeccable and his transportation equipment is clean and well maintained.

 

During our entire stay in French Polynesia we lodged at InterContinental Hotels. We arrived at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort at 11:00pm and were greeted by Mikele Landry, the resorts Concierge, with a smile and glass of fresh juice. Our check-in process took less than 3 minutes, and we were escorted to our room where our luggage awaited us. Our room was ocean front and overlooked the infinity edge lagoon pool which also has a swim up bar.  The resort has 258 guest rooms, one suite, and two pools.

 

Unfortunately, we arrived in Papette during a period of uncommon inclement weather (i.e., rain). However, even the rain did not prevent us from exploring the resort and surrounding area. The InterContinental Tahiti Resort is in very close to the airport which makes it an ideal choice for those evening arrivals and departures to and from the U.S.

 

The resort has two outstanding restaurants. Tiare is the all-day dining restaurant and also the location for a dinner show performed by Les Grands Ballets de Tahiti. The other restaurant, called Le Lotus, is the resorts gourmet restaurant. The Tiki Bar is located next to Tiare and provides great live music, superb views, and a cocktail menu sure to include your favorite libation.

 

Since it was rainy, we enjoyed watching movies in tandem and took advantage of the wired Internet connection to make our transition to being “inaccessible” less traumatic.  On our second evening we dined at Le Lotus. The gourmet food we selected was only surpassed by the excellent service received. Le Lotus dining is located overwater under two pandanas roofs creating an authentic island atmosphere. The wine menu is limited; however, the wines they do serve are of outstanding varietals and vintages.

 

The third day was still cloudy but comfortable.  We took a long walk outside of the resort and absorbed the local lifestyle.  That evening, we enjoyed the Polynesian show the resort offers and ramped up the photo-taking since the costumes were so colorful!  Let me assure you, there are plenty of great photos to take in Tahiti!

 

It seemed like we had just arrived, but it was now time to travel to our next island, Bora Bora. We enjoyed our stay in Papeete and at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort. Our departure from the resort was scheduled for 7am and awaiting us was Mr. Moana to take us on the brief transfer to the airport. Once at the airport, we checked-in at the Air Tahiti counter and were off to Bora Bora on one of their 52 passenger inter-island aircraft.

 

The Bora Bora airport is located a short 140 miles from Papeete, and is located inside a barrier reef that surrounds a lagoon in which is the remnants of an extinct volcano at the center.  There may be some small local hotels on the small volcanic mountain, but most of the resorts you might visit are dotted around the land supported by the barrier reef.

 

The arrival process in Bora-Bora is one of the fastest I have ever experienced. Once our luggage reached baggage claim, a cheerful representative of the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa was awaiting us with a cold towel and bottled water.  Their hospitality desk is within a few feet of where the luggage is off-loaded from the aircraft and porters quickly escorted us and our luggage to the hotel’s ferry for a 20 minute transfer to the resort. The cost for a one-way transfer is approximately $47 USD (+ VAT) per person.

 

The InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa has 80 luxurious overwater villas that offer impressive views with the most modern of conveniences. Each luxury villa features a private sundeck, living room with sofa bed, glass bottom coffee table, separate bedroom with king size bed, walk in dressing room, separate shower and bathtub with vanity and dual sinks, 2 flat screen televisions, CD & DVD player, tea/coffee/espresso facilities, mini-bar, high speed Internet access, and an in-room safe.

 

There are four Villa categories;

 

Emerald Overwater Villa: Located closest to the main resort, each Emerald category villa, offers magnificent views of the InterContinental Resort’s beaches and motu (island).

Sapphire Overwater Villas: Situated between the Emerald and Diamond category villas, each Sapphire villa offers a remarkable view over the lagoon and the island of Bora Bora.

Diamond Overwater Villas: Located farthest out from the resort and at the end of each pontoon, each Diamond Overwater Villa offers prized views of Mount Otemanu and the surrounding lagoon, as well as, the utmost in privacy.

Diamond Otemanu Overwater Villa: Located on the inner pontoon facing away from the resort, these villas are especially categorized for their direct views of Mt. Otemanu from the bedroom window.

 

Upon arriving at the resort, we were met by Hiro from the front desk. The check-in area and front desk are detached from the main hotel. We were provided a glass of fresh squeezed local juices along with a cold hand towel. The check-in process is speedy, warm and personal.  We were escorted, by golf cart, to our Diamond Overwater Villa where our luggage had already been delivered.  We were fortunate that our room was ready and waiting but if not, the resort has day rooms available so you don’t lose any precious time getting to the pool and lagoon!

 

Our afternoon was spent at the Thalasso Spa where we received our indulgent treatments. The Spa provides both Balneotherapy and Thalassotherapy services. Our massages were conducted by Moe and Aurelie in one of the Spa’s dedicated overwater couples massage rooms. A unique feature was as you received your back massage, you have a mesmerizing view through the Plexiglas floor window to the numerous fish in the lagoon below.

 

The Spa includes a large lobby with several salt water drinking fountains (for gastro cleansing), a Algotherm cosmetic and active wear boutique, state-of-the-art fitness center and many indoor and outdoor therapy rooms, rain showers, Jacuzzis, sauna, plunge pools, and a circulating ice cold water pool. Beyond the changing rooms, the Spa is co-ed.  Helpful to know this, as you’ll probably want to wear a swimsuit to take advantage of their unique plunge and therapy pools and saunas.

 

Feeling relaxed from our massages, we visited Bubbles, the hotel’s centrally located bar for a cocktail. Each evening from 5:30pm to 6:30pm drinks are two for one price. Eric, the bartender, can prepare any one of the many exotic drinks on the menu with blinding speed (not to mention he prepares a perfectly poured gin and tonic).

 

We dined at the Sands restaurant on our first night in Bora Bora. The Sands is appropriately named as guests can dine at their numerous tables on the beach. Of course, if you prefer otherwise, there is plenty of dining available under cover. The restaurant’s menu is varied and the fish is fresh and expertly prepared.

 

Each day at approximately 2:15pm, the hotel organizes feeding the stingrays in the shallow lagoon water. You do not want to miss this fantastic opportunity to stand with, touch, and feed the stingrays. I was expecting to see one or two stingrays…but 20 to 25 arrived. And trained as they are, they started to gather about 30 minutes prior.  It’s like they can tell time!

 

Located at the resort is Bathys Diving Center where guest can arrange any number of water activities including scuba. Also on-site is Moana Jet Boat Tours who operates guided Jet Ski tours. After speaking with Sadry, the resorts Concierge, we decided to take a circle island Jet Ski tour. There operate two tours each day (except Sunday), one at 9:30am and the other at 1:30pm. We decided on the 9:30am tour and chose to share a Jet Ski since they comfortably accommodate two people. The cost is approximately $300 USD per Jet Ski for a 2 1/2 hour guided tour. Due to the plentiful coral reefs inside the lagoon and the need to navigate the waters of the lagoon around the island it is wise to have a guide. Our guides name was Tehei (aka Warren), who is a native of Tahiti and has worked Jet Ski tours for several years. After brief operating instructions we were off and “flying” around the lagoon. This is a fantastic activity and I strongly recommend it.

 

Our dinner this evening was in the resorts Le Reef Restaurant & Terrace (following our visit to Eric’s Bar…uh, I mean Bubbles). This particular evening we enjoyed the weekly Polynesian Buffet and Dance Show. Again based on Sadry’s recommendation, who also arranged our dinner reservations, we enjoyed prime seating for dinner and the Dance Show. The buffet was OUTSTANDING. The theme was seafood, and we enjoyed many varieties of sushi, sashimi, mahi-mahi, including many seafood salads. For those who enjoy meat, there are many selections to choose from as well. The deserts were nothing less than spectacular. Although I am not, personally, an individual who typically likes buffets, this is one you do not want to miss…and I am glad to say I did not.  The dance show is equally outstanding and do not forget to bring your camera.

 

Our final day in Bora Bora was at leisure while enjoying the hotel’s surroundings and the daily feeding of the stingrays. There are many other activities, including kayaking and sailing, one can enjoy at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort. Due to our outstanding accommodations we decided to have a quiet and private in-room dinner on our outdoor deck for our final evening in Bora Bora. This was an excellent way to reminisce about our stay in Bora Bora and begin the anticipation for Moorea.   

 

The next morning we were up early finalizing our packing for the trip to Moorea. Again, we boarded our hotel ferry for the return trip to the Bora Bora Airport. Once we arrived at the airport, our bags were whisked to the Air Tahiti Nui ticket counter and in a matter of three minutes our luggage was checked and boarding passes in hand.

 

There are several things to note about the inter-island flights in Tahiti. Inter-island flights are open seating. Second, baggage weight limitations are strictly enforced. This includes both checked (2 pieces not to exceed 50 lbs. each) and carry-on baggage (1 piece not to exceed 22 lbs). Should either be overweight passengers will be charged…but pay or not, no checked bag can exceed 70 lbs. or your luggage will be charged as cargo. Passengers who routinely move belongings from overweight checked baggage to carry-on luggage beware…this strategy will not work. This is to be expected as Air Tahiti Nui uses their 52 passenger planes inter-island and some visitors/passengers come overly prepared with luggage for their Tahiti stay. Lastly, as frequent travelers we all have become accustomed to security checkpoints and long lines. Not in Tahiti…for all interisland flights there are no security checkpoints.

 

After boarding the aircraft and one intermediate stop, we arrived in Moorea. After retrieving our bags, we boarded our coach destined for the InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea. The ride from the airport to the hotel is approximately 45 minutes. The bus makes several stops at other hotels on the island. For more direct service to the hotel there are local cabs available.

 

Upon our arrival at the Hotel, we were greeted by Laurent Campi, Executive Assistant Manager. Laurent explained the hotel recently went through an extensive multi-million dollar renovation which was completed in July 2010. Our registration took place in the Lobby Lounge while sipping on a refreshing fruit drink and the very appreciated cold hand towel.

 

The hotel has several room categories;

Lanai rooms; 48 rooms and 1 suite which are located in the main hotel building.

Garden Bungalows; There are 17 of these bungalow suites with a private pool and are very popular with guest.

Beach Bungalows; These 28 bungalows are situated on a white sand beach gently sloping into the lagoon, under the shade of the coconut trees

Overwater Bungalows; These 50 overwater bungalows are around a series of green islands (motu in Tahitian). Their optimal location ensures a quiet atmosphere and a perfect open view. The terrace of these bungalows was enlarged during recent room renovations, and includes a “fare pote” entertainment area and lower sundeck with shower and direct swimming access to the lagoon.

 

After the check-in process, we were escorted to our overwater bungalow at the very tip of the resort. Our bungalow was spacious with a fantastic view overlooking the lagoon. One thing to be aware of, it can become very windy at times and do not leave personal items on your terrace…or they might not be there when you attempt to retrieve them.

 

Whereas we had internet access throughout our stay in Tahiti, this resort has only wireless (Wi-Fi) access which can be problematic during windy weather. Internet access cost approximately $42 USD per 24 hours.  What we didn’t realize until too late in our stay was that you could log off the Internet, and the “clock” stops counting down your time.

 

After settling in, we made our way to the Concierge desk. It was in Papeete that we learned from a friend coincidentally traveling to Tahiti as well, that we should not miss out on the Jet Skiing on Bora Bora, and the ATV excursion on Moorea. Since we enjoyed our Jet Ski experience so much, we decided on the ATV tour on Moorea. There are several ATV companies who provide this activity so we inquired with Josiane at the Concierge desk for her recommendation. She arranged our activity with ATV Moorea Tours. Although we were picked up at the hotel entrance, the ATV office is literally across the road from the hotel.

 

You have two options to choose from with the ATV adventure…a two-hour tour and a three-hour tour. We originally selected the two-hour tour, but once we reached the point of returning, we decided to extend our tour. Manuel and Lydie Pinto own ATV Moorea Tours.  Manuel was our guide for the tour. Manuel and Lydie came to Tahiti from northwest France some years ago and wanted to take an ATV Tour. However, each day of their holiday the ATV’s were all booked. Each day, the former owner would apologize. Finally, on the last day the owner called them and said she wanted to sell the company. Manuel told the owner, “I will buy the activity but not your company”. He increased the number of ATV’s and service level…and the rest is history!

 

Our ATV tour took us down the back roads of the pineapple fields winding our way through the islands forested mountains and on the final hour of our trip we went to Belvedere Lookout  (aka Magic Mountain). All I can say about the tour is “wow”! Manuel is very knowledgeable about the island and its history, its critters, the foliage, culture, and language. If you would like to take an outstanding tour and gain an education of the island and its people at the same time…take the ATV Moorea Tour and tell Manuel you read about it here at www.travelkeynote.com. The cost for the tour is approximately $270 USD for two people.

 

This night we decided to enjoy the resorts gourmet restaurant, Fare Nui. The resort has two restaurants; the Fare Nui serves breakfast and gourmet dinners, while Fare Hana provides lunch and dinner a bit more casually. The Motu-Iti Bar has a swim up bar in the new infinity pool and serves Panini sandwiches and cocktails. Our dinner was outstanding and to this day, my wife still speaks about the outstanding salmon dish she ordered at Fare Nui.

 

We met Thierry Brovelli, General Manager, the next morning and he was kind enough to give us an personal tour of the resort. InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea is situated on 27 acres of lush gardens.  There is a Dolphin Center on site in which they use the proceeds to fund education for local schools. A typical one-hour session costs approximately $200 USD, and is well worth it!. There is quite a bit of education and plenty of petting the dolphins. The resort also has a turtle sanctuary where they rehabilitate sick or injured turtles. Once nursed back to health…they are released back into the ocean. Mr. Brovelli relayed a story about one turtle who was twice released far away (by helicopter) and returned back to the sanctuary both times.  I guess the turtle accommodations and cuisine were too tempting!

 

We decided to enjoy two additional activities on Moorea. The first was a circle island tour which departs from the resorts pier. This motor launch excursion is about 2 1/2 hours in duration, and takes guests around the island inside the lagoon. At one point, we ventured outside the lagoon protected by a coral reef into the open ocean to see a pod of humpback whales. While Hawaii seems to have a larger population of humpback whales, some do migrate as far south as Tahiti from September to November each year.  On the return to the resort the launch stopped in a popular spot to swim with stingrays and black tip sharks. The cost for this activity is approximately $100 per person. You may also add on a picnic lunch on a motu to this activity, however, we chose not to do that.

 

Our final off-site activity was a dinner and Polynesian show at the Tiki Village Theatre. Tiki Village is a “working” village of locals who make their crafts during the day and dance in the Polynesian show at night. Prior to our dinner/show we were toured through the village to learn how their crafts/products are made and how they came about in the Tahitian culture. Our dinner was cooked in an imu (much like is done in Hawaii for a luau). The show was good, the food not so much. The cost for dinner and show is $250 USD for two.

 

Sadly, our departure day arrived. All international flights arrive in and depart from Papeete. Our trip from Moorea to Papeete was not by air, it was by ferry. We were transferred to the harbor in Moorea where we boarded the Aremiti 5, a large catamaran measuring 185 feet in length with a capacity for up to 700 passengers and 30 cars. The trip to Papeete took approximately 30 minutes, comfortable, and our luggage was both loaded and unloaded for us.

 

We arrived in Papeete around 5:15pm and were met once again at the dock by our new friend, Mr. Moana of Paradise Tours. Although our flight back to LAX was not until 11:30pm, and thanks to Marsha Mason of InterContinental Hotels, arrangements were made for us to enjoy the comforts of a day room at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort. While at the resort we enjoyed the music and libations in the Tiki Bar as well as another outstanding dinner at Le Lotus gourmet restaurant.

 

Our journey to Tahiti was a trip of a lifetime, and although it is no longer in our “bucket of destinations” not visited…we will visit again.

 

I would like to acknowledge several individuals who made our trip possible and comfortable.            

           

            Marsha Morton, Director of Sales and Marketing, InterContinental French Polynesia and the entire InterContinental French Polynesia Hotels and their staff; 

            David Nordquist, Director of Sales, Meetings & Incentives, NA., and Alex Valadez, Inside Sales – Los Angeles, at Air Tahiti Nui;

            Kathy Barrett and Aimee Teura at Tahiti Tourism;

             Mikele, Sadry, Yumi, and Josiane…Concierges par excellence.

 

Doyle and Carol Girouard

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