Cruising in French Polynesia

We sailed on the Windstar cruise in French Polynesia. On a 7-day cruise, we stopped on six different islands including two days in Bora Bora.

The cruise ship has a crew of 99 and 74 staterooms for~150 passengers. This ensures extremely personalized service, and you get to know pretty much everyone else on the ship. The crew members learn everyone’s name pretty quickly and, specifically in our case, we got custom orders for vegetarian food of our choice on a regular basis.

Day 1 – Papeete

We reached Papeete airport early morning and took a local bus to Papeete. We left our bags with Windstar while we checked the local market in Papeete. Nothing outstanding but it is an excellent way to kill time. Also, Papeete markets are most reasonably priced compared to the other islands. Therefore, if you want to buy something, buy here. One can easily rent a scooter or a car (some automatic transmissions are available as well) and do a trip around the island. Given the small number of passengers on the ship, onboarding was an extremely smooth experience.

Papeete Market

View of Papeete from the ship

Day 2 – Moorea

We did a half-day Kayaking tour which included Kayaking to a motu (islet) and snorkeling in the coral garden around it. Unfortunately, due to bad weather, we could not kayak further until the Stingrays & sharks. The coral gardens were amazing. They are much better than the ones in Hawaii and similar or better than the ones in the Caribbean. Transparent Kayak further adds to the charm of being able to sneak peek what’s under you while Kayaking. The Kayaking spot is a bit far from the docking spot (Cook’s bay) and therefore, do book transportation.

Kayaking

On our way back we checked out the local market in Maharepa. Feel free to skip a visit to Maharepa. The local tourist office does provide free Wi-Fi access (password: E6DC5D69B8).

Maharepa

Day 3 – Raiatea

We rented a scooter and went around the island. We visited a few pearl farms which were closed due to the weekend. We checked out the Marae Taputapuatea, an ancient Polynesian temple which is also a UNESCO heritage site. In hindsight, we should have gone to the three waterfalls hike, but by the time we finished driving around the island, it was too late in the day.

Marae

Pearl Farm – at the edge of shallow water since shells are harvested in the deep water

Raiatea

Note: Raiatea was the only island in our trip where the ship docks. So, unlike a 10-15 min tender, one can go in and out of the ship.

Day 4 – Motu Mahaea (Tahaa)

We spend the day at Motu Mahaea, a private island experience with tons of coral gardens nearby for snorkeling. This was the first of the Windstar’s two private motu experiences which included beach chairs, beverages,¬† lunch, and water activities (kayaking and paddle boating) on the motu.

Motu Mahaea

Motu Mahaea

Kayaking and paddle boating at Motu Mahea

Day 5 – Bora Bora

We rented a motorboat from La Plage and steered it around the island doing snorkeling and watching stingrays. Boating gives you a good view of the island and you get to learn to boat as well. I would recommend getting a boat license online beforehand, so that, you can rent a more powerful boat and go faster.

Water bungalows of Bora Bora

A view of Bora Bora from our boat

Back on the ship, we checked out the water platform. Apart from swimming, one can do kayaking, paddle boating, wakeboarding, and water skiing here.

Water platform

This was the Christmas eve, and the crew sang Christmas carol.

Christmas Carol

We returned later at night to check the Bora Bora island; it is mostly dead apart from a few small shops serving the locals.

Night eatery at Bora Bora

Our cruise ship on Christmas Eve

Day 6 – Bora Bora

Earlier in the day, we did a part of the hike to Mt. Pahia for the views. The full hike is hard to navigate without a guide.

A view from the Mt. Pahia hike

We spent the rest of the day at Motu Tapu, another private Motu rented by Windstar for their destination discovery event which included dinner and cultural shows.

Bora Bora as seen from Motu Tapu

Cultural show on Motu Tapu

Coconut peeling with teeth

Fire stunts

The show was mesmerizing and in case you are not doing this cruise, I would highly recommend that you find an alternative way to have this experience as part of your itinerary.

Day 7 – Huahine

We did a half-day long Safari Expedition of the island which included a visit to Vanilla Farm, Pearl Farm, native fish traps, and a visit to the local sacred blue-eyed eels of the island.

Growing vanilla requires hand-pollination and makes it a labor-intensive activity. That’s why Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after Saffron.

Vanilla Farm Tour

Pearl farming involves putting a small piece of the membrane from the donor shell which along with a mollusk, an irritant, is inserted into the gonad of the host shell. the membrane grows and covers the mollusk forming the pearl. It takes about 18 months for the formation of a full pearl. And on every success, an even bigger mollusk is used to form a larger pearl from the same shell.

A shell used for growing pearls in a Pearl Farm

Tahitian fish traps are set up in the river, so, fishes flowing with the flow of the water enters the trap and gets trapped. The traps are porous enough for the water to leave but the pores are not big enough for the fishes.

Fish trap – can you spot the trapped fishes?

The locals believe that the sacred eels of Huahine are supposed to be reincarnations of their dead loved ones. They don’t kill or eat these eels.

Sacred eels of Huahine

The lush green island of Huahine as seen from a lookout

We checked out the bridge (commanding room) of the ship in the evening.

View from the bridge (commanding room)

Alas, all good things do come to an end, and so did our cruise. The captain and the crew came and bid farewell in the evening.

A goodbye from the crew