I’m not used to having half-naked men drive us around and carry our luggage.” My husband, Travis, is whispering to me as a muscular porter, wearing only a thin wrap of fabric around his waist, leads us to our hotel suite. Travis has a point. This handsome guide, framed by palm trees dappled with watery, early-morning light, appears as if out of a dream. It is only our first few minutes off an eight-hour flight to Tahiti, but this sense of being somewhere otherworldly will follow us our whole trip. We turn to each other with a look of woozy awe and say, “Where are we?” Technically, where we are is French Polynesia, a semi-autonomous “collectivity” of France encompassing 118 islands and atolls in the South Pacific. To put it more simply, we are in paradise. We are in that paradise of the cultural imagination, that far-away land of iridescent blue waters and palm trees and hypnotic fire dances that drove sailors to once-upona- time mutinies. Is that idyllic image truly French Polynesia? Our goal, beyond a much-needed break, is to see if that fantasy is real. Instead of one resort, we will visit four different islands. Though barely a toe dip in the region, it will hopefully give us a deeper sense of vacationing in the Society Archipelago, the most easily-accessible islands stretching west from the capital city, Papeete. “La orana,” the porter welcomes us in the Tahitian language and opens the door to our room, the sparkling ocean out the window beyond. I think we may already have our answer.
Many tourists arrive in Tahiti, the largest and most populous island in French Polynesia, and then they immediately continue on. We’ve decided to spend a day and night, though, to get a brief sense of the area, and to ease any jet lag.
Our first home is the InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa, only five minutes from the airport but tucked into a private inlet that makes it feel a world away from the bustling port. We have arrived on a Sunday morning; thank goodness our brilliant Tahiti travel specialist Christina Turrini (www.frosch.com) has arranged an early check-in for us. Like most of the region, many attractions, including Papeete’s bustling market, will be closed or have limited hours on Sunday, so we decide to stay put and decompress.
It turns out to be a wise and thoroughly enjoyable decision. Exploring the InterContinental is like an overture, an enticing sampling of the melodies we will encounter on the rest of our journey. We dig into a sumptuous brunch buffet, followed by a drumming, dancing Polynesian show that rocks the entire resort. We lounge poolside, drinking perfectly over-thetop tropical cocktails. We test out our rusty snorkeling skills in the safety of the resort’s protected and teaming lagoonarium. We finish the day at Le Lotus, the resort’s gourmet restaurant situated in two overwater bungalows. Listening to the water lap around us, Travis and I both opt for the catch of the day served in a buttery, exotic Vanilla sauce, a culinary wonder that will be mightily challenged but never quite bested during our whole trip.
That night, meeting somewhere in the vast middle of a king-sized bed, we marvel: if this was just our first day, a stay at the “airport” hotel, then we are truly in for something special.