The weather has turned. 30 mph winds and dark storm clouds paint a dark crimson sunset as we drop to a landing on Raiatea. We skitter down a dock and transfer for our 40-minute boat ride to the next island over and Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa. The small craft rises and falls and I can’t see any lights coming from Taha’a. I know it’s a small island, with only 5000 residents and few tourists, but in the wind and the rain it feels like the edge of the world.
Arriving on a tiny motu off the coast of Taha’a does nothing to change the mood, at once disorienting and exciting. The light rain flies horizontally and we are lashed by sea spray before we can fight our way into our overwater bungalow. It is rustic, but lovely. Exposed bamboo walls and a huge window for looking out to the thrashing lagoon. Travis and I look at each other with wide eyes. We are living our Swiss Family Robinson dream, shipwrecked in a storm and cuddled up in our homemade, but incongruously deluxe, tree house. How rustic can it be when there is complimentary champagne chilling as a welcome?
“This is my favorite!” Travis declares before we’ve spent even a night. Nothing changes his initial impression during our three-night stay.
The resort feels singular. It’s truly an escape, seemingly no one else for miles of water. A tiki bar and restaurant turn out to actually be in a tree house, serving stylishly presented dishes like Mahi Mahi in a lightly spiced green curry. The coconut mojitos are delivered in hollowed out coconuts, and they knock our flip-flops off. The spa consists of a few bamboo huts, open to the air, so a silky island breeze caresses you in tandem with the masseuse. What could seem kitschy instead feels like a fantasy castaway island. What could be unsophisticated instead turns out to be built on a foundation of first class service, exemplary food, and unpretentious luxury.
Another day of mixed weather and we take a shuttle over to the mainland for a tour of Taha’a with Poerani Tours (www.poeranisafari.com). We look out over the dense green dotted with farms and houses. We stop to see the complex process involved in growing and drying vanilla, the black gold of the island.
On every other island, when we mentioned to locals we were stopping in Taha’a, they would get a far-away look and speak of it as “home,” a place “like it used to be.” It’s not that Taha’a is untouched; it’s more that it is unfazed by the wider world. The best example of the local spirit is a stop at Iaorana Pearl Farm (www.iaorana-pearl-farm.business.site). Twenty hard working employees seed, farm, and sell lustrous black pearls in a time intensive business that is modern and international, but also ancient and in tune with nature. Their pride and care is infectious, emblematic of this beautiful island’s spirit.
On our last morning, the storm breaks. Trees, flowers and people all bend toward the sun. We’ve scheduled a private tour of the widely famous drift snorkel that sits off the resort. Our young guide, in his cloth wrap, leads us down a beach path with gentle confidence and motions us to follow him into the water. He steps around some coral and then drops under the surface. We fall in behind him and are pulled into a current. Like dropping into the chute of a bobsled run, we are suddenly flying down a coral canyon, a wonderland of color and fish passing beneath us. With little effort, only a slight turn of the body, we curve through the path. It is astonishing. Suddenly, our guide twists to a stop. We are in the middle of an enormous school of black and white fish, at least 500 deep. Even our guide stares in awe, his practiced routine interrupted by this unexpected wonder. Completely at peace, the three of us float and let the fish dance around us. This magical land has captured us. We know we will be back.
Our guide leaves us, but there’s still an hour until we have to catch our boat for the airport. Travis gives me a look and I grin back. We swim to the shore, head back down the path, and drop into the chute to ride the drift one more time.