This was my first trip to French Polynesia. A bucket list solo trip to celebrate my 50th birthday by doing fun things all year. I was looking for a gorgeous lagoon with great snorkeling and didn’t care about mountains this time, so the atoll experience on Tikehau was perfect.
Saturday, May 26th:
I’m based in Los Angeles, so it was an easy flight on Air Tahiti Nui. I took the late afternoon flight, and the 8 hours went surprisingly fast. Arrived in Papeete around 9:45 pm and was greeted by Gregoire, a representative from my travel agency, Tahiti Legends. I’m so glad I booked everything through a travel agency, and I had a great experience with Tahiti Legends and the agent I booked with, Amanda Pimentel. So nice having all the transfers from airports to hotels, etc., taken care of. I also liked the peace of mind that if an emergency came up, I could contact them and they would take care of any arrangements. And the pricing was reasonable; less expensive and more perks than if I had booked myself a la carte. I originally chose Tahiti Legends because I wanted to use someone local (I’m L.A., they’re Orange County). Not that you need to, since everything is done via email. But still, I like to support local. Also, they list Ninamu as one of their standard resorts on their website, and I knew that’s where I wanted to go. I liked the idea of Ninamu: a private motu with beautiful beaches, all inclusive meals and daily lagoon activities, and a semi-communal atmosphere where if you’re a solo traveler you can partake in group sightseeing activities and not feel like a third wheel around a bunch of honeymooners.
Saturday night I stayed at the Manava Suites in Papeete, which was the perfect place to crash for a night. I don’t sleep well on red eye flights, so I’m glad I took the afternoon flight instead and could stretch out and sleep in a real bed before continuing on to Tikehau the next day. Also, it was nice having AC the first night. As soon as I got off the plane, the humidity hit me like. Maybe because I’m used to the dry southern California air. I needed a little AC at first, to ease my body into the tropical climate.
Sunday, May 27th:
Mother’s Day in Tahiti! The Manava had a special Mother’s Day brunch, and the restaurant was filled with moms wearing bright flower crowns, enjoying breakfast with their families. Someone said they were having a flower crown competition, and the winning mom would receive a free night stay at the resort. After brunch, I had some time to kill so I walked up the road to explore. Not much was open on Sunday, but I bought snacks and Monoi oil at a local market, and perused the McDonald’s menu to see what’s different from the U.S. franchises. The locals were friendly, waving hello on the street and saying good morning. I asked someone if Tahiti also has a Father’s Day. They said yes, it’s in June and to celebrate the men just get together and drink.
I flew to Tikehau in the afternoon, and was greeted at Ninamu Resort by the lovely Greta, who showed me to my room, bungalow #2 (which I think is called the Miki Miki). The motu is adorable, and the month of May is a good time to visit if you like peace and quiet. The week I was there had only a handful of guests, whereas the following week, June 1st through the summer, the resort was pretty much booked to full capacity. You could tell the staff was gearing up for the big tourist season, and this was the calm before the storm. Owners Chris and Greta took great care of us, and Noah, their excursion guide, took us all over the lagoon. And Chefie (their French chef) – wow the food was incredible. I’m not normally a seafood person, but everything was so fresh and gourmet.
Monday, May 28th:
All the other guests went scuba diving, and I don’t scuba, so Noah took me out on the boat to some snorkeling spots. We started at the manta ray sanctuary, but the mantas were gone that day, so we continued to the Coral Gardens, perfect for a beginner snorkeler like me. Shallow, clear water, interesting coral, a wide variety of colorful fish. Only a couple black-tipped reef sharks (I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable swimming around sharks, no matter how friendly and harmless they are in FP).
Tuesday, May 29th:
The weather all week was glorious. Rained 5 minutes at most. Noah took the group to another private motu across the lagoon called “The Blue Lagoon”. Seems every atoll in FP has their version of a Blue Lagoon, and this one certainly holds its own. Long stretches of white sand beaches with no development in sight – no hotels, no signs of human civilization except for the thatched open hut with the picnic table where Noah cut open coconuts and we enjoyed drinks from the cooler.
We swam in the protected lagoons that were shark free, and walked up the beach to an area where the sharks congregate because guides like Noah feed them chum. I never knew sharks could swim in water only a few inches deep. I will never feel safe again in the water, ha.
That evening on the way to dinner, I encountered a huge Blue Coconut Crab on the boardwalk right outside my bungalow. I was hoping to see one at some point during my stay. The night sky was clear, and the Southern Cross constellation visible. While there was no city light pollution, there was a full moon, and I wondered how many more stars and galaxies would be visible at a new moon?
I slept really well at Ninamu. Wasn’t sure I would, as I’m used to vacuum sealed hotel rooms with AC, not open air bungalows exposed to the elements. The trade winds blew steadily every night, which kept temperatures comfortable and provided enough white noise to drown out any sounds of nature.
Wednesday, May 30th:
We went back to the Manta Ray sanctuary and this time there were a couple mantas, so we swam with them, which was cool. The mantas were huge. One had a few scars like it had been around the block.
Chris kept telling us he was going to take us to a snorkeling spot called “The Big Blue”, which seemed intimidating because it’s in the open ocean outside of the lagoon, and there’s an area with hammerhead sharks. Today was Big Blue day, and as we sailed through the pass to the open ocean and reached the spot, a couple of us were nervous, like, what’s down there? The ocean was calm and the most beautiful sapphire color. Still, it looked deep, and full of unknown, so we made Noah jump in first and scout it out. When he waved it was safe, we plunged in and it turned out to be the most spectacular snorkeling experience I’ve ever had. First, I don’t know how to describe this, but the water was crystal clear, yet the most beautiful color of blue. The visibility was the best I’d ever experienced, surprising to me because we were outside the lagoon. The water was maybe 40 feet deep, and the ocean floor lined with coral.
Noah attracted a school of small black fish with fish food, but what caught our attention was the Napoleon Wrasse gently circling below like it was curious about us. I’d never heard of a Napoleon Wrasse, and now here was this creature that looked like a CGI special effect from a Pixar movie.
We watched the wrasse for a bit, then some of the group swam to the deeper hammerhead shark area and saw a couple of them near the ocean floor. I stayed near the boat. There was also a turtle and a moray, but the wrasse was the star of the day.
Thursday, May 31st:
Breakfast every morning was wonderful. Pancakes, Chefie’s home made bread, and eggs however you wanted them. Total carbfest.
The ladies decided to take a walking tour of the reef with Greta. Along with her two dogs, Coleman and Poi, we walked the rugged reef terrain, watching the surf pound. We took swimming breaks at a couple of natural pools within the reef formation that were like little plunge pools.
Friday, June 1st:
My last day, so everyone let me choose where to go ☺, and I chose the Blue Lagoon again with the beach and the hut and the shark feeding.
In the afternoon I flew back to Papeete.
I was really impressed with Air Tahiti, the inter-island hopping airline. Everything was on time. With only one daily flight from Tikehau to the mainland, I was paranoid something might happen and I would miss my international connection, even with a six-hour layover. But Air Tahiti ran like a Swiss train.
In Papeete I waited for the airport shops to open and bought almost every bottle of monoi oil to bring back as gifts, and treated myself to a pendant with two pearls from Mareiti. They had a wonderful assortment of jewelry at various price points. Mine are C-grade and to me look almost flawless. Originally I wanted a few loose pearls to have set by a jeweler in the states, but their loose pearls were all A grade and much more expensive.
I just read in someone else’s forum thread that their first trip to FP was meant to be a once in a lifetime bucket list trip, but they find themselves returning year after year. I feel the same. I really want to go back within a year or two, maybe to an atoll again like Tikehau or Fakarava, and pair it with a mountainous island like Bora Bora (ultimate choice) or Moorea. This forum was invaluable to me while planning my trip, and those of us privileged enough to have experienced this corner of the world— I feel we don’t take it for granted. We know how lucky we are.