This week’s dream
A journey through the many moods of French Polynesia
“French Polynesia isn’t a singular sensation but a mosaic of moods,” said Andrew Evans in National Geographic Traveler. When I recently explored this scattering of islands, where coral reefs pulse with sea life and rainbows “often paint the sky, arriving and fading by the hour,” I was repeatedly entranced by the landscape’s beauty—and repeatedly welcomed by the islands’ people, who care for the natural world as much as they care for one another. Yet each of the country’s 118 small islands and atolls has its own distinct personality. “The biggest mistake a traveler can make is not to get past the romance of Tahiti or the honeymooner overwater bungalows of Bora Bora or even the emerald green of Moorea. The Polynesian voyager spirit compels travelers to explore beyond each new horizon.”
That’s why I flew from Tahiti to Huahine, touching down in a lush garden of an island “bursting with jungle and giant flowers.” Because few tourists visit Huahine, the whole island has “a gentle and unassuming air,” and as I walk around, islanders hand me fresh pineapple to eat and cracked coconuts to drink. One elderly woman insists on driving me to see her favorite parts of the island, “pointing out the flowers along the way—pink and white, bushy and fragrant, growing year-round in the living earth.” On Tahaa, a round island covered with vanilla farms, “the warm ocean wind smells like ice cream.” Vanilla and jasmine aren’t the only aromas that waft on the humid breeze. There’s also the unique scent of tiare, the national flower—“a calming, sunny, lemony perfume.” Whenever I set foot on a new island, someone drapes a garland of it around my neck.
Early Christian missionaries outlawed much of Polynesian culture, but today, islanders are reclaiming what was nearly lost. In the Marquesas, a remote northerly island group, I sit on the beach at night, watching fire dancers as they twirl luminous torches. “I can feel the heat of the fire as the flames streak through the blackness, scrawling strange letters of light that vanish in the night. Like tattooed ghosts, the dancers’ faces flash in the orange blaze, their chants repeating a story that I have never heard but that tingles my spine all the same.”
At Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort (tahitipearlbeach.pf), ocean-view rooms start at $272.