A lone princess in Tahiti

By Megan Singleton

Every girl deserves to be a princess at least once in her life and where better to try out some royal lavishness than the romantic islands of Tahiti? But it does help if you are accessorised by a handsome prince if you want to blend in.

If I hadn't realised this beforehand I certainly did after my flight from Tahiti's capital Papeete to Moorea and on to Bora Bora.

Like Noah's Ark the other passengers entered two-by-two, honeymooners and anniversary celebrators all, underlining the fact that these islands are the ultimate destination for lovers from all around the world (France, USA, Japan, Australia and New Zealand were all represented on the 80-seater plane).

I stood out like the jilted bride who'd thought "bugger it" and gone on her honeymoon anyway.

(In fact, a woman recently did just that at the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort and Spa. Instead of moping at home she headed for this island of love and had a ball doing all the exciting things she and her clearly undeserving ex had planned.)

After a 10-minute hop to Moorea, then a further 45 minutes down the necklace of volcanic islands, we arrived over Bora Bora. The view from the air is a dramatic painting of all shades of blue and turquoise, surrounded by a reef of white breaking waves.

If we'd been on a boat we'd have keeled over as everyone got out of their seats to click their cameras. (Tip: these flights have un-numbered seating and the premium views are on the left.)

Bora Bora is actually the name of the gigantic lagoon encompassing several islands and also the name of the largest island in the centre of it.

If you can picture one of those kitsch chip-'n'-dip bowls, that's what Bora Bora originally looked like. The volcanic crater has slowly sunk over millennia but what is left of the inner rim of the "dip bowl", in the centre, is where the main island of Bora Bora and the eensy ocean hilltop of Motu Toopua are, and where I was staying on my solo honeymoon. The outer rim is the reef, dotted with islands so small that they don't feature on a world map.

The airport sits on one such island with boats for taxis that glide into piers beside the luggage rack, while resort personnel locate their guests and mark them with their hotel's personal lei. Once the bags were loaded we hurtled across the lagoon to dots on the horizon that turned out to be the thatched roofs of over-water bungalows.

I've always wanted to stay in one of these and watch fish swimming through the glass floor. In fact the glass floor in my room included a cleverly designed coffee table with removable lid, so I could drop bread to the hungry little nibblers below.

The Bora Bora Lagoon Resort was the first to be built on the outer islands and consequently they picked the best spot to capture both sunrise and sunset. It's also just across the bay from the village of Vaitape to which a free boat service runs every hour.

The Vaitape pier houses a craft market selling handmade pearl and shell jewellery and colourful sarongs and the single road that wraps around the island is edged with lots more souvenir shops and expensive jewellers selling Tahitian black pearls in handmade settings.

I declined a trip to the Pearl Farm itself after I met several new husbands who had bejewelled their princesses in pearls and even bought matching leather strapped pearl chokers for themselves. It would just have underlined my lone status.

If time had permitted, though, I would have jumped into an open top jeep and driven round the island with the wind in my hair. Instead I wandered the street, ducking into shops to avoid a tropical downpour and jumping over puddles on my way to the supermarket. Food is expensive at the resorts so stocking up on French breads, cheese and even a bottle of wine will tide you over until dinner.

I spent the afternoon snorkelling with stingrays and stunning tropical fish with three loved-up couples.

We also fed black-tipped sharks, or at least Alex, our chunky tattooed guide who zoomed to the ocean floor with bait in his hands, did. The seven of us watched through our masks, breathing heavily as the fearsome creatures prowled around but proved to be harmless.

You really can't come to Tahiti and not eat the seafood. Fresh fish is plentiful in these clear waters and, since the beef comes from New Zealand, I wasn't about to dine on something I can get at home.

Bloody Mary's (the restaurant) was highly recommended so I took their complimentary taxi from the Vaitape dock to the sand floor restaurant with bamboo walls. Local raw fish (and chicken and beef for the unadventurous) is displayed on ice at the entrance where the maitre d' talked us through our options . . . after first asking if my partner was missing.

I set him straight, as everyone's eyes roamed the vicinity for a lost prince, and chose the chef's special of wahoo wrapped in foil and cooked in coconut milk. Verdict: delicious.

The next morning I donned the snorkel and mask provided in my bungalow and went for an early dip to check out the fish-eye-view and gaze up through my coffee table.

While the coral is not colourful, the water is so clear it was like swimming in an aquarium with hand-painted fish - who were not at all bothered by my presence, even coming close enough to see if I had brought breakfast. Afraid not Nemo. I'm a princess not a waitress!

Megan Singleton flew courtesy of Air Tahiti Nui and was assisted by Tahiti Tourisme.

Top 5 things to do on Bora Bora

1. Snorkel in the Coral Gardens for some of the best arrays of stunning tropical fish in one place you'll ever see. Perfect for trying out your underwater camera.

2. Dine at Bloody Mary's just out of Vaitape. Select your meal from a table laden with fresh raw seafood and meats, choose how you'd like the chef to prepare it and enjoy a wine while you wait.

3. Visit the Lagoonarium. Half and full-day tours are available to this aquarium in the ocean where you get to swim with turtles, sharks, rays and fish in large fenced off "tanks".

4. Climb Mt Otemanu. The energetic will love the walks around this craggy ancient volcano with amazing views that rises 730m above the sparking lagoon.

5. Explore the island. Away from the white sand beaches and over-water bungalows is a rugged tropical forest decorated with hibiscus.

Tour by mountain safari, 4-wheel drive or quad bike. Or hire a jeep for a day and conduct your own tour.

Getting there
Air Tahiti Nui flies Auckland/Tahiti direct four times per week. See www.airtahitinui.co.nz.

House of Travel has a special on flights and accommodation at Bora Bora Lagoon Resort & Spa: $3699 for travel up to November 15, and $3339 for travel November 16 to December 15 per person share twin. Conditions apply.

See www.houseoftravel.co.nz.

More information
For general information on Tahiti see www.tahiti-tourisme.com. To find out about Bora Bora Lagoon Resort visit www.boraboralagoon.com.

- NZ Herald

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