Tahiti: Crepes, raw fish and ukuleles

By Pamela Wade

Pamela Wade reckons Tahiti's waterfront 'roulottes' are the wheel deal for fine French fare and good times.
Tourists dine at a roadside eatery in Tahiti.
Tourists dine at a roadside eatery in Tahiti.

Let's be clear here: cheap is relative, and Tahiti is never going to be a truly budget destination. But it can be surprisingly affordable, as long as you know where to look.

So, if you fancy fresh, real baguettes for breakfast and the chance to give your own or your children's school French an outing against a backdrop of spectacular peaks rising from a turquoise lagoon, there are ways to enjoy Tahiti's unique charms without breaking the bank.

Air Tahiti Nui's website has regular special offers with savings of several hundred dollars, such as a one-way fare for $899. That works out to about 22c a kilometre. Try getting from the city to Auckland airport for that. There are also links to good flights-plus-accommodation packages; but there is another way to spend less, though it involves a radical rethink.

As brainwashed as anyone to equate "Tahiti holiday" with "over-water bungalow, infinity pool, luxury" plus "subsequent credit card statement misery", the concept of the pension was an image-shattering, pleasurable, surprise.

This is pension in the French sense of a family-run B&B. That doesn't mean, as I found, the spare room in someone's suburban house. At Hiti Moana Villa, half an hour's bus ride from Papeete, for example, it's a self-contained bungalow right beside the lagoon. There's a sparkling pool, a jetty to water full of colourful fish, kayaks, snorkel gear and friendly owners to consult about nearby activities.

Clean and comfortable, my garden room wasn't fancy, and had a somewhat quirkily-equipped kitchen but, with an excellent local roulotte, or food truck, along the road, there was no need to cook - although I did feel obliged to share my curried freshwater prawns with an opportunistic cat.

In Papeete, Les Roulottes on the waterfront every evening allow more cost-cutting to be achieved with no loss of pleasure. A wide variety of food is offered at these trucks, at a fraction of the price of a restaurant meal. The quality is excellent, and the atmosphere buzzes, with crowds of people seated at communal tables enjoying the live music.

On my evening there, five old men with guitars, a banjo and a ukulele made up the standard Pacific island cliche while children played and well-fed stray dogs looked on benevolently. A warm tropical night with stars bright in a black sky - plus chaud/froid tuna and a salted caramel crepe. Magic.

I didn't find any roulottes on Moorea but, staying at Taoahere Beach House, I was so well looked after by the lovely Tehei that I didn't need them.

So stylish was the thatched villa-on-stilts beside the lagoon, I could easily have fooled myself that I was at a resort - one I had all to myself. If it hadn't been for the thoughtful touches like an invitation to share a family meal in the manicured garden, to come to the kitchen to see poisson cru [raw fish] prepared, or to have a pizza delivered.

A fresh baguette each morning plus a basket of tropical fruit was much better than paying $25 for an indifferent hotel buffet; and I could eat it beside the lagoon, watching the fish. With kayaks to borrow, a hammock under the trees, loungers and the sea three steps away, there is nothing a hotel resort offers that I missed at Taoahere. Except for the bill.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Look for specials on Air Tahiti Nui.

Stay at: Hiti Moana Villa in Papara or Taoahere Beach House on Moorea.

Further information: See tahitinow.co.nz.

Pamela Wade was a guest of Tahiti Tourism and Air Tahiti Nui.

- NZ Herald

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