Thursday, April 16, 2009

Back from Tahiti Tiare Agent Conference in French Polynesia!

I recently returned from the 2009 Tahiti Tiare Agent Conference, presented by Tahiti Tourisme North America for travel agents and tour operators who specialize in travel to the islands of French Polynesia. What a fantastic experience--I feel very lucky to have been able to go on such an amazing business trip! While I would have loved to have been able to spend a longer period of time on each island, I do feel like I really got to experience a lot of what each destination had to offer, even in just a couple of days. And there's always next year...
After a bit of a delay due to mechanical problems (I was just glad they were discovered before we got into the air!), our Air Tahiti Nui flight left LAX about 2:30 AM on Thursday morning, March 12. The flight itself was great, albeit it pretty full since it was continuing on to Auckland. I had a window seat and an odorless seatmate, though, and it does not take too much else to make me happy on a plane! The flight went by as fast as an 8.5 long ride can, and before I knew it, we were making our final descent into Papeete, Tahiti. After being greeted with a fragrant flower lei and getting through customs, my colleague Janelle and I headed for our onward flight to the island of Huahine.

About a half an hour later, we touched down at the small Huahine airport, where we were met by a representative from Te Tiare Beach Resort (now a member of the Pearl Resort group of properties).

A 10-minute van ride and 20-minute boat cruise later, we arrived at gorgeous Te Tiare. After checking in while sipping on yummy tropical cocktails, we were taken to our room--a Deep Overwater Bungalow. Spacious and well-appointed, these feature a king-size or 2 twin beds, a large bathroom with separate shower and spa bathtub, walk-in closet, and sitting area with flat-screen tv, wet bar, and minibar. The large deck had a sheltered area with an L-shaped bench and coffee table, as well as 2 lounge chairs for soaking up the sun. A short wooden staircase leads down to an outdoor shower platform, and a ladder leads from there into the stunning blue water.

Besides overwater bungalows, the resort also features garden, beachfront, and lagoon (partially over the water) bungalows. All are similarly appointed, with the main difference being the location of each category. The overwater bungalows are also the only accommodations that currently feature flat-screen televisions and bathtubs. All categories are lovely, and each has much to recommend it! For the most privacy, great value, and a lush setting, I recommend the garden bungalows. If you prefer to be right on the beach, the beachfront bungalows will of course be your best bet. To have the feel over an overwater bungalow but are on a tight budget, the lagoon bungalows are wonderful, and place you just steps from the beach.

A picture is worth 1000 words, so here are a few from around the grounds of the resort...

The snorkeling was not a good while we were there as it can be, due to rain and some strong winds stirring up the water during our stay. However, the water was still beautiful, and we were still able to see a good number of brightly colored tropical fish. There's a lot of coral around the overwater bungalows, making it an excellent place to snorkel under normal conditions.

The service was excellent, with every member of the staff we encountered being very friendly and eager to assist. The resort offers 2 restaurants--Ari'i, which is open for breakfast and dinner, and the Beach Bar, open for lunch. Depending on the season and resort occupancy levels, breakfast is either served buffet style or a la carte. Every meal we had at Te Tiare was very good, with quite a few excellent seafood selections and decadent desserts, as well as American/Continental selections such as cheeseburgers, club sandwiches, and steaks. The Hawaiki Nui Bar is situated next to Ari'i and offers beautiful views over the water.

The town of Fare is small, with just a few shops and small snack stands, and a bar/restaurant overlooking the water at one end. We did rent a car one day, and spent several hours exploring the 2 islands that make up Huahine (Huahine Iti and Huahine Nui). Unfortunately, Huahine's famous sacred blue-eyed, long-eared eels did not want to make an appearance for us, but maybe next time!

Overall, I would highly recommend staying on Huahine. It's truly a gorgeous island, lush and mountainous, similar to Moorea. And Te Tiare is a fantastic resort, as well as an excellent value in French Polynesia!

After 2 nights at Te Tiare, we left early in the morning to fly to Raiatea, where we were spending a night before heading by boat to Raiatea's sister island of Tahaa.

Upon landing in Raiatea, we were met by the driver for the Raiatea Hawaiki Nui (also a part of Pearl Resorts), and arrived there after a short ride. The Hawaiki Nui is a smaller property than the other Pearl Resorts, and not as luxurious. However, it is a good bit less expensive than the others, and can be a good value for those looking to spend more time diving or sightseeing and less time at the resort itself.

We stayed in a premium overwater bungalow, which feature a king or 2 double beds, along with a single-size sofa bed. A glass panel set into the floor allows views of the lagoon below. The bathroom features an open shower, and the deck offers a table and chairs, along with 2 lounge chairs. A ladder leads down into the water for those who would like to snorkel right off the deck. Beautiful multi-hued coral attracts thousands of brightly colored fish under and around the overwater bungalows.

The Hawaiki Nui also offers standard overwater bungalows (exactly the same as the premium overwaters, just with a slightly different location), as well as lagoon bungalows (halfway over the water), garden bungalows, and garden rooms. The garden bungalows are set back just a bit from the water, and feature a sunken bathroom with a great shower that gives the feel of being outdoors, but with the privacy of being inside. The garden rooms are all attached in a row of 8, just a bit smaller than the other accommodations at the resort, but still airy and comfortable. Each has its own small deck with a table and 2 lounge chairs.

Service here was friendly and prompt, and the food was very good, though just as pricey as anywhere else in French Polynesia. There is one restaurant, offering both indoor and outdoor seating. A breakfast buffet features fruit, cereals, breads/pastries, and meats and cheeses, and eggs can be ordered a la carte. I thought the garden vegetable omelet was particularly good. Lunch and dinner are served a la carte, and the bar in the restaurant offers several happy hour specials.

Although it does not feature a beach, the resort has a small motu to which it offers complimentary transfers. There is also a lovely pool overlooking the harbor. One unique activity the Hawaiki Nui offers is glass bottomed kayaks--great for getting exercise while enjoying the amazing coral and tropical fish below you!

We did a half day "Trucky Tour" of the island with Christian Millecam, enjoying the scenery (including quite a few waterfalls), and visiting a botanical garden, the largest marae (ancient sacred site)in French Polynesia, and the main town.

The next morning, we were taken back to the airport to meet up with our boat transfer over to Le Tahaa Island Resort & Spa (yet another Pearl Resorts property!), where we were spending 2 nights.

A representative from Le Tahaa met us at the airport, and we settled into the very comfortable boat for the 30 minute or so ride to Tahaa. Unfortunately, the weather was not very good on the trip from Raiatea to Tahaa, so we missed out on the usually spectacular views on the way there. Luckily, it was beautiful on the way back 2 days later, so we were able to enjoy the scenery then!

Le Tahaa is on one of the motus (tiny coral islands) that surround Tahaa's lagoon, with a beautiful view of the main island, as well as of Bora Bora in the distance. A super-luxury property, it has been a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux collection since 2004. With its stunning location, wonderful staff, delectable cuisine, and gorgeous accommodations, it absolutely lives up to expectations.

After checking in and enjoying a fruity drink served in a coconut shell, we were taken to our Tahaa View Overwater Bungalow. Beautifully appointed, with king size beds, lounging sofa, window seat overloooking the lagoon, and spacious bathroom with double vanities, coral and marble shower with spa tub, and water closet, Le Tahaa's overwater bungalows are some of the very best in all of French Polynesia. At the foot of the bed you'll find a glass topped bench looking down into the lagoon, which can be opened to feed the fish below. Another viewing/feeding window is placed behind the large spa tub in the bathroom. A large deck offers a cushioned, L-shaped bench and a table underneath a thatched cover with electric lights and fan, as well as 2 very comfortable cushioned lounge chairs. A few steps down is a small platform with rinsing shower, and from there a ladder leads straight into the lagoon.

There are 4 categories of overwater bungalows at Le Tahaa, but all are the same with the exception of the view and pontoon location. The resort also offers stunning Beach Villas with private pool and outdoor soaking tub off the bathroom, and 2 Royal Beach Villas with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms apiece (each with private outdoor soaking tub) and a private pool.

A few steps off the beach at Le Tahaa is a coral garden that makes for a wonderful drift snorkel. I highly recommend doing this at least once--but would avoid the late afternoon, when many fish feed, or you may end up with a few nips on your ankles!

We were sad to leave Le Tahaa when our stay had come to an end, but looking forward to getting to Tahiti for the actual Tahiti Tiare Agent Conference! Our flight between Raiatea and Tahiti did have a stop, which is not always the most desirable option when flying. However, things are a bit different when the stop is in Bora Bora, allowing for incredible aerial views of the island and its famed lagoon!

Neither Janelle nor I had stayed at the Radisson Plaza on Tahiti before, so we were pleased to get to experience a new resort. It's a lovely property, though a bit more "hotel-like" than many of the other resorts in French Polynesia, consisting as it does of several interconnected 5-story buildings rather than the bungalows often associated with resorts in the islands. However, this is very typical for properties on Tahiti itself, with the Intercontinental Tahiti and the Le Meridien Tahiti being the only international-class resorts on the island that offer overwater bungalows in addition to hotel rooms in the main buildings.

Our Deluxe Ocean View Suite was large and very comfortable, with 2 double beds, a spacious sitting area, bathroom with separate spa tub and shower, and large balcony with a beautiful view of the water. All rooms at the Radisson have direct views of the ocean, long stretch of black sand beach, and most also enjoy a view of the island of Moorea in the distance.

After dropping our bags off in our room, we headed down to the resort's meeting rooms for the opening of the conference. Product updates and a trade show followed, and a cocktail reception rounded out the day. Everything we ate at the Radisson was excellent, but I must say that the hors d'oeuvres they served at the cocktail hours and conference breaks really shone--so imaginative and delicious! Dinner that night was at the Hilton Tahiti, formerly the Sheraton Tahiti. It's a very nice property with a convenient location for those just spending a night in Tahiti before heading to another island, and will be even better once the planned renovations are completed.

The next day started with a delicious buffet breakfast at Hiti Mahana, the Radisson's restaurant overlooking the ocean and pool. The rest of the day consisted of forums and workshops on various cultural, activity/excursion, and other French Polynesia-related topics. Very informative and interesting! A cocktail hour with a fantastic surprise Tahitian dance show at the Lafayette Bar at the Radisson followed--of course, this is the one time the whole trip I did not have my camera with me! Big sigh for missing such a great photo op.

The "farewell" dinner was held at the Intercontinental Resort Tahiti, my personal favorite property on the island. It's large, with beautiful grounds, incredible swimming pools that look out over the sea to Moorea, and a wonderful restaurant. They had set up a lovely buffet dinner for the conference attendees on the lawn near the infinity pool, right by the ocean. A wonderful Tahitian dance and music performance entertained us during dinner--at least until the rain began! But we were all having such a good time that when a vote was taken, the overwhelming majority of us voted to stay outside rather than heading in. Luckily, the rain cleared up shortly thereafter, allowing us to finish out the dinner under starry skies.

The next morning was our last in the islands, as our flight back to Los Angeles was scheduled for that evening. After a few hours by the Radisson's beautiful pool, we headed into Papeete on the Radisson's afternoon shuttle (they also run one in the morning; the shuttle is complimentary for resort guests)to do some shopping. A few hours in Le Marche (a huge market that selling food, clothing, souvenirs, home furnishings, and a lot more) and quite a few French Polynesian francs later, we went back to the Radisson, packed up, and headed for the airport. (Tip - always make sure to arrive at PPT at least several hours before your flight, as check in tends to take a very long time, and lines are long.)

We were sad to be leaving paradise, but kept our spirits up by beginning to plan our next French Polynesia adventure! Stay tuned...


Janelle said...

What a trip! Can't wait to head back...

Robin said...

Wow. The trip sounds wonderful and the pictures are just stunning. I know it is party just how beautiful it is there, but you really seemed to capture the feeling because I am dying to go!! Amazing pics. Amazing. My head is kind of spinning wishing I could be there soon! Glad your seatmate was odorless :)

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous photography and very informative commentary!


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