French Polynesia From the Air and On the Ground (Trip Report Part 2)

Air Tahiti, Trip Reports

Hope you enjoyed part 1 of the trip yesterday. We finished up with Bora Bora and we headed back to the Bringing Water on the Planeairport for our flight over to Tikehau. That’s where we pick this back up today.

The boat brought us back to the airport an hour before departure, so again, we had plenty of time to wait. I marveled over the fact that I was actually allowed to bring my bottle of water on the plane. Amazing. We watched a private jet take off and then our plane came in to pick us up for the longest interisland flight of our trip and the only one over an hour.

April 19, 2009
Air Tahiti #541 Lv Bora Bora (BOB) 1015a Arr Rangiroa (RGI) 1125a
BOB: Runway 11, Dept 15 Minutes Early
RGI: Runway 9, Arr 15 Minutes Early
Aircraft: F-OIQU, ATR 72-212A, Named Tiairani, Three Quarters Full
Seat: On the right near the back
Flight Time: ~1h5m

We departed to the east and turned northeast for the hour plus flight over open ocean to our View of Rangiroafirst stop, Rangiroa. They actually fly nonstop from Bora Bora to Tikehau once a week, but that didn’t work with our schedule.

The service was pretty much the same as it was over to Huahine – they served us pineapple juice again, and I read most of the way. As we got toward Rangiroa, it started to cloud up in the distance but we slid right into the airport without a bump. We thought we would be able to wait on the plane again, but we were wrong. They were refueling in Rangiroa, so we had to all get off the plane and wait in the terminal.

April 19, 2009
Air Tahiti #541 Lv Rangiroa (RGI) 12p Arr Tikehau (TIH) 1220p
RGI: Runway 9, Dept a Little Early
TIH: Runway 6, Arr a Little Early
Aircraft: F-OIQU, ATR 72-212A, Named Tiairani, Half Full
Seat: On the right near the back
Flight Time: ~13m

After they finished refueling, they let the transit passengers back on to take our seats. Then everyone else boarded and we took off toward threatening skies. Fortunately, they stayed in the distance for the 15 minutes it took us for to get to Tikehau. Yep, it’s not far away at all. We landed and took a shuttle through town to a dock to wait for our boat to the resort. Here’s some video of us descending into Tikehau. (Click if you can’t see the video)

While Bora Bora and Taha’a both have islands in the middle, Tikehau’s island is long gone. It’s just a circular coral reef that goes nearly continuously for miles and miles all the way around. The southern edge has the largest land area and that’s where the main town (Tuherahera) is. We’re not talking about a big place here – the total population on all of Tikehau is less than 500 people.

We got on the boat and 15 minutes later we were pulling up to a small motu where the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort is Tikehau Pearl Receptionlocated. This place was incredibly secluded and felt like a mini version of Le Taha’a. It certainly wasn’t as grand as Le Taha’a. There’s only one restaurant at the resort and the front desk doubles as the activity desk and is only open from 7a to 7p. The price is also a scaled down version of Le Taha’a. We were upgraded to an overwater suite, one of the nicest rooms on property, and it usually goes for just over $700 a night. We paid a quarter of that.

After a brief downpour, we walked to our room and were honestly surprised at how nice it was. I had been told that there wasn’t any air conditioning here, but that wasn’t the case. The regular and premium overwater bungalows have no air conditioning because they sit right in the path of a strong, cooling breeze. But the suites have air conditioning as do the beach bungalows, which may very well be the best bargain around at around $500 a night. (Yes, I know it’s funny to think of $500 a night as a bargain.)

The room here was set up a bit differently than at the other two hotels. While Le Taha’a and Bora Bora Pearl had the bed in the middle of the room staring out toward the water, Tikehau had the bed on one side away from the windows. A large sitting area was in the middle where the door to the outside was, and then the bathroom was on the far side. Here’s a video of our room along with the stellar view out from our patio. (Click if you can’t see the video)

In case it wasn’t clear, this was our favorite place by far. Everyone was extremely friendly here, even though some didn’t speak English very well. People in French Polynesia sing their hellos (“Ia Orana”) and thank yous Fish Feeding Frenzy(“Mauru’uru”) and it’s incredibly pleasant, but they never felt more genuine than they did here.

Tikehau was as close to paradise as I can imagine. The number of fish around was astounding. If you threw one piece of bread in the water, within 10 seconds hundreds of fish would appear. Some of the fish are apparently regulars. We were walking by the reception and one of the staff pointed out “Fiona.” Huh? Oh yeah, there’s an octopus that hangs out in the water over there that they’ve named. There’s also an enormous triggerfish named Ernest.

One day, we went into the village (Tuherahera) and walked around in the sweltering heat. At the end of the road, we literally ran into the runway just as a plane was landing. Perfect. I made my wife wait for it to take off. No fences, no suspicious cops, just pure spotting joy. Here it is. (Click if you can’t see the video)

Another day we went over to the bird island (one of the many excursions that can be arranged by the activity desk) where an insane number of birds live. We saw all kinds of babies Fly LGBin the countless nests, and we even saw one hatch in front of our eyes. On the way back, we snorkeled a little. Tikehau is known to have an incredibly high concentration of fish and is a great diving spot.

At night, as you’d imagine, there wasn’t much to do, so we would just sit out and look at all the stars twinkling in the sky. I get excited seeing the Southern Cross since we can’t see that in the US, but there was so much more up there to see since it was so dark.

After three nights, it was time to go, but we weren’t ready. This was the first place that we would have liked to have had another night. But, we couldn’t do that (nor could we afford it), so it was back to Tahiti for another three nights.

April 22, 2009
Air Tahiti #543 Lv Tikehau (TIH) 130p Arr Papeete (PPT) 225p
TIH: Runway 6, Dept a Little Early
PPT: Runway 4, Arr a Little Early
Aircraft: F-OIQC, ATR 42-500, Named Ra’i Moere, Three Quarters Full
Seat: On the left near the back
Flight Time: ~45m

Our boat/van shuttles dropped us off at the airport a far-too-early 1 1/2 hours before departure. Within 5 minutes, we were checked in and waiting. There isn’t much to do at this airport. Check out my quick tour of the terminal. (Click if you can’t see the video)

After I finished taking that video, I sat and read a book (one of about 10 on the trip) and waited it out. Our plane pulled up early, we boarded, and then we took off to the east.

This flight was about 45 minutes, so once again we got the pineapple juice service and I had some time to read. On the way down, we came down just over the top of some storm clouds and even dipped in for a few seconds before busting out on the other side with Tahiti on our left. We flew right by downtown and then looped around to land to the north. (Click if you can’t see the video)

A lot of people told us to just skip Tahiti entirely if we could. They said the outer islands were fantastic but Tahiti itself wasn’t much. I couldn’t disagree more. Due to scheduling quirks on Air Tahiti (most flights aren’t daily), we ended up having 3 nights at the end of the trip in Tahiti and we used those days very well.

We’re probably some of the only people on Earth to have stayed at a Hilton using Starwood Preferred Guest points. We originally booked our stay at the Sheraton Tahiti, but in January I received an email saying that it was no longer a Sheraton but the hotel would still honor all existing reservations. Hilton picked up the management of the property and so that’s where we stayed.

The hotel was ideally located between the airport and downtown Papeete, but it wasn’t anything Papeete Marketspecial. The rooms were nice and the air conditioning worked great – those were my main requirements. But the details were lacking – our lamp had a severely ripped shade, for example. We also didn’t have the best food there. Quick tip: the appetizers at Quinn’s Pub are awful. But I guess I can’t complain about the place too much since it only cost me 10,000 points a night.

The first evening, we took the public transport “Le Truck” into town (130 francs each way) and walked around the public market. It’s a busy little downtown and there’s a lot of traffic, but it was a fun place to walk around. We wandered over to Restaurant Jimmy that night and had some really good Chinese food. (Chinese people make up the largest group outside of Tahitians and French.)

The next day, we took the ferry over to Moorea. The fast boat takes 30 minutes Crappy Bugsterand it cost us something like $30 roundtrip a person. We rented a “bugster” which promptly broke down on us. But they came by and replaced it for us and we were good to go. It was a great day trip, and I didn’t feel like we missed a lot by not spending more time on the island.

The second full day there, we rented a car and drove all the way around Tahiti Nui (the big part of the island), stopping at a bunch of spots as we went. There was the King Pomare V tomb, the blowhole, some waterfalls, lunch in Taravao, the grottos of Mara’a, and the Museum of Tahiti. It was an incredibly fun and relaxing day. But the next day it was time to go. So we woke up early and returned the car and then, well, you know the rest of the story.

[See more of our pictures on Flickr]
[See more of our videos on YouTube]

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9 comments on “French Polynesia From the Air and On the Ground (Trip Report Part 2)

  1. Sounds like it was a perfect travel bug vacation! Boats, bugsters and Boeings every 3-4 days with the odd ATR tossed in to top the salad!

    My lifelong dream is to do the same sort of milk-run thru Micronesia to see cultural and WW-II history at Yap, Chuuk (Truk) and Tinian.

  2. Sounds like an awesome trip, Cranky! I’m jealous of the no-boundaries plane-spotting. Thanks for another great trip report…these are one of my favorite parts of your blog.

  3. Hey,
    Great Reports!
    I think I got stuck in that same storm system you did on the way down. I ran into some pretty good turbulance on the way to SLC from HNL last week. I’ve never quite felt a 767-400 move like the way it did last week…


  4. To Traveling Optimist,

    While you could always take the direct flights from HNL to Guam (GUM), I highly recommend Continental Micronesia’s island hopping service from HNL to MAJ (Marshall Islands), KWA (Kwajalein Atoll – where you can only deplane with military orders specifically for the atoll), KSA (Kosrae, Micronesia), PNI (Pohnpei, Mictronesia), TKK (Truk/Chuuk) and then to Guam. (Yes, Cranky, I had to look up most of those airport codes…) It’s a pretty out-of-the-way route so both the stops and the passengers usually have pretty interesting stories. It’s another place where you’ll get to experience minimal security (such as being asked to walk through a painted plywood frame which was supposed to be a “metal detector.” These are no frills, open-air terminals. But, I have to say that while we often bash our legacy carriers for a diminishing level of service, Continental Micronesia remains a jem. I remember being distinctly disappointed (read disgusted) when I transfered from a Continental Micronesia flight to regular domestic Continental.

    I highly recommend making the effort to check out those routes…

  5. CF,what about the miserability quotent that airplane spotters are supposed to endure, wind, rain, cold, bundled in a uniform anorak? It’s like fishing, you aren’t happy unless you are miserable! Okay, I don’t believe that either, and I am so jealous. A little of that jealousy is spread to Jeremy above too. My dad worked for CO for 35 years, and when they first established AirMike, one of his friends was the General Manager in Guam. I have been wanting to go there ever since.

  6. @ Jeremy –

    Dude you nailed it exactly! I’ve wanted to fly that “milk run” with Continental Mike for the loooongest time! Only I have to time it such that I’m more than 24 hours but less than 7 days in Truk/Chuuk, the one of most interest. I’d like to dive the lagoon and see some of the WW-II relics there from the naval base the Japanese operated there.

    Thanks for the reminder, guy!

  7. Thanks for the great trip reports –also my favorite posts on CF. Tahiti seems a great escape from a lot, not least of all “security theatre.”

    Watching the videos also reminds me of how often I second-guess myself, not having my camera handy on flights. That’s because I usually opt for aisle seats and therefore think little of my camera in the carry-on. The last time I did pick a window seat, it was leaving Bali on Singapore Air (those with the skinny seats) and of course I was seated next to Brunhilde and Helga the giant German Amazon tourists. :-)

    When I honeymoon in August I’ll be going First Class, so I may just keep the camera in my lap for it!

  8. Seeing hundreds of fish come up to the boat is one of the coolest things in the world – one of natures finest wonders, sounds like you had one heck of a trip with some very great views :)

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Cranky Flier