KIM KESSLER @vegantravelista

I recently embarked on a ten-day trip to Tahiti to visit five tropical islands, with the goal of experiencing the crystal-clear water, warm Tahitian culture, adventure activities and coral reefs.  I traveled to Tahiti with two friends in early September, and loved that the flight was a quick eight-hour direct flight from Los Angeles to Papeete. 

We arrived in Papeete at night, and were immediately escorted in a car to the Intercontinental Tahiti Resort & Spa.  We found that most luxury travelers end up at this resort for a night en-route to other islands such as Taha’a, Bora Bora, Tikehau and Moorea.  We woke up to the most beautiful sunrise with the full moon over the beach.  This Intercontinental is located just ten minutes from the airport, yes has a full resort setting with a beautiful infinity pool and overwater bungalows, in addition to spacious accommodations in the main building.  

The next morning, we departed by ferry to the island of Moorea, which features dramatic volcanic peaks, and a range of hotels including the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort, the Intercontinental Resort and Spa Moorea, Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa, and the Manava Beach Resort and Spa.  The Sofitel features overwater bungalows located on a pristine beach, not too far from the ferry dock, along with an eclectic menu with tons of vegan options, as well as decadent entrees, and a range of cocktails.  We loved the intimate Helene Spa at the Intercontinental Moorea, which was the first spa in all of French Polynesia.  The treatment rooms open to the garden area, and one room had a gigantic tub filled with multicolored flowers.  The resort also includes more than 200 species of tropical plants, a turtle care center, and infinity pools.  We opted to try the ATV ride through pineapple fields, up to the top of Magic Mountain, with sweeping views of the bay below.  This was very adventurous through rugged terrain, including driving through small rivers, but it was a true highlight of the trip, and we learned that it takes up to two full years to grow just one pineapple.  An important tip is to rent a car in Moorea as we couldn’t locate any taxis on the island.  There is a great car service by Albert’s Transport if one doesn’t want to drive, but we highly recommend renting a car as Albert’s service has to be reserved 24 hours in advance for each pickup location. 

One of the more remote islands is Tikehau, a coral atoll, which is part of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia.  The island is surrounded by an almost continuous coral reef with pink sand beaches, with water just as clear as I’d seen in the Maldives.  We took a boat out to the Isle of Eden, which has an organic farm and the most spectacular beaches nearby.  We swam with little reef sharks and fish in such paradise.  The Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort is the only luxury resort on the island, and we absolutely loved it!  We each had overwater bungalows, with glass looking down at coral reefs and fish swimming by.  The hotel offers 24 suites and overwater bungalows, and 13 beach bungalows on a 10-acre property. The bar and restaurant, housed in the impressive fare potee (communal house), welcome guests by the edge of the infinity pool. Many excursions and activities are available including snorkeling, scuba diving, canoeing, picnics, bicycle tours of the village, and massages at the Manea Spa.

Of all the resorts we visited, the Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa had the most Polynesian cultural feel.  Located on a secluded motu Tautau islet, facing the lush island of Taha’a on one side and the majestic silhouette of Bora Bora on the other side, the resort is inspired by traditional Polynesian architecture and style, and hosts 57 suites and villas.  When arriving to Raiatea Airport, guests are escorted via the hotel’s boat to the resort.  This Relais & Chateaux property is situated in a lush environment, and offers spacious overwater bungalows, an al fresco spa, fitness center and beach bungalows.  The overwater bungalow that I stayed in was located the furthest into the water from land, with a large patio with sitting areas, indoor living room, huge bathtub, and stairs down to the sea.  When I woke up in the morning, a manta ray was swimming underneath my bungalow. This resort has such authenticity with warm employees, and we witnessed a traditional Polynesian dance event with many of the Le Taha’a Resort workers in local attire.  A true highlight of the trip was the luxury catamaran ride by Tahiti Yacht Charter.  The five-bedroom catamaran pulled up near the Le Taha’a resort and the skipper greeted us via the dinghy, as the catamaran was too big to come up to the resort directly.  The hostess had tropical mimosas waiting for us upon arrival, and we snorkeled at the most picturesque cove, seeing more versions of coral and tropical fish than I had ever seen!  The hostess also prepared a delicious lunch for us on the boat, with coconut rice, fresh fish, and vegetables, followed a traditional Polynesian creamy fruit dessert, Banana Po’e, that is naturally vegan with bananas, papaya and coconut cream.   

From Le Taha’a, we headed back to Raiatea on the Le Taha’a boat, for a short 10-minute flight to Bora Bora.  I had dreamed of going to Bora Bora for the last 15 years and it exceeded my expectations.  We stayed at the posh five-star Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, in a huge two-bedroom villa, with its own infinity pool, private white sand beach, outdoor showers, gigantic bathtubs, outdoor Jacuzzi, hammock and spacious living room.  Josh and Bobby Flagg from Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing show were honeymooning two villas down from mine, so we met up for cocktails, which worked out perfectly, as I sadly had to miss their wedding at the Beverly Hills Hotel.  The resort offers yoga by the beach at sunset on select days, a beautiful spa, “sea bikes” to take around the lagoon, and many other activities.  I spent the third night in an overwater bungalow, and the water was deep enough to dive off the balcony and swim around the lagoon.  I was happy that the menus labeled the vegan and vegetarian dishes.  Four Seasons Bora Bora offered the most amount of healthy options, with house-made veggie burgers, vegetarian sushi, salads, Wellness cocktails and fresh juices.  The breakfast buffet also had a cornucopia of healthy options, including fresh coconuts, Acai bowls with the option to add chia seeds, shredded coconut and flax seeds, plus tropical fresh fruits, as well as the more decadent omelets, pancakes, pastries, breakfast meats, and more.   

We also toured the new Conrad Bora Bora Nui, located on its own motu island with the most breathtaking views of the sea below, which appeared like tie-dye hues of blue against the white-sand beaches.  The Conrad has a spectacular spa with floor-to-ceiling glass with sweeping view.  We also loved The St. Regis Bora Bora, located next to the Four Seasons, with a new bridal boutique by Polynesian designer Hani Haring, spacious accommodations and an array of restaurants.  I always remember The St. Regis as the location for Couple’s Retreat film, so it was fun to see the resort in person.  A true highlight in Bora Bora was swimming with the sharks and sting rays.  The sting rays were so friendly and come right up to guests.  I highly recommend visiting Tahiti, which will always stay in my heart, and I hope to return again next year. 

PHOTOS BY: KIM KESSLER @vegantravelista