Living in the Moment in Tahiti

Amanda Linnell heads to Bora Bora for a digital detox and a promise to connect with the present

Picture / Jim McCulloch

‘Ia ora na,” grins a tall handsome man, shoulders back, chest out, as he drapes the scented lei around our necks. “Welcome to Bora Bora. This way please. Your boat is waiting here.”

Yes, there are no carparks or taxis outside the tiny Bora Bora airport — just a jetty and a handful of elegant watercraft ready to whisk arriving guests off to one of the handful of resorts scattered around the isthmus.

“I am Manu. I am here to help you. Any questions? Yes. Indeed. I live in paradise. I am so happy to live in paradise,” he sings. And with a broad smile he turns to the front of the boat and turns up the local Polynesian music, leaving us to laugh with glee as the warm wind whips around us in a welcoming wave of joy as we are bedazzled by the bleu, bleu, bleu crystal waters. This really is so much more beautiful than the brochures. This is, indeed, paradise.

We speed past small motus covered in coconut trees that make up the outskirts of the lagoon, and look in awe at Mt Otemanu towering above the central island of Bora Bora. We race past a local, whizzing along in a dinghy powered by an outboard motor, and wave out to the tourists chilling on the back of their rented yacht (a popular way to explore Tahiti).

Our bow is pointed in the direction of Le Meridien resort; behind us the rest of the world fades into oblivion. There is an overwhelming sense that nothing can touch us here ... and we vow to switch off all technology and live in the moment. (As tempting as it is to post skitey “me in paradise” pics on Facebook.)

We are welcomed ashore by a smiling ukelele player singing his heart out. And this — along with the occasional sound of the conch shell echoing across the bay — is to become the soundtrack of the trip.

I have come armed with books on mindfulness and a commitment to myself to practise being in the moment. Our luxurious overwater bungalow provides the perfect location. There are no distractions apart from the view and the gentle lapping of the water. A slather of sunscreen, and within minutes of arrival I have a book in one had, a drink in the other and am kicking back on my lounger. The sun talks to my muscles “let go”, the breeze brushes my skin with such a gentleness that the only response is to succumb completely. This being in the moment is pretty damn good.

Meanwhile, my partner dive-bombs off the deck, swims ashore to the main beach with its array of water craft on offer — and sets off paddleboarding around the bay. His energy and sheer joy jolts awake the “just do it” in me and I throw down the book and jump into the water. Reading is all well and good, but nothing beats the experience of swimming in warm, crystal-clear water.

And this is what fills our days, dive-bombing off the deck, relaxing in the loungers, dive-bombing off the deck ... The heat is perfect, muscles unwind and any walking we do — which is basically to and from one of the many outdoor restaurants for breakfast, lunch or dinner — is at a wonderfully slow amble. We spend an afternoon at the hotel’s turtle sanctuary, snorkel around the lagoon, and spend one afternoon on our own private beach with our loungers set up so the water laps around our feet ... It’s all so dreamy ...

All this relaxation, water, sunshine and good food is rebuilding our energy. The stresses of work and life back in reality have completely disappeared in our tropical island paradise. We laugh more, sit up late drinking cocktails in the Miki Miki bar, join the Tahitian dancers on the beach and attempt to swing our hips as fast as they do, go sailing on a waka canoe into the sunset. We head to the main island for a fun-filled festival, where locals come from surrounding islands to compete with their high-energy dancing and singing late into the night.

We jump at the offer to spend a day exploring the greater lagoon and to go snorkelling on the coral reef, swim with stingrays and — most excitingly of all — venture outside the reef to swim with sharks. Apparently there are only three places in the world where you can go do this, and Tahiti is the only place in the South Pacific. That “just do it” reflex kicks in again and we have one of the most amazing days ever.

Picture / Jim McCulloch

Our guide for the day is Norii — another smiling, ukekele-playing happy soul who “loves, loves, loves” how he spends his days. His passion is infectious and before we know it we are diving with him among a rainbow collection of fish. He beckons us down between the rocks and we watch in awe as he tempts a never-ending, friendly moray eel out of its cave. I can’t stop laughing. This is crazy and exhilarating. From here we zoom around the point and into shallow blue waters where tourists are standing waist-deep, shrieking.

They are playing with stingrays and the Tahitian guides find it hilarious. If you can’t beat them, join them, I say. And we plunge into the water. Norii encourages us to stand quietly, and the closer these animals get the greater my respect becomes. This may be a tourist venture, but it also has an educational element, and can only help provide a greater understanding of the wonders of the ocean.

A chance to “really feel the fear, but do it anyway” comes next — as Norii speeds through a gap in the reef and we head out into the gentle swell of the ocean. Here the water is just as clear, but its blue is becoming more emerald. Two or three boats are tied up together and we pull up near them. Norii throws fish guts over the side and suddenly there is a frenzy of small sharks at our bow. “Grab your goggles,” he cries. “We’re going in.”

“It’s just like a management meeting,” my partner says, laughing. “You can handle it!”

If only work meetings were this much fun.

For the next hour we swim in amazement as small black tip sharks cruise around us, keeping a wary distance. Thirty metres below — the water so clear you can see the starfish on the ground — a pair of nearly 2m lemon sharks have a more menacing feel. They only come uncomfortably close when another boat arrives with promise of fresh fish guts. The whole experience is exhilarating. When we eventually pull ourselves back on to the boat, we can’t wipe the smiles from our faces. The guides play the drums and sing, and we have an impromptu party on the water.

Could this day get much better? Yes. Norii heads our boat towards a small motu, where in a beachside hut a delicious lunch awaits.

The next day we start the trip home. We fly back to the mainland, but there’s no need to let go the Le Meridien vibe. Their Tahiti resort has everything required to eke out the holiday vibe: a pair of surfers discuss heading up the coast to the find the best surf breaks; down by the pool the loungers are full of sexy French girls in skimpy bikinis smoking and drinking cocktails; others are stretched out in the shade by the water’s edge, watching snorkellers explore the azure blue waters.

We have coffee and chocolate eclairs, served by smiling Poeura, whose name means “shining pearl”, before heading into Papeete to buy last-minute gifts at the market — including shining black Tahitian pearls at the numerous specialist stores (watch out for fakes, we are warned).

Back at Le Meridien, we celebrate our final night at Le Carre restaurant, overlooking the lagoon and out to Moorea island. We tuck into a tasting platter of prawns flash-seared with ginger and a coriander tartare served with a shellfish and lemongrass-infused broth, and we celebrate our week of relaxation, romance and adventure with cocktails.
Recharged, we sit and relish the moment.

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Picture / Jim McCulloch

Tune into your senses to feel present:

Taste: After a day of snorkelling, nothing tastes better than our late lunch of poisson cru made with coconut milk and tuna sashimi and eaten in our private ‘fare’ with the water lapping below, a French chablis, coconut bread, barbecued chicken and swordfish.

Smell: The fragrant wall of frangipani, its scent filling the arrival area at the international airport. There’s a colourful swirl of leis, summer dresses, and smiles as extended families gather to meet brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, returning from Europe. The smoky smell of barbecue in the breeze — with its promises of tasty food, cooked slowly and traditionally.

Hear: Across the bay the sound of the conch shell. The constant lapping of water on the steps of our balcony. The sound of the ukelele. Singing.

Feel: Walking barefoot and feeling the warm wood of the jetty on the way to fill the ice bucket from the machine at the next hut. Pouring a drink, kicking back on the balcony and watching the sun slowly set. The rough skin of the stingray and its contrasting super-smooth underbelly.

See: Every shade of bleu, bleu, bleu — as far as the eye can see. Smiling faces.

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