Romancing alone in Tahiti
Nici Wickes finds Tahiti’s magic sights, food and culture more than make up for being on her own in paradise.
Reading the email my heart skips a beat. I'm being invited to a destination I've always held a candle for, a place so romantic and fairy tale-like that just breathing its name makes me giddy. Tahiti.
The combination of an idyllically located Pacific paradise coupled with the French influence, has always captured my imagination.
There is, however, one problem. My French-flavoured Polynesian fantasy had always included a partner.
I'll happily dine alone, go to a movie sans company, sing Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers' duets solo, heck I'll even go to couple counselling on my own (don't be stupid, of course I don't do that last one), but travelling to Tahiti as a single seems like a bridge too far. Isn't it the number one honeymoon destination on the planet? Won't I be risking feeling lonesome and tragic?
At first I sulk and go into a funk. Five seconds later, head held high (in front of my computer that is) I shoot off an email to confirm that yes, I am happy to travel to French Polynesia on one condition; find me an island where I can indulge in my passion, food, and be spared too many smooching couples.
When my itinerary comes through, neither of the fantasy islands of Bora Bora and Moorea feature. Instead I'm to overnight in Papeete on the main island of Tahiti before heading to Huahine, which is to cradle me for my stay.
Research hints that this is an island for a more "authentique experience", which I suspect is another way of saying "less frills, less fantasy, more reality". I buck up my little pony and begin packing, tempering my dreams of a luxury holiday just in case.
Packing my bags I begin to notice how liberating it is to be romancing alone. I briefly consider the nana togs - great for covering up wintry-white flesh - then spy the incy-wincy bikini. I pack the bikini, for I am woman, independent, alone and carefree. The opposite happens in selecting underwear.
The websites I'd consulted about travelling to French Polynesia all bang on about taking "natural fibre clothing" to avoid discomfort in the warm temperatures so I sensibly oblige - any semblance of sexy stays at home and in goes the flesh-coloured bras and acres of comfy cotton undies. Liberating.
Arriving at a tropical destination never gets tired. Stepping onto the tarmac at Tahiti's Faa'a Airport, the rush of humidity hits me and the night air closes around me like it wants to keep me a secret. The twang of ukulele and high harmonies croon out in welcome, and as the tour guide from South Pacific Tours gently lays a necklace of fresh flowers over my head, I breathe in, and out, and sigh. Bonjour and "La ora na Tahiti".
Despite the fact that it's late and my morning flight to Huahine departs at an unromantically early hour, I can't help but notice the couples from the plane are all opting to slump off to their rooms once check-in at Le Manava Suite Resort is complete.
I head off for a night swim in what the hotel's brochure proclaims is the "largest infinity pool in Tahiti". There's no one to suggest it's too late for such recklessness.
It's dark outside but I stumble from my ground floor room, crash through what I think is a path but turns out is just slightly thinner foliage in the garden, and emerge slightly dishevelled but just as determined.
I inch my way towards what looks like the pool. The water is dotted with colourful underwater lights and the undisturbed surface shimmers under the night sky. I lower myself gently into the water.
I lie on my back to take in the dazzling display of stars, briefly think wouldn't it be nice if . . . then bring myself back to earth and congratulate myself for being so bold as to be swimming at night. I'm in Tahiti. I float around, careful not to scrape my knee, as it does seem awfully shallow.
As I walk back to my room I wonder whether I have in fact just swum in the pool or the hotel's water feature. I get the giggles. This is fun. I then decide to forego the sensible option of sleep and instead grab a taxi to take me to the famed roulottes, a group of food trucks which open at night in downtown Papeete.
When I arrive at the large outdoor plaza, it's jam-packed. Hordes of locals and tourists go from stall to stall before settling at outdoor tables to eat meals of anything from barbecue meats and seafood, Chinese, Italian pizza and crepes, reflecting the rich history of this busy Pacific capital.
I settle for a crepe filled with cheese and mushroom and quietly raise my glass to salute the beginning of my romantic holiday for one.
Flying over Huahine the next morning, it's easy to see that horticulture is an important part of life on this island which is referred to as the "Garden of Eden". A patchwork of small and large plots with crops ranging from taro to limes, ginger, melons and pineapple are clearly visible as we skim in to land, as well as the plantations of vanilla.
Nautique are taking me on a whirlwind tour of the two volcanic islands that make up Huahine via open-sided jeep. Our first stop is the village market in the town of Fare, a typical Pacific Island-style market, where a smattering of stalls are selling impossibly fresh local produce.
I buy fragrant bundles of vanilla pods and spy tables laden with fat bananas and piles of smooth oval mangoes. Lifting the lid of a chilly bin reveals hunks of fresh tuna, for the infamous local raw fish salad, poisson cru, but it's only 8.30am, too early for this local favourite.
We stop for a cafe au lait at the Huahine Yacht Club on the water's edge. In July the bay will fill up with yachts for the busy season but for now the town belongs to the residents. It felt deliciously slow and real and I'm giving in to feelings of serenity and escapism.
We leave the seaside town to circum-navigate the larger of the two islands, stop-ping off at archaeological sights, dramatic waterfalls plummeting from mountain tops, vantage points from hillsides covered in lush tropical forests and streams where blue-eyed eels thrash about.
We drive through small and simple villages made up of a school and a few houses, each with a long "breadbox" at the gate - freshly baked baguettes are dropped off daily.
Then I'm being whisked away to the Te Tiare Beach Resort, on the hotel shuttle boat, past modest waterfront houses, bays where the bush and coconut palms stop just short of the sand and lagoons that mirror every postcard I'd ever seen of this part of the world.
A bare-chested man announces our arrival through the eerie call of a conch shell and I clamber from the boat. When the receptionist checks me in, only four words register. Over. The. Water. Bungalow. OMG. I'd seen the clusters of thatched roofed huts suspended above the water at the end of jutting wooden boardwalks but never had I dared to dream I could have one of my own.
For the next 48 hours I snorkelled, I dined, I swam, I slept, I read. I set up my camera on self-timer to take pictures of myself reading, relaxing, sunbathing. To do the same to capture my snorkelling proved too difficult and to take one's own photo while sleeping is impossible and slightly creepy I think.
I had croissants for breakfast and huge plates of poisson cru - fresh tuna, cucumber, grated carrot, all bound with just the right hit of lime juice and sweet/salty coconut milk - for lunch and dinner. I was in heaven.
I had massage treatments from Patricia, a wonderful Australian who arrived on Huahine in her 20s, married a local and never left. I could see why. Who leaves paradise?
Then I'm whooshing back to Fare, boarding the small plane back to Papeete for one last day and night. I cram in a quick visit to the busy market in downtown Papeete. It's a bustling explosion of colourful fabric, strings of sea shells, baskets of fruit, trays of fresh seafood and more.
Later, from my balcony at the Radisson Hotel, I watch as the sun sinks and the waves break in perfect formation. It's time to pack and sleep before heading home.
There's a secret to taking a Tahiti holiday. If you want to be brought closer to this magical group of islands and her people and at the same time be saved from "the love-in factor", head to Huahine. It's where the notion of experiencing one of the world's most romantic destinations in your own way and in your own good time becomes a reality. I'm smitten.
• Nici Wickes travelled as a guest of Tahiti Tourisme, flying Air Tahiti Nui.
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