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 Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch

martin FURTHER TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC

BY MARTIN B. DEUTSCH

June 1, 1988 -- There are several identifiable advantages to the art of cruising, not the least of which are convenience and, to some extent, enforced relaxation and isolation. The convenience comes from checking in, just once, to your hotel at sea, packing and unpacking only one time, and the ever-present option of going ashore for land tours or hanging around the ship. If you can’t relax on a cruise you’re ready for biofeedback, therapy, a variety of colored pills, or electric shock treatment. And there’s no doubt about it: the environment, both physical and psychological, that a cruise creates is conducive to lessening the top-of-mind specter of office pressures.

There’s another plus to this sophisticated vacation from—the chance to sample a cluster of destinations, an open sesame to allow you and your travel companions to select those places you’d like to revisit for a week or two.

Recently in this space we arrived in Tahiti to board the Wind Song, a fine new cruise vessel with computer-run sails. That Friday, after midnight, we set sail for the islands of Huahine Nui (big) and Huahine Iti (little). Like all these volcanic and/or coral outcroppings, this duo delivers the images I first encountered in Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. An intense tropical green paints the foliage; an unconventional hand shaped the rocky outcroppings and mountains; the reefs lend a white frothy hem to pristine blue and green waters; powerful and pervasive mid-winter, south-hemisphere winds whip the palm trees into a graceful frenzy and maintain the climate in the sunny mid-eighties.

After the Huahines came Tahaa, where half-day, deep-sea fishing charters were available, as well as beach, watersports, and some mild shopping. (Besides black pearls, which can run into real money, there’s not much beyond dyed wraparound skirts and scarves for the ladies, and local paintings and prints.) The dollar is not doing well against the French Polynesian franc—paradise is expensive.

After Tahaa we spent two days parked off Bora Bora, which isn’t bad duty. An ancient volcano gives this island a distinctive skyline, which was in view from various dramatic angles during much of the cruise. The focal point of the visit was a day at a white-sand beach punctuated by a generous midday cookout. A selection of tours included a canoe ride around the island, watching sharks eat breakfast, and a glass-bottom boat journey.

Raiatea was next on the itinerary. This is merely another beautiful piece of property, with a good deal of Polynesian history thrown in for good measure. Raiatea was once known as Sacred Havai’i, and was at the center of the Maori culture. When Captain Cook dropped anchor in 1769, he naturally claimed everything in sight for England. He bestowed the name Society Islands; the French took over in 1888.

The final port of call, Moorea, just eleven miles off Tahiti, was my favorite stop. I felt that one day was not enough, so I returned to Moorea from Papeete forty-eight hours later via a seven-minute air taxi ride and spent the day. Volcanic peaks sculpted like lightning bolts, glamorous bays and lagoons, and a mind-boggling panoramic view from Le Belvedere combine to give Moorea a memorable cachet. Waterfalls and technicolor-rich gardens abound; artists and writers are drawn to these fifty-three square miles. There are more than a dozen quality hotels and several smaller pensions on Moorea; the better-known properties get as much as $300-plus for a double per night. Two of the newest and most handsome hotels are managed by the Sofitel group, an Air France affiliate. They are the Kia Ora and the Tiari, replete with the look and comforts of ritzier resorts the world over. Moorea also has a small but lovely aquarium, and a mountain that played as Bali H’ai in the movie South Pacific.

The Wind Song came to Papeete on Friday; I spent the rest of the day being driven on a perimeter route of Tahiti. What a magnificent and visually satisfying island—each coast has something different to offer, all of it eye-filling. I also appreciated the stop at the Gauguin Museum. Gauguin never lived at this site, and only a few of his painting have hung here, but there’s a comprehensive and endearing reprise of his works and life. A worthwhile place to visit.

I’ve mentioned the high costs in French Polynesia several times in these two columns. The Tahiti Tourist Promotion Board is concerned about this "pricey" image. Last September, a formula worked out by the government and private interest groups was introduced to lower the costs of alcoholic beverages and soft drinks by as much as half. "This was a difficult exercise," I was told by Christian Vernaudon, who heads the board, "but it’s a start; it’s an investment in the future of tourism here." Hotel and taxi rates should come next.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.