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Enjoy The Islands of Tahiti’s Cultural Treasures on This “Slow Travel” Trip
If ever there was a dream location to drop into for two blissed-out weeks and to fully immerse yourself in a new culture, it’s on The Islands of Tahiti. Surrounded by the crystalline waters of fabulous blue lagoons and lush landscapes with volcanic mountains rising up out of the sea, it’s also home to rich Polynesian history and delicious cuisine. The natural wonders and way of life make this region a relaxing yet stimulating place to try out the “slow travel” trend, the art of making time to truly take in all that a place has to offer. 

During this 14-day tour of Huahine and Moorea you’ll delve into the fascinating culture of these two naturally stunning islands, and come away with a deep appreciation for the laid-back lifestyle on each. Learn to live like a local over the course of a week on Huahine, one of the Islands of Tahiti’s best-kept secrets, then head to Moorea, the second largest of the Windward Islands, where the writer Herman Melville found inspiration for his 1847 novel, Omoo. Today, visitors continue to marvel at the island’s magnificent villages and the local customs that have been kept alive for centuries. 
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    Days 1-3
    Cultural immersion on Huahine
    After an easy 40-minute flight from Papeete on the island of Tahiti, check into a Tahitian Guesthouse such as Pension Tupuna, Moana Lodge, or Fare Maeva Huahine, to get a true flavor for the relaxed life on the sparsely populated island. These are just a few of the many options (also known as a pension) run by local residents, rather than large hotels, resulting in more opportunities for authentic interactions. You’ll really get to know the people who live here and enjoy conversation with them on a daily basis. Expect friendly proprietors to stop by your table to check in on you or even join you at mealtime—some also provide personally guided tours and outings. 

    The first order of business is sorting out transportation. The easiest option is to rent a car or a bike, and take time to explore. Car, quad, and scooter rentals are available, or for the more active types, biking will keep you fit and allow a deeper sensory experience, taking in the sights, scents, and sounds of the island that’s often referred to as the “secret” or “secluded” island. Home to roughly 6,000 people, it measures 10 miles in length, and is just eight miles at its widest point across. A week gives plenty of time to explore it all. (And on days you don’t want to drive or bike, taxi service, the public transit Le Truck, and tours—like four-hour trips from Island Eco Tours which take you to many of the island’s attractions—are available.) 

    Start the week off by browsing through the main village of Fare to get a good feel for the place. A lively but quiet village, it’s lined with shops, souvenir stores and food trucks, called roulottes—a perfect option for a lunch of poisson cru, burgers, pizza, or crepes. Take time to relax and luxuriate in the crystalline waters in the afternoon—snorkel, swim, or just frolic at will.    

    As chickens roam the island freely, it’s likely you’ll wake up on your second day here (and every day after) to the sound of roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing. After breakfast at your pension, enjoy a fascinating tour of the village of Maeva, famous for fish farming techniques that use V-shaped stone fish traps. The tools, an ancestral legacy, are built out of volcanic rock and still in use today.  

    While you’re there, visit the French Polynesian cultural site Marae of Maeva and The Fare Pōte’e Maeva Huahine. Marae are spaces dedicated to social and religious ancient Polynesian ceremonial activities, and you’ll learn all about it here at the educational museum of the Fare Pōte (which translates as a house where local knowledge, sacred traditions, and rituals were taught). You’ll also feast your eyes on archeological finds such as ancient paddles, axe blades, and tattoo combs. End the day with dinner back at your pension, while the sun sinks into the horizon.  

    For the more active traveler, a 4×4 off-road tour provides a thrilling way to see more of the island, or book a four-five hour deep-sea fishing tour, during which you’ll fish for the big fish of the island, such as jackfish, thazars, barracuda, and dolphinfish.
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    Days 4-5
    Hiking, views, and horseback riding
    Start one or more days at Chez Guynette for omelets and croque monsieur or madame. (Note: If you’re on the island on a Sunday, definitely book a table for the Sunday buffet brunch at Chez Tara, where you’ll sample local cuisine like chicken fafa, roasted taro, breadfruit, and suckling pig.) 

    Before the day fully heats up, take a morning hike to the summit of Mount Pohue Rahi, where you’ll encounter wildflowers, pine trees, and stunning views from the summit. The next day, discover Huahine’s verdant backcountry on a horseback ride. Book a full-day excursion that will take you to a vanilla plantation and includes picnic lunch and snorkeling, or opt for a two-hour sunset beach ride in the evening. Equine newbies fear not: these rides are suitable for all levels.
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    Days 6-7
    Sumptuous vanilla plantations, pearl farms, and boating
    Huahine is fertile land rich with Tahitian vanilla, bananas, and melons. Be sure to take a Tahitian vanilla plantation tour to learn more about this important part of the economy. You’ll also want to visit another iconic part of the islands of Tahiti, the cultured pearl farm, which remains committed to marine conservation and the protection of French Polynesia's Tahitian cultured pearl heritage. The main hut juts out above the water and is accessible only by boat—you can get there on a tour run by external companies or by the pearl farm itself.  

    End your time on Huahine with a boat tour of the lagoon from Huahine Nautique. During a full day on a circle island tour, you’ll feed the stingrays and sharks and picnic on a motu (or small island). For a more active thrill, try an outrigger tour or jet skiing, complete with a private lobster lunch with tables and chairs set up in a shallow part of the lagoon. Cap off your stay with dinner at Huahine Yacht Club, which is the island’s most-recommended restaurant (and only true bar), and for good reason. It boasts amazing seafood, like breaded coconut fish and tuna sashimi, happy hour, and spectacular sunsets.
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    Days 8-10
    Rub elbows with Moorea locals
    Fly from Huahine to Moorea on Air Tahiti. (Or come to Moorea first if you prefer, reversing this itinerary, and flying in from Papeete on a 10-minute flight, or arriving by the high-speed Aremiti ferry that takes 30 minutes.) Rent a car from Avis Pacific Car rental, or opt for a bicycle: A bike lane hugs pretty much the entire coastline, which is mostly flat, making for an invigorating yet still relaxed way to take in every magical moment. Check in to a Tahitian Guesthouse, such as Fare Edith, Fare Nani, Village Temanoha or Green Lodge, and make friends with the locals who own and run the places.   

    There’s no better way to continue your cultural immersion than spending a few afternoons at the Espace Loisirs Kultur, also referred to as the ELK cultural center. Make a point of signing on for multiple activities throughout your trip, whether in consecutive days or spread throughout, so you can delve into all of the various cultural, artistic, artisanal, and musical activities offered there. You can’t dream up a better, more immersive cultural experience. The center is geared toward locals and tourists alike, so you will really get up close with local residents, exchange ideas, and enjoy each other’s company.   

    You’re in good hands here with director Adelina Hanere, who has spent her professional life as a cultural ambassador for the Polynesian Islands and in particular for her home island of Moorea. Book activities at Hinemanea, the school for arts and culture, which offers artistic experiences including music and dance classes. And take courses at Tarava Village, a community of artists, artisans and crafts people offering a variety of cultural and artisanal hands-on workshops. While you’re on premises, dig into tasty treats and home-cooked meals from Mamamya, ELK’s own food truck. 

    And one afternoon or evening, be sure to check out Toatea Creperie & Bar  at the Hilton—marvel at the stingrays and reef sharks circling below as you feast above.
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    Days 11-12
    Exploring and feasting around the island
    A great way to get to know a place is to feast on its local dishes. Spend a day meeting new friends and local purveyors while tantalizing your taste buds on the Tamaa Moorea Street Food Tour. Tamaa means “to eat” in Tahitian, and you’ll be eating your way throughout the island on a guided culinary journey led by Chef Heimata Hall and the former (2008) Miss Tahiti, Hinatea Boosie.  

    Come hungry, as you’ll get six to eight tastings from off-the-beaten-path spots around the island over the course of 4-5 hours. As you dive into local seasonal fruits, casse-croute, fish dishes, pai, mape, and more, you’ll be learning about the three different food cultures (Tahitian, Chinese, and French) that make up the melting pot of Tahitian Cuisine. It’s an 8 a.m. departure, rain or shine, and suitable for just about everyone. (There are flights of stairs on a few stops though). More intimate private tours are also available for up to four people. 

    What better way to cap off a day of eating than with some locally made spirits and juices? Book a distillery tour of Rotui Juice Factory & Distillery, and taste test juices like watermelon and passionfruit, as well as coconut cream liquor, ginger liquor, and pineapple rum. Sweet! 

    Having feasted the previous day, you’ll want to be active today. Take a day trip to Belvedere Lookout for spectacular views, near the town of Paopao. Go early morning to avoid any crowds and savor the sunrise views. You’ll pass by the ancient temples Marae Titiroa and Marae Ahu-o-Mahine. Take time to wander the ruins of these 1,000-year-old sites that served as religious and community gathering spots for ancient Polynesians. Explore the Pineapple Route, to your left as you come down from Belvedere Lookout. Park the car and wander by foot through lush fragrant fields of pineapple for a delicious sensory experience.  

    Have a snack at Iarona Smoothie, a little shack across from Aimeo Lodge in Cook’s Bay, for acai bowls and smoothies. And then explore Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay for palm-fringed shores and picturesque mountain peaks. For dinner, book a table at Moorea Beach Cafe, for more refined dining. Here, you’ll enjoy flavors like chorizo and scallop risotto while savoring picture-postcard sunsets.
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    Days 13-14
    Snorkeling among stingrays and black tip sharks
    Take a circle island tour and spend a half-day traveling the 37-mile road around the island, allowing plenty of time for exploring passions, from photography to hiking, and breaks for souvenir shopping. Refresh with tropical fruits from stands along the way. You’ll also have time for reflective moments of quiet when you stop by some truly quaint Catholic churches like Eglise de la Sainte Famille in Ha’apiti.

    Fuel up at lunchtime at Allo Pizza, for surprisingly delicious ‘za, and for dinner, dive into traditional Tahitian dishes like coconut mahi-mahi or poisson cru as you take in refreshing sea breezes at Snack Mahana.  

    For your last outing on Moorea, what better send off than a snorkel day? Explore Moorea’s amazing lagoon over a six-hour tour, watching stingrays and black tip sharks. It culminates with a cooking class, where you’ll learn to prepare poisson cru, and immerse in demonstrations of Polynesian culture such as braiding, how to tie your pareo (sarong), and lectures about medicinal plants. 

    Fly home, taking with you the relaxed and authentic approach to life—having dipped so completely in the culture here, you’ll be able tap into that spirit of the islands for years to come.