Paradise for All
Honeymooners have long laid claim to the dreamy islands of French Polynesia. But Josh Rottenberg finds that rental bungalows on Moorea and Tahiti are giving families their own sweet taste of paradise.
Laurel and James built Te Nunoa using the wood from local aito trees and furnished it with a king-size canopy bed with a Tempur-Pedic mattress, a twin daybed with a trundle, and handcrafted chairs from Bali. They opened the bungalow to renters in April 2008, and it's been steadily booked ever since. Given the success of this first venture, the Samuelas are planning to unveil two villas and several new bungalows a short drive east on Opunohu Bay.
Bob and Mary Hammar, a retired American couple from University Place, Washington, have had similar luck renting their house, Fare Hamara. The couple, who formerly owned a chain of medical-uniform shops, first came to Moorea more than 30 years ago on vacation. "We'd been 19 years in business without taking a break, and we got talked into going to Moorea by some church friends," Bob remembers. Their two-bedroom, octagonal house, which they built in the 1980s, sleeps six people and has a sweeping view of Opunohu Bay off a deck that encircles the house. Since 1993, they've leased it out to visitors, and once or twice a year they stay there themselves. Bob still can't quite believe their good fortune: "If you'd told us 30 years ago we'd be doing this, I'd have laughed at you."
At the end of the week, we moved to Fare No Tehau, a thatched-roof, two-bedroom house owned by David Gierlach and Ida Teiti, who live in Hawaii. Fare No Tehau, "The House of Peace," is set in a gated community beside a channel feeding into a lagoon. Inside, a staircase made from gnarled wood leads to an airy loft with a canopy bed—our girls got endless enjoyment climbing those stairs.
We wanted to see more islets after our dreamy day on Motu Tiahura with Hiro's Tours. Motu Fareone, next to Motu Tiahura, is close enough that you can kayak out, but we took the easy route, hiring a boat at the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa. A five-minute walk put us on an empty beach, where we spent the afternoon like castaways in a New Yorker desert-island cartoon.
Our last night on Moorea, the inky sky was filled with the most awesome display of stars I'd ever seen outside of a Carl Sagan PBS special. Laurel had been talking up Pizza Daniel, a roadside stand with an outdoor brick oven. Coconut-tree stumps serve as tables and chairs in front of the restaurant, but as we had before, we returned to our patio with our thin-crust pizzas—and the sounds of drumming and singing from the Polynesian dance show at the Tiki Village Theatre wafted over the canal.
Faster than I could've imagined, we found ourselves resettled into work and school and buzzing BlackBerries. But somehow, having lifted the fog of fiu at least temporarily, it all seemed to wash over us a little more gently.
MOOREA ADDRESS BOOK
by Nicholas DeRenzo
Traveling to French Polynesia—made up of 118 islands, including Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora-Bora—is more time-consuming than challenging. It's an eight-and-a-half-hour flight from L.A. to Tahiti. From the U.S., Air Tahiti Nui, Air France, Delta, and Qantas all fly direct to Tahiti's Faa'a International Airport (PPT). Air Tahiti Nui is offering its Family Special through the end of the year: Get two free kids' tickets with two adult ones (airtahitinui-usa.com). Moorea, 12 miles west of Tahiti, is a 30-minute ferry ride. The Aremiti 5 is the largest and fastest ferry (aremiti.net, one way $13 adults, $7 kids). Air Moorea runs 40 10-minute flights a day (011-689/86-41-41, one way from $48, round trip from $93).
WHEN TO GO
Dry season (with an average temperature of 78) runs from May through November. The wet season, from December through April, is marked by humidity and storms but also lower prices.
Bali Hai Boys Beach House
balihaiboys.com, two bedrooms from $268
011-689/56-25-33, mooreabungalow.com, one bedroom from $220