Trip Coach: October 21, 2008
Alexis Kelly, editor of the Fodor's guidebook to Tahiti and Polynesia, answered your questions about earthly paradise.
Honolulu, Hawaii: We vacationed in Tahiti in 1983, and it was truly our "dream" vacation. I'd love to go back, but we don't see airfare deals from Hawaii. It appears that all of the specials are on Air Tahiti Nui out of Los Angeles. Any suggestions for economy airfare?
Alexis Kelly: I hate to sound so repetitive, but Air Tahiti Nui really does have the most competitive packages. But alas, as you said, they only fly out of LA (or NYC in the high season). Hawaiian Airlines has great service and they do fly between Honolulu and Pape'ete, but may be a little more pricey, while United and America are probably the most competitive price wise for flights between Honolulu and Pape'ete.
Honolulu, Hawaii: We are planning a trip to Bora Bora and staying at the Bora Bora Nui resort and spa. We are looking for suggestions for dive charters companies to dive 4 days in a row. Also, are there any must-see things on Tahiti as we will have 1.5 days there layover in and out of Bora Bora. Thanks.
Alexis Kelly: Perfect choice! Bora Bora Nui has some incredible snorkeling right off its bungalows and the resort's location on Motu Toopua puts you fairly close to the Manta Pass and Eagle Channel dive sites. I would suggest contacting either Bora Diving Center or Nemo World (you can research both at boradiving.com). Both are located in Matira and are PADI certified. I believe they can pick you up at your resort too. I would also try contacting your hotel to see who they recommend. They may offer packages or deals and sometimes resorts have their own dive centers on the property.
As for Tahiti sightseeing, you'll be flying in and out of Pape'ete, which is the largest town in French Polynesia. And while it's not a metropolis on the scale of New York, it is a bustling city center. The plus? All of the must-see sites are located along Boulevard Pomare, the town's main road, which stretches for about 2 miles along the waterfront. You can have a lovely, leisurely stroll and take just about everything in. Make sure you check out the beautiful, buttercup-yellow Notre Dame Cathedral and Marche de Pape'ete, the town's public market. The market is a great place to pick up souvenirs like vanilla and woven hats and baskets.
Place Tarahoi, which is now home to French Polynesia's territorial government, was once the home of Tahiti's 19th-century royal family. The buildings and gardens are lovely.
I'd also stop by the Robert Wan Pearl Museum. You can see all sorts of pearl encrusted items, do a little pearl shopping, and take a guided tour—free guided tours are offered for two or more people with five days notice.
Make sure you grab a bite to eat at one of the 30 roulettes (mobile food trucks) that open up around 6 pm nightly at Place Vaiete, which is pretty much the heart of the city. The food is great and inexpensive, and its a great place to people watch.
If you want to do something more active and get out of the "city," most tour operators offer half day options that explore the inner island or coastal road. You could sign up for a half-day 4wd tour that will take you into the island past waterfalls and lakes; you might even get to see the blue-eyes eels in Vaihiria Lake! Or, for the less adventurous, there's circle-island tour that will take you around the big island in an air-conditioned minibus. There's also horse-back riding, hiking...the list goes on and on.
New York, N.Y.: We are arriving in Papeete late in the evening. What's the best way to get to our hotel (Sofitel Maeva), which does not provide transfer service? Also, do the taxis accept US dollars?
Alexis Kelly: Lucky for you there's a L'Truck stop across the street from the Sofitel Maeva. Taking L'Truck is a bit of an adventure, as the passenger seats are long benches that face each other in the open-sided back, but they are cheap and a great way to get around. You'll want to take the red and white buses that travel the west side of the island. You can catch them behind the market in Rue du Marechal Foch. They run Monday through Friday 6 a.m.-midnight. Unfortunately, there's limited service on Saturday and none on Sunday. The fare should be about 200 CFP for a one-way trip at night.
If this doesn't work with your schedule, taxis are available. You can catch taxis at the airport, at stands near Pape'ete's Centre Vaima, or just flag them down along the road. However, they are a very expensive way to get around. It will cost around 3,000 CFP (or about US$30) to go only a few miles.
And yes, unfortunately you will have to exchange your US$ for francs or CFP. There is an ATM at the airport, and that will give you the best exchange rate.
Alexis Kelly: Unfortunately, that's all the time we have today. Thanks so much for all of the great questions. I hope your trips to the South Pacific are wonderful. Don't forget to pick up Fodor's Tahiti & French Polynesia, 1st edition; it goes on sale October 21.