Ultimate Indulgence: A Private Boat in French Polynesia
It’s a rare person that can resist the warmth of white sands, the sparkle of crystal waters and the luxury of a beachside resort. Being stranded on a tropical island with nothing but fish, fruit, and a sexy native is a fantasy we all have envisioned. However, upon arrival at your beachside destination of choice, you may find that you will have to share this fantasy with many other travelers, and the reality may not live up to your dreams. The hotel may be beautiful, the beach looks like it does in the picture, but you are still left with wanting a little more.
Luckily, there is a different way to vacation in the tropics that appeals to your own personal sense of adventure. Recently, a friend and I decided to skip the resort-style living for something a little more unique during our trip to Ra'iātea, a remote island in French Polynesia.
The flight from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui was surprisingly only a pleasant, eight-hour trip. Once we landed, my friend and I traveled by a smaller plane to the Ra'iātea’s airport. I use the term “airport” loosely, as it is about the size of my mother’s home in Texas. Upon arrival, a representative from the Tahiti Yacht Charter greeted us, swept up our bags into her van and whisked us away to the pier.
In a matter of minutes, we went from the steps off our plane to the deck of a small catamaran that would be our home for the next few days. Our skipper, Jeron, was a French-born Ra'iātea resident with a charming yet quiet disposition. He gave us a map of the island and detailed what we would me doing over the next couple of days. Our personal chef, Maiva, was also French and had been living on the island for six years. She was young, friendly, and beautiful; the kind of woman that you instantly wanted to befriend. After she served us a local beer and asked about any food allergies, we were off on a leisurely ride to our first destination.
As we traveled to the mouth of the river of Ra'iātea that fed into the lagoon, Maiva served us a delectable raw fish salad served Polynesian style with coconut milk, carrots, onions and romaine lettuce. After countless meals at hotel restaurants, this exotic and refreshing meal sparked my senses and paired perfectly with our tropical paradise. Right from the start, I knew that this was going to be the type of vacation that I had been craving — something different.
After our lunch and a breathtaking ride on the coast, Jeron dropped the dingy from the back of the boat and my friend and I piled in. We traveled into the mouth of the river and away from the lagoon to watch the waters turn from a cerulean blue to a milky green. Two friendly Polynesian women paddled by us in canoes, waving as they went by. A young boy tucked up in the branches of a sprawling tree appeared and also exchanged greetings. But the most peculiar sight was the waterside fruit stand. A lady sat next to a table filled with coconuts, bananas, and papayas for sale — acting as sort of a drive-through for river travelers.
After our forage down the river, we continued our journey around Ra'iātea. After an hour of sailing and a brief tropical shower, Jeron set down the anchor next to a secluded island and an expansive coral garden. My friend and I jumped off the back of the boat with our snorkels attached and set off to explore the island and its surroundings. A variety of exotic fish swam in and out of the coral. I took a baguette into the water and I soon had a swarm tiger fish plucking it from my fingertips. Unlike other snorkeling ventures I had been on with large groups of other tourists, this experience was uniquely my own.
I walked the small coastline and was immediately greeted by a gathering of crabs running in and out of their homes. These funny looking creatures were the largest and most prominent inhabitants of the island, so I kept to the sands and let them be. I was just happy to be a casual visitor, briefly taking a peak at their native land.
I jumped back into the water to swim back to the catamaran when I spotted a tiger ray; a stingray covered with bright silver leopard spots. I kicked my fins and caught up to the ray and swam alongside him for a while, mesmerized by his markings and thinking how he must be related to the animal that shares his pattern in some bizarre way. Just he and I, or her I suppose, swimming together somewhere in the South Pacific.
That night, Maiva treated my friend and I to a delightful fish and potato dinner. We sipped white wine and devoured the dish, famished from the swimming and excitement of the day. Jerone brought out a map of Ra'iātea and explained our course for our travels the following day. We anchored in between a sloping hook of land off the island’s coast and another small islet, surely filled with crabs as well. After finishing our dinner, we had cocktails on the deck and watched the sun finally slide behind the green peaks of Ra'iātea.
The next day, my friend and I woke up to the sunrise while we sipped coffee that Maiva prepared from a French Press. Then we jumped into some kayaks and set off to paddle around the islet. As I neared the land and the shallow waters revealed more coral, I spotted a manta ray. Large, rounded, and the color of sand, his camouflage almost worked, was it not for the coral that exposed him for me to see.
After breakfast and a quick shower, Jerone set sail and we headed off to visit a local pearl farm. As we approached the pearl house, situated on a small pier, a beautiful woman wearing a simple black dress and no shoes walked out onto the dock to greet us. It was as if she was out of a movie, with sparkling eyes, beautiful olive skin and a Spanish accent. As she demonstrated how their farm creates their pearls, I learned she had moved to Ra'iātea from Spain. And she did so for love, which was only fitting with the rest of her storybook appeal. Although it was interesting to learn about the pearls, it was she who left a lasting impression that I won’t soon forget.
From the pearl farm, we walked inland along a roughly paved road to a vanilla plantation that sat at the base of a small mountain. A friendly German man greeted us and guided us up the mountain to see the growing vanilla vines and learn about the process of making these aromatic beans. Afterwards, we were able to buy some of his personal stock of vanilla in a small, makeshift gift shop just outside his house.
After our island tour, Jerone scooped us up into the dingy and took us back to the catamaran where Maiva had prepared a beautiful quiche and a bright couscous salad. We set sail to find the perfect spot for an afternoon swim and anchored between a set of three islets of the coast of Taha’a, another remote island in French Polynesia. As my friend and I swam around the coral and gazed at the schools of fish, another stingray swam by. No matter how many times it happens, I will always follow a stingray when the opportunity arises.
Whether it is off the coast of Costa Rica, in the Caspian Sea or among the islands of French Polynesia, chartering a private boat presents the perfect opportunity to break away from the resort life for a vacation that is a little more adventurous. If you want to fantasize like you are a little mermaid, a pirate looking for treasure, or two lovers shipwrecked on a deserted island, your private boat will take you there. Obviously, I was the mermaid.
TYLER CURRY is a Dallas-based writer. Follow him on Twitter here.