As a travel photographer who loves the outdoors, the Tahitian Islands have long been at the top of my list of exotic destinations to visit. In April I headed to French Polynesia for the first time, and from fresh seafood to tropical landscapes, this trip opened my eyes to a whole new kind of adventure. The color of the water was nothing short of mesmerizing, and traveling via a small cruise ship helped me uncover all kinds of hidden gems in paradise.
These are some of my favorite moments from Windstar’s seven-day Dreams of Tahiti cruise:
Paddling into the jungle
The Faaroa River is the only navigable river in French Polynesia, and paddling through this lush landscape was a unique way to experience Raiatea. I knew I’d have plenty of time to explore beaches and lagoons later in the week, and this half-day guided kayak tour offered a different perspective of Tahiti’s flora and fauna. After skirting the edge of the bay and entering the river gorge, I was spellbound. I paddled into narrow mangrove channels under a dense canopy of foliage, taking note of all the details around me. From birdsongs to the way the sunlight hit the vegetation above, every one of my senses was engaged.
French Polynesia is famous for its healthy coral reefs and crystal-clear water, making it one of the world’s top snorkeling and diving destinations. Whether it was offshore snorkel tours or wading into the water from the beaches of small islands, I was blown away by how much marine wildlife I saw. I encountered black-tipped reef sharks and stingrays in the waters off of Taha’a, and I lost track of how many species of tropical fish I saw in a lagoon on the west side of Bora Bora. I’ve been in the water everywhere from Hawaii to Jordan, and this was hands down the best snorkeling I’ve ever experienced. In addition to half a dozen snorkeling tours, guests can also get PADI certified as a shore excursion.
Beyond the abundance of marine wildlife, the color of the water around the Tahitian Islands never ceased to amaze me. The hues range from electric turquoise to pastel aqua, and the clarity was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. With an average annual temperature around 82 degrees Fahrenheit, I seized any opportunity I could to jump in, whether it was with snorkel gear or swimming from the beach of a private island, or motu. The water around the Tahitian islands was the definition of inviting, and it’s one of the main reasons I’m keen to return.
Beautiful Bora Bora
Considered the crown jewel of French Polynesia, Bora Bora is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Tahitian Islands. The imposing peak of Mount Otemanu is visible from all directions, and the surrounding atoll is an equally impressive sight. From water sports to photo ops, Bora Bora was unquestionably my favorite stop on the Dreams of Tahiti cruise. I enjoyed some of the best snorkeling on the entire trip here, and a brief helicopter flight gave me an incredible birds-eye view of the lagoons. I was thrilled we had two full days in Bora Bora, as there are an endless number of ways to explore this stunning island.
Watching the sunset on the water was the perfect way to end each day, and every night offered something new. I marveled as distant thunderheads turned pink on an evening lagoon tour in Bora Bora, and whether we were sailing or anchored, I was always on the upper deck of the ship when golden hour began. We also had plenty of time to admire the colorful skies before the Destination Discovery Event, which was held on a private motu near Huahine. As I walked barefoot on the beach, the horizon reflected fiery hues on the water, which rippled ever so slightly with the gentle breeze. It felt like a scene from a dream, but this is reality when it’s another day in paradise.
A magical evening
After the sun set, the Destination Discovery Event began with a spread of delicious, locally inspired cuisine, followed by a performance featuring traditional French Polynesian music and fire dancing. As we cruised back to e Wind Spirit on a small tender a few hours later, our ship was fully illuminated, its lights reflecting on the glassy water of the harbor. At the time it felt like a warm welcome home, and it now serves as yet another memory from an unforgettable journey in the Tahitian Islands.
Elisabeth Brentano is a writer and photographer based in California, but her passion for nature takes her all over the world to produce travel and environmental content. You can follow her at @elisabethontheroad on Instagram.