Get Away With Fran

May 6, 2010

Hiking in paradise on Paul Gauguin Tahiti cruise

Filed under: Cruise — admin @ 10:16 pm


It was a little cloudy on our arrival into Cook’s Bay on Moorea, early this morning, but even so when I pulled open the curtains and stepped onto my cabin balcony on the Paul Gauguin I had to gasp. Moorea is arguably more beautiful even than Bora Bora.


Moorea (pronounced MOE-oh-ray-ah) serves up dark, jagged peaks (peaking through the clouds today) above miles of lush greenery and the bluest of blue sea. Bays occupy what was once a very big volcano’s crater. The whole scene is strikingly beautiful.


The island boasts too some 37 miles of white sand beaches and a large coral reef full of undersea delights. But I stuck to land today, booking an escorted hike up a trail known as Three Coconuts, which you reach from the Belvedere lookout, about a half hour’s drive from where the ship’s tenders dropped us off (even if you don’t do the hike, don’t miss the lookout).


I knew the hike was 3 ½ miles and was going to be going uphill for better views of Mouaroa, the most impressive of the peaks. But I got the idea we might be in for more when our guide, Iro, took out a large knife and began whacking bushes to find us walking sticks.


I had the song “Bali Hai” from “South Pacific” stuck in my head. A mysterious paradise was calling as we hiked up the trail towards the clouds on dirt, muddy dirt, rock steps and wet rocks and over tiny streams and over and under tree roots.


Sweaty from the tropical heat, the nine of us on the hike persevered, and reached the top in just under two hours. And we were well rewarded with spectacular views in all directions – Cook’s Bay with our ship at anchor, Opunohu Bay on the North Coast. And Mouaroa, looking a tad evil over the magical landscape.

A deep forest canopy protected us from the little rain above, but we did slip and slide a tad climbing down (and yes, I ended up on my butt at one point).

Still, Bali hai? Piece of cake.

May 5, 2010

In the water with sharks in Bora Bora on Paul Gauguin cruise

Filed under: Cruise — admin @ 5:51 pm


Okay, ready. Get the theme from “Jaws” in your head. Think shark.

Now combine that with the musical “South Pacific,” and views of the most gorgeous island on earth, Bora Bora, with its impressive volcanic peaks and sea in all kinds of shades of blue and green and swaying palm trees and the silkiest of white sands.

And yup, you pretty much have my day. Well, add a few friendly stingrays to the mix and a bunch of different kinds of fish – Bora Bora serves up an undersea world well worth exploring too.


Five of us headed off from our ship, the Paul Gauguin, with Ringo Tours (you can book them via the InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort) in a six-person boat in search of sharks. And when we found them, we got in the water and snorkeled with them.


No worries, these were small black-tip sharks (about 4 feet long), more interested in the sardines proffered by our boat captain, Aree, than in us.

Still when four are nearby, that voice in your brain goes “shark.” So I stayed back when some of my companions ventured further, and that’s when I noticed a much bigger shark hanging out way below in the 32-foot sea. Turns out he was a lemon shark (maybe 10 feet long).

I watched him for awhile and he seemed to notice me too. I knew he was probably harmless, but when he circled back for a closer look, I decided it was time to scurry back up on the boat.


I was a little more comfortable getting cozy with stingrays. When Aree, after some singing on his ukulele, steered the boat to a waist-high spot of water, big gray discs started to appear.


We jumped into the sea and the stingrays rubbed against us, like dogs looking to be petted, their skin velvety smooth. Even though we were on a reef in the middle of the sea, and not in some aquarium, these stingrays sensed meal time and about a dozen hung around us looking for Aree’s sardines.


A third stop on our excursion took us to a coral garden, in about 16 feet of water, which was jam packed with many kinds of fish including some decent-sized ones and beautiful colorful coral. A fourth stop offered the same.


After all that snorkeling, we headed to a private motu, where lunch was served in a hidden cove, and we’re talking a gourmet lunch with a cold bucket of champagne awaiting, with breathtaking views everywhere. I can’t imagine Captain James Cook, the first westerner to sight these shores (the Paul Gauguin actually anchors in the same inlets as Cook) ever imagined tourists here could have it this good.

May 3, 2010

Snorkeling in paradise on Paul Gauguin cruise

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , — admin @ 9:37 pm


Views today were even prettier than the day before, though yesterday I would not have thought that possible. Cruising in Tahiti is truly amazing.

The Paul Gauguin cruise ship actually didn’t move very far. We overnighted in Raiatea, the second largest of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, and then within the same barrier reef, cruised this morning to Taha’a, a tranquil, mostly undeveloped place where people fish, raise livestock, grow vanilla and, occasionally cater to tourists (long ago the thing here was firewalking but that’s rare today).


Two Polynesian fellows took about a dozen of us passengers from the ship out in a small, open boat for about 15 minutes to an uninhabited islet so we could explore an underwater coral “garden.” The excursion ($129) was billed as being for experienced snorkelers and was challenging only in that you needed to avoid the coral in very shallow water, maneuvering in a mild current. Minimal effort and well worth it. And I say this even though I did manage to get my knee slightly rubbed on coral early in the trek, and have a few itchy dots to prove it (I fought the coral and the coral won).

The multi-colored corals themselves were spectacular – purple, blue, orange. And I saw yellow fish and tiny blue ones, black fish and some with multiple colors (sorry fish folks, I am not a pro). None were bigger than you’d find in a fancy (more…)

Spectacular Paul Gauguin cruise in Tahiti

Filed under: Cruise,International — Tags: , , , — admin @ 1:24 am


I knew I would use the word “spectacular” a lot on this trip because I was coming to Tahiti, South Pacific paradise found.

I didn’t know I’d start thinking it from the plane. But flying eight hours from LA, over Pacific Ocean, ocean and more ocean and suddenly a view of islands shaped like crescents and clouds that mirrored the shape of the volcanic peaks on land – spectacular.

I’m in Tahiti to review the Paul Gauguin, a luxurious, 332-passenger cruise ship named for the French impressionist artist who helped put French Polynesia on the map. I actually cruised on the ship about 11 years ago, but it’s now under new ownership by the folks who also operate Pacific Beachcomber luxury resorts here. So time, I figured, for a revisit.

And yes, the ship is rather spectacular. It’s the little things that count of course, and nice first impressions on a hot tropical evening were made by the cold towel and glass of champagne offered as we arrived at the ship, docked in Papeete, capital city of this island nation.

On the ship, my verandah cabin is done up in classy, mellow style and has a flat screen TV, an IPod docking station, fresh flowers, and L’Occitane bath products. There’s a nice big and rather plush bed, and plenty of room to stretch out.


After a decent night’s sleep, breakfast on my verandah this morning – gotta love room service – was an ahhh experience as I watched the ship approach the island of Raiatea, views including the bluest of blue seas and greenest of green landscape.

It’s the colors, man, seems an appropriate phrase. The name Raiatea actually means bright sky. And the sun was sure shining. (more…)

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