Beautiful (but pricey) Bora Bora...Air Canada to Iqaluit...Jim's Deal of the Day
People have been lauding this South Pacific island as the most beautiful in the world for so long, you almost can't believe it can be that good. Until you're on a boat approaching the island, or staying at a nearby island and waking up in the morning to see the giant spires gazing at you in the morning mist. Or, even better, when you wake up at your beach bungalow and look out over the impossibly turqouise lagoon and see the puffy clouds and blue sky and thick, green mountains and rugged peaks.
The overwater bungalows are really an experience and a half. My unit at Le Taha'a Resort had a clear panel at the end of the bed where you could gaze down at the fish in the lagoon. Many overwater bungalows have them, but this one you could lift up and look directly into the lagoon and not simply through the glass. It also gave a nice boost of fresh air.
The Intercontinental Le Moana on Bora Bora
has great overwater units as well as terrific bungalows on the beach, which is where I stayed. I took the above photo from my unit, which was just dynamite.
The food on the trip was, for the most part, wonderful. But expensive? Oh, my. A lot of entrees at hotel restaurants run $40 Canadian or higher, and that includes fish that you would think would be plentiful in the surrounding waters and thus a little (or a lot) more reasonable. And don't even think or buying a bottle of booze; it's about $80 for a good bottle of rum or Canadian Club at the supermarket, so best to bring your own or stick with the local beer, most likely Hinano.
You can save a ton of dough in Papeete, the capital, by eating dinner at the bayside trucks called Les Roulottes. I had sliced veal and frites for 1000 French Polynesian Francs, about $14. They said it was veal but it tasted more like pork. Of course, eating at the food trucks involves a visit to Papeete, which they say is cleaner than it used to be but is still a pretty big, sprawling city and not what most of us travel that far to see.
National Geographic Traveler recently dumped on Tahiti. I understand their point that Papeete isn't the South Seas idyll some imagine. But dumping on Papeete misses the point, which is that you can go elsewhere on the main island of Tahiti and see things the way they were 20 years ago. Or go to Moorea or Huahine or Raiatea or Taha'a. Bora Bora is an island many natives say they avoid because of overcommercialism. But the main "town" of Vaitape still has a ramshackle charm, and you can avoid the crowds at any number of smaller villages or outlying motus (small islands). Honolulu is a big city, but that doesn't mean you should avoid the north shore of Oahu or the outlying islands of Hawaii, Kauai or Maui.
There are a few bargains if you stick to the pensions or smaller hotels, but the bigger, glossier hotels are expensive and the overwater bungalows tend to cost about $1,000 a night. Great for honeymooners, but pretty pricey for "regular" folks.
I'd have to caution business people, too, because the Internet service in Tahiti is spotty at best. Many hotels don't offer wireless or even a business centre connection. Others say they have it but it doesn't work. And most places that do have wireless charge a leg and an arm; sometimes $10 for a half hour but occasionally as much as $40 per hour, which is outrageous. And even then it took me 15 minutes to file a photo that drops into my blog here in Toronto in, oh, about two seconds.
Those issues aside, it's as lovely a place as I've ever seen and all that I dreamed about for the last couple of decades. If you're a fan of warm water, beautiful lagoons and beaches and towering palm trees and tropical breezes, not to mention Tahitian dancing (ii-yay-yay, you should see those girls) and culture, it's awfully hard to beat.
The outrigger canoe race I covered, the Hawaiki Nui Va'a, was an incredible scene; like no other sporting event I've witnessed. They take their canoeing seriously in these parts, as witnessed by the dustup prior to Friday's medal ceremony. Apparently fans of a team that got bumped or disqualified started mixing it up with fans of another squad, and a few seemingly harmless punches were thrown. The event was carried on TV and on radio, and dozens of cars would line the various islands to get a glimpse of the athletes.
I've seen five Olympics, a number of World Series, a ton of football and basketball games and a few hockey games, but nothing involving nearly 100 outrigger canoes racing up to four hours a day for three days in a row, all surrounded by Pacific swells and the chop and wave action created by perhaps 1,000 boats filled
with cheering, partying fans. The finish line (see photo) was sheer bedlam, with boats of every kind and thousands of fans partying in the lagoon at Bora Bora's Matira Beach. A real testament to the popularity of this race, it was. Highly recommended.
More coming soon at Star Travel, so stay tuned.
AIR CANADA GOES NORTH
Air Canada today announced that it will expand its network north with the start up of new, daily non-stop services to Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Air Canada Jazz will begin daily service on March 28, 2010 to Iqaluit with non-stop service from Ottawa and same-plane service from Montreal. Tickets are now available for purchase at www.aircanada.com or through travel agents.
JIM'S DEAL OF THE DAY