The journey out to Tahiti and the islands of French Polynesia is one of the longest flights that you’ll ever make from mainland Europe and, having done it before back in October, 2010, I’m (more or less) ready to go back there again next month. But, even having done the trip once before, I still find the logistics involved in getting there and back quite staggering.
From my local airport at Newcastle, there’s a short, two hour Air France flight to Paris Charles De Gaulle, (that is, assuming that the notoriously volatile French air traffic controllers don’t choose to go on strike). From there, it’s a change of terminal after collecting my baggage, and then time to check in for the long haul out to Papeete, the capital of Tahiti.
Air Tahiti Nui is the national airline of Tahiti, and they fly big, four engine A340’s from Paris out to Tahiti, via a two hour stop in Los Angeles. The first leg from Paris to LA occupies a full twelve hours.
At LA, there’s a two hour stop to undergo a mandatory customs and immigration inspection, before you reboard the same plane (and sit in the same seat) for the remaining, eight hour haul out across the Pacific. By now, that plane has been completely cleaned, reprovisioned, and manned by a fresh crew. All of this is done sitting in economy, unless you get that lucky, blessed nod to turn left upon embarkation.
Now, economy on Air Tahiti Nui is actually pretty damned fine. The seats are arranged in a 2-4-2 across configuration, and the leg room is actually not bad at all. Disclaimer time: I’m a sky scraping 5′ 6″ tall.
Sure, the sum total is a journey time of around some twenty-seven hours, but pray consider this; when was the last time that you had that long to simply chill, enjoy a movie (or eight) on your own seat back TV, while savouring decent food and drink? Not often, I’ll bet.
You’ll feel the eleven hour time difference for sure when that plane door finally yawns open on touchdown at Tahiti’s Fa’a International Airport. But, even at 2130 at night, that heat will still hit you like a blast wave. And, once achieved, Tahiti is a living dream; one sculpted in towering rock formations, tumbling waterfalls, and graceful, gently swaying palm trees. The word ‘idyllic’ barely begins to do it true justice.
Having achieved this exotic, remote landfall, there’s two blissful days to acclimatise at the Inter-Continental, a fabulous waterfront hotel that’s just a short drive from the airport. It’s all manicured gardens and exotic pools, outdoor restaurants and fabulous accommodation, looking out over the peerless Pacific Ocean to the island of Moorea, just thirty-seven miles away. It’s as serene as it is surreal; Miso soup for breakfast, anyone?
But, of course, the real ‘Jewel in The Crown’ awaits in the port of Papeete on Saturday morning, in the form of the pristine, perfectly primped ‘Pearl of the Islands’- the gorgeous little Paul Gauguin.
Svelte, seductive, and specially built to cruise these languid, laid back waters, the Paul Gauguin comes in at just 19,000 tons in all. She cossets some 330 guests in six star, all inclusive, casually styled decadence that makes her the most exclusive, as well as inclusive, way to see these islands dotted like gemstones in the sparkling emerald carpet of the South Pacific.
With three all inclusive, open seating restaurants, indoor lounges and an outdoor bar/disco, and even an outdoor water platform for lowering her own kayaks, sailboats and scuba equipped divers into these incredible waters, the Paul Gauguin has become integral to the economy of these far away islands. Indeed, her trim, tidy little silhouette has become just as much a part of the local Polynesia beauty pageant as the looming bulk of Mount Otemanu itself.
In short, the Paul Gauguin is classy, expansive, laid back, and both delightfully languid and luxurious. She is certainly the best way to savour the sights, sounds and stunning scenery of French Polynesia that I can possibly imagine. And, just knowing that she will be waiting quietly for me in the harbour of Papeete fair guarantees that my long journey out to join her will truly fly by.