The Seldom-Seen Side of the South Pacific
|HEAVENLY SURRENDER: The aqua halo ringing Haunhine (courtesy, www.TahitiTourisme.com)|
If nicknames mean anything, Huanhine island, about 110 miles northwest of Tahiti, is doubly intriguing. Local tourist agencies call this island, which is actually two islands split by a channel, the "Garden of Eden." That seems fitting thanks to all the mango trees and steep green hills that dive into rustling palms and turquoise water. "Huanhine" is also ancient Tahitian for, well, "vagina," which historians believe might trace back to the influential role played by the island's female eldersand, no doubt, the source of countless tasteless jokes among the backpacking set that are drawn to the place.
Regardless of how you think of it, Huanhine is undeniably a gem. Plopped in the leeward islands of the Society Archipelagothe group that holds Tahiti properHuanhine sits within a stone's throw of Bora Bora but it remains worlds apart. About 6,000 people live on these two paradisiacal islands, which combined cover about 144 square miles. Quiet streets run high into the hills and past plantations. Though not unknown to tourists, in two days I come across perhaps a couple dozentops. Think of it this way: Bora Bora has almost 20 resorts. Huanhine: two.
And of those two, head for Te Tiare Beach Resortafter all, no trip to French Polynesia would be complete without staying in a hut over the water. The only way to reach the retreat is by boat, a 20-minute journey from town past hills covered in acacia trees to reach a collection of about 41 thatched-roof bungalows. A spacious restaurant with open-air seating leads to a series of boardwalks that crawl along a soft beach and gentle lagoon for snorkeling. Eleven of the bungalows sit in "deep water," meaning the classic huts perched on pylons. Mine is spectacular, with an outside deck that leads to a small dock with an outdoor shower. I get giddy when I see a manta rays splash beneath my feet.
While my friends head out to snorkel and picnic on a deserted island, I hop the boat back into town (it runs about every hour) for an afternoon of diving with Pacific Blue Adventure. Visibility can top 150 feet, and with so few resorts, pollution is minimal and thus the reef is well preserved. About ten dive sites sit sprinkled around the barrier reef, so I head out to one nearby, Fiti Pass.
For 48 minutes I follow huge triggerfish around gently sloping coral shelves. We watch spotted boxfish and swarming schools of jackfish. Dive here July through November, and you might even see humpbacks. For the second dive we head to Fa'amiti, or Valley of the Sea, where coral canyons hold more triggerfish and paddle tail fish. A black tip shark comes drifting by while sea reams and bird wrasses come right up to my mask.
Dinner tonight is more poisson cruthat raw fish marinated in coconut that rapidly becomes addictingand a wonderful plate of sashimi; when you're on an island, fish seems like the best choice.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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