When people speak of paradise on Earth, the South Pacific island of Tahiti often comes to mind as the ideal. With good reason. Tahiti is a verdant oasis surrounded by turquoise-blue seas, and populated by inhabitants whose friendliness is legendary. Located in the South Pacific between South America and Australia, Tahiti lies at 17 degrees 32 minutes south latitude and 149 degrees 34 minutes west longitude.
Tahiti is just one island (albeit the largest), in French Polynesia; there are another 117 located in four main archipelagos-Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Tuamotu and Society. In all, the area is roughly the size of Western Europe. The islands that make up the Society group are Bora-Bora, Raiatea, Tahaa, and Huahine. They are the sparkling jewels in the exotic cruising grounds of your Tahitian sailing vacation.
Because these islands are downwind from Tahiti, they’re known as the Leewards. Their mountains rise from the sea atop the remnants of ancient volcanoes. Barrier reefs provide a habitat for sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, porpoises, colorful unspoiled coral, and countless species of fish, all of which make the Tahitian Leeward Islands arguably one of the world’s best areas for snorkeling and scuba diving. Throughout the islands, you’ll find top resorts and every imaginable watersport. In addition, there are island tours, archeological and historical, not to mention fine dining. And we can’t rave enough about the sailing.
The second largest island in French Polynesia, and home to the Dream Yacht Charter base is Raiatea. Historically, it was known as the sacred island and, in many ways, it is still the cultural heart of the region because of its rich history. Raiatea was once an important port on the ancient Polynesian routes through the islands, and its influence covered an enormous amount of territory, including Hawaii, Samoa and New Zealand, in addition to present-day French Polynesia. The many fascinating archeological and historic sites are well worth visiting on an island tour. They provide a glimpse into Polynesian culture that you can experience firsthand.
Long a favorite among sailors, Bora Bora is every bit the tropical South Pacific paradise. A single barrier reef encircles the two islands that make up Bora-Bora. The basalt rock face of Mt. Otemanu rises 720 meters (2,362 feet) above the crystal clear sea, accompanied by another nearby peak, Mt. Pahia. Together, they create a stunning vista and supply picture perfect views from anchorages in the lagoon. One of the key attractions of the lagoon is its unequaled snorkeling and swimming. The smaller island, Topua, is all that’s left of the ancient volcano of Bora-Bora. Secure anchorages, white-sand beaches, restaurants, shops, art galleries, luxury resorts, and island tours are among the pleasures of a visit to Bora-Bora.
The scent of vanilla is everywhere on Tahaa. Located just north of Raiatea, Tahaa is surrounded by the same barrier reef that protects Raiatea. Most people don’t know this, but all “French” vanilla comes from French Polynesia, and 80 percent of it is grown in the mountain valleys of the island Tahaa. Understandably, it has been nicknamed the Vanilla Island.
In addition to Vanilla, black pearls, one of the prizes of the region, are cultivated here. Local artisans craft fine jewelry featuring the pearls, and their intricate and beautiful bracelets, necklaces and rings are sold throughout the islands. Tours of the vanilla plantations and black pearl farms are a nice break. There is also a sea turtle preserve on Tahaa, where you can observe the creatures in a park setting. The island’s many fjord-like inlets are both scenic and well protected anchorages. The snorkeling on the reef is superb and Tahaa’s white sand beaches are ideal for swimming and picnicking, making it the perfect spot to pause your sailing vacation.
Known locally as the Garden Island because of its lush tropical forests, and the cultivation of vanilla, copra, and watermelons, Huahine is actually two mountainous islands connected by a short land bridge. The larger one is called Huahine-Nui, meaning big island, and, appropriately, the smaller one is called Huahine-Iti, meaning little island. Like Raiatea and Tahaa, it is much less traveled than Bora-Bora or Tahiti. Miles of pristine white-sand beaches, secure anchorages, and wonderful snorkeling are major appeals of this laid-back South Pacific treasure.