French Polynesia
by Witta Priester and Richard Baughn


Colorful Scarfs Huahine (population 5,400) is about 130 miles from Tahiti and is one of the larger islands of French Polynesia. It's actually two islands joined by a white 200-foot long, narrow bridge. We spent 4 days at the Huahine Beach Club. Its 17 individual thatched roof bungalows each had about 600 sq. ft of space with a covered porch out front. We got upgraded to a view of the ocean and the barrier island, or motu, of Ara'ara. Cooling breezes from the trade winds blew through the bungalow and a coil of burning incense kept the mosquitoes away at night. The hotel was less than 1/3 full, so the small pool, beach, and bar were all almost private. Coming to this island is a real getaway. The hotel has one TV, which was never on. We didn't see a newspaper while we were here, and the rooms don't have phones.

The Huahine Beach Club is about 18 miles from the airport and from the largest of the islands small towns, Far? (Fah ray). There aren't any other hotels near ours, indeed the 8 or 10 hotels on the island seem to be purposely isolated from one another. We took Le Truck (the local bus) back to Far? one morning. It goes once a day at about 8:00 and returns at about 11:00, a period of time more than sufficient to do the town. "Town" consists of one large market, a pharmacy, a few fruit stands, and a couple of restaurants and gift shops. LeTruck departs when the driver is ready and the passengers return from their shopping. One just waits leisurely, island style.

CottageThe local village, Par?a, about a quarter mile from the hotel, has a church and an elementary school but no restaurants or shops. The photo on the right shows a local home with its personal cemetery out front. With no place nearby offering anything in the way of food, you dine at the hotel. Fortunately the cook is excellent, and meals are not as expensive as those in Tahiti. Dinner is accompanied by an hour of local music: guitars, a banjo-like instrument, and vocals, sung in high male voices. The songs of the islands are invariably upbeat and listening to them contributes to that feeling of being somewhere special.

Water-related activities aside, there's not much to do on Huahine. The days are very relaxing: reading, writing, swimming, shade-bathing, kayaking, and naps. We signed up for a morning trip on an outrigger canoe to do a little sightseeing and snorkeling. As we motored around the lagoon, our guide Paul told us in passable English a little about his island home and himself. Manta rays were speeding black blurs but huge sting rays lingered in shallow water long enough for us to get a good look. Paul was hungry and feasted on fresh clams (not bad with a bit of fresh lime) while we snorkeled. We sighted many fish on the reef, including black and white zebras, a couple of kinds of angelfish and at least three types of bright yellow fish. The submerged coral wasn't particularly colorful, but the half day on the water was quite memorable.

You need to manage your expectations for a stay in an out-of-the-way spot like this. The hotel environment has its idiosyncrasies: mosquitoes and other itch inducers; thatched roofing through which the sky and the occasional raindrop peek; 3-4 inch wide crabs scampering into holes under the bungalow, along the beach, along the roads - everywhere; 5:00 A.M. wake-up calls from the roosters; chickens, tropical birds, and tame, but vocal, mongrel dogs roaming around. Oh, yes, and a wide assortment of other scurrying critters of varying shapes and sizes. New ownership in January might shape up the place a bit, but getting away from it all really just means arriving at a different all. Highly recommended - occasionally.

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Text and Photography by Witta Priester and Richard Baughn.
Copyright © 1999-2000 Witta Priester and Richard Baughn.
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