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Waking up in on an island in the South Pacific is the closest thing to living in a waking dream. Hotel bungalows on stilts give you the impression you're floating. The lightly swaying palm trees are the only indication of wind. The blue of the sky and water is as clear as the green and red of the jungle flowers are vibrant. Just look at a Gauguin painting.

But where to stay, what island to hit, can be quandary, especially with all the affordable air and hotel packages available now that Air Tahiti Nui (tel. 877/824-4846; www.airtahitinui-usa.com) has opened up direct air service from New York to Tahiti.

With airfare out of New York starting at less than a $1,000, you can even build your own Tahitian travel experience. Air Tahiti Nui's online search engine makes it easy to find the least expensive fare and even asks before you search if you prefer "price" over "dates and time" for travel. Then if you don't like the fare, it gives you a calendar complete with color-coded dates offering the least expensive fares. We found a fare for $648 round-trip for early December that came to $820 after air taxes, departure fees and fuel costs. A bonus from the airline, if you fly to Sydney with a stopover in Tahiti pushes nightly layovers in Tahiti at beachfront hotels to only $35 or $55 per person per night based on double occupancy. These rates are available only for Air-Tahiti Nui customers flying from New York or Los Angeles. See www.tahiti-newzealand-australia.com/hotelbooking/us/default.asp for details.

Most of the hotel and lodging possibilities in the South Pacific can be found through the South Pacific Tourism Organization (www.spto.org), an excellent site that lists all restaurants and hotel possibilities. Rates in the South Pacific corridor vary depending on time of year, but some of the lower priced lodging options include low-amenities, no frill beach huts for $50 per night. For land-only deals to combine with that low airfare, Tahiti Legends (tel. 800/200-1213; www.tahitilegends.com) is offering a three-night Moorea special with lodging at the large beachfront 224-room hotel starting at $340. The hotel has two restaurants, two bars, a swimming pool, three meeting rooms and can arrange tee times at a nearby 18-hole golf course.

For you package travelers, Tahiti Vacations (tel. 800/553-3477; www.tahitivacations.net) has some extraordinarily low prices and airfare and hotel bundles to the South Pacific. A six-day offer to Tahiti and Moorea out of Los Angeles on Air Tahiti-Nui, your accommodations, interisland flights from Tahiti to Moorea, one night in Tahiti at the Hotel Tiare and four nights at the Hotel Hibiscus in Moorea, and all hotel service charges and taxes starts from only $999. Prices are person based on double occupancy with travel good from November 1 to December 12, 2005 and then from January 10 to March 31, 2006 with Thursday and Friday departures. Important to note on this deal, United States departure taxes are $140 per person. For $90 more, you can stay in a superior bungalow at the Hotel Les Tipaniers in Moorea. Les Tipaniers is a small 22-hut hotel all with private, fairly secluded terraces. Located on the northwest tip of Moorea, the hotel enjoys a special kind of isolation. In contrast, the Hotel Hibiscus is more rustic. Enjoying a stellar location on a small stretch of white sand, the hotel's very laid-back atmosphere and small but well-known island restaurant and bar, The Sunset, make for a mellow week in Tahiti. It might be Moorea's most bohemian lodging. This trip spends one night, a layover really, in the grand island of Tahiti, the business center of the South Pacific. The Hotel Tiare Tahiti is located just four miles from the international airport and in the center of all the action near shops and restaurants.

A 10-day Moorea and Bora Bora combination trip from Tahiti Vacations with airfare out of Los Angeles starts at $1,839. The trip includes round-trip airfare, five nights in Moorea, five nights at Bora Bora, all intra-country travel, transfers and baggage handling, a welcome flower lei and a farewell shell lei. Travel for this trip is good for any day of the week. The hotels at the starting level of this trip are beachfront properties complete with comfortable huts and small restaurants. These rates are for "Garden Bungalows," not the over-water huts popularized in photographs and travel brochures. Extra nights are available for lower prices than normal rates, usually at a 20 to 30 percent discount. A U.S. departure tax of about $122 is not included in the price of this package.

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