Tahiti and French Polynesia continue to develop at a rapid pace, with more resorts and restaurants being added and renovated. Here's a recap of the major changes since the first edition of this guide in 2007. Other recent developments are posted on the "Updates" page of my personal website, www.billgoodwin.com.
Planning Your Trip
Air Tahiti Nui (www.airtahitinui.com) has stopped flying between New York and Papeete during the Northern Hemisphere winter from November 2008 until April 2009, normally the slowest time of year on the route. The New York-Papeete flights now stop in Los Angeles. Air Tahiti Nui still flies between Papeete and Tokyo, but it has discontinued its service to Osaka in Japan.
Air New Zealand has stopped flying over its historic "Coral Route" between Tahiti, the Cook Islands, and Fiji. Inaugurated in the 1950s, it was the only east-west shortcut between Tahiti and Fiji via the Cooks. Air Tahiti, French Polynesia's domestic carrier, has taken over part of the route, flying between Tahiti and Rarotonga twice a week.
Air New Zealand and Air Tahiti Nui are code-sharing their routes between Los Angeles, Tahiti, and Auckland. Air New Zealand continues to fly its planes between Auckland and Papeete, but you will travel in Air Tahiti Nui aircraft between Papeete and Los Angeles. The changes mean that only Air Tahiti Nui and Air France fly their own planes between Los Angeles and Tahiti.
The Tahitian Princess (www.princess.com) will operate in Alaska rather than French Polynesia from June through September 2009, after which it will relocate to Asia.
The 170-passenger tall ship Star Flyer makes 7-, 10-, and 11-day cruises from Papeete through the Society and Tuamotu islands. It's operated by Star Clippers (tel. 800/442-0552; www.starclippers.com).
Silversea Cruises (tel. 800/722-9955; www.silversea.com) has announced plans to send its luxurious ship Prince Albert II to French Polynesia for 6 months in 2009, with the Marquesas and Austral islands among its expected ports of call. Named the World Discoverer before Silversea Cruises upgraded it, the Prince Albert now has such luxuries as a wine restaurant by Relais & Châteaux. One stop it is expected to make is at Le Taha'a Private Island & Spa, a Relais & Châteaux-affiliated resort.
The live-aboard dive boat Tahiti Aggressor (www.aggressor.com) has pulled out of French Polynesia and is now in Fiji.
The luxurious, 330-passenger Paul Gauguin (www.rssc.com) occasionally ventures from Papeete as far west as Fiji, spending 14 days in each direction with stops in French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Tonga, and Fiji.
In Papeete, the Musée de la Perle Robert Wan (Robert Wan Pearl Museum) has moved to boulevard Pomare at rue l'Arthémise, opposite the Eglise Evangélique. Admission is free.
The Sofitel Tahiti Resort has reverted to its former name, the Sofitel Tahiti Maeva Beach Resort. It's less confusing, since locals have always called it simply the "Maeva Beach."
The modern Tahiti Airport Motel (tel. 50.40.00; www.tahitiairportmotel.com) overlooks the runways of Tahiti-Faaa International Airport. Its 42 air-conditioned units are minimally decorated, but have TVs, phones, fridges, Wi-Fi, and private bathrooms.
Fare Suisse (tel. 42.00.30; www.fare-suisse.com) is a four-room guesthouse on rue des Poilus Tahitiens in the Paofai neighborhood, within walking distance of the Papeete waterfront.
Backpackers can bunk in the two gender-segregated dorm rooms at Teamo Hostel, on rue du Pont-Neuf (tel. 42.00.35; email@example.com), in a 126-year-old house about 6 blocks inland from the Moorea Ferry docks.
Among Tahiti's restaurants, Auberge du Pacifique and Le Rubis have closed. Auberge du Pacifique's building is now occupied by the family-oriented Restaurant Blue Banana (tel. 42.22.24), serving French and Italian cuisine.
L'O a la Bouche, on Passage Cardella, has switched from traditional French food to a fusion of cooking styles; it's expensive, but it's also the top restaurant downtown. At Marina Taina on the west coast, Casablanca Cocktail Restaurant is now Casa Bianca, offering Italian instead of Mediterranean fare. Even better at Marina Taina is the Pink Coconut (tel. 42.22.23), which has a gorgeous view of Moorea to accompany very good French and Tahitian fare.
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Moorea Green Pearl Golf Course of Polynesia, at Temae near the airport (tel. 56.27.32; www.mooreagolf-resort.com), has French Polynesia's second course.
The Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort, formerly the Sofitel Moorea Beach Resort, has reopened after a year of extensive renovation. The resort's 1960s-vintage bungalows have been replaced by 80 versions that are more luxurious.
Moorea's dining options have broadened with the additions of Rudy's (tel. 56.58.00), a steakhouse in Maharepa, and La Petite Maison (tel. 56.34.80), a French restaurant beside Cook's Bay in Pao Pao village.
The colonial-style La Plantation restaurant on Moorea's northwest coast has a new owner and now serves jambalaya and other dishes from Louisiana.
You may think you're staying at a tented safari camp in Kenya if you opt for the Fare Ie (tel. 60.63.77; www.tahitisafari.com). It has well-equipped tents perched beside a beach north of Fare, Huahine's main town, and near Parea, on the island's southern end.
Relais Mahana (www.relaismahana.com) has reopened after nearly US$4 million in renovations. Patisserie Fare has closed.
Raiatea & Tahaa
On Raiatea's west coast, Hotel Mirimiri has changed its name to Raiatea Lodge Hotel (www.raiateahotel.com) and reduced its room rates.
In Uturoa, Restaurant Quai des Pecheurs is now known as Restaurant L'Espadon. Frankly, I was unimpressed with the food.
Among the superluxurious amenities at the St. Regis Resort Bora Bora (tel. 800/787-3447 or 60.78.88; www.stregis.com/borabora) is a 1210-sq.-m (13,000-sq.-ft.) spa on its own islet. The 100 superluxe guest quarters range from house-size bungalows to the Royal Estate, where Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban spent their honeymoon.
Also over-the-top is the InterContinental Resort and Thalasso Spa Bora Bora (tel. 800/327-0200 or 60.49.00; www.boraboraspa.intercontinental.com). The entire resort is the world's first to be air-conditioned using cold seawater pumped from 760m (2,500 ft.) down in the ocean. The saltwater is reheated for the Thalasso Spa's large swimming pool and unique treatments, some dispensed in rooms with glass floors set over water for fish viewing. The wedding chapel also is over the lagoon.
On the main island, the Sofitel Bora Bora Marara Resort, formerly the Sofitel Bora Bora Beach Resort, has reopened after being completely revamped. Its sister hotel, the Sofitel Bora Bora Motu, has changed its name to Sofitel Bora Bora Motu Private Island to reflect improvements during its own renovations. The InterContinental Le Moana Resort Bora Bora is back in business and much improved after a freak ocean swell did extensive damage in 2005 (no, it was not a tsunami).
La Matira Beach Restaurant (tel. 67.53.79) has taken over the lagoonside perch of the former Matira Bar and Restaurant, serving very good lunches and French fare for dinner.
Pirate's Bar and Restaurant has changed into Restaurant St. James (tel. 67.64.62), offering both French and Continental fare. The lagoonside bar is a fine place for a sunset cocktail.
L'Appetisserie is now the Aloe Cafe, but little else has changed at my favorite breakfast spot. You can still check your e-mail and talk on Skype.
Le Kuriri (tel. 74.54.54 or 67.82.23; www.maupiti-kuriri.com) is now the top pension on Maupiti. On the ocean side of Motu Tiapaa, it's owned by Anne-Marie Badolle and Camille Marjorel, who gave up corporate life in France to sail around the world and then settle on Maupiti.
The Tuamotu Archipelago
The charming Relais Royal Tikehau (tel. 96.23.37; www.royaltikehau.pf) has brought moderately priced accommodations to Tikehau atoll. Its four rooms and seven bungalows are on a small islet near the main island.
I no longer recommend Panau Lagoon and Pension Hotu on Tikihau.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.