I consider myself an adventurous traveler. So I was almost embarrassed when my husband and I decided to honeymoon in French Polynesia. Sun, sand, overwater bungalows? How cliche!
But after two weeks in the Society Islands, a palm tree-studded archipelago about 15 hours away from New York City if you fly smart (we didn’t), I get the hype.
Yes, sometimes it was idyllic to the point of corniness, but isn’t that what life as newlyweds is all about?
Here are the standouts from these spectacular South Pacific islands.
“Please, please don’t write about this place,” said several guests at our first hotel, Vahine Island Resort and Spa.
The laid-back, luxurious motu (reef islet) is located about two hours by puddle jumper and boat from Faa’a International Airport.
Although Vahine recently doubled its guest capacity with a villa for large groups at the far end of the island, the resort is remarkably intimate, with just three over-water bungalows and six beach villas.
And while Vahine is well-appointed, its vibe isn’t posh. Not once did I put on makeup or a heeled shoe.
For us, it was a conduit to relaxed romance.
Our days on Vahine fell into an easy, lazy rhythm. In the morning, we moseyed out to the beach for a breakfast of tropical fruit, French pastries and a mousse-like yogurt made with Tahitian vanilla.
Next came activities: The hotel offers complimentary snorkeling, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and outrigger canoes.
Afternoons were for lounging, and we made good use of the hammock.
At 6 p.m., we headed back to the beach for cocktails followed by a reliably excellent dinner (standout seafood dishes included scallops in vanilla sauce and squid-ink pasta).
We were worried about Bora Bora. It’s the most touted of French Polynesia’s Society Islands. Is it worth the hype?
We fretted less once we set eyes on Bora Bora’s lagoon — other-worldly, glowing aqua water that eludes capture by conventional cameras.
And when a swanky, wood-paneled yacht fetched us from the airport to speed us to Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora’s private motu, we concurred that we would be just fine.
The ultrapolished Four Seasons Bora Bora features 100 recently renovated overwater bungalows (from $ 1,000 a night), the best of which possess views of the impossibly jagged Mount Otemanu.
There are four solid restaurants (our favorite was the Sunset Bar, which serves sushi and Japanese-inspired cocktails) and plenty to do (yoga, tennis, jet-skiing).
For couples, the spa treatment is unmissable. We went all out with the Taurumi Mind & Body Ritual ($ 390 per person), a blissful, romantic blur of body scrubs and tension-melting massage.
When I smushed my head into my massage-table doughnut pillow, I found myself gazing into an aquarium: The floor contained a glass portal to the lagoon below.
We spent most of our days learning how to scuba dive. Bora Bora is a great spot for first-timers: the water is so clear and calm that the usual pool training session takes place right in the sea. Expect schools of brightly hued fish, majestic Manta rays and a few lemon sharks.
Take the serene privacy of Vahine, weave in the red-carpet treatment of the Four Seasons, and turn the entire experience up about one thousand notches, and you have the Brando. The ultraluxe eco resort, about a 20-minute plane ride from Faa’a airport, is situated on the atoll of Tetiaroa, a smattering of small islets that Marlon Brando snapped up in the 1960s while filming “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
For years, the island was his own private paradise; in 2014, the Brando launched to re-create his glamorous, dreamy lifestyle. Nestled inside a dense forest of palm trees, the resort contains 35 opulent beachfront villas — all invisible from the hotel’s main path. More trees fence off your beachy backyard from your neighbors’. “You could literally tan naked here and no one would see you,” chirped a staffer.
Inside, the bungalows are bananas-luxurious. Along with a capacious master bedroom, we had a living room, a media room and a bathroom roughly the size of my Manhattan apartment. When I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, a path of small lights sprung up on the floor when my feet touched the ground, lighting my way.
If you’re going to drop a few paychecks here, spring for the all-inclusive package (starting at $ 3,650 — eek — per night for two) with a free run of the restaurants, including a hibachi counter and a French restaurant, as well as a daily trip to the spa.
It’s worth carving time out for a tour with one of the hotel’s naturalists. We took a boat out past Tahuna Iti, which the locals call Bird Island, to watch plumes of avians explode from the canopies.
On Motu Onetahi, we stalked out coconut crabs — bright-blue land-lobsters that grow up to a yard wide and can saw tops off coconuts with the deftness of a Santoku knife. On the final day of our vacation, my husband and I jolted with a start. We’d forgotten to take a single picture together.
We did quickly commission one from our bartender, but what a thought — to be so present in a moment that you forget to preserve it. If that’s not a sign of a successful honeymoon, I don’t know what is.
Things to do
Scuba diving: TopDive, a Scuba Schools International-affiliated program, has multiple locations and takes beginners through seasoned divers to the South Pacific’s top spots.
Snorkeling: On Mo’orea, a 30-minute ferry ride from mainland Tahiti, Captain Taina will tow you through crowds of sea turtles; treat you to a swim with rays and sharks, and a tour of underwater Tiki sculptures.
Food fun: Fresh-cracked coconuts, mangoes, chow-mein sandwiches, poisson cru: Mo’orea Food Adventures’ tour guide, Heimata, shows off the island’s best French Polynesian fare.
ATV ride: Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty on Albert Tours‘ ATV rides through Moorea. Drive through pineapple plantations, rivers slithering with eels and rocky mountain roads. Glorious vistas and fresh-pressed pineapple juice are your rewards.
Cultural journey: Polynesian Escapes founder Tahiarii will take you through Raiatea’s town center and key cultural sites, including an ancient marae (a kind of open-air temple).
More places to stay
The InterContinental: A convenient and reliable option in Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. The Tahiti location is near the international airport, and it’s a great place to start or end a trip with its fabulous pool and lively Polynesian dance show brunches.
Le Taha’a: This polished resort on a private motu has dreamy overwater bungalows and beach villas. It’s family friendly, but still quiet enough for romance.
Mo’orea Island Beach Lodge: This laid-back lodge lacks the bells and whistles of larger resorts, but it’s cute, clean and home to the most stunning sunset of our trip.
The author was a guest of Tahiti Tourisme.