Travel

Why French Polynesia Is a Queer Honeymoon Sleeper Hit

Consider (gay) paradise found.

Mike Liu/Shutterstock
Mike Liu/Shutterstock
Mike Liu/Shutterstock

I never went on a honeymoon. Not that I didn’t want to-my now-wife and I had high hopes of jetting off to Tokyo or Venice, but the pandemic had other plans. We ended up getting legally married during the thick of the pandemic, after which we road-tripped around the Great Lakes and camped in the Upper Peninsula for a week. Sure, it was nice, but sweating it out in a musty tent with our dog wasn’t exactly the relaxing honeymoon we’d imagined way back when.

Had we had a honeymoon, however, we both knew that as a queer couple, we’d have to take a few more precautions during the planning stage. A tour of Morocco, for example, sounds brilliant until you take into account the fact that same-sex sexual activity is illegal in the largely conservative country-it doesn’t mean a trip is out of the question, of course, but it might deter from a location’s romantic appeal. And while laws and attitudes continue to change and evolve on a global scale, the truth is that much of the world still falls into this category in one way or another (including, it should be said, great swaths of the US).

Photo by Meredith Heil
Photo by Meredith Heil
Photo by Meredith Heil

It might seem like a no-brainer, but as a travel editor, I travel a lot. Sometimes it’s trips of my own design-occasionally, perhaps, even an actual vacation-but more often than not, I’ll have been invited by a tourism board, brand, or hotel to come and experience what they’re all about in case it might inspire a future story. This is a common industry practice, and it means my inbox sometimes functions as a gateway to exploring the world outside my home office-which, of course, is undoubtedly awesome.

But as an openly queer, gender-nonconforming person, that awesome can also be complicated. Much like the honeymoon process, I have to do a bit more research about a destination before hopping on a plane. Do I love soccer more than just about anything? Clearly. Yet I quickly turned down each of the half-dozen or so emails I received asking to fly me out to last winter’s FIFA World Cup. Being gay is illegal in Qatar, and the potential to be thrown into unsafe or even just uncomfortable situations simply wasn’t worth the gamble, Messi or no Messi.

So when an invitation to Tahiti and Bora Bora crossed my desk a few months back, I did a few quick Googles and ascertained that yes, gay folks seemed to fare just fine in French Polynesia. My only hesitation was my impression that Bora Bora, in particular, was fancy and beachy, and fancy and beachy can sometimes spell awkwardness if one’s formal and swimwear don’t align with gendered expectations. But, I figured, the itinerary seemed chill enough to appease my worries.

What I didn’t realize, however, was just how outwardly queer-friendly-and incredibly queer romantic-these islands would be, from the moment I stepped onto the plane to my last sip of pineapple juice before catching my flight home. So if you’re planning the ultimate LGBTQ+ honeymoon (or babymoon, engagement, wedding, even gay little vacation) it doesn’t get much better than an escape to the breathtaking South Pacific archipelago of French Polynesia.

Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (Bora Bora, French Polynesia )
Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (Bora Bora, French Polynesia )
Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (Bora Bora, French Polynesia )

Pick an island, any island

Most visitors coming from the US fly into Faa’a International Airport in the Tahitian capital of Papeete. A major few airlines service the laid-back international gateway year-round-namely Air France, Air New Zealand, and United-but the favorite here is Air Tahiti Nui. The flagship carrier runs regular routes aboard its Boeing 787 Dreamliner-dominated fleet to and from Los Angeles and Seattle, with flight times ranging from about seven to nine and a half hours in the sky. Inside, Air Tahiti Nui’s bright, sunny, island-inspired color palette and complimentary flower upon boarding is nothing short of delightful. Treat yourself to Business or Moana Premium Class for an extra cushy trip because, let’s face it, honeymoons aren’t for cutting corners.

Once you land in Tahiti, you’ve got a couple of options. French Polynesia’s most populous island gives visitors a much more local experience than its more touristic counterparts. There’s just one proper resort to speak of-the Hilton Hotel Tahiti-and many travelers find lodging in smaller and more rustic hotels and motels, hostels, or Airbnbs.

Le Piano Bar PAPEETE TAHITI
Le Piano Bar PAPEETE TAHITI
Le Piano Bar PAPEETE TAHITI

Papeete boasts the area’s largest cluster of gay-oriented nightclubs by way of the Mahu District, popular haunts for locals and out-of-towners alike. Roam the strip around Rue des Écoles and you’re sure to stumble upon weekend drag performers, karaoke joints, and queer or queer-friendly restaurant and bars like Bora Bora Lounge, Le Paradise, Bar le Chaplin’s, and Delirium Discoteque (f.k.a. Le Piano Bar, a historic favorite among gender-nonconforming Tahitians and their admirers).

But if chilling out on the beach is more your speed, you’ll want to change planes in Papeete for a puddle-jumper headed to one of the island chain’s famed vacation destinations like Moorea or, my personal recommendation, Bora Bora. There, sprawling resorts, many equipped with overwater bungalows, are the norm, making them a prime location for lovebirds in search of some post-nuptial R & R.

Tahiti Tourisme
Tahiti Tourisme
Tahiti Tourisme

Get to know queer culture in French Polynesia

Despite having its own popularly elected president and a substantial amount of administrative autonomy, French Polynesia is officially designated an overseas country of the French Republic-meaning, at the end of the day, it operates under French law. Thanks to France’s overwhelmingly progressive stance on LGBTQ+ issues, the island collective maintains a perfect Equality Index score of 100 points. A host of anti-discrimination statutes, key rights like same-sex marriage and adoption, legal gender change without surgery, and the ability to give blood and serve in the military regardless of gender identity or sexuality, plus a full-on ban against conversion therapy make French Polynesia more queer-affirming than the United States. In short, queer couples are far more protected vacationing in Tahiti than they are hanging out in Miami. Go figure.

Cousins Cousines de Tahiti
Cousins Cousines de Tahiti
Cousins Cousines de Tahiti

Culturally, it’s more of the same. LGBTQ+ travelers and residents alike are generally accepted throughout the island nation, with local organizations like Cousins Cousines de Tahiti providing community resources and putting on public Pride celebrations. Social attitudes toward gender variance are particularly open-minded here. Polynesians have traditionally incorporated a third gender called  Māhū, characterized by exhibiting a combination of both masculine and feminine qualities but not necessarily involving medical transition. Some oral histories suggest Tahitian families with multiple sons and no daughters would historically raise the oldest child as Māhū in order to assist the mother in caregiving, further enforcing their important and unique role in society.

“Perhaps one of the most powerful illustrations of the integration of Tahitian māhū people into mainstream kinship structures is their involvement as parents in traditional adoption arrangements-something that, although only recently documented, is not an infrequent occurrence,” writes legal scholar Aleardo Zanghellini in a 2013 issue of the journal Laws. “This reflects their relatively full integration into French Polynesian society, including their participation in the mainstream economy… In particular, Tahitian māhū people often work in the hospitality industry, as social workers and nurses, or as administrators.”

Miss Vahine Tane 2022 - Officiel
Miss Vahine Tane 2022 – Officiel
Miss Vahine Tane 2022 – Officiel

Since the 1960s, however, this third gender concept has evolved to encompass Rae Rae, a term that describes transfeminine people who more often medically transition via hormone treatment and other forms of gender-affirming care. Both Rae Rae and Māhū people live openly in French Polynesia, and while bias or acts of discrimination are far from out of the question, these forms of gender expressions are predominantly respected as well as protected from a legal standpoint.

 

Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (Bora Bora, French Polynesia )
Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (Bora Bora, French Polynesia )
Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (Bora Bora, French Polynesia )

Where to stay in French Polynesia

Pockets of Papeete aside, French Polynesia is not a late night destination regardless of your choice of dance partner. Couples here tend to trade rowdy cabana parties and thumping clubs for intimate, low-key dinners, sunset catamaran rides, hand-in-hand snorkeling expeditions, or lazy beach days. And if it’s romance you’re after, Bora Bora is undoubtedly the place to be.

Developed with tourism in mind, the island outcropping is dominated by sprawling luxury resorts boasting top quality spas, eclectic restaurants, and secluded villas that jut out over crystal clear waters. During my recent trip, I spotted markers of queerness everywhere, from the transwoman checking folks into the hotel to a young Latine lesbian couple sipping rum by the pool to a silver-haired gay duo clad in matching swim trunks and holding hands on the beach. Sure, there were plenty of non-queer guests, as there so often are, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen so many LGBTQ+ couples of different backgrounds seamlessly blending into the kind of upper echelon resort I had so long associated with the straight, white, and uber-wealthy.

Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (Bora Bora, French Polynesia )
Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (Bora Bora, French Polynesia )
Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (Bora Bora, French Polynesia )

According to Pauline Himpens, marketing and communication manager for the stunning Conrad Bora Bora Nui, that’s because romance has no gender or sexuality. “We simply believe in love,” she says. “There are countless different ways to celebrate romance on property. A private dinner, private islet escape to Motu Tapu, sunset champagne, tailor-made activities, engagement, wedding, vow renewal-we offer an array of packages, services, and enhancements that promise to bring the dream wedding to life, no matter the gender of the couple.”Alternatively, queer honeymooners can take to the water, hitching a ride on a dedicated gay cruise circumventing the archipelago. Ships are a great way to check out French Polynesia, especially if you’re interested in seeing more than one island. Several companies run these programs throughout the year, including Windstar, GaySail, Olivia Cruises, Vacaya, and Out Adventures, among others (a few are even clothing-optional, if that’s your thing). Depending on the itinerary and trip length, ports of call can include less populated spots like Raiatea, Tahaa, and Huahine, in addition to Bora Bora, Tahiti, and Moorea.

No matter where you choose to celebrate, we’re reminded this month and every month that love is love. But in French Polynesia, that love comes with your very own slice of island paradise.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Meredith Heil is the Editorial Director of Thrillist Travel. She’s more than ready for a do-over honeymoon.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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