Travel

This Dreamy Remote Island Is a Crayon-Coloured Fantasy

Welcome to the black pearl of the Pacific.

mlenny/E+/Getty Images
mlenny/E+/Getty Images
mlenny/E+/Getty Images

After about a week in Tahiti, I was about 60% coconut, and that was just fine with me. With impossibly white sand, clear lagoons that put the blues and greens of the Crayola-64 box to shame, and loads of sunshine, French Polynesia is a destination most of us have visited in our daydreams.

A total of 118 stunning islands teeming with rich marine life and verdant, volcanic landscapes are an outdoor lover’s playground. Swim in caves on the wild coast, eat half your weight in fresh seafood, hike through the rainforest, admire the capital’s street art, or dive or snorkel in crystal clear water. Heck, you can even see the colorful fish without getting in the water.

Whether you’re interested in island-hopping or exploring the nooks and crannies of one idyllic parcel of land, Tahiti dishes up utter tranquility. Consider this your back-pocket guide to a South Pacific daydream.

Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove

How to get to Tahiti and around its islands

Although the islands of Tahiti seem super far-flung (and feel remote when you’re there), traveling to French Polynesia is uncomplicated. Direct flights out of LAX to Fa’aa International Airport via Air Tahiti Nui will land you in the coveted turquoise haven in under eight hours. Snag yourself a window seat if you’re traveling during daylight hours, and thank me later. Vacation mode is activated upon arrival in Papeete, thanks to live Polynesian music while you wait to go through customs.

The best way to make your way around the island of Tahiti while also getting local insight, history, and cool stories, is, by far, with a driver. Tahiti VIP Tours is one reliable and comfortable service, with friendly and knowledgeable guides.

Venturing to the numerous other islands in the archipelago can be done either by boat or short flights. Terevau and Aremiti are speedy ferries that transport island-hoppers to places like nearby Moorea in about 40 minutes. To reach one of the further spots, Air Tahiti offers a wide network of flights to get you to one of the 47 islands or atolls that they service. Once you arrive at your chosen destination, taxis are typically available, or you can arrange ground transportation pick-up through your accommodation.

Ninamu Pearl Tahiti
Ninamu Pearl Tahiti
Ninamu Pearl Tahiti

Slumber over the sea

If you’ve seen any photos of Tahiti, overwater bungalows with thatched roofs are probably one of the first things that come to your mind when you think of the country. Seemingly ripped straight out of a postcard, alluring bungalows poised above aquamarine waters at the bigger resorts are certainly enjoyable, but they aren’t the only option. Consider staying small at a local guesthouse and prepare to have your Tahitian socks knocked right off. You’ll be away from the crowds, completely pampered, and you’ll get to enjoy an authentic cultural experience with local recommendations at the ready, all without the hefty price tag.

On the island of Tahiti, Villa Ninamu Pearl is a hillside perch with incredible ocean views. Located less than half an hour from the heart of downtown Papeete, you’ll feel world’s away as you dip yourself in the private plunge pool with the island of Moorea in the distance, before venturing down to the beautiful restaurant and terrace for some homemade pizza and pasta.

Nestled on the beach in Moorea, Green Lodge Moorea has six gorgeous seaside bungalows, an onsite bar and open-kitchen concept restaurant, three adorable resident pups, and some of the most drool-worthy sunsets you’ll feast your eyes upon. Rent one of the lodge’s bikes and pedal down to the public beach, alternate swims between pool and the ocean, and indulge in delicious three-course meals cooked by the clearly multi-talented owners.

Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove

On the diving and snorkeling mecca of Rangiroa island, stay at pension Raira Lagon and relish a front row seat to the intriguing underwater world. Spot black-tipped reef sharks and schools of tropical fish without even dipping a toe in the sea. An onsite restaurant and private beach area with kayak and snorkel gear provide all you’ll need when you’re not sleeping in your beach bungalow. And, if the conditions are just right when you’re there, you may even experience the phenomenon where the lagoon transforms into a seemingly endless mirror with insane reflections of the sky-a true jaw-drop moment.

Sleep like a celebrity at Vahine Private Island Resort & Spa, a nine-room (six beach and three overwater bungalows) resort just across the way from the island of Taha’a. Wake up to views of Bora Bora in the distance, paddle in the onsite kayaks, snorkel til your heart’s content, or hop on a boat and adventure through the neighboring islands. Just make sure you eat as many meals here as possible; the home cooked food is nothing short of mouth watering, with views from the restaurant to match. And since vanilla is grown on the island, prepare for the yogurt at breakfast to blow you away.

Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove

Eat endless fruit, coconut, and fish

“You’re never going to want to eat a mango in the US again,” says the owner at Moorea’s Green Lodge. Indeed, each piece of the fruit is the poster child of soft, sweet, juicy, and ripe. It should come as no surprise that the pineapple here is also some of the best in the world. Tropical fruit looks good on French Polynesia.

With a melting pot of Tahitian, French, and Chinese culinary influences, eating street food in French Polynesia is an adventure in and of itself. Almost anywhere you go, the national dish of poisson cru will be on the menu: fresh raw fish (typically tuna) marinated in citrus juice and coconut milk. Another must is the unique chow mein sandwich. Noodles in a sandwich? Oh yes.

Tahiti Food Tours
Tahiti Food Tours
Tahiti Food Tours

Food trucks are a big part of the culture in the islands. Affordable and authentic, the food trucks parked in Puna’auia just outside of Papeete dish up some of the best. Sunset Roulette and Roulette Chez Nina in particular are ones to head for, especially for the steak frites.

For a well-rounded taste of Tahiti, sign up for Tahiti Food Tours and eat your way around Moorea. Spend the afternoon hopping around to local food haunts, trying items like prune dusted mango, grilled fish skewers, gardenia ice cream, freshly-baked traditional Tahitian coconut bread, or dumplings at Snack Rotui, the oldest snack bar on the island. Top it all off with po’e, the starchy-sweet dessert dish made from taro, pumpkin, or other fruity variations mixed with coconut milk. This iconic dish makes an appearance in French Polynesian homes for every Sunday brunch. Wash it all down with fresh-as-it-gets coconut water, or rum punch, of course.

ATV MOOREA TOURS - RANDO QUAD MOOREA
ATV MOOREA TOURS – RANDO QUAD MOOREA
ATV MOOREA TOURS – RANDO QUAD MOOREA

Explore Moorea’s mountains via ATV

ATV Moorea Tours run small-group ventures into the heart of the vedant island of Moorea. Guides take visitors on ATV rides through the mountains, all while sharing tips, history, and local legends (ask about the one surrounding a kiss with the freshwater eels).

You can drive a quad on off-road dirt tracks through swaths of pineapples, absorb the vista from Belvedere viewpoint, get splashed on river-crossings, taste local jam at a roadside agricultural shop, and go uphill to the summit of Magic Mountain where the coastal views are nothing short of…well, magic.

Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove

Swim with sharks in Rangiroa

An hour-long flight from Tahiti will land you on the unbelievable atoll of Rangiroa, an island composed of 240 tiny islets that form a circle around a lagoon. This destination in the Tuamotu Islands is world renowned for diving and snorkeling, so grab your gear and head into the pristine water to see what you can find. Some of the best spots include Avatoru Pass and Tiputa Canyons. Marine life such as whitetip sharks, lemon sharks, manta rays, and even dolphins dazzle divers on the regular. Lessons, certifications, and tours are available with TopDive Rangiroa.

If diving isn’t your jam, you’re still in luck. Hop aboard a tour with Orava Excursions out to the notoriously vibrant Blue Lagoon, where you’ll have the opportunity to swim and snorkel with sharks-and you’ll get a beach picnic after, to boot. Jump in the warm, impossibly blue water where black-tipped reef sharks and the larger but more elusive lemon sharks frequent the shallow areas. Between endless schools of tropical fish, sharks, and colorful coral, it’ll feel like you’ve plopped into a real-life aquarium.

Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove

Hike to the tallest waterfall in Tahiti

The Island of Tahiti is positively rife with cascades, and one of the best hikes will land you at the tallest of them all. Fautaua Falls (Cascade de Fachoda) has an impressive 443 foot drop and is situated in the lush Fautaua Valley, just 15 minutes outside of Papeete. Embark on your own, or enhance the outdoor experience with a knowledgeable guide from Mato-Nui Excursions.

The trek through the rainforest begins with an easy, flat trail and then, depending which route you take, becomes increasingly more challenging. The upper trail is like a sour patch kid; it will test your endurance with a steady climb, but gives a sweet reward of a breathtaking (pun-intended) viewpoint of Fautaua Falls. The scene is every bit worth the effort made in the humid climate; torn straight out of storybook pages, your camera will practically take the photos without you.

The adventure doesn’t end there either. Another 15 minutes of sweat, rope-gripping, and navigating rung ladders will gift you the ultimate place to cool off (and rinse the dirt off): the pools at the top of the waterfall. Take a refreshing dip in one of two pools by either cliff-jump or natural rock slide; measure your bravery level with either a 10-foot or 30-foot drop. Just don’t venture too close to the edge of the falls, as the current is very dangerous.

Iaorana PEARL FARM Tahaa
Iaorana PEARL FARM Tahaa
Iaorana PEARL FARM Tahaa

Visit a black pearl farm in Taha’a

If there’s one thing to buy in French Polynesia, it’s probably authentic Tahitian black pearls. Sure, they make a fantastic souvenir or gift, but seeing how they are produced is a wonder to watch. The family-run Iaorana Pearl Farm on the gorgeous island of Taha’a offers free tours and a glimpse into life as a master pearl grafter. If you happen to stop in when the resident pearl grafter, Win Sang, is working, you’re in for a real treat.

“Every day is a good day,” says Sang. He does a whopping 300 per day DNA planting procedures in the oyster’s nucleus, and decides the pear color out of 180 shade options. The onsite shop has a beautiful selection of black pearl jewelry in all forms, so you get your lesson and your shopping done in one place.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Lauren Breedlove is a contributor for Thrillist.

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.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.