Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Finding Accommodations in French Polynesia

From our last French Polynesia trip, a view of Maupiti.
Taking a trip to a more far flung place like French Polynesia has its pluses (unique vacation, less tourists, more authentic local experience, immersion in a culture and language different than your own), but it also has its negatives (takes longer to get there, more expensive, more of a challenge with language, difficult to communicate with potential accommodations and transportation and to find them and book them). I just received my latest mobile bill and found that I had $58.50 in long distance charges between calling Air Tahiti to sort out the interisland flights on the Bora Bora-Tuamotu flight pass (see previous post) and trying to communicate with three of the pensions that I was trying to book in the Society Islands and the far flung Tuamotu archipelago. But oh well, it's mostly done now.

Four types of bananas grow in French Polynesia.
Our schedule for our French Polynesia vacation is currently as follows:

March 11-12, 2017: Flights from Victoria (YYJ) to Vancouver (YVR) to L.A. (LAX) on Air Canada then to Papeete, Tahiti (PPT) on Delta/ Air France, arriving March 12, 2017 at 5:50 AM.

Photos can't capture the myriad of gorgeous colours in French Polynesia.
March 12, 2017: one night in Tahiti at the Hotel Sarah Nui (booked through Expedia and chosen for its proximity to the harbour of Papeete where we can walk around in the downtown, visit the market, and go to the roulettes for dinner under the stars before we leave). We already spent several days in Tahiti on our last trip and my trip previous I spent five weeks there, so there's no need for us to spend a lot of time on this island.

March 13-20, 2017: fly to Huahine (HUH-also in the Society Islands, all interisland flights are through Air Tahiti) to stay for seven nights at the Pension Meherio (we stayed there on our last trip to French Polynesia and very much enjoyed it, so we didn't have to research Huahine, however, our email was not responded to, so we had to call to book a place there and they no longer have a credit card machine, so we'll have to pay by cash, fortunately the island of Huahine has an ATM, unlike some of the more remote islands that we're going to later).

March 20-22, 2017: fly to Bora Bora (BOB-also in the Society Islands) to stay for two nights at Le Meridien (we have never visited Bora Bora before and chose this hotel because it was the less expensive of the two Starwood Hotels on Bora Bora and we could pay for it using Starwood points that Bill has accumulated in his business travels). Bora Bora is apparently one of the most expensive if not the most expensive island in French Polynesia, so we are only staying a couple of nights to get a brief flavour for what everyone's been talking about. Is it really the nicest island or have we already found some other French Polynesian islands that are as nice or nicer? This was easy to book by calling the Platinum Member Concierge at Starwood Hotels (and no long distance charges).

March 22-25, 2017: fly to Fakarava (this requires two flights- BOB-RGT-FAV) in the Tuamotu archipelago to stay three nights at the Kori Kori Lodge (we have never been to any of the Tuamotu islands, but have long dreamed of going to these incredible atolls with their aqua lagoons, black pearl farms, and abundant fish and coral perfect for snorkelling.) We found this pension by researching on Trip Advisor and reading reviews. This is a newer pension but the owners have run a successful "snack" or food stand for years and the reviews for their pension were excellent. Plus, the biggest, most luxurious, most expensive, and most reviewed pension, the Haviki Pearl, was full for one of the three nights we needed and they have a minimum three night stay. The most vexing part of this pension was trying to pay the required deposit. I called to ask if they would accept a credit card (in French), but the owner wanted a wire transfer and emailed her account details. I managed to do this online with my bank, but just for a deposit of 115 Euros (one night), my bank charged me $15.00 Canadian for the transfer. It appears we will have to pay the balance in cash and as Fakarava has no bank that I can locate, we will have to get cash out ahead of time in Tahiti, Huahine, or Bora Bora where there are ATMs.

March 25-27, 2017: fly to Rangiroa (RGT) in the Tuamotus and stay two nights at the Pension Bounty (this is the largest and most populous of the islands in the Tuamotu archipelago and we have never been here before). We initially tried to book the Pension Cecile based on reviews, but they were full, so we went with the Pension Bounty. Both have excellent reviews on Trip Advisor. A deposit was required for this pension as well, but we managed to communicate through email alone, so I didn't incur any long distance charges for this pension. However, it was not the most secure form of paying a deposit, as I paid by credit card and this was done by emailing various numbers of my credit card over three different emails. This is not ideal, but it's done now and hopefully the stay will be worth the risk. The balance can apparently be paid by credit card.

March 27-April 1, 2017: fly to Tikehau (TIH) in the Tuamotus and stay five nights at the Pension Justine (this is the island of pink sand and copious fish). I, at least, hope we'll be staying there. I had an email from this pension confirming that they had room, but when I emailed back to say that we'd take it, I received no confirmation back and my follow up emails have received no response yet (we also chose this pension based on reviews on Trip Advisor). Hopefully they're just on island time (we experienced that a lot on our last trip to French Polynesia on the outer islands where people were very much laid back and on their own schedule, it takes getting used to when you're coming from a city). The other confirmation I asked for is that they will meet us at the airport to pick us up (pensions usually will pick you up at the airport either as you request it and as part of the price of the stay or for an additional charge and this is very useful because often the airport is on a motu or little island or far away from where you are staying and there may not be taxis or any other way to get to the pension.) Apparently this pension takes credit cards. Although, it's always good to have extra cash, because I read some horror stories about people on small islands who went to pay by credit card, only to find that the credit card machine was broken or that cards were no longer accepted, or that the ATM on the island was broken and they couldn't get cash out to pay on some of the smaller islands.

April 1-2, 2017- fly back to Tahiti (PPT) and stay one night at Le Meridian in Punaauia, which is nearer to the airport and also much nicer for swimming and more pretty than downtown Papeete (it's a suburb of Papeete). This was chosen based on the fact that it is a Starwood hotel, my husband is a member and has upgrade potential here, it's near to the airport and we're flying out early the next day, and we've already spent quite a bit of time in Papeete (the capital and where the downtown that has the market and most of the stores is located) last trip and have seen the downtown, so we really don't need to again on this. This hotel was easy to book by calling the Platinum Member Concierge at Starwood Hotels (and no long distance charges).

April 2, 2017- fly to L.A. (LAX) on Delta/ Air France and stay one night in L.A. as our flight arrives at 6:35 PM and we'll be tired and we've learned that on the way back, trying to travel all the way between Tahiti and Victoria, BC is too long of a trip. We have not chosen a hotel yet for L.A., but this should be easy enough to do and also something that we can book easily online.

April 3, 2017- fly from L.A. to Victoria, BC (YYJ) via Vancouver (YVR) on Air Canada.

April swimming in water off of an uninhabited motu on an excursion from Huahine.
A further note on trying to book accommodations in French Polynesia, sometimes there is no response to emails or email addresses cannot be found or not easily found for pensions in which case you might find yourself calling. I found that some of the pensions' phone numbers either did not work, only worked sometimes (on the Tuamotu Islands in particular), or there was no answer and no answering machine. Booking accommodations can take some patience if you're not booking into some huge resort or multinational chain (and on some of these little islands you will not find either and in any event if you really want to experience the culture and islands and have home cooked Polynesian food, pensions are the way to go, oh and they're cheaper).

And now we pack. . . .

From our last French Polynesia trip, a view of Maupiti.

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