BY CARRIE SIMMONS
With almost 2,000 miles of ocean separating it from the nearest landmass, French Polynesia is one of the most remote places on Earth. The most well-known islands, including Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora, only receive as many visitors in one year as Hawaii does in about 12 days, according to Tahiti Tourisme. The vast turquoise waters surrounded by a barrier reef and soaring green mountains appear much as they did back when man first arrived. Still, progress moves forward. T-shirts and board shorts are replacing Tahitian traditional dress, tattooing is usually limited to limbs and chests (instead of faces, as it used to be) and sleek fiberglass motorboats are replacing wooden outrigger canoes. One man is attempting to change this last fact. Stephan Lambert runs Kainalu XT, which offers water activities like stand-up paddling on surfboards and sailing outrigger canoes.
Originating in Tahiti, surfing was once exclusively for royals, but today, beach bums from around the world are hanging ten. The art of stand-up paddle surfing connects the paddler to the movement of the water, a thing Stephan says most tourists miss when they visit the islands. “You need to take time…to really feel where you are,” he said. In this old Tahitian tradition, would-be surfers stand on long boards and use a paddle to pull themselves through the water to a wave and then ride the wave.
A continuation of this connection to the sea is the traditional transportation option of the ancient Tahitians, the outrigger canoe. Centuries ago the Tahitians covered thousands of miles of open ocean sailing in small outrigger canoes migrating from places like Fiji and Samoa. They used nothing but the wind and their muscles, and read the waves and the skies for navigation. Today, Stephan is trying to keep the tradition alive in French Polynesia. His tri-hull boats consist of three hulls about 2 feet wide by about 10 feet long, which are connected by two rectangular canvas trampolines and topped with a 10-foot sail. He encourages tourists on his trips to feel the power of the wind, embrace the history of the Tahitians, and take time to reconnect with the Earth, the water and each other. He says the boats “could be sailed to Hawaii with the right provisioning,” but for now, he explores the lagoons around Bora Bora.
The lagoon’s crystal-clear waters house marine life like nowhere else in the world, with colorful corals in all shapes, sizes and colors teeming with tropical fish and eels, stingrays, turtles and sharks. The Le Meridien Bora Bora is also doing its part to protect the natural paradise with The Marine Turtle’s Protection Centre. Created when a guest brought an injured turtle to the hotel staff for care, the centre now hosts dozens of turtles in its interior lagoon, allowing tourists to gain firsthand awareness of these gentle creatures and their struggle for survival. The goal of the centre is to care for and rehabilitate injured turtles as well as nursing hatchlings to a more survivable age in the wild. If the turtles were left to hatch on their own, many would perish at the hands of predators, including birds, sea animals and humans.
The staff watch for turtles coming to shore to lay their eggs and then rebury the nests in a safer place on the beach. When the eggs hatch, they put the baby turtles in enclosures until they are big enough to swim freely in the resort’s interior lagoon. After three years in the safety of the interior lagoon, the turtles are set free. But this is not the last time the hotel will see these dinosaur cousins. The turtles swim miles of open ocean, then return to their birth-beach to dig their nests. Visitors, which include groups of local children and hotel guests, are taught about the turtles and their endangered status, can watch a turtle feeding, and are allowed to swim with the turtles, offering a firsthand glimpse of their gentle nature as they glide through the lagoon’s turquoise waters. Other sea animal encounters on Bora Bora include petting wild stingrays and snorkeling with blacktip reef and lemon sharks.
With a water area far outsizing its land area, the ocean and people of Tahiti have long been connected. As progress marches forward, thanks to some hard-working people who are nurturing and replenishing that relationship, the ocean will continue to be respected and provide for the people of this paradise on earth.
Plan Your Trip
Fly Air Tahiti Nui flies directly from Los Angeles to Tahiti. On the eight-hour flight, they serve one meal and snack and there are seatback video monitors offering in-flight movies and games.
Stay Le Meridien Bora Bora hosts The Marine Turtle’s Protection Centre. They offer over-water bungalows with glass floors for viewing ocean life and beach bungalows with decks overlooking the turtle lagoon.
Eat With its sand floors and Jimmy Buffett ambiance, Bloody Mary’s is the most famous restaurant in Bora Bora. They also offer free pick-up from most hotels around the island.
Carrie Simmons is the producer of Travel With Kids, a family travel documentary series airing on television around the world, and has traveled to five continents in search of adventure. For more information on the series, visit TravelWithKids.tv