Dreams of Tahiti with Windstar
There’s no denying that getting to Tahiti from the UK is one of the longest journeys you could ever take, but is it worth it? Tahiti had been a bucket list destination for us for a long time and what better way to do it than on a magnificent tall ship sailing to all of the Society Islands on a week long cruise.
We joined Windstar’s Wind Spirit, a 4-masted sailing yacht with a 148 passenger capacity, but there were only 108 guests on our voyage, with more crew than passengers. Windstar has a long history with French Polynesia having sailed these islands for 35 years and although the Wind Spirit is herself over 30 years old, she still graces the oceans around the islands, cruising along under magnificent sails with her eye-catching silhouette over-shadowing some of her younger rivals.
Being a traditional sailing ship there are no balcony suites on the Wind Spirit, but in all honesty this is one cruise you really want to spend as little time in your suite as possible, find instead your own little favourite nook to hide away in to make it feel like you’re on your very own private yacht. Don’t get us wrong, the suites are still luxurious and comfortable but the two small portholes make the view quite limited and we preferred to spend our time on the lovely little sun deck forward of the bridge, getting out there early to catch the sunrise and returning for sunset and the glorious late night skies.
We were booked on Windstar’s new all-inclusive package which includes pre-paid gratuities, wifi and drinks, so once we had completed our check in we were directed straight up to the Verandah buffet for a delicious al fresco lunch accompanied by a lovely glass of chilled rose. With a day to settle in, the ship didn’t set sail from Papeete until early the next morning for the short hop over to the neighbouring island of Moorea, with plenty of people joining us on the open decks at 5am for the first sail of our cruise. A couple of hours later we arrived at our anchorage and were soon getting on the tender to take us across to the island for a morning exploring Moorea in a 4x4. After a short drive along the coast road we headed inland to visit a small vanilla plantation before ascending higher to reach the summit of Magic Mountain. Though the ride to get to the top was very steep, bumpy and hair-raising, it was worth it for the view over Cook and Opunohu bays. Not over yet, the tour took us to another local viewpoint, an old Tahitian temple, a freshwater stream complete with large somewhat over friendly eels, a pineapple farm located in a volcanic crater and a local pearl shop before getting us back to the ship in time for lunch.
After lunch we headed down to the marina to make the most of the chance to swim in the lovely South Pacific Ocean. Though we have been on other ships with marina decks we have never been able to swim in the sea directly from the ship. However, on the Wind Spirit not only can guests take out kayaks or paddle boards (if the conditions are good enough) they can also laze on or swim around the large floats or trampoline attached to the marina. Although we didn’t know it was a bucket list experience, we have to say that swimming in the delightfully warm ocean in French Polynesia now sits high up on the ‘done’ list.
With the memorable moments coming at us thick and fast, the sail away from Moorea added another to our list of romantic cruise memories. Leaving Cooks bay and heading out to the open sea the crew hoisted the sails to the familiar Windstar musical backdrop ‘1492: Conquest of Paradise’ by the Greek electronic composer and artist Vangelis, as we sat and watched the sun set over the sea. The sails stayed up overnight guiding us through the surprisingly choppy seas from Moorea to Raiatea.
Raiatea is the second largest island of the Society Islands and the only one other than Papeete where the Wind Spirit was able to dock alongside, otherwise anchoring offshore and tendering guests to the islands. Raiatea is also the only island with a navigable river so in the morning we joined traditionally dressed and fully tattooed Tihoti, for a cruise down the Faaroa river, before reboarding the Wind Spirit for an afternoon of traditional Polynesiian music, dancing, lai-making and pare-a wearing with some local mamas and papas and an early evening talk from Tihoti about local culture and Tahitian tattoos. Then it was time for the signature Windstar deck bbq out on the pool deck followed by the ever popular crew line dance. After a fun evening of food and dancing we decided to take a quick stroll ashore before heading to bed and as it was a Saturday evening there were lots of local families out eating in the cafes and restaurants in the marina - we even found some karaoke!
With so many Windstar signature events on this cruise the following day proved to be one of our favourites as we anchored near to the neighbouring island of Taha’a. Although there were shore excursions to Taha’a we decided to spend the day on Windstar’s private island retreat instead. We got the first tender over to the island and secured a couple of sun loungers on the beach, under a palm tree, next to the bar, close to all of the water toys and looking out to the bay where the ship was anchored. After a bit of kayaking, a lot of snorkelling and a couple of cocktails it was time for a delicious bbq lunch rendering us incapable of much more than napping on our loungers for the rest of the afternoon. After such an incredible day in paradise we didn’t think the trip could get much better but the mesmerising night sky, the stars so bright we could even see the Milky Way with the naked eye, as we hoisted our sails for the journey to Bora Bora was the perfect end to a day in paradise.
Waking up to the sun rising over the dramatic backdrop of Bora Bora’s two peaks, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, we were both excited to go out and explore this incredible iconic island. We had splurged out on a Windstar Concierge Collection excursion which included swimming with blacktip sharks, petting stingrays and snorkelling in the most amazing coral garden abundant with tropical fish and luminescent clams, followed by a traditional Polynesian buffet lunch on a private motu. We’ll never forget eating our lunch at picnic tables in the sea, our feet dangling in the water, fish swimming around us, stingrays gliding over our feet and sharks circling the shallow waters waiting for our leftovers.
Having seen Bora Bora by boat we decided to spend the next day on land and hired a couple of bicycles so that we could visit the infamous Bloody Mary’s bar where we stopped off for a couple of Bloody Marys before mounting our bikes again and headed further along the coast road. As we rounded the peninsula the gorgeous public beach came into view and we couldn’t resist another stop for a refreshingly cold local beer at the gorgeous Bora Bora Beach Club bar overlooking the gorgeous blue seas and white sands of Matira bay.
That evening we had another Windstar signature event, an evening on the nearby Conrad Nui private motu, arriving just in time for the sunset which we enjoyed on the beautiful sand bank with a maitai in our hands. Once the sun had set it was time for dinner, another delicious traditional Polynesian buffet, followed by an incredible dance and flame throwing show, another highlight of the cruise.
Our final destination was the tiny island of Huahine where we docked in a lovely little bay in between the two islands of Huahine Ite and Huahine Nui, with the Tahitian gods treating us to the best sunrise of the whole voyage. The Captain anchored the ship to give us an amazing 360 degree view of both islands so we stayed on board and enjoyed the scenery from the gorgeous Wind Spirit, taking advantage of the marina, very temperate pool, hot tub and pool deck all the time being plied with refreshing and delicious drinks from the amazing pool bar team. At 5pm the Captain announced that we were setting sail for the last time and we had the usual sail raising ceremony followed by a rather moving rendition of ‘Its time to say goodbye’. And though we had travelled far and the journey was over too soon, French Polynesia did not disappoint, exceeding our high expectations in a way we would never have thought possible.