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Cruising around Paradise with Paul Gauguin is anything but plain sailing…

Author a researcher Adam de Boinod flew a long, long way to the South Pacific to find out if these Paradise islands are all they are cracked up to be. This is what he discovered from his voyage on his seven-day cruise on the Paul Gauguin.

Robert Louis Stevenson, on his travels in the Pacific, hated the sea and liked islands. He wrote in 1888 that sailing the sea was “stupefying to the mind and poisonous to the temper … but you are amply repaid when you sight an island and drop anchor in a new world”.

Dropping anchor on a cruise ship may not appeal to all but it is not just “plain sailing”. There is always something to feast upon. I stopped at different spots regularly enough to make each day new. It’s true that for a European it’s a long, long way but the pressure is off instantly on landing; the airport in Tahiti as its marina are sparingly near to each other.

Paul Gauguin of Paul Gaugoin Cruises
Paul Gauguin offers the high end of cruising in the South Pacific

You can enjoy it at any age and it needn’t be a passive experience. Nor need there be the fear of being “stuck on a boat”, as there are so many ways for guests to hop off on any number of excursions. Besides, cruises are as restful or energetic as you feel. You are effortlessly on the move and there is a definite passive beauty in viewing the shorelines, in passing gently past static land.

I was lucky enough to experience the high-end of cruise ships in the South Pacific with Paul Gauguin Cruises. The overall level of service and style is impressive with even an original Paul Gauguin sketch onboard donated by his family: such is the strength of connection with the ship’s title.

They run a tight ship with every contingency for an international clientele thoroughly thought through!

Bora Bora
A short walk down the jetty at Bora Bora, above, introduces you to a true paradise on Earth, below
Bora Bora

The staff (216 in all to look after 320 guests) are drawn from a variety of the local islands, which gives them authenticity and a pleasing reassurance. Tahitians have been renowned since Gauguin’s day for their sensual beauty; so who better to meet and greet you. .

The clientele are predominantly American, via Los Angeles, although a notable fraction of the world’s French speakers enjoy the familiarity of the tricolour.

Travel companies have become alert to realising the extent to which food plays an essential part in the mix of an outstanding holiday. Certainly my Paul Gauguin palette was well catered for, with fresh produce and 24/7 room service.

The restaurants were diverse in their menu with fresh fish naturally prevalent with favourites such as “Spice crusted Tahitian yellow fin tuna medallions” and “Grilled moon fish”.

LeGrill on the Paul Gauguin width=
Le Grill is one of the many eating options on board the Paul Gauguin

As with the size of the vessel, so with the amenities. There is plenty to enjoy on what is effectively a 5 star hotel, although it was regrettable that gambling and slot machines appealed to a worrying number in preference to traditional Polynesian dancing on offer further down the deck.

There is so much on offer in terms of sea-based activities and excursions, with snorkelling, swimming, hiking, aquabikes and even swimming with the stingrays who are as friendly as the sharks! I got my cultural fix by listening to a top lecturer on Polynesia, others got theirs by going on a botanical and agricultural walks.

The brochure didn’t lie. And the pictures didn’t need airbrushing. In visiting French Polynesia I was being granted a rare treat, not just a holiday. These are stunning volcanic islands, set against the foreboding spirit of the mass that is the Pacific Ocean, with their dramatic surging peaks.

The islands have a wonderful prospect, and a seemingly gothic structure when seen from the vessel. There is something reverential about the serenity of the lush green-capped mountains tops, and at night one is virtually guaranteed the full spangling array of the stars. This is the region that brought to the world the notion of taboo and tattoos. The islanders believe in the power (mana) of their ancestors and feel they are simply stewards of the land which they see as belonging to their Gods.

My seven-night cruise was cleverly construed with a schedule that was paced to allow for an initial need to cope with the flight, time difference and climate. The first two days act as a gentle aperitif for what is to come. I stepped off on day one at Hauhine to enjoy a restorative day, plucking mangos from the trees and swimming in the crystal-blue waters.

Tahaa was the second stop with a gorgeous trip to an islet (motu). Then came Bora Bora, world famous for its amazing shape - a steep peak surrounded by a ring of motus. Overtly touristic and very territorial with regards to private beaches, cruising is a relatively economic way of visiting as staying at a hotel of similar standard to the vessel would cost an arm and a leg.

While Bora Bora is special for its extraordinary array of shades of blue water, Moorea is just as special for its shades of green land. I felt so excited in waking up at dawn to see Paul Gauguin approaching the island. It has a sense of paradise though, but one taunted us with mosquitos.

image
There is a wide array of activities to tempt you into the crystal clear waters

Tahiti itself has as a former name for the island “Tahiti-nui-i-te-vai-uri-rau”, meaning “Great Tahiti of the many-coloured waters”.

I picked up a Tahitian to English dictionary and found words that exemplified this most exotic of locations. Aina – the skin of the armpits when of a dark colour – was something I developed, and aruriri – a sea that in breaking sends up its sprays towards the clouds – was something I witnessed. Luckily I didn’t suffer from iriaa – the skin peeling off a person after being sun burnt, or feel the need to neeneetapuahi – to crawl by an oven of food.

The renowned author, Austin Coates, in his book Islands of the South, tells of wandering Polynesians avoiding large, mountainous islands, preferring smaller, more isolated atolls. “In the framework of an ocean civilisation, these dots were the centres, mountainous islands the periphery”.

I am not sure those, like me, who set eyes upon the jewels of Bora Bora and Moorea, would necessarily agree.

 

Paul Gauguin Cruises: 020 7399 7691, www.pgcruises.com

Posted on 11th June 2014 at 07:03 am in Cruise News | Cruise Lines | Paul Gauguin Cruises |

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