PLANNING A VACATION TO FRENCH POLYNESIA, the Cook Islands or Fiji? Lucky you! While you really can’t go wrong with any of these exotic locales that beckon with white-sand beaches, mornings spent listening to soothing water lapping your bungalow, and immersion excursions with some of the world’s most amazing flora and fauna, not all islands are created equally.
THE DOUBLY-NAMED ISLAND of Bora Bora in French Polynesia is a euphemism for any far-flung, romantic spot that seems out of reach, but Air Tahiti Nui actually makes it easily accessible with an eight-hour flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Papeete (PPT). It’s just a short flight from there to your temporary home in paradise. Because a protective lagoon and barrier reef surround Bora Bora, dreamy overwater bungalows prove the accommodation of choice here.
The recently refreshed 90 beach and overwater bungalows at The St. Regis Bora Bora are among the largest in French Polynesia. All feature air-conditioning, with separate bedroom and lounge areas, glass-paneled coffee tables to spot colorful fish, sunken bathtubs and open-concept tiled rain showers; outdoor decks include lounge and dining furniture, and some also have outdoor showers and plunge pools or jetted tubs. The legendary St. Regis Butler Service fulfills requests large and small, from pressing garments to booking excursions to buggy rides around the sprawling property; the resort sits on 44 acres and boasts stunning views of iconic Mount Otemanu. Start the morning beachside with breakfast and a Bora Mary at Te Pahu before taking a jaunt on a jet ski, or snorkel in the private Lagoonarium, a protected underwater sanctuary for tropical fish and coral. Book a Polynesian massage at Miri Miri Spa by Clarins, which uses monoi oil and Tahitian medicinal plants and techniques for the ultimate in relaxation. Then head to a table à deux at the signature Lagoon Restaurant by Jean-Georges for locally caught uravena fish with passion fruit and Thai chilis or crusted ahi with citrus — all while spotting black-tipped and nurse sharks. A water shuttle takes guests to the island’s main town of Vaitape, where they can catch a shuttle to the Tahitian Pearl Market for custom black pearl jewelry and unparalleled customer service, or the touristy but must-visit Bloody Mary’s for toes-in-the-sand grilled seafood and tropical tipples.
The deep overwater bungalows at Le Méridien Bora Bora offer the most Insta-worthy views of Mount Otemanu, but that mountain is never far out of view no matter where you find yourself on this resort featuring 98 bungalows and villas. All boast contemporary Polynesian décor, wood canopy beds and large glass panels thoughtfully covered with rugs at night, and decks feature lounge furniture and direct lagoon access. Lunch on poisson cru — Bora Bora’s answer to ceviche made with local fish, coconut milk and lime juice — lagoon-side at Te Ava. For a more unique dining experience, wade out to a picnic table in the water for scallop carpaccio with vanilla sauce, or head to a romantic candlelit dinner on the beach with the Milky Way as your backdrop. Getting breakfast delivered by outrigger canoe, announced with a conch shell horn and artfully set up on a table strewn with heady flowers, is truly a bucket-list experience, while spend- ing an immersive day at the Bora Bora Turtle Sanctuary helping rehabilitate the gorgeous native creatures offers an ecological experience you won’t soon forget.
COMPRISING AN ARCHIPELAGO of 330 islands — 110 permanently inhabited — Fiji is accessible via carriers including Air New Zealand and Qantas Airways from New Zealand or Australia, a three- to four-hour flight. Overwater bungalows here are called bure, Fijian for a wood and straw hut, but only a handful of resorts offer them. The first one was Likuliku Lagoon Resort, an adults-only luxury retreat on Malolo Island with 10 overwater bungalows on the edge of a protected coral reef. It also offers 32 bures on the beach and three set back in the garden.
Also situated on Malolo Island and accessible via helicopter or speedboat, the 120- acre, luxe Six Senses Fiji sits amid vegetation and houses two marinas on an expansive bay. Its 24 spacious villas feature decks with plunge pools, lounge chairs and dining tables and include up to eight hours of nanny service per day, while a guest experience maker attends to your every need. Rara Restaurant & Bar serves locally inspired and sustainably sourced ingredients including those grown in the on-site garden; Tovolea restaurant offers Pacific-inspired dishes like coconut husk-smoked beef tenderloin and sundowner cocktails sipped while watching the Fijian torch-lighting ritual. A lush jungle sets the stage for the spa, where science and wellness combine for a Bobo massage with poultices filled with garden-picked herbs or a tropical hibiscus coconut body exfoliation. Top activities here include a personalized experience in the Mamanuca Islands with bull shark diving, a snorkel safari or swimming with manta rays; a cultural night with Fijian warriors; or an excursion to the deserted Modriki Islands, the setting for the movie Cast Away.
A STRING OF 15 ISLANDS located halfway between Hawai’i and New Zealand, the Cook Islands boasts a reputation as a more wallet-friendly alternative to French Polynesia. Visitors can fly from Los Angeles, Auckland (AKL) and Sydney (SYD) to Rarotonga (RAR) on Air New Zealand; from other Australian cities on Virgin Australia, Air New Zealand or Jetstar Airways; or from Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui. National carrier Air Rarotonga travels to several widely separated sister islands. Most accommodations are located on Rarotonga, a small island just 20 miles in circumference sans traffic lights or buildings taller than a coconut tree. The aptly named boutique Little Polynesian Resort offers just 14 bungalows and studios on the beach or nestled in the gardens, each with a high, vaulted ceiling to lend an airy vibe. Nap on a shaded lounger on your private sundeck or sway on a hammock on the deserted beach. Those seeking a bit more activity can take a dip in the natural saltwater infinity pool or explore with a snorkel or in a kayak.
The open-air poolside restaurant serves views of Titikaveka Lagoon and Polynesian-European fusion-inspired dishes like prawn and fish salad or lemon- and fennel-braised pork belly. A glowing akari body scrub at Te Manava Spa exfoliates and soothes skin after time spent in the sun, while the aromatic Balinese massage combines long stretching strokes with palm and thumb pressure to improve blood flow and relieve stress. More than 100 restaurants on the island tempt with specialties like goat cooked in wild ginger and coconut cream. Local experiences take you on a volcano tour or to dance clubs, bustling Punanga Nui Market and Saturday lagoon races through the Rarotonga Sailing Club.
A 15-MINUTE FLIGHT OR 40-MINUTE ferry ride from the French Polynesian capital of Papeete takes you to Moorea, the sister island of Tahiti, known for its lush peaks and quiet waters that for years attracted all kinds of artists from painters to tattoo artists. Situated on the northwest coast of Moorea, the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa has 140 rooms and bungalows set over water, on the beach, by a garden pool or attached to a lanai, with different amenities depending on location. Opened in December 2019, the Deep Nature Spa Moorea offers French Polynesian indulgences like a traditional bath, volcanic stone massage, tropical body scrub and separate menu for spa goers aged 6–12.
Among the property’s three restaurants and two bars, choose Fare Hana to nosh on lagoon fish marinated in coconut and vanilla, and a swim-up bar where drinks like the Tahitian Blue Lagoon come in hues matching the spectacular water. Learn about the intelligent aquatic mammals at the resort’s Moorea Dolphin Center, attend a sea turtle clinic at the Turtle Care Center, embark on a ray and shark encounter on a motu, helmet dive, take an ATV tour or four-wheel- drive Jeep safari, skydive over Mount Rotui or sunset cruise on a motorized catamaran. More of a shopper? A daytrip to Marché in Papeete is a must-do for snagging souvenirs like pareos (sarongs), black pearls, monoi oil, tiare perfume and wood carvings.
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