The Polynesian islands of Ra’iatea and Taha’a are close to each other, share a lagoon, and are said to be very different. We spent one day on Taha’a. The cultural tour I had planned to take was cancelled, so I went to pearl and vanilla farms instead. Neither was especially memorable, but at least I saw some of the island. It’s said that the thing to avoid on Taha’a is taking a private tour because they’re so expensive. It’s recommended that visitors rent a car and drive around Taha’a. A 43½ mile paved road does circle it, but the vanilla and pearl tour was enough time on Taha’a, and it was Christmas Eve with no snow in the forecast.
Taha’a, nicknamed The Vanilla Island because it’s responsible for 80% of Polynesian vanilla production, is bigger than it seems but has a population of only 5,000, half that of Bora Bora, which can be seen from some vantage points. It’s said that Taha’a is the quietest of the Society Islands, and I can believe that. I didn’t see its largest town, Patio, which probably would have confirmed this. Even it’s highest point, 1,940 foot Mt Ohiri, is pretty but unspectacular. Our guide talked mostly about the flora up there and in a moment of candor told us that life is hard here. Then he made a lame joke about a pine-like twig, comparing it to cannabis.
The vanilla plantation was one of those how-soon-can-we-leave kind of places where we were granted far too much time to purchase island wares. The young Polynesian who told us about vanilla was as bored as a farm hand shucking corn at a Midwestern county fair. I have the pictures to prove it. Truthfully, the cultivation of vanilla pods is not an exciting topic. The only thing of interest was the fact that vanilla flowers here must be fertilized by hand because the insects that normally do this job are absent from French Polynesia.
The family owned pearl farm visit was slightly more interesting. At least the view was scenic with Bora Bora in view. The young woman with tools and an oyster at least tried to explain the technique used for grafting that results in cultured pearls. But again, the couple from Peoria on their way to their winter place in Puerto Vallarta and I had far too much time in the gift shop staring at expensive jewelry containing pearls.
On the way back to our ship the guide spoke glowingly about Le Taha’s Private island & Spa on Motu Tau Tau. One of French Polynesia’s most exclusive, and expensive, resorts, this isolated but reputedly fine vacation spot amazes the locals. Our guide seemed both surprised and pleased that it was now on his island. Not surprisingly, we didn’t see it.