For views and pearls, cruise to the South Pacific

I recently took a group of 49 on the six-star Paul Gauguin, a Regent cruise line ship with 300 passengers. We took a 12-day cruise from Papeete, Tahiti, to the seldom-visited Marquesas Islands, with stops at Bora Bora, Moorea, Taha'a and other little islands. Weather is the same year round, in the 80s, and we experienced gorgeous flowers, clear waters and breathtaking views.

French is the primary language, and few people on the islands speak English. Thirty percent of the passengers were from Europe, so it was interesting to hear all the languages spoken as you went around the ship.

The Marquesas islands of Fatu Hiva, Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva are 1,000 miles from Tahiti and better known by the French than the Americans. French visitors often visit the chapel and cemetery where French artist Paul Gauguin is buried.

The islands, usually shrouded in mist, are known for their wood carvings and until recently were only visited every few months by a freighter, not by cruise ships. Hiva Oa, apart from the Gauguin connection, has large stone sculptures considered links to the tikis of Easter Island and Necker Island, north of Hawaii.

We had a professor onboard who is National Geographic's expert on the South Pacific. His history lectures were fascinating, especially when he talked about the Mutiny on the Bounty, famously chronicled in books and movies, and the route the vessel took to Pitcairn and Norfolk islands.

Another lecturer was a marine biologist from the Jean-Michael Cousteau Institute. He took a group out, largely children, at every stop.

This was an all-inclusive cruise, so all liquor and wine were included. One of my group said he loved that there was no extra cost while onboard, because people's bar and incidental bills can be substantial.

On the little island, Taha'a, we visited a vanilla bean farm where many purchased bags of beans at a reasonable price. The island also had a black pearl farm, where they showed us how black pearls are cultivated in the lagoon and after two years opened and sold for various prices depending on their size and color.

The snorkeling and diving in French Polynesia is among the finest in the world, and the equipment was complimentary. You can get a PADI scuba dive certificate while on the cruise. Rangiroa in the Tuamotu islands is the most popular with visitors. It is the largest atoll in the world, with fantastic marine life in the lagoon.

At each island stop, a group of locals came aboard to play, sing and dance for the passengers on deck, and it was fascinating to see the differences in dances and island dress.

American writer James Michener was based in Bora Bora during World War II. He used the island as a model for the enchanted island Bali Hai in his book "Tales of the South Pacific," better known as the musical "South Pacific." I grin every time I am on the island, as I can imagine the fun 5,000 troops had while living there. This is Mai Tai heaven.

When you are watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean, the bottom edge of the sun kisses the horizon and begins to disappear. At the last moment before it vanishes, the upper tip of the sun turns, for an instant, a brilliant green. You have just seen the remarkable Green Flash.

Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel, l60 Main St., Los Altos.

Schools »

Read More

Sports »

Read More

People »

Read More

Special Sections »

Special Sections
Read More

Photos of Los Altos

Browse and buy photos