The Islands of Tahiti – Pick Your Paradise!

By Alison Barnes

La Orana! As you may or may not remember, I began my Colorado Serenity article about Guatemala with a little history lesson. Well, I have another one to preface my December 2019 trip to The Islands of Tahiti. My desire to visit Tahiti was born of a grade school project in the American Midwest. Tasked with researching an exotic destination, I chose the most faraway, unreachable place I could think of - Tahiti. Now, this was in the days before the Internet and I used the resources at my disposal: the library and “Snail Mail”. I wrote to the Board of Tourism and to my surprise and great delight, I received a hand-written response along with informational materials in return. Right then, I knew I would have to visit Tahiti during my lifetime.

Think French Polynesia is too far, too hard to get to? Think again. The Islands of Tahiti are located equidistant south of the equator as Hawaii is North, and in the same time zone as Hawaii. From Los Angeles International Airport, the flight on Tahiti Nui Air is only two hours longer than Hawaii, at eight hours. I was able to relax on a brand-new Dreamliner aircraft complete with a well-appointed travel kit and reclining seats. A pleasant surprise on my flight also included a lovely flower greeting, Tahitian food, and staff who changed from uniforms to traditional Tahitian dress during the flight.

All flights arrive at Faa’a International Airport (Papeete), located near the city of Papeete on the main island of Tahiti. The airport also serves the domestic airline, Air Tahiti, for further service to the other islands and atolls. Upon arriving in Papeete, I was treated to traditional song and dance and swiftly escorted through the VIP Entrance at customs - must do for anyone because it bypasses the lines!

The Islands of Tahiti are comprised of five main archipelagos: Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Austral Islands, Gambier Islands, and the Tuamotu Atolls. An archipelago is a sea or stretch of water containing many islands; 118 for Tahiti to be exact. The islands are made of atolls, tiny ring-shaped reef, island or chain of islands formed by coral. The coral rings around the islands form the beautiful, calm lagoons of French Polynesia. The older the island, the flatter it becomes, eventually enclosing the lagoons entirely with coral.

My first (and last) stop was the largest island, Tahiti. It was a quick overnight at Tahiti la Ora Beach Resort by Sofitel in the capital, Papeete. The next morning, the air was crisp and the sky was clear aside from a few clouds catching on the peaks of Moorea as we approached Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea, via the Terevau Ferry. My day was spent touring famous sightseeing points of Le Belvedere overlooking Cook and Opunohu’s Bays, the volcano’s crater and the Plateau de la Bounty. Moorea boasts mountainous landscapes with pineapple farms, vanilla plantations, and a fruit juice factory. Moorea’s claim of “the best pineapple in the world” is no joke - I had a freshly picked sample from the fields that day and it was the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. I dare say it surpasses the pineapples from Hawaii!

My next stop was the Island of Taha’a. As with the Hawaiian Islands, the Islands of Tahiti each have their own personality. Taha’a presents with a more agricultural feel. The island produces 80% of all vanilla exported from the country. In addition to a vanilla plantation tour and demonstration, I visited Iaorana Pearl Farm and learned what is involved in creating some of the most beautiful pearls in the world. One of the atolls of Taha’a is home to Vahine Island Resort & Spa where I toured the boutique property and enjoyed a beach luncheon. It was so quiet, I found myself whispering with my traveling companions so as not to disturb the palm trees and fish! The star of my stay on Taha’a was at Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa in an overwater bungalow for two nights. A fun fact for you is that The Islands of Tahiti are the birthplace of overwater bungalows! My bungalow included a beautiful deck with access to the lagoon below, floor to ceiling windows and, best of all, a clear, glass coffee table to watch “Polynesian Television”. Beautiful tropical fish are attracted to the lights from the bungalow and I spent quite a bit of time just watching them swim by.

The final island visit was to the famous Bora Bora and it definitely did not disappoint. Bora Bora’s personality is all about taking advantage of the multitude of water activities available. Calm lagoon waters make the perfect setting for snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, boating, fishing. I experienced first-hand the breathtaking colors of a coral garden surrounded by black-tipped reef sharks while snorkeling. Most of my time in Bora Bora was spent touring the luxurious resorts and their amenities all designed with the ultimate vacation experience in mind. The Le Meridian operates a turtle sanctuary and has a wonderful family feel, the Intercontinental Thalasso & Spa Resort uses cold waters from the depths of the ocean in their spa treatments and the overwater bungalow at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa was possibly the softest place to land that evening.

I could continue writing another complete article talking about the fresh cuisine, the people and their culture, the animals, etc., but I guess you’ll just have stop by! After seeing only a portion of what The Islands of Tahiti have to offer and realizing they are not an unattainable destination, I am eager to return and explore more. My next visit’s goals are to spend more time on Bora Bora and discover the Marquesas Islands. I dare you to visit French Polynesia too!

Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Experience

In the late 1800s, Charles Fredrick Holder and Frances F. Rowland of the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club sponsored the Battle of the Flowers to highlight the idyllic climate of Southern California. Holder said, “In New York, people are buried in the snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.” The battle itself was an “afternoon of chariot races, jousting, foot races, and tug-of-war” as well as a bicycle race, polo played on burros, and an orange race where “contestants raced down a line of fifty oranges, spaced two feet apart, and put them one by one into a basket.”

Leading up to the tournament, however, was the very first Rose Parade. Horse-drawn carriages, decorated with fresh flowers from Hunt Club members’ gardens traveled down Colorado Boulevard to the Tournament Grounds on January 1, 1890, and that event has been repeated every year since.

The 2020 Rose Parade featured 39 float entries, 17 equestrian groups, 20 marching bands, and 4 cars. That’s right, only 4 cars. The only vehicles allowed in the parade without being covered in living organisms carry the Mayor of Pasadena, the parade’s Grand Marshal(s), the Tournament of Roses President and the Rose Bowl Game Hall of Fame Inductees.

When you mention the Rose Parade, what most people think about are the elaborate floats covered with flowers. Every single one of those floats was created by a team of volunteers who work without pay, to create award-winning spectacles guaranteed to make crowds swoon.

Each year, over 700 thousand people attend the parade, and more than 50 million watch it on television. But, what if you want to do more than just watch?

This past December, we connected with a group so that we could volunteer to help decorate one of the floats. You can find a list of organizations that need volunteers on the Tournament of Roses website if you’re looking for an opportunity to do the same. The warehouses where the floats are assembled are filled with millions of flowers or other natural materials, such as leaves, seeds, spices, pods or bark, since every visible inch of every float must be covered with organic material. The most delicate of the flowers, including the parade’s namesake roses, are each in a small vial of water to keep them alive and fresh for as long as possible.

Once you’ve spent several hours helping to craft a work of floral art, you won’t want to miss your opportunity to see it in its natural habitat. A seat in the grandstands is well worth the price of admission. (If you prefer to sit along the roadway, be aware that people start waiting in line for a seat more than 24 hours in advance.) Make sure to arrive early, as there are a flyover and other special events that lead up to start time. If you will be near the beginning of the parade route, you’ll also have a great opportunity to watch the pre-parade festivities. Regardless of where you end up seated, though, make sure you bring snacks and water (no hard water bottles, and check on-line with parade security beforehand about current regulations). And whatever you do, don’t drive. Parking is next to impossible. Get up early, and take a ride-share to get you where you need to be. Some hotels in the area even offer shuttle service and parade packages. Endless Travel can help you find a worry-free package that will make your parade experience absolutely amazing.

After the parade finishes, you can walk to the Rose Bowl for the football game (or take a shuttle if that’s part of your package). Surprisingly, the first football game associated with the parade wasn’t played until 1902, and football didn’t become a regular event until 1916. In the years since, the game has become a bigger and bigger spectacle, so make sure to get to your seats early for stunts, more flyovers, and all sorts of pre-game excitement that makes up the full fan experience. And don’t get out of your seat at halftime! The university bands that play can be absolutely incredible!

Post-game, you’ll want to have dinner plans well away from the stadium, as everything nearby will be completely packed. Make sure your transportation plans are cemented in advance as traffic control around the stadium afterward prevents ride-share pickups from getting to you.

The Rose Parade fun doesn’t stop just because New Year’s Day is over, either. The next day, the Tournament of Roses Committee presents “A Showcase of Floats.” This will give you a chance to get up close and personal with the floats, so you can see just what seeds, flowers, fruits and other items made each of them possible.

The Rose Parade and Rose Bowl make up the most well-known New Year’s Day celebration in the modern world. When you are ready to be a part of it, make sure you partner with Endless Travel to get your year started off right.

Oxford: The City of Dreaming Spires

Medieval Spires of OxfordOxford, located in central southern England, is focused primarily around its prestigious university which lies in the city’s medieval center. The architecture of the university’s 38 colleges led poet Matthew Arnold to nickname it the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’.

Legends claim that Oxford University was founded by a beautiful young princess named Frideswide. When her dreams of becoming a nun were threatened by a king who wanted her hand in marriage, Frideswide ran away to Oxford only to be followed by the king. But when he reached the town border, he was struck blind. Once he agreed to release her from marrying him, and begging her forgiveness, his sight was restored. Frideswide then founded a nunnery on the site of what is now Christ Church cathedral. The earliest of the Oxford colleges were set up around the nunnery as learning places for monastic scholars.

The numerous colleges make for an amazing place to just wander all day, lost among the historic buildings still clamoring with students.  There are numerous guided and self-led walking tours to be found such as University tours, ghost tours, literary tours, and (of course) Harry Potter film location tours. Oxford, England

Guided or not, however, be aware that many buildings have a fee to enter them, and tickets sell out well in advance. So plan your day carefully if there are specific places you want to visit, or make sure the tour company covers entry tickets. That said, it is common understanding that if a gate or door is open, passersby should feel free to wander inside.

And what tour of Oxford would be complete without a visit to the gravesite of J.R.R. Tolkien? Wolvercote Cemetery in north Oxford is easy to reach by bus from Oxford City Centre. It does have a small parking lot and public restrooms. There are signs and maps to get you to Tolkien’s grave readily available.

Finally, when you are ready for a break from the scholarly and more scholastic life, the Oxford Pub Tour is not to be missed. Take some time to enjoy some tea or a pint while looking out over the Thames. 

A visit to Oxford is a convenient day trip from London, and many tour companies will start and end your tours there, allowing you to forego the tricky prospect of finding parking. A parking violation in the city is quite the expensive souvenir.

The relationship between the City and the University wasn’t always grand, however. After one of a series of “Town versus Gown” riots, several scholars departed Oxford and founded the University now known as Cambridge in 1209.

Not quite as large as her sister university, Cambridge is made up of 31 Colleges, and is the top-ranked university in the United Kingdom, and second-best in the world (according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings). But much LIKE her sister university, Cambridge is an architectural marvel, and fans of historic buildings will not be disappointed. A walk through the numerous courtyards in the town and throughout the university is a must.

CAmbridge river sightseeingSitting along the River Cam, the town of Cambridge is host to a bevy of riverside restaurants serving up delicious meals. And those feeling especially adventurous can splurge on a punt ride, where a boatman will push your boat along with a pole while you wonder at the sights along the riverbank. Some of the best boat guides are former students who share their love of their city and campus with you as you drift up and down the river.

With literary, historical, and contemporary cultural sights to visit, a trip to Oxford and Cambridge is something the entire family can enjoy.  Let Endless Travel help you plan that perfect “Oxbridge” getaway!

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Recommended Reading:

  • The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  • The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
  • The Notion Club Papers, J.R.R. Tolkien