Stopping for a selfie at a lava field on Chain of Craters road in Volcanoes National Park

Two quick stops with a long flight in between. From Bora Bora the goal was the Big Island back in Hawaii, but instead of trying to arrange a connecting flight we stopped for a day-and-a-half back in Tahiti. Same hotel that we liked, the Hilton, but this time we made reservations in advance to have dinner at a very nice French restaurant in downtown Papeete. Definitely better than resort food once again.

I walked around Papeete a little and it had the potential to be a cute place for a day or two. Nothing you ever need to see but possibly charming.

Steak tartare at L’O A La Bouche, a lovely French restaurant in Papeete

Then it was back to Hawaii, a six-hour flight north and then a connecting flight to the Big Island. (The island is officially called Hawaii but since that would constantly confuse people wondering if you were talking about the island or the state, everyone calls it the Big Island.) Our first stop was again pretty short, just two days in a rustic lodge very near the entrance to Volcanoes National Park.

If you are really into geology and how the earth was formed and all that, Volcanoes National Park would be just your cup of tea. There were lots of trails to hike around various volcanoes and lava flows, and lots and lots of boards explaining how this had happened and why that had happened. It turns out that I was just never a science guy and after just a few of those my eyes were glazing over.

One of the smaller craters we hiked by. If you’re from northern Minnesota it looks a lot like an abandoned iron ore pit…

With that said it was still interesting to walk around and see stuff. We hiked quite a ways around the rim of Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Lots of steam but sadly no spewing orange fire balls. And we did a drive along the Chain of Craters road that passed by lots of smaller craters and lava flows.

That’s me out on one of a million lava flows

Beyond that I loved just the peace and quiet of the place. The park is up at a pretty high altitude and so the weather was surprisingly cool, a nice change of pace for us. Our little cabin was a decided change from the fancy resorts we usually stay in and it was a nice diversion. It was in a pretty remote spot so I could do long walks on quiet country lanes that were beautiful.

And that was that, four days and a long flight. We have one last stop on the other side of the Big Island before we go back to the small island we call home.

The Tahiti Hilton at sunset. Not too shabby.

The deck on our little cabin made for a great spot to read and maybe have a little scotch. The lodge was in the town of Volcano, so there we were, staying in a volcano!

That may look like a hiking trail but in fact Mark is just a couple feet from the door to our cabin

Part of my very cute and very relaxing country lane walk

Our hike along the crater rim

Mark up above the crater. We were high above the floor at this point and back further it got a lot deeper still.

Hiking the trails of Volcanoes National Park

It may not look it but that’s a long way down

At the entrance to a lava tunnel. Fortunately they had electric lights in there or it would have been a pretty challenging walk.

The Hōlei Sea Arch at the very end of the Chain of Craters road

From the tiny airport you step straight onto a boat headed to your resort, and you are immediately wowed by the scenery

The yellow star marks our resort. The blue dot is where we had lunch on the main island.

We found a phone booth in the main town, and Jim even checked for a dial tone!

A manta ray under a bridge at the resort

Bora Bora is a “Wow” place. It looked stunning from the airplane as we approached. The water was an unreal turquoise color as we stepped onto the boat to be transported to our resort. For six days we marveled at what a beautiful place this is. We couldn’t help making favorable comparisons with the most beautiful places we’ve ever been — the Maldives, Capri, Torres del Paine in Chile, Sardinia.

And it didn’t hurt a bit that the St. Regis Bora Bora is a truly world-class hotel, one of the best we’ve ever stayed at. The facility, rooms, service, food, and grounds all came close to perfection. The place comes with prices to match, but we were able to use the gazillions of Marriott hotel points we’ve earned to snag a beautiful over-the-water bungalow at a fraction the normal cost. There’s reason we’ve been hoarding those points.

The main island is formed by an extinct volcano, from which rise two dramatic peaks called Pahia and Otemanu. The island is surrounded by a lagoon enclosed by barrier reefs on all sides. The nicer resorts live on little islets along the barrier reef, affording spectacular views across the lagoon to the peaks of the volcano.

What does one do here? If you are Mark and Jim, the answer is not too much. We are more than content sitting on the lovely white sand beaches, reading and marveling at the brilliant colors of the water and the lush green scenery. Because our resort sprawled expansively across several of the islets, each room came with two dedicated bicycles, which we’d use to traverse the hefty distances between our bungalow, the beach, the restaurants, and the gym. Every time I got on that bike, I was amazed at how beautiful everything was in every direction as I rode.

We did venture into the main town of Vaitape on the main island one day, taking a complimentary hotel shuttle boat to get there. It was a pretty dusty little town with locals going about their business and a scattering of tourists checking out shops selling black pearls and assorted other touristy finds. After running a couple of errands we’d quickly had enough of the town and stopped into the one restaurant that had sounded good for lunch. Coming off the hot and dusty main road, we were amazed at the loveliness of the patio and the gorgeous views toward the water and the islets.

It was a heavenly little lunch. Other than that, we did very little more than enjoy being in one of the most beautiful places on earth. And naturally, this post come with a lot of pictures!

The scenery as our plane approached the island

These waters are heavenly

My view as I bike across the bridges that connect the bungalows to the islets

Our deck provided expansive space for drying our laundry — handy when the hotel charges $18 to wash a pair of shorts

Can’t get enough of that view toward the peaks

The center of Vaitape from our in-town lunch spot

Jim looks blue, but in fact he’s enjoying our wonderful lunch in town

Did we mention the VIEWS?

Sunset views are nice, too

Jim loves a great hammock, and this one takes the cake

The hotel bar is a nice place for sunset

More sunset

The ride back to the airport on our final day

World’s best airport sign

The view from our over water bungalow. No one would complain about that, right?

Five nights on the next island over from Tahiti, our first ever stay in an over water bungalow. It should have been fabulous. Shoulda…

Let’s be clear: the island is really beautiful and the water around us is often stunning. For many people this would be the vacation of a lifetime and so yes, we feel more than a little churlish to complain. There were just so many things the Hilton we’re staying at got wrong. Little things, like requiring a towel card to get a beach towel. I mean, we’re staying at an expensive resort and you treat us like we want to steal a $5 towel? And the big things, like some of the worst food ever. Seriously. We only had dinner here once and it’s distinctly possible that the salmon dish I had was the worst salmon I’ve ever eaten. The worst gym of our vacation. And just unlucky. Not only did it rain a lot, but our over water bungalow was (second) closest to the beach, meaning that every kayaker and snorkeler and paddle boarder was going right past us all day. And it had the (second) worst views, missing both sunrise and sunset. There were literally dozens of rooms that I would have preferred but we drew the short straw. Sad!

The beautiful pool. Who could complain about that?

OK, I got that “first world problem” stuff off my chest. Now it’s time for all that was good or even great. Mostly, it’s just really beautiful. There’s a reason the idea of French Polynesia looms large in our collective fantasies. Brilliant waters, lush forests, friendly locals, grand mountain peaks – they make for a perfect setting. I did several long walks off the resort grounds just to get some exercise and see stuff. Whenever I would encounter a local either walking or bicycling they always smiled and acknowledged me. Heck, it’s so friendly here that a local dog adopted me on one of my walks, joining me for four or five miles and even placing himself between me and a dog that was threatening to chase me. That’s friendly locals!

I’d read the reviews before we arrived and they were pretty damning about the quality of the food (though ultimately not damning enough…) so right from our first night we made a reservation at Rudy’s, a French restaurant run by Belgians (close…) who really care about their food. We ended up eating there three nights, opting for the Moorea Beach Café the night Rudy’s was closed. Both were standouts, especially compared to resort food.

Dinner at the Moorea Beach Club was a treat. When we first got there it was raining and windy so the blinds were closed. Later the weather eased, the blinds were opened, and it was heavenly.

We did one big (big!) excursion while we were here. We rented e-bikes to circumnavigate the island. It was my first time with an e-bike and to be honest I was surprised by how little a difference it seemed to make except on the couple of small hills we encountered. On the hills though, especially later in the ride, it was pretty nice. Altogether it was a little over 37 miles around the island and I have to admit that I was surprised at how exhausted I was at the end. Maybe I am getting old.

Except for the ride itself, the other highlight of the day was stopping a few miles short of our hotel. We were hot, tired, and sore so we splurged: beer, pizza, and dessert (cheesecake for me, a flaming crepe suzette for Mark). We’d earned it, dammit, and I am going to relish that lunch for years!

And then lunch the next day near the end of our bike ride. That pizza deserved a special place in our blog!

The other thing you do at a place like this is snorkel and look at fishies. So we both snorkeled a bit, though ultimately we get bored with it quickly. It turns out though that the best fish viewing could be done from just outside our bungalow. We saw a few manta rays, which are very cool to watch. And even more exciting we saw three – three! – sharks swimming just a few feet from us. How cool is that?

Yup, one of the sharks waiting for us to go for a swim

One final sad note, and perhaps part of the reason why I’m less than thrilled with our stay here. Shortly after arriving we learned that our niece Jennifer – my older brother’s only child – had died. Just five years ago she lost her young son to cancer and I’m not sure she ever recovered. She suffered from chronic pain for years and had been diagnosed with PAN vasculitis, a rare cancer. Just a few weeks ago she opted for hospice care, with an expectation of at least a few more months to live, but went much faster than anyone expected. In just the last five-plus years my brother has buried his grandson, his mother, and now his daughter. That’s tough.

Bora Bora should be more upbeat.

The over water bungalows

The walkway out to the over water bungalows at sunset

Another sunset picture, this one from our room. It rained nearly all day that day which gets tiring, but I suppose all that greenery on the island needs water…

Our little beach

Bucolic scenes during one of my walks

And another

Our route map for the ride. Rarely out of sight of the sea…

Scenes from a tropical bike ride


One more

There were a few cute kitties at the resort, somewhat less scary than the sharks

Enjoying a well-earned dessert in a slightly pink shirt. I may have been too tired to hold my head up, but I managed to finish the cheesecake.