Until now thetrouble with Tahiti and Bora-Bora—and Fiji, Samoa, New Caledonia and the restof the islands that stretch across the Tropic of Capricorn—has been that theywere so far away from the American mainland, so difficult or expensive to getto, that the handful of tourists who journeyed into the true depths of theSouth Pacific tended to be the rich, the retired or the renegade. Such visitorshave made little effort to get past the deck chair of a steamer, the beach of ahotel or the stool of a bar. For that matter, there have been few facilities totake a sports-minded tourist, no matter what his age or the size of his wallet,where the sport was—no sport-fishing boats, no charter yachts, no scubaschool.
The jet surge tothe Pacific is changing all that. To offset the complaint that tourist hordesare destroying paradise, there should also be rejoicing that prices aredropping, younger people are finding it possible to travel there and the likesof Bora-Bora's Erwin Christian have enough customers to develop the best thingthe Pacific has to offer the tourist—its water sports.
GETTING THERE: In1961 the first jet flew into Papeete, Tahiti, and there were 8,563 visitorsduring the year. During 1967 there were seven flights a week from the U.S.alone, and 23,000 tourists. While the first-class fare is still $1,022.40, lastsummer a new 23-day excursion rate made it possible to fly to Papeete from LosAngeles for $520 round trip, $234 less than the regular tourist fare. UTA fliesfrom Los Angeles at 11:45 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, reachingPapeete 8½ hours later, at 6:10 a.m. local time, as the tropical sky turnslemon yellow behind the palm trees. Pan American flies nonstop from Los Angelesat midnight on Saturdays, from San Francisco via Honolulu on Thursdays, andfrom Los Angeles via Honolulu and Pago Pago on Tuesdays. Qantas flies fromAcapulco to Tahiti on Saturdays. From Papeete there are daily feeder flights toRaiatea and Bora-Bora. To reach Moorea you take a boat, the fishing cruiserKeke II, for the hour-and-a-half crossing.
STAYING THERE:The best hotels in French Polynesia are, without exception, American owned andmanaged. In Papeete on the main island of Tahiti, the place to stay is theHotel Tahiti. It has a pool and a pier, but no beach. This lack is made up forby the charm of the thatched-roof bungalows, which cost from $23 for a doubleper day. The same management owns the Tahiti Village, nine miles out of town ona white-sand beach, with Moorea soaring above the spindrift on the horizon. InOctober 1968 Pan American will open the 200-room Tahara'a Inter-Continental, ahillside resort near Papeete, the largest in the islands.
January 15, 1968
Papeete has themost complete organization in the South Seas for skin divers. Young JeanPelissier has a real James Bond collection of underwater gear. His company hasdone all the underwater work around the atoll where the French are working ontheir hydrogen bomb, and, now that he has finished his chores for De Gaulle, hehas gone into the tourist business. He has compressors, tanks, instructors,boats, rafts, rescue gear, cameras, lights and is able to take beginners orwhole movie crews underwater.
Bora-Bora has onedistinguished hotel, the Hotel Bora-Bora, also American owned. Its mainbuilding and dining room sit on a point of land with a dazzling view of whitesand and lagoon. The guest bungalows are spread through tropical gardens. Thebar is first-rate and it has the best hotel restaurant in the Pacific. Pricesare $35 for a single, $48 for a double per day American plan. Erwin Christian'swater-sports complex makes the hotel even more attractive. Christian'sglass-bottom-boat tours cost $4 per person; trips to the reef are $3. Waterskiing is $5 per half hour.
Moorea isconsiderably better known than Bora-Bora, partly because it is nearer toTahiti. It sits right out there beyond the lagoon, and it has received muchpublicity, thanks to three Californians who became permanent beach bums andfounded the Bali Hai Hotel in 1963. The beach bums—Jay Carlisle, Muk McCallumand Hugh Kelley—are now pushing 40, and the Bali Hai has clipped grass lawnsright down to the raked sand beach, excellent salad grown on the hotel'splantation, the prettiest waitresses in the islands and a general air ofcomplete American don't-give-a-damn relaxation. The thatched bungalows haveking-size American baths. Prices are $15 for a single, $18 for a double pernight. There is a second Bali Hai at Raiatea, a nearby island, where Muk, Jayand Hugh are converting a rather ordinary waterfront bungalow colony intosomething special. They are building six cottages out over the reef, each withPlexiglas panels in the floor above a floodlit reef for fish watching inbed.
Moorea hasanother claim to fame, the Club Méditérranée (SI, July 1, 1963). There are 150double bungalows with baths on a mile-and-a-half stretch of beach and coconutgrove. Two weeks at the club, with skin-diving instruction, horses, a fleet ofsailboats, water skiing, all meals and wine included, costs $599 round trip LosAngeles-Papeete. This year 80% of the guests were American. The ClubMéditérranée has 29 summer villages around the world, 10 ski villages and500,000 members. Membership is $5 per year. Club Méditérranée International hasoffices at 530 West Sixth Street, Los Angeles 90014 and at 516 Fifth Avenue,New York 10036. There is a dependency of the club, if 300 people is a crowd foryou. On the beautiful island of Tahaa, near Raiatea, the club has a colony of13 waterside bungalows—without private baths—in a lush tropical setting.
Next stop for thejetter across the South Pacific is American Samoa. The new Pago PagoInter-Continental, which opened in 1965, is one of the major hotels of thePacific. Rooms are from $15 a single per day, European plan. It is built inhandsome simulation of the native bure, or domed thatched-hut, architecture, ona jutting point of land beside the beautiful fjordlike harbor. While full oflocal charm, it is typically Inter-Continental in its amenities. A visitorcontemplating out loud whether a martini would be a good bet was asked by thebartender, "Straight up or on the rocks, olive or twist?" At the sametime, one is unable to buy even a razor in the tiny commissaries of thetin-roof town of Pago Pago, which has changed little, if at all, since SadieThompson fled there from Honolulu. There is closed-circuit television in all ofthe schools—but no road around the island. The chief tourist destination on anisland of great natural beauty is the Chicken of the Sea tuna cannery. There ispromise of excellent deep-sea fishing outside of Pago Pago's deepharbor—Leonard Yandall talks of snapper and jack by the boatload, marlin andsail-fish cruising 10 miles offshore as if this were a fisherman's nirvana. Hehas even invested in his belief: he has two 29-foot Luhrs fishing cruisers.Each has a single 160-hp Perkins diesel and is outfitted for parties of four orsix sport fishermen. But Yandall has as yet had a hard go of it, averaging onlyone booking a week. He charges $20 per hour.
Fiji is toAustralia and New Zealand what the Caribbean is to the U.S. In the past fewmonths two new hotels have opened on Fiji that should attract the Americantourist as well. One of them, the Fijian, on a small island connected, to themainland by a causeway, is only 45 minutes by car from the Nadi jet strip. Thisis a 108-room complex designed by Pete Wimberly of Honolulu. Double rooms arefrom $18. It sits on a coconut plantation, with a nine-hole golf course, milesof white beach, a harbor inside a barrier reef and the beginnings of a seriouswater-sports endeavor. Harry Duttfield, managing director of Axminster Carpets,Ltd., was so excited by the sport fishing he had with Graham Wallace, the deanof Fiji's fishermen, that he has brought two Axminster-carpeted 45-foot fishingcruisers with Simrod fish detectors, twin diesels, Tycoon rods and Fin-Norreels to work out of the new Fijian. They will take four fishermen for $130 aday to what Duttfield is calling Marlin Alley, 25 miles off the coast.
The other newhotel in Fiji may be everyone's ideal of a South Pacific getaway spot. It iscalled Castaway, as apt a name as one could find for this tiny, reef-protectedisland. Bungalows for 36 guests are scattered along two beaches or beneath thepalms, but there is very little else. Castaway was built by Australian DickSmith and his delightful wife Kate, who have trained the handsome natives fromMalolo Lailai, a nearby island, and they are among the best servants, boatmenand bartenders you will find in the South Pacific. They will take you to thereef to snorkel, or on a turtle hunt or sailing in a catamaran or trolling fortuna. Lunch is served outdoors—at a different place each day, on the beach,under the palms. Cocktails are on the terrace, with flying foxes flitteringfrom tree to tree above, and dinner is a long, pleasant, candlelit affair inthe central bure. You get to Castaway by taking a three-hour sail on theschooner Seaspray from the port of Lautoka. The comfortable bungalows cost from$18 to $20.50 a double per day, meals included.
The lastresort-island complex on the swing across the Pacific before you reachAustralia and New Zealand is New Caledonia. Because of its rich nickel mines,New Caledonia has a flourishing economy and has not developed its touristfacilities adequately—particularly when you consider that its barrier reef andlagoon are second only in size to that of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.As yet there is almost no development to take visitors into or onto this water.The only deluxe hotel, the Ch√¢teau Royal in Noum√®a, is a travesty of a resorthotel—all marble and fake Louis XVI and wall-to-wall carpeting. A half hour'sflight from Nouméa is the Isle of Pines, a Melanesian native preserve with abungalow-hotel—the Relais de Kanumera—run by a Frenchman, Jean Roques. TheRelais, situated on an isthmus with great bays at its front and back doors, hasbeen called a paradise. It is not. It is a badly run hotel with poor food thatis slung at the tourist by waitresses who are in a hurry to get on with thedancing. The bungalows are set under great bunier trees, violating a SouthSeas' rule that a grass-roofed building must stand in the sun. In consequence,the bungalows are damp—walls, sheets, floors. The $24 per day it costs to stayis much too much for the quality of accommodations, food and service. But theRelais de Kanumera is situated on the most beautiful beach in the SouthPacific—if not in the world. Its back beach is a great curve of pale pink sandlined with pines. Just off its gentle slope is a small mushroom-shaped coralisland. And snorkeling around this island is so enthralling and so easy thatyour grandmother would be at home. The heads of the Club Méditérranée and ofUTA paid the Isle of Pines a visit recently, looking for a new site for theclub. What a blessing it would be if they had this location.
Anyone going toNew Caledonia should see its extraordinary aquarium—the finest of its kindanywhere. It is run by Dr. and Mme. R. Catala, two warm and gentle scientists.Located by the sea, it is a completely "live" aquarium—everything init, the coral, the anemones, all the glorious fish that you will see in alagoon. The Catalas, by educating you, will put you at ease about the fearsomethings that keep many tourists out of South Pacific waters: the poisonousstonefish, lion-fish, sea snakes and cone shells; the menace of moray eels orsharks or barracudas or rays; the sting of fire coral or sea urchins. Once youknow about them you will realize that the menace is minimal—and, if you have aguide like Bora-Bora's Erwin Christian, something you will not have to thinkabout.
GAUGUIN GIRLS IN GERNREICH GEAR
The soft beauties of Polynesia, with their long jet hair and golden skin, makeperfect foils for the most advanced swimsuits of this new resort season. Thesuits were designed by that master of body freedom, Rudi Gernreich. They areall of black wool knit held together by hardly apparent bands and straps ofclear plastic (skin is a part of the design). All of those shown here were madefor Gernreich by Harmon Knitwear and are priced from $28 to $55 at Nan Duskin,Philadelphia; Neiman-Marcus, all stores; and at all the Saks Fifth Avenuestores around the country.
SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN
Isle of Pines
SYDNEY 1,069 MILES
HONOLULU 2,745 MILES
LOS ANGELES 4,109 MILES