Tahiti-a warm welcome

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Ia ora na, welcome to Tahiti. And what a warm welcome it is after a nine-hour flight from Los Angeles on Air Tahiti Nui. Arriving passengers are greeted with a lei of tiare flowers and a seemingly genuine, not corporate-created, smile.

We spent scant time in Papeete, reserving just enough time to visit Le Maison James Norman Hall. This legendary American author was made famous by the motion picture “Mutiny on the Bounty,” which was based on his novel. This enchanting museum recalls Hall’s life and work in Tahiti until his death in 1951. James A. Michener called him “the most universally loved American to ever have lived in Tahiti.” This was a perfect prelude to traveling onward to Taha’a, the Vanilla Island, and to the private resort, Le Taha’a Private Island and Spa, 30 minutes by boat from the airport in Raiatea.

On this dot in the Pacific where cars are absent and Mother Nature rules, one can see why French artist Paul Gauguin, who found inspiration in this part of the world, was so captivated. We only had a fraction of time to decompress, but how lovely it was. And so for 48 hours we disconnected from a world of political upheaval, war reports and 21st century-induced stress. We dined on a vanilla-inspired dinner in what looked like a tree house but was a restaurant, we waded in water a dozen shades of luminous turquoise and, at night, watched rainbow-colored fish carefully staged, under a glass-covered table, which could have been inspired by a glass bottom boat. Spending a few nights in a bungalow built over a lagoon with water on all sides and breathtaking views of paradise was thoroughly therapeutic. The resort has terrific diving opportunities, but for those who seek to experience the untouched beauty surrounding Taha’a, there are an abundance of tours.

Thanks to the intuitive yet decisive front desk manager Annabelle Gutermuth, we were sent off in a speedboat to the neighbor island of Taha’a to meet our tour guides for an afternoon of island exploration.

As we were ushered into an open-air truck by Dave and Ken, look alike Tahitian first cousins, we met a honeymooning couple from Milan who joined us for a four-hour expedition covering the lush terrain of this island made famous by its most important contribution to the culinary world, vanilla. Driving on quiet roads to a hillside populated by trees producing the most luscious grapefruits, mangos, papayas and coconuts imaginable, the cousins prepared the freshest fruit salad I’ve ever tasted.

Taha’a was followed by a few days at the Moorea Pearl Resort and Spa, where 20 deluxe overwater bungalows are the favorite choice of honeymooners, who flock here from around the world. At any given time, there is a wedding taking place here, with Polynesian fanfare and tradition part of the ceremony.

The currency is the French Pacific Franc with approximately 100 francs to one U.S. dollar. It sounds good on paper but the reality is that a mundane hamburger at a good hotel, like the Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti on Lafayette Beach near Papeete, is around $17. Yet, it’s well worth visiting this lovely hotel just for Le Spa, a delightfully different hotel-based spa, reached by a private elevator where locally prepared spa products, some made from Monoi, a healing oil prepared from the delicate part of the coconut infused with the essence of tiare flowers, are used in massage treatments.

That Tahitian charm is everywhere, making this South Seas destination eternally irresistible.

€ Tahiti Tourisme North America; www.tahiti-tourisme.com; 310.414.8484.

€ Le Taha’a Private Island and Resort, a member of Relais & Chateaux; 800.735 2478; www.letahaa.com; email: letahaa@relaischateaux.com

€ Pearl Resorts, www.pearlresorts.com; 800.841.4145

€ Le Maison James Norman Hall, www.jamesnormanhallhome.pf.Air Tahiti Nui, 877.824.4846; www.flyatn.com

Ask about Club Poerava, business class featuring custom designed seats with fully adjustable head and leg rests, and personal video screens with six films on each flight. If you revel in even more comforts, reserve Poerava first with upgrades such as soft pajamas and oversized pillows.

Special Tip: Coral reefs, better known as “rainforests of the sea,” are fragile, being the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet. Reef Check is a global effort to help protect these reefs. Visit www.ReefCheck.org for details.

Pamela Price is the co author of “100 Best Spas of the World” published by the Globe Pequot Press. She can be reached at pamprice@dc.rr.com