Posted on Friday, March 15, 2013 by Peter Knego
Peter Knego continues his latest trek aboard Paul Gauguin Cruises’ intimate MV PAUL GAUGUIN with visits to the French Polynesian hamlets of Raiatea and Taha’a.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2013 unless otherwise noted.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
I was able to shake off the aftermath of the LAX-to-Tahiti flight by sleeping until a luxuriant 9:30AM, when politely awakened with cabin service breakfast. I parted the curtains and enjoyed the view from the air conditioned comfort of my stateroom as we began our approach to Raiatea, the second largest (after Tahiti) of the Society Islands. Raiatea was the spiritual center of ancient Polynesia and was once considered the birthplace of the world.
I gnawed leisurely at an impressive spread that included a cheese, tomato and onion omelet, a freshly baked bran muffin, smoked salmon with all the accoutrements (lemon, capers, cream cheese, onions and a bagel), muesli and a banana. I also ordered coffee and a cappuccino, just in case one or the other was not up to par and am happy to relay that PAUL GAUGUIN, unlike most cruise ships, does its coffee right.
After a very thorough boat drill, I headed up to Le Grill for the moonfish presentation with Chef Daniel. The huge, freshly caught, disc-shaped creature would be summarily sliced up and prepared for dinner in L’Etoile that evening.
Sated and then some, I headed down to the Grand Salon for the 11:00 AM “Children of Raiatea’ presentation. Throughout the week, there would be a plenitude of Polynesian cultural events and Raiatea set a high bar with its beautiful children and their exquisite dancing in ceremonial garb.
I stole 45 minutes for a quick workout in PAUL GAUGUIN’s compact but well-equipped gym before we had lunch and headed off on our Black Pearl Farm and Snorkeling excursion.
Out trip began with an outrigger ride to neighboring Taha’a Island where we visited a local pearl farm.
En route, our multi-tasking guide serenaded us with some mean ukelele jamming.
At Taha’a, our guide demonstrated with surgical precision (literally, with a scalpel) how oysters are implanted with a graft of flesh and a “starter” to begin the process of creating a cultured pearl. After five or so implants, the unfortunate creatures are summarily and thanklessly dispatched.
I did manage to plant my feet on Taha’a’s rich soil for a brief moment in search of the loo.
After allowing some time for our fellow excursioners to shop for pearls, we were shuttled off to a shallow lagoon in the shelter of one of Taha’a’s myriad motus (tiny islets) for a snorkel. I put to test my waterproof i-phone case for some shots of the fascinating marine life and ended up only with a mistaken photo of myself looking rather puzzled and, later, a ruined phone.
When we arrived back in Raiatea, fellow guest John Roark and I figured we had just enough time to try and hike up a nearby mountain peak for a view of the harbor at sunset.
Thanks to conflicting directions, we never located the trail, but it was just as well. Moments before we returned to the ship, the skies opened up in a monsoonal deluge.
L’Etoile is the PAUL GAUGUIN’s sumptuous main dining room offering open-seating dinner from 7:00 to 9:30 PM. Located on aft Deck 5, it can accommodate up to 204 guests and, like all the public spaces on that level, enjoys a lofty ceiling height. Stark white, soothing blues and wood tones are enhanced with a gilt-toned recessed ceiling, looming chandeliers and slightly “mod” patterned carpeting.
Table settings in L’Etoile include starched linens, Riedel stemware and fabulous Schonwald chargers that sport the same pattern as the seat backs. Fortunately, the impressive attention to detail in this space is not just limited to the superb design and décor.
It was only fitting to begin dinner with an appetizer portion of the moonfish with sautéed potatoes, onion sauce and marinated arugula salad. Astounding!
And, to not intentionally confound, I asked for the spanakopita appetizer in a main course portion. Kudos to the PAUL GAUGUIN’s chefs for such a genuine taste of Greek cuisine in the opposite corner of the earth!
We concluded the evening in the Grand Salon for the “Ia Orana Tahiti” show featuring ancient Tahitian dances from the talented and energetic Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins.
Monday, March 4, 2013
In the very early morning, PAUL GAUGUIN motored a leisurely fifteen nautical miles to an anchorage off Taha’a. When I parted the curtains, a full arc rainbow linked Raiatea with Bora Bora, some 45 nautical miles to our west.
After another breakfast in the peaceful setting of my stateroom, I headed topsides for a stroll around the upper decks. I was delighted to see that in addition to its sumptuous breakfast offerings like fresh omelets, fine cheeses, salmon, cold cuts, tropical fruits and melons and freshly baked breads and pastries, there was a bowl of bee pollen. I dropped a spoonful into a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and headed aft to what may be my favorite of many beautiful spaces on the ship, La Palette.
La Palette is a handsome lounge that accommodates 40 guests inside and, thanks to a folding glass screen, 44 on an adjoining open-air terrace that overlooks the stern from Deck 8. It features a large dance floor, rich wood tones and a soothing blue color scheme. It is open for continental breakfast from 6:30 to 11:00 AM, afternoon tea from 4:00 to 5:00 PM and bar service from 3:00PM onwards.
From there, it was up to the open expanse of Deck 9 for some illuminating views over the pool area and our gorgeous surrounds.
PAUL GAUGUIN has a wonderful pool in a traditional wood-framed basin that is reminiscent of the pools on classic cruise ships like Paquet’s much-lamented MERMOZ.
The Pool Bar opens daily at 9:30 for included-in-the-fare drinks, cocktails and specialty coffees. I made its genuine cappuccinos a daily habit — at least once, if not twice.
The lovely “curl” atop PAUL GAUGUIN’s funnel conjures up memories of the chic little Italian liner AUSONIA.
After my self-guided ship tour, it was off to the marina area on aft Deck 4, where we gathered our snorkeling gear (provided by the ship) and hopped on a zodiac for a short ride to Motu Mahana, Paul Gauguin Cruises’ private islet off the coast of Taha’a. The marina also provides gear for certified scuba divers (at a nominal fee), zodiacs, kayaks and paddle boards.
We held onto our hats and anything that could potentially become airborne as the zodiac sped its way into the sparkling turquoise waters.
I’m pretty certain the waters of the South Pacific are about as vividly colored and crystalline as any on this planet.
Upon arrival, guests at Motu Mahana are serenaded by a Gauguin or Gauguine or two. The motu has spectacular beaches and plenty of shaded areas to settle in with a drink (yes, a full, included-in-the-fare bar is set up) and savor the surrounds. In addition, local vendors offer handicrafts, pearls, shell necklaces and vanilla beans from Taha’a.
Guests can also book massages in a private cabana over the lagoon.
Paul Gauguin Cruises hosts a lavish barbeque on Motu Mahana, which for many guests is a highlight of the cruise.
I was happy to get some nice views of PAUL GAUGUIN in her Polynesian element from various vantages on the motu.
By the time we headed back to the ship, the seas were beginning to kick up.
Croatian Captain Ante-Toni Mirkovich was kind enough to allow a bridge visit as PAUL GAUGUIN hoisted anchor and made the short but scenic passage from Taha’a to Bora Bora. The good captain had just returned from his leave and hails from Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic and birthplace of my father. Captain Ante has served on a legion of ships, from the former Jadrolinija flagship DALMACIJA to the AMBASSADOR (ex JEDINTSVO) to the Penang-based AMUSEMENT WORLD (ex PATRICIA, etc.) and Batam-based LEISURE WORLD (ex SKYWARD), among others.
From the open air wing, a soothing breeze helped temper the tropical heat.
I was thrilled to have a chance to take a photo of the bell and “face” of the GAUGUIN from the fo’c’sle.
And from the mooring deck, a view of the bulb as it gently plowed through the temperate Polynesian seas.
In my cabin, as I prepped for dinner, there was a spectacular view as we approached Bora Bora. In the twilight, it’s cloud-enshrouded volcanic peak, Mt. Otemanu, looked much taller than its relatively modest 2,386 feet.
PAUL GAUGUIN anchored in the shelter of Bora Bora’s small harbor off the town of Vaitape as we made our way up to Le Grill for dinner. Located on Deck 8 by the pool, Le Grill is the second of the ship’s reservations-required, complimentary dinner venues (in addition to La Veranda — see part one). Accommodating 60 guests between 6:30 and 8:30 PM, it features a fixed menu of Pacific Rim and Polynesian dishes infused with local fish, seafood and spices.
Every meal on the PAUL GAUGUIN was a special treat and Le Grill was no exception. I was particularly smitten with the chop salad appetizer.
A sudden squall hammered down on the anchorage in the midst of dinner. Mother Nature was not about to be upstaged by the elegant PAUL GAUGUIN and threatened to interrupt the proceedings.
We moved our table slightly, settled in, and enjoyed the wind and waterworks from the shelter of Le Grill. The conversation flowed, delicious courses continued to be served and the wine poured on until, finally, the squall had run its course.
We caught the tail end of cruise director Steve Wood’s “The Beat Goes On” tribute to “some of the greatest songs ever written”.
The cruise was going by all too quickly!
End of PAUL GAUGUIN In Paradise, Part Two
Much More to Come…