PAUL GAUGUIN In Paradise, Part Two

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.

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2013 unless otherwise noted.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

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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.

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Breakfast en suite.

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.

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Moonfish in Le Grill.

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.

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Introducing the Children of Raiatea.
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Blossoming Lamours in the Grand Salon.

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.

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Cardio section of Le Gym.

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.

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Afternoon excursion ticket.

Out trip began with an outrigger ride to neighboring Taha’a Island where we visited a local pearl farm.

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Ukelele on the outrigger.

En route, our multi-tasking guide serenaded us with some mean ukelele jamming.

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The inner oyster at Taha’a.

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.

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Terrestrial view of oyster farm on Taha’a.

I did manage to plant my feet on Taha’a’s rich soil for a brief moment in search of the loo.

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i-Phone misfire off Taha’a.

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.

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Going ’round in circles in Uturoa, Raiatea.

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.

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Deck drench at Raiatea.

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.

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L’Etoile, facing starboard/aft.
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Totally random L’Etoile carpet shot.

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.

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L’Etoile table setting.

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.

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Moonfish appetizer in L’Etoile.

It was only fitting to begin dinner with an appetizer portion of the moonfish with sautéed potatoes, onion sauce and marinated arugula salad. Astounding!

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Spanakopita in L’Etoile.

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!

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Les Gauguines on stage.

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

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Prism over Bora Bora.

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.

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Bee pollen in Le Grill.
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Freshly squeezed in Le Grill.

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.

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La Palette, facing forward.

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.

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Starboard Deck 9, facing aft.
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Midships Pool Area from Deck 9.

From there, it was up to the open expanse of Deck 9 for some illuminating views over the pool area and our gorgeous surrounds.

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Pool and sculpture.

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.

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Pool Bar, facing forward.

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.

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“P” is for “perfect”.

The lovely “curl” atop PAUL GAUGUIN’s funnel conjures up memories of the chic little Italian liner AUSONIA.

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Marina overview.

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.

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Hatfish off Motu Mahana.

We held onto our hats and anything that could potentially become airborne as the zodiac sped its way into the sparkling turquoise waters.

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Motu lagoon, Taha’a.
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Liquid turquoise at Motu Mahana.

I’m pretty certain the waters of the South Pacific are about as vividly colored and crystalline as any on this planet.

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Une Gauguine and Un Gauguin at Motu Mataha.

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.

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Motu massage.

Guests can also book massages in a private cabana over the lagoon.

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Barbeque bros. at Motu Mahana.

Paul Gauguin Cruises hosts a lavish barbeque on Motu Mahana, which for many guests is a highlight of the cruise.

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GAUGUIN amid the branches and fronds.

I was happy to get some nice views of PAUL GAUGUIN in her Polynesian element from various vantages on the motu.

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Tender spray at Motu Mahana.

By the time we headed back to the ship, the seas were beginning to kick up.

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Captain Ante.

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.

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Aft from wing off Taha’a.

From the open air wing, a soothing breeze helped temper the tropical heat.

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Bell of the PAUL.

I was thrilled to have a chance to take a photo of the bell and “face” of the GAUGUIN from the fo’c’sle.

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Bulb in the blue.

And from the mooring deck, a view of the bulb as it gently plowed through the temperate Polynesian seas.

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Flora Bora.

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.

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Le Grill, facing starboard.

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.

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Chop salad in Le Grill.

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.

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Sheltered from the deluge in Le Grill.

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.

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The elements at play.

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.

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Steve Wood conjures Tom Jones in the Grand Salon.

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…


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