Halfway from Tahiti to Bora Bora is a Bali Ha'i island most visitors to French Polynesia have never heard of—Huahine. The island could be Bora Bora's younger sister, with lush volcanic peaks ringed by a peacock blue lagoon. And while more than 700 overwater bungalows speckle the lagoon surrounding Bora Bora, on Huahine—an island twice the size—there are only 17.
"Locals like to say that when the gods created Huahine, they made it to represent all of the island of Polynesia," says Paul Atallah, the owner of Island Eco Tours. We make plans to meet up after I've spent a few days at Te Tiare Beach Resort (866/209-3901). Te Tiare's 19 garden bungalows are nestled amid swaying palms.
It's a short boat ride from the Fare pier three miles south to Te Tiare. There are a handful of pensions and small hotels scattered around Huahine, but Te Tiare is the only luxury resort, and the only one with overwater bungalows. Within minutes of checking in, I was on the back deck in my board shorts, leaping out into the sea.
Over the next few days, my indulgent routine varies a little. The tour group Huahine Nautique offers lagoon tours complete with an authentic and delicious waterfront feast.
Huahine is also known as The Garden Island thanks to its lush landscape and bright blooms, like gorgeous pink hibiscus flowers.
Guests flock to Te Tiare not only for the stunning views, but also the exclusive attentiveness of the staff. They have their choice of air-conditioned garden, beach, or overwater bungalows, and the staff will canoe out to the overwater bungalows and set up breakfast on the deck in the morning.
History buffs head to Huahine to see ancient archaeological sites, including traditional Polynesian stone temples.
I book a lagoon tour through the resort and the next morning, the captain putters up to the dock in a white, 40-foot-long outrigger canoe. We tour the lagoon, leaping off for drifting snorkel tours in the shallow green water.
We stop off at a floating pearl farm and get a lesson on where aquaculture meets fashion: in lumious black pearls. By the end of the day, I'm the last one awake in the boat. The captain is steering with his knees and singing about his undiscovered paradise.