My friend Teri and I had a 20-hour layover in Papeete, Tahiti on our way to New Zealand. Usually, any layover longer than 5 hours is undesirable, which is why many of the cheapest flights have overnight connections. We could have paid a bit more for a direct flight to Auckland from Los Angeles, but why not take advantage of a full-day layover in the beautiful islands of French Polynesia?
When our Air Tahiti Nui flight arrived in Tahiti at 6 am, we were serenaded with island music by a Polynesian group. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, the palm trees were swaying in the breeze, and I could picture dolphins jumping around in the ocean nearby–it was that beautiful.
We booked a room for the day at the incredible Intercontinental Tahiti Resort & Spa. That way, we could drop off our stuff and be able to take naps and showers before our 2 AM flight to NZ. This turned out to be a brilliant idea and oh-so-worth-it. Though we could not check-in to our room until the afternoon, the resort provides free showers/changing areas for their guests arriving on the early AM flights. The staff didn’t seem as surprised as I thought they would when I explained we weren’t actually spending the night – just there on a layover. In fact, they ended up upgrading us from the basic room to a larger room with direct access to the pools and with an amazing ocean view for free!! They really thought of everything and provided us with every comfort and convenience imaginable.
After taking a walk to take pictures and familiarize ourselves with the resort (scoping out the best pools & views), we booked ourselves onto a full-day tour with Tahiti Safari Expeditions.
Since we were a last-minute addition, we were added on to a french-speaking tour. I didn’t mind so much, since I thought it would be a great opportunity to practice my french. But in the end we were a mixture of French, American, and Japanese tourists who all got along fabulously, and our common language was laughter.
Our tour guide took us into the heart of the rainforest, exploring the inner island in an open-air 4×4. We drove past bright red flowers, endless waterfalls, and greenery for days.
We drove up to the to inner part of the island and had lunch in a crater. How cool is that?
We drove through rivers and even stopped for a swim and cliff jumping on our way back. It had been raining lightly off and on during the tour, but we didn’t mind it so much, since it felt great to cool off and a very hot and humid day. Also, we were treated to this amazing sight:
After the tour, we said goodbye to our new friends and headed straight for the beautiful sand-bottomed infinity pool, where we spent the rest of the evening lazing about to watch the sunset. And boy were we treated to the most amazing dance of light and colors in the sky:
The resort doesn’t have the typical white sand beach one would imagine, but the landscaping, pools, lagoon, and ocean views of Moorea in the background more than make up for it. There are beaches nearby accessible via taxi, but they are black sand, volcanic beaches.
Of course, I would have loved to stay much longer in French Polynesia. The people were super friendly, the exotic fruits were delicious, and there were so many options of things to do or ways to relax. However, we enjoyed our 20-hour stay and never felt rushed. I left with such a great impression of Tahiti and would love to go back someday and maybe even explore some of the other islands like Bora Bora or stay in one of those over-water bungalows.
So, next time you’re booking a flight to some far-off path, do consider looking at the options with long layovers. You’d be surprised how much you can actually do in a day and get a taste of a new place you might not otherwise have visited. Happy Layover Travels!