Water, whales, waves: A summer trip to French Polynesia

Zach Abuel-Saud/Staff

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With the sudden rise in temperatures and sunny skies in Berkeley, the unusually warm winter weather reminds me of a trip I took a few summers ago to French Polynesia. While I was in French Polynesia for just a little over two weeks, I spent time with my family on the islands of Tahiti, Mo’orea and most notably, the island of Bora Bora.

Zach Abuel-Saud/Staff

How’d we get there? We first took a flight out of SFO to LAX, and then from there, we flew to Pape’ete, the urban capital of French Polynesia located on Tahiti. Almost immediately after arriving, we took a ferry and arrived on the island of Mo’orea about half an hour later. A beautiful, heart-shaped island, Mo’orea felt like your typical tropical island dream: Secluded, with white sandy beaches and mountainous jungles. While we were in Mo’orea, we took part in several local excursions and activities, all highlighting the island’s beauty and wildlife. 

Zach Abuel-Saud/Staff

One afternoon, we sailed on a catamaran, where we took in a stunning view of the island from the water, circumnavigated the island and learned interesting facts about its history, local legends and myths. We also had the opportunity to snorkel in a sandbank, where we saw the vibrant aquatic plant life and coral as well as small fish. My favorite moment of all had to be when we stopped the boat and swam in the wild with reef sharks and manta rays. It was a unique experience because these cool creatures weren’t kept in a tank or part of some service. We got to visit them in their natural habitat, where they were just doing their own thing. After riding on the catamaran, we spent time kayaking off the shore and just peacefully experiencing the waters and view of the island on the horizon.

Zach Abuel-Saud/Staff

The last excursion we did in Mo’orea was probably my least favorite part of the whole trip: Whale watching and swimming with whales. Now whales, as you already know, are huge animals, and just like my experience with the sharks and rays, these whales weren’t being kept in some pool but were in the wild. This meant we had to get on a boat and spend time looking for whales in the ocean.

Luckily, the boat passed by a pod of dolphins swimming, and within about an hour, we came to an area far from the coast and jumped in the water. We were a considerable distance from land, so the waves were quite rough and even the most experienced swimmers were having a difficult time. Now, everyone was okay, but eventually, a humpback whale swam right under us, apparently with its baby humpback whale, too. Cute, right?

Unfortunately for me, because I was so busy trying not to drown in the ocean, I missed both whales. To make matters worse, after we got back on the boat and went to another location to look for whales, I suffered seasickness and vomited over the edge of the boat. And it wasn’t just my family on the boat; there were about eight other people, one of whom proceeded to smoke a cigarette right next to me just after I threw up. After that, we were unable to find another whale, so we took the boat back to shore. My sisters were also laughing at me while I was throwing up, so I’d say this final excursion is just representative of my life.

Zach Abuel-Saud/Staff

After the leg of the trip that we spent in Mo’orea, we boarded a small plane and flew to Bora Bora. After arriving at the airport and collecting our luggage, we boarded a large boat that took us across the vast lagoon to our hotel, where we then ventured to our overwater bungalow. While in Bora Bora, we didn’t schedule too many excursions besides eating at local restaurants. We ended up spending the majority of our time at the resort, doing absolutely nothing and enjoying the surroundings. Because of how secluded the area is, it’s an amazing place to relax and lie in the sun.

After we left Bora Bora, we flew back to Pape’ete. During the day we spent there, we went sightseeing, spent time in the big marketplace and took in a local show, and we spent the evening at a club on the beach.

The next morning we flew back to California, and just like that, the vacation was over. It’s nice to reminisce every now and then about Bora Bora and Mo’orea considering how stressful Berkeley can be, and I’m always grateful that I had the opportunity to go on such an incredible trip.

Contact Zachary Abuel-Saud at [email protected].