When we arrived in French Polynesia during the height of coronavirus, our dream of slowly sailing our catamaran, Two Drifters, around the region's five tropical archipelagos was stopped dead in its tracks.
French Polynesia's had closed its borders while we were crossing the Pacific Ocean, so it was a nail-biting time as we awaited our fate. Thankfully, as we had been in isolation at sea during our four-week transit, we were deemed safe so granted maritime entry and instructed to proceed to a designated anchorage in Tahiti.
After a month, lockdown was lifted and inter-island travel granted. At last we were free to sail again, so set off in search of paradise, with the aim of discovering the Society Island's striking mountainous vistas, miles of fringing coral reefs, blue lagoons and white-sand beaches.
Borders were still closed to tourists, so our exploration was blissfully quiet. We had the rare opportunity to step back in time and see infamous islands like Bora Bora in their raw tropical beauty; untainted by visitors or cruise ship passengers, authentic in every way and just being enjoyed by their residents.
While each of islands has a distinctive character and appeal, we found nature and culture in abundance with walks, hiking trails, visits to vanilla and pearl farms and craft markets. Not to mention an immense marine life, teaming with rays, sharks, healthy coral and a bounty of colourful fish.
The Society Islands extend some 450 miles in length and are split into two clusters comprising the Îles du Vent (Windward Islands), which includes Tahiti and Mo'orea, and the Îles Sous le Vent (Leeward Islands), with Bora Bora as the most notable.
With 14 islands in the archipelago, here are our tips and suggestions for the must-see destinations that are within an easy day sail of each other.
This lush, serene and exceptionally pretty island has many beautiful places to anchor. But, it was on a government mooring buoy off Hana Iti Beach, that we discovered the most fabulous underwater life, rich with eagle rays and beautiful coral pinnacles. Above the water, the pretty little beach is backed by coconut palm trees and is rather special, as it can only be reached by boat.
Taking to land, we hired a scooter and visited the island's many archaeological and cultural sites, including seeing the notorious blue-eyed sacred eels.
Ra'iatea & Taha'a
Ra'iatea and Taha'a are part of the same atoll with fringing reefs, making sailing around the islands extremely pleasant. Ra'iatea is also the charter capital, playing host to Sunsail, Moorings and Dream Yacht Charter.
With oodles to see and do from pearl farms, rum distilleries and a shallow coral garden with friendly fish, Taha'a is the island that just keeps on giving. It was blissfully quiet and we often found we were the only boat in an anchorage.
We discovered a little slice of tropical paradise at La Pirogue Api, a boutique hotel that is set on its own private motu (island) and surrounded by a coral reef and topaz-blue water. There's plenty of anchoring space and a couple of mooring buoys, and sailors are given a very warm welcome. Their restaurant, with its mouth-watering menu, surpassed any food we've had so far in French Polynesia.
BoraBora regularly wins awards for being a romantic haven and it's easy to see why when you take in the striking mountainous backdrop, coupled with a mesmerising lagoon that reflects the blue sky and shimmers in the sunlight.
The island has 100 mooring buoys in place which, at US$30 a night is expensive, but well worth pushing the boat out for. When we visited, we were one of just four guest boats, so were very lucky to see Bora Bora stripped right back; chilled-out, relaxed and at its best.
We moored in Bora Bora's infamous blue lagoon at Taurere Bay, where the water is gin clear and the sea colours are pinch-me-beautiful, ranging from the hint of blue diamond to stunning Bombay Sapphire.
This charming island, often referred to as Bora Bora's discreet little sister, has a well-earned reputation among sailors for being difficult to navigate in through the pass, but the rewards are magnificent once you sail into the lagoon.
The people were some of the friendliest we have ever met on our travels. A three-hour walk around the island was rewarded by stunning views, chatty locals and gifts of pamplemouse and coconuts.
Each morning, the manta rays congregate at the same coral head in the lagoon. It's known as a cleaning station and, as they serenely float around without a care in the world, their wings are cleaned and groomed by fish that feed on parasites, algae and debris. Snorkelling with these graceful creatures was remarkable and is up there as one of our most amazing and memorable underwater experiences.
French Polynesia fully opened its borders on 15 July. It's also on the government's approved list of countries, so holidaymakers can visit without quarantining on return. For the latest updates we recommend checking www.tahititourisme.org and www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
Jenevora Swann and her husband Fergus Dunipace have been liveaboards on their catamaran Two Drifters since 2014. They sailed around Europe before crossing the Atlantic to explore the Caribbean, USA, South and Central America. They are now sailing in the South Pacific. www.Facebook.com/TwoDriftersTravel www.twodrifterstravel.com