I flew to Tahiti the other night with Ted Cook of Islands In the Sun. He was dressed in his usual aloha shirt and jeans, and he was returning to Tahiti because that’s where his heart is. Twenty-five years ago Cook left his job as an aerospace engineer in Los Angeles to vacation in the South Seas. It was, he says, the beginning of a beautiful love affair.
The day he got back to Los Angeles the freeways were clogged. A brownish haze hung over the city. Suddenly, everything that had seemed so terribly important made no sense. Inching his way in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, he vowed to return to the South Seas.
A few months later Cook flew back to Tahiti and made a home movie that was shown to clubs and on television when he returned to Los Angeles. By now he had quit his job and moved aboard a sailboat in Long Beach, using the public phone on the dock as his office. Each time it rang, he ran to the booth, announcing breathlessly: “Islands In the Sun.”
Quitting his job was easy. Paying the bills was something else. His accountant told him flatly, “There is no way in the world you can make money.”
Cook told the bean counter to take a stroll. “He almost ruined my dream.”
Cook was obsessed with the idea of returning to Tahiti as frequently as possible. It took nearly 10 years to begin making a profit with his tours, but he kept his vow. Since that fateful journey when he was 28 years old, he’s returned to Tahiti more than 200 times.
In the bar of the Beachcomber Hotel in Papeete a plaque reads: “Here sits a legend,” referring to Ted Cook. There’s another at the Maeva Beach Hotel.
During a quarter of a century, Cook has shepherded more than 100,000 travelers to Tahiti from all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and dozens of other countries. Over the years he’s moved deeper into the South Seas: to Fiji, the Cook Islands, Australia and New Zealand. He describes himself as “the guy with the bare feet and the briefcase,” and the only time you’ll see him in a tie is at a wedding or a funeral. And maybe not even then.
Cook recalls the day years ago in Los Angeles’ bumper-to-bumper traffic: “I felt if I didn’t give it a chance, I’d always wonder what might have happened.”
What happened, of course, is that he became a legend.
For a free copy of a 48-page magazine produced by Cook that features Tahiti and tours of the South Seas, write to Islands In the Sun, P.O. Box 1398, Newport Beach 92663 or telephone toll-free (800) 854-3413.
For other background on French Polynesia, write to Tahiti Nui Travel, 1750 Bridgeway, B-101, Sausalito, Calif. 94965, or call toll-free (800) 922-6851. Other information about French Polynesia is available from the Tahiti Tourist Promotion Board, 12233 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 110, Los Angeles 90064. Telephone (213) 207-1919. It can supply you with brochures on the various islands.
In Tahiti, look up John Hardie of Paradise Tour (he’s the guy with the big smile who greets arriving passengers at Faaa Airport). Hardie provides limousine service, operates buses, rents cars. His cheapest auto rental is $22 a day plus mileage. Write to Hardie c/o Paradise Tour, Vallee de Tipaerui, B.P. 2430, Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia. (His tours around the island are legend).
It’s the impossible dream. Since the first jet set down on Tahiti more than a quarter of a century ago, not a single high-rise has risen on any of the islands of French Polynesia. Not on Tahiti or Moorea. Not on Raiatea or Huahine. No, not even on Bora Bora, the legendary island that was an inspiration for author James Michener. While the beaches of Hawaii and the Caribbean have been sacrificed to developers, French Polynesia has been spared.
Writing in the Tahiti Sun Press, editor Al Prince reported that “Japanese investors have finally discovered French Polynesia,” with blueprints for a 300-room hotel on Moorea and the expansion of the Hyatt Regency Tahiti and the Tahiti Beachcomber, both on Tahiti. A couple of 18-hole golf courses are planned, and new jet service already has begun from Tokyo.
Currently, Hawaii’s Sheraton Waikiki contains nearly as many rooms as all the hotels on all the islands of French Polynesia combined. During 10 days, Hawaii receives roughly the same number of tourists that Tahiti welcomes in an entire year. So hurry. Papeete is no longer a backwater South Seas village, and developers are closing in on this peaceful corner of the world.
Dining in Tahiti
Meals are first-rate at Restaurant Captain Bligh (about seven miles from downtown Papeete). This is the home of Tahiti’s Lagoonarium, an underwater showcase for viewing dozens of sea creatures: shark, parrotfish, manta rays, moray eels, turtles, zebra fish and butterfly fish. An evening package that includes admission to the Lagoonarium, dinner (with wine), a Polynesian show and round-trip transportation from your hotel is $35. The dinner show at the Maeva Beach Hotel figures out to $29.50. Others: Acajou and Auberge du Pacifique (French), the Jade Palace and Le Dragon d’Or (Chinese), La Belvedere (for spectacular sunset dinners on a hillside overlooking Papeete) and Le Pescadou (for the best pizza in Papeete).
Chris Lilly, 41-year-old skipper of the game-fishing boat Tea Nui, is an ex-Southern Californian who promises anglers “an experience they may never forget.” Searches out marlin, tuna, wahoo, mahi-mahi. Charges $600 for a full day (up to six persons). Lilly also does picnic excursions, surf safaris. His Bertram flybridge cruiser is powered by a couple of turbo diesels. Details from Tea Nui Charters, Pirae B.P. 51069, Tahiti, French Polynesia.
On Bora Bora the big hotels offer guests free use of snorkeling equipment, outrigger canoes, windsurfers, bicycles and video films. Receptionists will also get you a car, a moped, scooters. Guests cruise the lagoon aboard glass-bottom boats or double-decker launches. Erwin Christian of Moana Adventure Tours accompanies the guests of Hotel Bora Bora on reef and around-the-island trips. Also does shark-feeding cruises and snorkeling safaris, and sails with guests to small islets for picnics. Write to Moana Adventure Tours, P.O. Box 5, Vaitape, Bora Bora, French Polynesia. Hotel Sofitel Marara and Hotel Moana Beach Bora Bora offer similar services. Both operate double-decker launches on picnic/sunset/dinner cruises.
Shopping on Bora Bora
With the exception of the hotels, there’s little shopping on Bora Bora. A rare find is Galerie Masson (a few doors from Hotel Moana Beach Bora Bora). Galerie Masson, owned by Rosine, Tahitian wife of the late French artist Jean Masson, displays her husband’s paintings as well as her own hand-painted pareaus (sarongs), pillow cases, necklaces.
Moana Arts stocks photography by Erwin Christian, books, black pearls, clothing. The Pofai Shoppe near Hotel Bora Bora sells souvenirs, pareaus , jewelry, Tahitian tapes, film, snack items. Handicrafts by local artisans (woodcarvings, shell jewelry, woven hats/handbags) are displayed at The Artisan Center of Bora Bora on the quay in Vaitape. For black pearls, air-brushed T-shirts and other souvenirs, stop by Martine’s Boutique.