Honeymoon in Tahiti

Tahiti (Tahitian food) and I’imagination franqaise. You may begin with poisson cru, raw fish marinated in lime and doused with coconut cream, followed by regional delicacies like sauteed crab with ginger. Just be sure to save room for vanilla creme brulee.

Yet it’s the gracious people and the stunning waterscapes that will leave you besotted. A vision of the past? Not quite it’s a waking dream that will stay with you throughout your married lives. SUSAN KAYE

THE LAY OF THE LAND

Why, when Herman Melville escaped from a Papeete prison, did he head for Moorea instead of hightailing it home? What could French Polynesia offer an ailing Robert Louis Stevenson that a Continental rest cure could not? Simply put: It’s paradise.

Geography lesson: French Polynesia encompasses 118 South Pacific islands grouped into five clusters the Marquesas, the Gambiers, the Tuamotus, the Australs, and the Society Islands. Hiva Oa’s tikis lure visitors to the Marquesas; the Gambiers’ Mangareva boasts the Cathedral of St. Michael; Rangiroa, in the Tuamotus, is known for diving; and Rurutu, in the Australs, is a spelunker’s Eden. But it is the Society Islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, and Huahine that have become the outposts of choice for honeymooners.

Since all international flights lead to Tahiti, it has become synonymous with French Polynesia. You could spend days exploring its beaches and its jungle interior, but most likely, you’ll head to the outlying is-| lands after a night or so. Before you do, visit j Papeete Market, where Polynesian bounty is heaped in pyramids of mango, grapefruit, and passion fruit a blissful breakfast.

If Tahiti is the area’s most visited island, Moorea runs a close second, with plunging valleys carved out of a massive volcano. While Captain Cook dropped anchor in Opunohu Bay in 1769, modern ships cruise into Cook’s Bay. To view both these watery spots, zip up to the Belvedere (lookout) on a scooter. Then do the culture thing at the Tiki Theatre Village, where you can chow on local cuisine while watching some of the best fire dancers in French Polynesia.

If your personal Shangri-la includes luxe fares, silky beaches, and luscious lagoons, retreat to Bora Bora, considered one of the world’s most beautiful isles. It may measure only 18 miles around, but it offers a bounty of activities like snorkeling, sailing, and outrigger canoeing. The biggest atten-tion-grabbers? Dozens of species of lagoon fish and brilliant coral rendered even more vivid by the warm azure water.

If you’re looking for seclusion, head for sleepy Huahine, poised to become the Society Islands’ next big thing. For now, it’s a scene of tropical languor where families grow taro in their yards. You’ll visit ancient worship sites at Maeva Village, once a seat of royalty; ride horseback; and stop at the delightful village of Fare to dine on lobster doused in vanilla sauce. You may never go back to drawn butter or civilization again. S. K.

WHERE CANOE STAY?

In French Polynesia, all pretenses of sightseeing are abandoned. Good thing your resort offers plenty of delicious ways to soak it all in: lolling in your overwater bungalow, snorkeling the nearby reef, and, of course, hanging out in those hammocks for two. Editor’s note: Room rates throughout this story1 are year-round. Expect slight increases during holiday seasons.

Tahiti

At the Sheraton Hotel Tahiti, romance is literally in the air. From the Moevai Restaurant suspended above the lagoon, to the waterfall spilling from below the elevated spa, the Sheraton hits the heights of Polynesian style. Do come down to earth for a minute you’re just a walk away from Papeete’s lively waterfront quay. Doubles from $230; 800-782-9488 or sheraton.com.

Your guy loves the beach. You like the smell of chlorine in the morning. The perfect compromise: the sand-bottom pool at the Tahiti Beachcomber Inter-Continenta! Resort. French Polynesia’s largest property has just emerged from a head-to-toe renovation. (After March 2002, you can get a renovation of your own at the brand-new spa.) You’ll dine on seafood under the stars while you watch swaying dancers a sensual setup if ever there was one Doubles from $217; 800-327-0200 or interconti.com.

Moorea

Opened just last year, the Sheraton Moorea Lagoon Resort b Spa is the newest hotel in the Society Islands. Wedged between Opunohu Bay and Cook’s Bay, it offers air-conditioned bungalows, pillow menus, and a serenity-inducing spa. How serene is it? Your two-hour Moorea Indulgence includes a saltwater foot bath, vanilla body wash, coconut scrub, and massage. Doubles from $300; 800-782-9488 or sheraton.com.

Honeymoon in Tahiti

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