French Polynesia

25 July 2019

Helmet diving in Bora Bora, one of the highlights of this ill-fated trip.
Solar eclipse trips can take you to fascinating locales and dazzle you with mind-blowing celestial thrills. I stumbled across my first total eclipse in Hungary in 1999. Since then I've seen three others: in Libya in 2006, in northwest China in 2008, and in Oregon in 2017. All were wonderful.

I'd saved French Polynesia to combine it with the total eclipse of 2019. But this time I struck out ― lost days and dollars.
Ten down days followed by four that were pretty good.

Tiresome Ten

Ten cold, dreary, often rainy days at sea on a mediocre ship where we
  • failed to see the total solar eclipse;
  • failed many days to see the sun at all;
  • failed to go ashore on famed Pitcairn island;
  • failed to snorkel at Rangiroa.
A running wisecrack was that at least the ship was still floating.
Cute, but that comment was tempting fate.

As close as we came: On deck to gaze at and photograph legendary Pitcairn Island.

Pitcairn at least gave us a striking sunset silhouette as we departed its waters.

On chilly, blustery July 2, we caught the early stages of the moon starting to cover the sun, but soon clouds filled the sky. This was my last photo before the sun was obscured. We missed "totality," the fantastic, dramatic climax when the moon perfectly blocks the sun.
That's the luck of the draw. Weather was always a gamble.

But the bad weather was compounded by the expensive Paul Gaugin cruise ship's remarkably mediocrity ― only fair food, often indifferent staff, poorly coordinated excursions, and cold corridors and cabins not built for temperatures much below 70.

These days were consistently crummy. A few good astronomy lectures hardly compensated. I can (almost) laugh about it all now.  
We did at least see this one breathtaking, deep-orange sunset covering half the sky.

Finally back up in French Polynesia, our luck has to change, right? Wrong. At the Rangiroa atoll, famous for its enormous lagoon, it was windy and our excursions were cancelled.

We were dumped at the pier by the indifferent Gaugin cruise staff. On our own, we found a calm area to snorkel. In the cold, murky water, we got to see an occasional fish amid the dead coral.

Final Four

At last, the final four days were pretty good in Bora Bora, Taha'a, Huahine, and Moorea!

In the Bora Bora lagoon had my first experience with helmet diving. Effortless. Great fun.

My best snorkeling was in Huahine with a nice variety of marine life and not crowded with tourists; also had crazy, wild jet-skiing in Moorea.

Snorkeling with lots of grey sharks and feeding friendly stingrays in Bora Bora; evading an unhappy Moray eel during coral drift snorkeling in Taha'a.

Quite a few five-star hotels have closed in the past decade. Happily most hotels (whether open or demolished) are not conspicuous, ugly blocks. Thatched hotel bungalows over the water, for example, blend nicely with the setting. At the top is a traditional hut for catching fish in a Huahine stream. 

Singing and traditional dancing at a local Huahine celebration.

The disappointing MS Paul Gaugin 😟 far below Silversea or Noble Caledonia standards.

Sunset view from my hotel in Papeete.

Moorea viewed at sunset from Papeete.
French Polynesia was pretty but did not quite live up to expectations. At least the final four days kept the cruise from being a complete calamity. No trip is a guaranteed winner, of course. And this unfortunate one makes me appreciate all the good ones even more.

I'm still keen to see future eclipses but only when the potential loss is only one or two days out of a still otherwise reasonable trip.