White sand beaches and crystal waters full of coral gardens and tropical fish. Luxury bungalows surrounded by lagoon and coconut groves. A private island with staff eager to cater to your every desire. It is the epitome of a romantic escape for two. Or in my case, for one. The above is an aerial view of Vahine Private Island Resort.
You see, I firmly believe that just because I’m single and a solo traveler doesn’t mean I should have to miss out on all the perks of an indulgent vacation, which is how I find myself laying face down on a massage table on the patio of my over-water bungalow at Vahine Private Island Resort, receiving a spa treatment from one of the resort’s resident masseuses. As Hoani* rubs vanilla Monoi oil my back I hear nothing but the light crashing of the waves against wood as I watch tropical fish swim below the deck. It’s pure paradise, and I don’t need a partner to enjoy the idyllic experience.
Vahine Private Island Resort features nine standalone accommodations — three beach bungalows, three deluxe beach suites and three over-water bungalows. All rooms are meant to feel like a typical French Polynesian home with showers adorned with shells, local artwork, bathroom walls made of interwoven peue leaves and bardau shingled roofs. Moreover, throughout the rooms and resort they focus on using natural materials, like volcanic stone and local woods in the bar area, chandeliers made of shells and lights made of coconuts.
When I email a friend from home a photo of the property her response is, “It’s beautiful! But, what are you going to do there by yourself?”
Ummm, everything! The resort features a variety of free nature and culture activities, some of which include kayaking to nearby motus and natural pools of stingrays, windsurfing, fishing, taking out a traditional Polynesian outrigger canoe, watching a coconut show and learning to tie a pareo (sarong) or weave palm leaves. Moreover, for a fee tours can be arranged to nearby islands.
I begin my day by taking a stroll with my camera through the resort’s lush coconut groves — the 23-acre property is home to over 200 coconut trees — until I find myself at the northwest edge of the island where Vahine has their coral gardens. Laure, the hotel’s director, has packed me a beach bag with reef shoes and a snorkel mask, so I jump into the translucent waters eager to see some tropical fish and exotic corals.
I only have to walk about six feet from the shore before I begin seeing it. Corals of all shapes, sizes and colors creating an underwater botanical world. There’s everything: brain corals that look like their pulsating on the ocean floor, cylindrical staghorn corals, branching pillar corals, stony star corals, hot yellow tube corals, vibrant red sea anemone and an unidentifiable black coral that seems to be wearing a purple “hat” — just to name a few. The scenery is enhanced by the myriad parrotfish, clownfish and anglefish that swim in the jagged openings of the coral. It’s surreal, viewing this underwater world of bright colors, bizarre shapes and never-before-seen marine life (by me, anyway). While it would be great to experience this with a boyfriend, it’s completely moving being able to immerse myself in it on my own. Solo, I can enjoy complete appreciation and reflection.
For a bit of culture, I decide to take a boat trip to nearby Tahaa to tour a vanilla plantation, as Vahine Private Island Resort has their own boat to cater to guests. My driver is a friendly guy who makes jokes with me and tells me about the islands. When we dock on Tahaa, he takes my hand to help me off the boat before graciously offering to carry my bag.
Known as the “Vanilla Island,” Tahaa is where those interested in French Polynesia’s famous vanilla should go. In fact, it is where over 80% of Tahitian vanilla comes from. That being said, only a few plantations run organic operations, and La Vallee de la Vanille (Valley of the Vanilla; email: firstname.lastname@example.org) is one of them.
“I like being in nature,” explains Brian Hansen, who owns the hillside operation with his wife, Morita Hioe . “When you go organic you don’t have to be inside greenhouses with chemicals. You’re actually outdoors.”
He shows me the vanilla bean plant, which he feeds in an organic way by placing coconut shells at the base. These shells not only help the roots to grow into the ground, but also act as a natural fertilizer and soak up water to water the plant. Interestingly, the vanilla bean plant is a type of orchid, and is the only one of the world’s 25,000+ orchid varieties to produce something edible.
Brian and his staff must pollinate the plants by hand, using what he jokingly refers to as his “magic stick,” a small stick he uses to take what is needed from the male plant and put it in the female. Additionally, he explains how there must be the perfect amount of sun and shade for the vanilla to grow just right before it is brought to “the container room” to be dried and then massaged. In fact, vanilla beans must be individually massaged each day for up to 15 days in order to get the desired scent and quality.
“I like to say that a vanilla bean is like a woman. The more you massage her, the better she will be,” he says, smirking.
As the plantation is also covered in fruit trees, Brian offers me some bananas, coconut slices and papaya juice. This is also when I get to explore the best part of the tour — the boutique. The plantation sells an impressive array of products — coffees, sea salts, body oils, lotions, infused olive oils, volcano rocks, rum, extract, sugar, soaps perfumes and more — all crafted using organic vanilla.
If I was traveling with a boyfriend I would have probably quickly browsed the shop, leaving before he was bored. However, as I am on my own I am able to take my time, sampling the products, asking questions (note: Brian will soon be distilling his rum onsite and is currently growing the sugar cane for the process) and taking photos of the beautifully scented products. And of course, I treat myself to a few vanilla-inspired gifts.
Around 5pm on Vahine Island I head to the bar to indulge in one of their tropical cocktails, opting for the signature “Vahine,” a combination of rum, local vanilla, pineapple, guava and grenadine. I take the drink onto the beach to relax and watch the sunset over nearby Bora Bora. The colors are inspiring — swirls of blue, purple and orange overlapping with streaks of gold and fire red that seem to change the blue of the lagoon to a rainbow of small rippling waves. While there is a couple snuggling up nearby it doesn’t make me feel alone, but empowered that I haven’t let being single and traveling solo hold me back from exploring the world and experiencing some of the finer things in life.
You don’t need to be with someone to be able to enjoy soft white sand, warm translucent waters and tropical sunsets. In fact, a solo getaway can help you appreciate the most important relationship in your life — the one you have with yourself.
Photo Credit: Vahine Private Island Resort