French Polynesia

Taha’a Pearl Farm and Coral Garden

We booked the full day tour with L’excursion Bleue in advanced and directly for 13,000 xpf ($115 USD). The tour included a free transfer from our hotel but it turned out we were just taking our hotel boat to Tahaa village. Once we arrived at the village, we were picked up by a taxi driver who barely speaks English….all I could understand was “L’excursion Bleue?” yes! LOL! After a 15 minutes drive or so into the mountain and got dropped off on the road…..from some body language, the taxi driver seemed to point us to walk up to the house – I guess that is the vanilla plantation, our first activity. We literally walked into someone’s garden and then an old guy walked out to greet us…he barely speaks any English as well. With body language and some English words, we were able to figure out he’s probably the owner of this plantation and he walked us into the room where they dry the vanilla beans. The place was very small and in few minutes we saw all of it….and then we waited. We really have no clue where to go next or how but after a few minutes, we saw a truck arrived and unload around 10 tourists. Bruno, our tour guide, came to greet us and gave us more information on the vanilla plantation in English. After he was done with us three in English, he gave the same tour to the rest of the group in French. It was interesting to know to grow a vanilla bean it takes 3 years! Then, the process of harvesting, drying, sorting, etc were very labor intensive! No wonder they are expensive! I swear I took some photos of the plantation but I couldn’t locate them 🙁

Next, we were dropped off again at a very small pier where Bruno’s boat docked.

Bruno, our tour guide and our captain.

Next stop was the pearl farm:

When this guy came to greet us and showed us the farm, the pearl he was wearing captured our eyes….never have imagined a guy wearing pearl can be that cool looking! His black pearl was huge and shiny…that’s the luster I was looking for…..can I have a pearl like that? He showed us the process of inserting a bead drilled out from a shell from Mississippi River coated in a membrane (nucleus) of another black-lipped oyster to give its color. Then in the course of 2 years in the clear and warm water of French Polynesia, the oyster produces nacre around the nucleus layer to protect itself from this “foreign object”. The layers of nacre covering the nucleus which over time created the pearl and its size. 18 months or so, the pearl will be taken out of the oyster for inspection. If the shape and quality of the pearl is good, they’ll replace and reinsert another nucleus of similar size into the oyster and let the process of creating the pearl again for another 18 months. This cycle repeats as long as the pearl produced each time is good quality and up to 5 times before the oyster dies. However, if the pearl produced is not good, they’ll not replace and reinsert another nucleus because the oyster will produce the same quality. It is very rare to have an oyster that can repeat this process for 5 times, in other words, those huge pearls you see are probably the 4th or the 5th cycle so they are very rare, thus, expensive.

The farm is owned by his mother in law and family run where his brother in law is one of the insertion experts (along with another Japanese) and he’s a diver. Their shop in a beautiful house:

The owner, look how green and shiny her pearl is and that tray of pearls!!! She even showed us a cut-opened pearl to see the nucleus.

No wonder one method of telling if the pearl is fake or real is by x-ray!

She showed us the shapes, sizes, and grades of black pearls.

Their price list where Jason only took a pic with his phone of one side of the chart and not the other side where the big pearls were listed too bad!

The prices at the pearl farm were the lowest we have seen compared to outside shops and they had some good quality pearls….but I did not find the color and luster that I like. Picking a pearl is like love at first sight, you’ll know it’s the pearl you are looking for when you see it 🙂 There were another couple in the shop that were not part of our tour group and clearly they were there to shop for pearls. Another lady in the shop was showing them trays of rings, earrings, and necklaces. I asked the owner if they have something like this but bigger size but she doesn’t look interested to helping me finding the pearl so oh well it’s not meant to be!

Our tour guide gathered and left to the next stop, out to the middle of the lagoon where the water was shallow and a group of reef sharks followed us. Yes, time for lunch for them!

Time to swim with them…it was our 2nd time swimming with the sharks so we were not afraid 🙂

The corals were not as colorful as the ones we saw in Bora Bora but the water was very clear.

The next stop was lunch time for us to a deserted island! But got disappointed by the food because I had high hope for a delicious buffet (we had an amazing one last year in Aitutaki, Cook Islands). Instead of a buffet….only a poisson cru salad 🙁 The sauce was not bad, very strong ginger taste, wished we had soy sauce!

The island was pretty but no other facility, not even a restroom urg….however, the views were pretty….look at that peak on the back, that’s Bora Bora!!!

Someone left their chairs and table there?

After our very not filling lunch, we walked around that small island to take photos.

There were sea cucumbers all over the place!

Tropical paradise?

After lunch, Bruno took us out to the back of the lagoon, this was where the drift snorkel start. The current was super strong so we decided to stay in the boat. The boat even got drifted back to where we were having lunch and we docked there to wait for the other guests to get back. Jason went in the water to take some photos of the corals underneath our boat. The water was clear but not abundant of fishes…..I asked Bruno, he said there are more fishes in the Coral Garden near our hotel!

The guests finally got back to the boat and we went to our last stop…which was exactly the Coral Garden right next to our hotel LOL! It was so close to our hotel that Evita walked through the shallow water and back to our hotel while we checked out our Coral Garden. Those were the bio-rocks:

We didn’t have fins and I was holding the video camera on one hand; it was so hard to avoid crashing into the corals because the current was strong! We decided to walk back to our room as well…

Our room lol how convenient right?

We gave Evita a surprise haha!

When we got in our room, I saw a bottle of vanilla on our table as departure gift; our last night 🙁 It also has information on departure time and luggage pick up, 5* service!

The next morning, there were other guests departing as well and they had two boats to take us to the airport so we each have our own “private” boat 🙂 Goodbye Le Taha’a, you gave us a great start of 2017!!!

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