I straddled the side of the boat, put one hand over my right ear and pressed the mask to my face with the other. I wanted to be the first in our boat to hit the water, and as I leaned to fall in -- just past the point of no return -- I heard someone in the boat call out, "There's a shark right there!"
And so there was. And another, and another and another.
In the crystal-clear water a mile or so off the coast of Moorea, you can spot sharks from the boat, but it's much more interesting to jump into the middle of them. We had paid to do this, on our second diving adventure from the Paul Gauguin, and we got more than our money's worth.
For 45 minutes, we swam at depths up to 40 feet with two types of sharks -- blacktip and lemon. The former grow to 5 feet and the latter to 10.
There were moments when I had several of these fascinating creatures in view at one time, and they were almost as curious about us as we were about them, sometimes coming within a few feet before veering away.
We also found Javanese moray eels and too many kinds of multicolored fish to name. Our dive instructors carried cameras, and I've added some of their photos of our dive to today's slideshow.
I closed my last letter as we sailed to Bora Bora, where we spent two nights anchored in the deepwater section of the lagoon, just a few hundred yards offshore. There is no "bad" view of the island but the most stunning view is from the opposite side, where the overwater bungalows at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa are located.
The first morning in Bora Bora, those of us who had taken the Discover Scuba class went diving at the edge of a submerged volcanic crater in the lagoon. In addition to the colorful fish and coral formations, we saw large eagle rays soar by, looking almost as if they were in flight.
In the afternoon, we took the ship's tender to the little town of Vaitape and visited the few stores we found there. French Polynesia is famous for its black pearls, and Bora Bora is second only to the island of Tahiti in the number of pearl shops.
We had dinner onboard at La Veranda, where we enjoyed fine French food and an entertaining conversation with the ship's Hotel Director, Freddy Strohmeier. Freddy has worked cruises to the North Pole, Antarctica, the Amazon and other exotic destinations. His choice of after-dinner drinks, the Scandinavian liquor Aquavit, is an adventure in itself.
The next morning, I caught the ship's tender to a motu with a white-sand beach, and in the afternoon, it was time to check out the ship's spa (two thumbs up). We sailed for Moorea at sunset, escorted by a school of dolphins on a golden sea.
The final stop on our cruise was in Opunohu Bay, Moorea, where we explored the west coast of the island on Waverunners. We sped single file across the turquoise water, crisscrossing the wake from the Waverunner ahead of us and kicking up as much spray as we possibly could on our friends behind us.
Along the way we stopped at a small island -- Motu Ono -- and heard a short lecture about stingrays as they circled us in knee-deep surf.
In the afternoon, we hiked the rugged trail to Belvedere Lookout and beyond, to the ridge between Mount Mouaroa and Mount Tohivea. The latter is Moorea's tallest mountain, at 3,960 feet. We had panoramic views of both sides of the island, but the peaks of the mountains were shrouded in clouds.
That night, despite the excellent food on the ship, we decided to have dinner at a French restaurant on Moorea, Te Honu Iti.
As is common with the better restaurants here, the manager offered to send a car to transport us to and from the small marina where the ship's tender docks. We accepted and were met by the owner himself, Roger Igual, who loaded us in his van for a hair-raising, white-knuckle race to the restaurant.
Te Honu Iti is a casual, open-air venue located on picturesque Cook's Bay, and fortunately, Chef Roger is much better at cooking than driving. Go if you get the chance.
If you are planning your first visit to French Polynesia, the combination of a few days in Bora Bora or Moorea with the 7-night Paul Gauguin cruise is a great way to go. For a return visit, longer Paul Gauguin itineraries that include the Marquesas or New Zealand look especially tempting. Our cruise counselors can set up any of these vacations, including air.
While you're in the islands, be sure to sample the local specialties: the tasty poisson cru (marinated raw fish in coconut milk) and the local brew, Hinano. Try the tuna steak at Bloody Mary's on Bora Bora, and our group's favorite lunchtime fare -- the Intercontinental's grilled mahi-mahi sandwich.
Be on deck at sunset every day for the explosion of color that frequently follows. Gaze out to Bora Bora at dusk, as Captain Cook once did, and let her dark and hulking silhouette transport you back in time.
From the moment Raiatea sprang from the womb of the universe, this has been a special place.
For more information about Tahiti and French Polynesia, visit our Web site, TahitiCruises.com.
Vacations To Go
French Polynesia Trip, Part 1: I'm Never Going Home!
French Polynesia Trip, Part 2: Beautiful Bora Bora
French Polynesia Trip, Part 3: Aboard the Paul Gauguin
French Polynesia Trip, Part 4: A Look Back