Tag Archives: French Polynesia


‘South Sea Idyls’ is a collection of tales written by Charles Warren Stoddard, which recounts his journeys to Hawaii and French Polynesia. The book was first published in 1873. Its English edition is called ‘Summer Cruising in the South Seas’.



The Blue Continent is the place where Charles Warren Stoddard feels at home. In love with the islands and most of all in their inhabitants, he often returns to Oceania to appreciate the nature and simple life people lead there.

As he spends time with the native islanders, he discovers their beguiling cultures and takes delights in whatever is being offered to him. He quickly notices that in the Pacific, life is just sweeter, easier, and more beautiful than anywhere else.


When this book was first published, it stirred up some controversy. Even today some people may consider it… slightly off-putting, if you will. Because, contrary to what you may expect, this account is not just about travels to foreign and exotic lands.

Before we delve into Charles Warren Stoddard’s personal experiences in the South Seas, let’s focus on the region itself. It is remarkably well described. The author made sure readers could ‘see’ the places he went to. Every single page is full of word-pictures, which show the extraordinary beauty of Polynesia. No detail is spared. Everything is so vivid you feel as if you were standing right next to the writer. Smells, tastes, views, sounds, sensations are almost real. This book is like a watercolour painting – mesmerizing to such a degree you can’t take your eyes off of it.

Now, if the book is the painting, Charles Warren Stoddard is the painter. I am not sure if he had ever held a brush in his hand, but what he managed to achieve with this travelogue-cum-memoir suggests he might have. All the stories presented in this collection are limned  with painterly skill. The author’s poetic and flowery language is in full blossom here and you can’t help but marvel at his tremendous talent. However, for some readers this distinctive writing style may be a little overwhelming. The account is not very ‘action-packed’; it thrives on detailed depictions of places, people, customs, traditions, and cultures. If this is not the type of literature you find enjoyable to read, this book will not be a good fit for you.

I know what you must be thinking right now: what exactly is controversial about this work? Well, apart from being a nice travelogue, it is also a homoerotic memoir. Now, let me be clear here, sexual references do not dominate the stories. In some tales (‘The Last of the Great Navigator’, for example), they do not appear at all. Nevertheless, a perceptive reader will easily notice a great number of young, handsome, and usually naked men who show up in most of the chapters. Interesting is the fact that even in these intimate descriptions, Charles Warren Stoddard is very subtle and completely devoid of vulgarity. But again, if this is something you don’t feel comfortable reading about, this book is not for you.

‘South Sea Idyls’ is a classic of travel literature. And as such it is without a doubt worthy of anyone’s time and attention. Yes, some of the author’s words may shock a little, but the islands… The islands are as stunning, as real as in no other book.



‘Reach For Paradise’ by Andrew Rayner

This beautiful and immensely interesting book is a well-researched guide, which will certainly come in handy for those who plan to sail the South Seas. With lots of photographs, illustrations, and detailed maps, this memoir is a must-have on board. No, not because it is a sailing manual, but because it is an unparalleled source of inspiration.

‘Sailing To Jessica’ by Kelly Watts

Kelly Watts’s memoir is a perfect ‘sailing book’ for all the female sailors. Not only does it tell the story of Kelly and Paul’s emotional journey, but also presents readers with comprehensive and accurate descriptions of a nautical life. The author’s tips and advices, as well as her honesty in showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of cruising, makes this book an engaging and worthwhile read.

‘Sailing With Impunity’ by Mary E. Trimble

If you need a book that will encourage you to set sail for the Pacific Islands, this memoir should be your choice. Written in a lovely manner, it shows the breathtaking beauty of Polynesia, which will surely wake up your wanderlust. Do you also want to know what life on board is really like? Mary will tell you all about it.

‘Beer in the Bilges: Sailing Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Alan Boreham, Peter Jinks, Bob Rossiter

This book is about sailing, so anyone interested in reading about high seas, fierce winds, waves washing onto the deck will simply love it. ‘The Professionals’ write almost exclusively about their ocean adventures – and they do it so well that you will feel like a member of the crew every time you’ll have this title in your hands.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ by Gwenda Cornell

Gwenda Cornell’s memoir is not so much about sailing as it is about the islands of the Blue Continent, but it’s still a book you want to read if you are interested in cruising in the Pacific region. The author shares her first-hand knowledge of the island countries, giving you a chance to ‘visit’ them even before you set off on a journey of your own.


‘My Mission to French Polynesia’ is S. Dean Harmer’s memoir, which chronicles his two and a half year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Tahiti, where he served from 1966 to 1968.



Stanley has dreamt about going on a mission trip for 18 years, so when he finally gets the call he is more than excited. Especially when he finds out he is going to serve in beautiful French Polynesia.

After initial preparations, Stanley – full of youthful zeal – boards the plane to Tahiti, ready to start his great adventure.

In the South Pacific country, he gets right to work. While preaching the gospel, he visits even the tiniest of villages and meets incredible people who, as it turns out, will impact his life forever.


I chose to review this book because it is Pacific non-fiction literature. I try not to be picky and review any book that falls into this category, so readers could themselves decide whether they want to read a particular title or no. Unfortunately, and this is such case, sometimes I just have to simply say that a certain book is… Well… Not good, to put it mildly.

I really was eager to start reading S. Dean Harmer’s account. I thought it would be an engaging memoir. A young man travels to French Polynesia… Sounds like a great adventure; a journey of a lifetime. And I’m quite positive that for the author it was a great adventure. He just didn’t succeed in telling the story.

The book is extremely short, thus you get the feeling that it is a little rushed and – what’s even worse – repetitive in many places. S. Dean Harmer writes almost exclusively about his mission work, which is interesting, but only to a certain degree. If it weren’t for the names of the places he had a chance to visit, you would quickly forget that his sojourn took place in a South Pacific country. It’s a memoir extremely sparse on details regarding the islands, their inhabitants and their culture. There are no funny or poignant anecdotes, no fascinating facts, no ‘discoveries’ people usually make while travelling to a distant land. When he writes about French Polynesia, he does so superficially, so the fragments often slips by unnoticed.

The strongest point of this book are photos. There are a lot of them, and they definitely enhance the written word. The author is not big on descriptions, so the pictures come in handy. They let you see some of the places he mentions (some are stunningly beautiful!), thereby helping you imagine what S. Dean Harmer’s mission to French Polynesia was really like.

I would love to say that I recommend this memoir wholeheartedly, but the truth is, it is not a great read. Actually, it’s not even good. It is not worth your time, money, or attention. But, of course, this is only my personal – and very subjective – opinion. Yours may be different.



‘That the Marquesas are spectacular is well known; yet I am not prepared for the towering mountains of Fatu Hiva rising directly from the deep sea, looming high to the heavens as we near them. Green slopes and rugged crags are capped by summits more than half a mile high that look steep even for goats. This is tropical alpine scenery of savage beauty, a landscape that would seem improbable as a stage set for South Pacific itself.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise: A journey among Pacific Islands’

‘This swatch of the Pacific – a wet cosmos so remote and underpopulated that the only thing you’re likely to see afloat is an occasional exhausted seabird or a weathered flip-flop – is the last corner of the world to remain immune from the trade flows of globalization. It is lonely out here.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’

‘The twelve islands of the Marquesas, today part of French Polynesia, lie 1,200 kilometres north-east of Tahiti. An archipelago of volcanic monoliths, and further from a continental landmass than any other islands on Earth, they were first settled by Polynesian voyagers from the west – probably Samoa – about 2,000 years ago and became a dispersal centre for further migrations, to Hawaii, Easter Island, the widely scattered islands of southern Polynesia and, eventually, New Zealand. The Marquesan language is more akin to New Zealand Maori than to Tahitian.’

Graeme Lay, ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales Of The South Pacific’

‘Before missionaries converted the people to Christianity, the Marquesans fought among themselves and were noted cannibals, but diseases brought by the white man had a more devastating effect on the population than earlier practices had.’

Mary E. Trimble, ‘Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific’

‘Celine continued to speak of the beauty of her island as she hand-rolled a cigarette. “This place is not like Tahiti with its crown and pollution. Tahiti is finished. Here, it is like it always was.”’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’



‘Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals’ by Trish Nicholson

Working overseas has always been Trish’s dream. When she is offered a job in Papua New Guinea, she’s more than willing to take it.

Upon her arrival, Trish discovers a completely new world with hundreds of languages and a multitude of different cultures. And although she is eager to help the country and its inhabitants, she quickly realizes that it may not be as easy as she initially thought.

This is such a good book! The author’s adventures and experiences in the Land of the Unexpected throw much-needed light on the international aid, which is a very sensitive topic. But Trish Nicholson deals with it in a very light-hearted manner. Her poetic style and brilliant sense of humour makes ‘Inside the Crocodile’ a thoroughly enjoyable (but enlightening and thought-provoking!) read.

‘All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti’ by Sarah Turnbull

When Sarah’s husband is asked to set up a new law office in Tahiti, she agrees – albeit reluctantly – to move to the end of the world (at least that’s what Tahiti looks like on the world map).

The picture-perfect country welcomes her with sounds, smells, colours, and views fit for paradise. Only her life is far from idyllic. Her overwhelming longing for a child makes each day a challenge. But as they say, all good things come to those who wait.

Sarah Turnbull wrote a very personal memoir – and did it masterfully! Her beautiful, lyrical depictions will transport you to French Polynesia, which – as you’ll have a chance to find out – has also a darker side. This is an engaging travelogue with a moving and poignant story that gives hope. You won’t be able to put it down.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ by Gwenda Cornell

Sailing the Pacific? Why not! Together with her husband, Jimmy, and two children, Gwenda decides to take a journey of a lifetime.

In the Blue Continent, they visit Samoa – much loved by Robert Louis Stevenson; meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn; and take part in independence celebrations in Tuvalu. What is more, Jimmy even gets a chance to star in a movie in French Polynesia.

A boat, tropical islands, and great adventure. Isn’t that what we associate with a perfect summer? Well, that’s exactly why this memoir is a perfect summer read. It will surely satisfy your wanderlust, but it may also make you green with envy. Gwenda’s compelling stories plus her vivid descriptions will be reason enough to stay at home with this book in your hands. Ok, I’m just kidding. But be prepared that you’ll want to sail from chapter to chapter until you reach the very end.

‘Boxed Wine at Sunset: Two Americans. Two years. A small village in Vanuatu’ by Judy Beaudoin

What can one do after sending their kids off to college? Travel the world perhaps? Volunteer? Or maybe do both? Exactly! That’s the perfect plan, especially if one wants to avoid an empty nest syndrome.

After selling all their possessions and quitting their jobs, Kim and Judy travel to Vanuatu as Peace Corps volunteers. Working in the local primary school, the couple not only teach the youngest generations of ni-Vanuatu but also – or rather most importantly – learn a great deal about life in a different culture.

This is a wonderful memoir if you want to relax and get to know something interesting. Judy Beaudoin’s writing style is graceful and vivid, and the stories she shares… Well, they are impossible to describe in a few words – you have to believe me! Read this book and I can assure you that you won’t regret it!

‘Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal’ by Paul Gauguin

Having decided to leave Europe, Paul Gauguin travels to Tahiti in the hope of finding an unspoiled paradise.

What he discovers is a unique place full of beauty. Living among the natives, he gets to know the local culture – full of ancient customs and traditions – which totally engrosses him. This fascination with Polynesian way of being inspires him to create.

Although quite controversial, Gauguin’s memoir is a terribly good read. Part autobiography, part travelogue, part study of the Tahitian society, this book is a valuable piece of literature. Magnificent illustrations, painted by the artist himself, only add to the overall charm. Definitely worthy of your attention!



‘The Marquesas were unique, unlike any island group I’d ever seen, a dream landscape for both poets and scientists.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’

‘I’ve snorkeled all over the South Pacific, but nowhere have I seen a place more bewitching than the South Pass of Fakarava.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’

‘Rarotonga is the main island of the Cook Islands, a country in central Polynesia, west of Tahiti and east of Tonga. Tiny and beautiful, it is surrounded by a wide turquoise lagoon and sharp coral reef.’

Kathy Giuffre, ‘An Afternoon in Summer: My Year on a South Sea Island, Doing Nothing, Gaining Everything, and Finally Falling in Love’

‘In an attempt to attract a dribble of tourism, Niue has adopted the sound-bite title Rock of Polynesia for its two hundred fifty square miles, which rise from a narrow fringing reef like a two-layer wedding cake. It’s different from any island we’ve seen. It is girt by cliffs that continue down to some of the world’s deepest ocean bottoms, without lagoons or beaches. Nor does Niue have rivers and streams, for the plentiful rainwater simply sinks into porous limestone. This renders the coastal waters unbelievably clear. More than a hundred feet of underwater visibility is routine, the diving among the very best for the very few who get there.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise’

‘It often seemed to me that calling the Hawaiian Islands “paradise” was not an exaggeration, though saying it out loud, advertising it, seemed to be tempting fate. They are the most beautiful, and the most threatened, of any islands in the Pacific. Their volcanic mountains are as picturesque as those in Tahiti, their bays as lovely as the ones in Vava’u; the black cliffs of the Marquesas are no more dramatic than those on Molokai and Kaua’i. The climate is perfect.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’



‘Sailing With Impunity’ is Mary E. Trimble’s memoir depicting the voyage through the islands of Polynesia that she set out on together with her husband, Bruce.



Longing for a change and following the dream of an offshore sailing, Mary and Bruce make a decision to quit their jobs, sell their house, buy a boat, and spend some time cruising the Pacific Islands. After weeks of meticulous preparations, they are finally ready to leave the marina.

They make their first landfall in French Polynesia. The country surprises them with enchanting beauty, the sweetest scents of flowers, and…an extremely nice gendarme trying (unsuccessfully) to buy their gun. Together with other yachties, Mary and Bruce tour the islands, savouring every minute in this picture-perfect paradise.

When the blissful days in the Marquesas, Tahiti, and Bora Bora come to an end, the couple continue their adventure. They agree to moor in the Pago Pago harbour to wait out the hurricane season. The capital of American Samoa turns out to be a safe yet very dirty harbour, especially after the country gets clobbered by Cyclone Ofa.

Before heading home, Mary and Bruce sail to Tonga, which definitely lives up to its friendly reputation, and then to Hawaii. The last leg of their journey isn’t as smooth as they would expect it to be.


The Blue Continent is a perfect destination for…for everyone, I think, but sailors in particular. They have favoured this part of the world for a very long time. Who can blame them? Those tiny islands scattered over the Pacific Ocean are delightfully reminiscent of paradise (at least on the surface), so cruising from one little slice of heaven to another is a dream come true. And when in paradise, it’s a sin not to share all those paradise-ish experiences. Hence the almost countless amount of different memoirs and travelogues – some good, some not so much – that you may choose from to ‘travel’ (or no, in case of the bad ones) to the South Seas without leaving the comfort of your home. Will you be able to ‘visit’ the islands while reading Mary E. Trimble’s book? Oh, absolutely!

‘Sailing With Impunity’ makes for a very engaging read, mostly due to the fact that the author managed to maintain the right balance between the descriptions of their life aboard the craft and the descriptions of the places they had a chance to see. Before you go on land with the Trimbles, you will encounter fierce winds and rough waters; you will know what it’s like to cook on a rocking boat while battling a bout of seasickness; you will have to come to terms with the idea of sleeping no more than 4 hours at one time (let me tell you, you can feel exhausted just reading about it). Mrs Trimble is very truthful in recounting her and her husband’s journey. She spares no details, so those of you who have thought that sailing is an easy activity might get disillusioned. It is fun, yes; but it’s definitely not child’s play.

If you ‘survive’ the voyage, you will be rewarded with some wonderful stories about the islands and their inhabitants. The author’s vivid and surprisingly objective portrayals of the visited countries show them as they really are – ravishing, romantic, but not sugar-coated; filthy, unpleasant, but not repulsive. The memoir doesn’t present a one-sided view of Polynesia – and it’s worth remembering that all the opinions clearly reflect the author’s personal feelings and judgements – but rather the actual state of things. There is no criticizing, no comparing, no saying that something is better or worse. Mary E. Trimble made sure to stay open-minded throughout the journey and, most importantly, throughout her book. Even if she wasn’t free from cultural bias, she hid it extremely well.

The story is told in a lovely manner. Every page is written with passion only keen travellers possess. Detailed yet not overdone descriptions seize the imagination, arousing an abundance of different emotions. One minute you are green with envy, the next happy and relieved that you’re safe in your abode. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

This concise book is a very impressive piece of travel literature. But it isn’t only an engaging memoir. It is a tale about chasing your dreams and believing that everything is possible, especially if you have someone you love and can rely on by your side.



‘Sailing to Jessica’ by Kelly Watts

When reality doesn’t always meet your expectations, you need something that will set you free from your worries and bring back a smile on your face. For Kelly and Paul, a happily married couple dealing with fertility problems, that ‘something’ turns out to be a voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

As they sail from one island to another, they discover the beauty of life anew. Visiting fascinating places and immersing themselves in the exotic cultures of the South Seas, they finally start to look to the future with optimism and hope in their hearts.

‘Sailing to Jessica’ is a beautiful, uplifting story that will make you both laugh and cry. Being first and foremost a great adventure book, it will speak to all the sailing aficionados who can’t imagine their lives without a daily dose of thrill and excitement. Kelly Watts describes the good, the bad, and the ugly so I can guarantee that you will not be able to stop reading until you reach the last sentence.

‘Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific’ by Mary E. Trimble

Fulfilling her husband’s lifelong dream, Mary agrees to set out on a journey from Seattle to the islands of the South Pacific. After finding the right boat and saying their farewells, the couple is ready to set sail to paradise.

Despite dealing with the unpredictable power of nature, they manage to enjoy their new life aboard Impunity. They get to know the alluring world of Polynesia, taking delight in meeting local inhabitants and experiencing their ways of being.

Summer is the time of year when most of us feel the urge to travel. It’s not always possible to leave everything behind and just get away, but a good book will definitely satisfy your needs. I promise you that Mary’s words will transport you to the tropical isles. You’ll be able to feel the hot air, smell the sweet scent of flowers, and hear the cheerful buzz of people’s voices.

‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’ by Tony Horwitz

Following in James Cook’s footsteps? Why not! Two centuries after the great Englishman’s voyages, Tony Horwitz decides to embark on his own adventure, recreating Cook’s epic journeys through the Pacific Ocean.

Trying to fully grasp the Captain’s accomplishments, Tony happily explores the tiny islands. He spends time chatting to the natives, asking questions, and waiting for answers. He isn’t afraid to dig deep and, as a result, gets awarded with a riveting tale of the navigator’s life.

Not only will this masterfully written travelogue give you a lot of enjoyment, but it will also provide you with a great deal of information about history, Westernization, and most of all Captain James Cook. It is a compelling read that will let you discover the Blue Continent from the comfort of your home.

‘The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific’ by Charles Montgomery

Ever since Charles came across his great-grandfather’s box as a 10-year-old boy, the pieces of paper that were tucked inside have been constantly in the back of his mind. Inspired by the unusual discovery, and especially by one intriguing description of the events that had taken place in Melanesia in the 19th century, he decides to visit the islands of the Pacific.

In Vanuatu and the Solomons, he searches for old myths and legends; for reality that blends with black magic. What he finds is a bewitching world of ancient rituals and traditions that completely engrosses his body, soul, and mind.

This book is as much about the author’s journey as it is about religion and different belief systems. It’s very thought-provoking but at the same time extremely entertaining. Charles Montgomery, being a talented writer he is, invites you to accompany him on a guided tour of Melanesia. Trust me, you don’t want to miss that chance.

‘The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Julia Whitty

The Blue Continent has always been heaven for deep-sea divers. While shooting for nature documentaries, Julia Whitty ventures underwater to discover the kingdom of the great Pacific Ocean.

In three different locations: Rangiroa atoll, Funafuti, and Mo’orea, she explores the mesmerizing world of sea creatures and coral reefs, occasionally going on land to acquaint herself with the local cultures and see how globalization has been changing the remote places.

If you like watching nature documentaries, you will absolutely love this book! The author’s incredibly vivid descriptions will let you picture every scene in your mind’s eye. It’s a pretty spectacular ‘visual’ experience that may surprise you quite a bit.



‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ is Paul Theroux’s memoir-cum-travelogue that documents his journey across the Blue Continent.



What does a man do when faced with a failing marriage and the possibility of having skin cancer? He starts his fight. He’s determined to win the battles. Or he gives up and does nothing. Or – just like Paul – he runs away; as far from his home as he can. Is there a better destination that the alluring islands of the Pacific? Absolutely not.

Beginning in Australia and New Zealand, he gets his first taste of Oceania. The mysterious Blue Continent and an overwhelming need to be alone in the wilderness makes him grab his collapsible kayak and venture into the great unknown. Trying to immerse himself in the indigenous cultures of the region, he travels from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Archipelago, from Vanuatu to Fiji, from the islands of south Polynesia to heavenly Hawaii. Each of these places lets him escape his bitter reality, until – finally – he rediscovers the flavor of life anew.


Have you ever had a love/hate relationship with a book? I have. And this is THE book.

Yes, I absolutely love it. This is one of the best titles in the travel genre, hands down. It’s funny, engaging, and it shows rather than tells. But it also annoys me beyond words. Literally, it makes me utterly mad. As it is quite rude to commence with the downsides, let’s start with the positives, shall we?

It cannot be denied that Paul Theroux possesses the literary genius. His prodigious talent with words captivates readers, compelling them to devour page after page until they swiftly reach the end of his more or less irritating yet extremely intriguing story. And even though he states at the end of the last chapter that he is not a travel writer, this personal account proves otherwise – it is the very epitome of the ‘been there, wrote the book’ genre; and a terrific one at that!

It is impossible to miss his flowing prose that is thoroughly appealing, impeccable language, or the authentically funny (at least more often than not) sense of humour. The author doesn’t bother readers with detailed and vivid descriptions of the places he travels to. Instead, he devotes his attention to people – mainly native inhabitants – and their ways of being. He absorbs everything that surrounds him – from the atmosphere of the so-called paradise to the idiosyncrasies of the cultures he encounters. He explores, he observes, he draws his own conclusions. He is not afraid to ask even the most personal questions, and the more honest the answer the more happy he seems to be. Because the islands clearly cheer him up. What started as a great escape, turned out to be a great and often amusing adventure. Which, by the way, should surprise absolutely no one – when in paradise, you can’t help but beam with sheer happiness. Even if that paradise sometimes uncovers its darker side.

Yes, let’s be frank here, no corner of this globe can be given the label of ‘a wonderland’. But if there is one place on our planet Earth that can be regarded as the slice of heaven, this is Oceania. With its kind, smiling, welcoming people it is the closest thing to paradise you’ll be able to find. And yet Paul Theroux failed to notice that. Throughout the book he proudly displays his sardonic attitude, throwing around disgustingly subjective comments about the locals that are genuinely hard to read at times. He writes, for example, that the prettiest women he saw in the Pacific were in Tonga; only to add in the very same sentence that they were also ‘the ugliest, hairy things with bad skin’. Additionally, you may learn that the people of Tanna were (I consciously retain the past form; after all, we don’t know if this viewpoint still holds true for Mr Theroux today) ‘small, scowling knob-headed blacks with short legs and big dusty feet’. Samoans – on the other hand – are lovingly described as ‘rather gloatingly rude’. It seems that only the inhabitants of the Cooks deserved some compliments. In Theroux’s eyes they weren’t ‘greedy or lazy’; actually, they were ‘hospitable, generous, and friendly’. I can understand having your own opinions. But I can’t understand being a xenophobe.

Is this book worthy of your time and attention? Absolutely. It is an outstanding piece of travel literature. It is entertaining and…well…very informative. It lets you discover that one may be a terrific writer, but a not so terrific person.



‘Something about Cook Islanders (there were only 20,000 of them altogether) made them seem special. Even with all the patronage from New Zealand, and their passionate interest in videos, the people remained themselves. They were not greedy. They were not lazy. They were hospitable, generous and friendly. They were not violent, and they often tried to be funny, with little success.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific’

‘Tahiti has its drawbacks – it is expensive, traffic-choked, noisy, corrupt, and Frenchified – but it is impossible to belittle its natural physical beauty, and in spite of the car exhausts there is nearly always in the air the fragrant aroma – the noanoa – of flowers, the tiare especially, a tiny white gardenia that is Tahiti’s national blossom.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific’

‘These Tongans were elegant – it was something in their posture, in their features, many actually looked noble – a prince here, a princess there.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific’

‘Paddling out to the island of Aunu’u I thought again of the pamphlet that had been given to me, with the rules that all visitors were urged to observe.

– When in a Samoan house, do not talk while standing.

– Do not stretch your legs out when seated.

– Do not carry an umbrella past a house.

– Do not drive through a village when chiefs are gathering.

– Do not eat while walking through a village (it seemed to me that Samoans ate no other way, and usually were munching a very large jelly donut).

– Samoans are deeply religious – pray and sing with them.

– Do not wear flowers in church.

– When drinking kava, hold the cup in front of you and say “manuia” (“when drinking Coke” would have been more opposite, since that seemed firmly part of the culture).

– Bikinis and shorts are not considered appropriate attire in Samoan villages or town areas.

– Ask permission before snapping photos or picking flowers.

– Be extra quiet on Sundays.

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific’

‘At the very frontier of the Black Islands lies Fiji, the edge of Melanesia – so close that some of its tinier islands, Rotuma and the Lau group, for example, overlap Polynesia. In these transitional straddling dots of land, the people are regarded as Polynesian. There is a strong Tongan influence in the Lau culture. They make and sail canoes in the Lau group. They wear crunchy mats around the waist, Tongan-style. They paddle. They fish. They dance. They recall their great sea ventures. In a village on the Lau island of Lakeba they hold an annual ceremony in which sharks are summoned – a “shark-caller” up to his or her neck in the lagoon is circled by a school of sharks, attracted by the person’s chanting.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific’