David Stanley's Moon Handbook, Tahiti: Including the Cook Islands, is one of the most depressing books I have read. As a travel writer myself I picked up the book to help prepare for an upcoming trip and this guide is so good, the world certainly doesn't need another one from me. However, having lived in Vanuatu and traveled many times to Fiji, I'm familiar with David's other guides and I anticipated excellence.
It is a comprehensive guide on what to see, where to eat, how to get around and where to stay (for all budgets), which is what you expect from a good guidebook - but it's David's personal stamp that makes it so rewarding. It's informative, honest, and sometimes opinionated with a deep understanding of Polynesian history, culture and lifestyle. There are excellent practical tips on things like health & safety, where to get internet access and even toilets where you should take your own paper - but it's more the personal tips on how to make the transition from 'tourist' to 'traveler' that I appreciated...
"A wise traveler soon graduates from hearing and seeing to listening and observing. Speaking is good for the ego and listening is good for the soul."
This book is a shortcut on the road to becoming a wise traveler. This doesn't mean it is all about getting off the beaten track. Tracks become beaten because there are worthwhile things to experience and they should be taken. David provides the 'must see' highlights as well as information for those willing to explore further. Being a wise traveler is more about attitude than itinerary. As David says, "If things work differently than they do back home, give thanks - that's why you've come. Take an interest in local customs, values, languages, challenges and successes."
Another undercurrent is David's realism and commitment to the environment. He pulls no punches, whether they are aimed at the countries who used this region for nuclear testing (particularly the French) or at those who pillage the Pacific for piscatorial pleasure - "spearfishing (is) like shooting a cow with a handgun."
Allow a few extra dollars in your travel budget for this book and it will be an investment. The reward you will gain from your travels to this wonderful part of the world will be enhanced immeasurably.