A view of the impossibly azure lagoon, the balmy sun warming your face, and soft breezes stirring your hammock; this is a day in the life in French Polynesia. Or maybe you prefer to be in the water swimming, snorkeling or diving on the coral reefs that ring your island paradise, along with hundreds of colorful fish.
The islands of French Polynesia lie in the South Pacific about halfway between South America and Australia. The whole territory is often casually referred to as “Tahiti,” but this is incorrect – Tahiti is but one island in one of the five archipelagos that make up the territory. These are the Society Islands, the Tuamotus, Marquesas Islands, the Australs and the Gambiers. Each of the island groups has its own unique cultural and geographical features ranging from volcanic peaks to coral reefs and tranquil lagoons. The Society Islands, which include Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora are the most visited by vacationers, followed by the Tuamotus and the Marquesas.
Tourism is a significant benefactor to the economy and the locals are warm and friendly to visitors. The cost of living is relatively high and a visit comes with a hefty price tag. The iconic thatched roof, over-the-water bungalows of Bora Bora cost a minimum of $300 a night and can go much higher, depending on the amenities of the resort and the season of travel, but it is safe to say that very few people ever have buyer’s remorse over a vacation in this paradise!
You can comfortably spend your time just sipping a cool drink from a shaded hammock, but it would be a shame to miss out on all of the fabulous water recreations of French Polynesia. Scuba diving and snorkeling are the most popular and there are many dive shops on the main islands that run trips all year. You can snorkel on reefs or the more adventurous can dive with black-tip sharks, moray eels and manta rays. Dolphin tours are also available year-round and the whale-watching season is May to October. Surfing is popular in the Society Islands, with the best breaks being on the north shores of the different islands from October through March and the south shores from April through September. For those who prefer boating, you’ll find all-inclusive, skippered catamarans or bareboat (sail it yourself) yacht charters available for hire.
In the interest of reef preservation and conservation, To’A Nui is a coral nursery that hosts over 70 types of fish among 4,000 coral colonies. Saving Coral Colonies Tours take guests to a donor reef to collect specimens under the direction of an expert and then place them in the coral in the nursery. A “Coral Fare” facility at a Bora Bora resort offers other sponsorship and educational activities to promote the overall coral rescue project.
Hiking and walking are also popular activities for visitors. On Tahiti and Moorea trails into the mountains provide strenuous hiking, but be sure to hire a guide for safety and navigation. Most of the other islands have coastal walks that are less demanding and many resorts offer horseback riding and 4-wheel drive tours. Tahiti and Moorea also have 18-hole golf courses in spectacular settings.
Shoppers will find plenty of local handicrafts like tapa cloth, hand-painted pareus (wrap dress or skirt), wood carvings, and tiki that make great souvenirs and gifts. But the world-renowned souvenir from the South Pacific is the black pearl. If you are in the market for pearls, take time to learn how to judge the quality before you make the investment and it will serve as a beautiful memory of your time in paradise.
The weather throughout French Polynesia is ideal by almost anyone’s standards. Daytime temperatures run around 70-80F/23-32C with nights bit cooler. The rainiest and hottest season is December to February while May to November is dryer and about 10F/5C cooler. In July, a three-week Heiva Festival is held with competitions in traditional dance and music, making it a very popular time to visit. Be sure to book early if you want to go then.
French Polynesia is an idyllic destination for couples and honeymooners. The pace is slow and the stunning beauty just exudes romance. You’ll definitely want to put it on the short list for your next trip for two.