If in the middle of a cold winter day you are dreaming up idyllic tropical images, be sure most of them come from French Polynesia. Perfect sandy white beaches, recessing in pristine aquamarine water filled with bountiful sea life dramatically set against the backdrop of jagged mountain tops covered in palms swaying in the winds. And, of course, those huts perching above the ocean with the promise of a worry-free rest and tranquility.
It is truly one of our favorite destinations promising as much adventure, snorkeling, hiking, encounters with sea creatures and sunbathing as you could possibly handle.
French Polynesia is one of the latest discovered and populated groups of islands in South Pacific. Located slightly off the beaten track and main trade routes, some islands turned out on one way of an occasional explorer long before it finally became the territory of France. The islands are divided into 5 groups:
- The Society Islands (The Windward islands & The Leeward Islands)
- The Tuamotu archipelago
- The Gambier Islands
- The Marquesas Islands
- The Austral Islands
Only 51 islands out of 118 islands and atolls of French Polynesia stretched over 1,200 miles are inhabited, with overall population up to 275,000 between them.
When is the best Time To Visit French Polynesia?
Although the temperature stays comfortable here around the year never dropping lower than 16 degrees and rising above 34, the rain season from November to April can definitely spoil the experience. July to August are considered to be the best months to travel with most of the festivals and events, such as Heiva festival and Hawaiki Nui Canoe Contest happening during this time.
Sailing French Polynesia
What’s not like a sailboat to explore French Polynesia? How else you would be able to see the beauty of its remote islands and experience the sea life snorkeling whenever you please. The best part, compared to the prices of local hotels with an easy minimum of 350$ per night you will not only be able to see the best of the islands but do it on a budget. The flexibility and peace of mind that sailing charter cruises offer are just too good not to take advantage of. The stable winds and calm waters will make the journey simply an unforgettable experience.
One of the largest islands of French Polynesia Raiatea with its large and convenient lagoon protected by the reef has become the sailing center of the region with the most sailing and bareboat charters starting here.
The Raiatea itself is a mystical place filled with legends and lore, it is believed that it gave birth to all of polynesia, and also was a departing point for the Great Polynesian Migration which resulted in populating New Zealand and Hawaii.
The northern part of the island is dominated by towering Mount Temehani, an extinct volcano. If you plan to hike in the jungles near it, with luck you may encounter rare and sacred Tiare Apetahi. Still a botanical mystery, this flower can be found only in the jungle around mount Temehani. The legend though says it is a symbol of love, reminding of an outstretched hand of beautiful Tiaitau towards her love, king Tamatoa,who died in a battle.
Steeped in History Raiatea offers another exciting site to explore – Marae Taputapuatea, located on the southeast coast. It is the site of the largest outdoor marae (temple), in all of French Polynesia.
Te Ava Piti Pass right to the east of Raiatea, the main pass to the lagoon is considered to be one of the beautiful dive sites in all of Polynesia. Here you will enjoy the company of smaller sharks, tunas, barracudas and eagle rays. Here is also you will find one of the better-preserved shipwrecks from 1900ies. It is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable experiences.
Tahaa shares the lagoon with Raiatea and is truly one of the favorite destinations to sail. Not only the outline of the island is flower-shaped, but you will be greeted with a floral scent as you approach the island. You will unmistakably recognize the vanilla scent.
Tahaa is famous for its Tahitian Vanilla farms. Here you will be able to stroll among the blooming Polynesian vanilla plants with their mesmerizing scent (if you happen to visit in July or August). This species with is distinctive coumarin scent was created specifically for the perfume industry and were a significant export commodity in the recent past.
Tahaa is also home to flourishing black pearl farms. The black pearl owes its natural coloring to Tahitian Black-lipped Pinctada margaritifera oyster, more precisely to the color of its interior shell, or nacre which is black. Depending on what part of the oyster the sand grain is lodged the pearl will become either steel grey, purple, blue or green.
Aside from being truly a gift of nature black pearls have been believed to heal wounded hearts, enjoy the power to heal and protect from the negative energy
Bora – Bora is known for its sumptuous luxury with the highest concentration of luxury hotels in resorts. The name of the island itself evokes the dream of distant tropical lusciousness, no wonder, it comes from the name “Pora Pora mai te pora”, or “created by the gods” in the Tahitian dialect and you can easily believe that once you see it on the horizon from the sailboat.
Its spectacular lagoon, a masterpiece of blues and greens, framed with small motu and protected by the reef. The whole island is about leisurely sunbathing, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Vaitape is the largest town on the island and offers a bit of souvenir shopping and some restaurants for those who wanted to take time off diving and sailing and see the real life of the locals. It is at its liveliest on Sunday morning when it comes alive foSundayay market. You can savor some local specialties right at the makeshift stalls such as pahua taioro (clams marinated in coconut seawater sauce) and firifiri(doughnuts).
If you want to avoid the buzz of the town you will enjoy the island’s only Matira Beach. It extends out in the lagoon on the narrow south peninsula.
As all the islands of French Polynesia the unspoiled Huahine, and sparsely populated has a lot to offer. It is a great place to unwind and get in touch with the history, folklore and spirit of the local population. Some of the oldest Maraes (religious temples), such as dedicated to Tane, the principal god of the island, with some sites dating back to 1000 years are located here.
It is only at Maraes the priests could summon gods and ask for strength, protection from the forces of nature and plentiful food. It is true that some of the rites had cannibalism and human sacrifices as their essential part. The very last rite with human sacrifice was held here as recent as 1906.
Th Island is also famous for its 0.9 m – 1.8 m long freshwater eels. You can feed them right from the bridge These eels are believed to be sacred. You can feed them with bits of fish and end enjoy the look of their weird slithering bodies in fresh stream.
Moorea simply strikes you with its untamed beauty. With its picturesque mountains, streaming waterfalls , lush greenery descending into the ocean it is a tropical experience of a lifetime. The Name of the island means yellow lizard, a creature from a legend, that died looking for its human parents, giving the island, named Aimeho before its name.
It is also believed that Darwin’s theory of Coral reef atoll formation was inspired by the Coral reef of Moorea, when Darwin noted that it frames the island, observing it from a peak on neighboring Tahiti.
The villages of Moorea are scattered around, there is no bigger towns here as the island is primarily rural. Yes, you will here roosters at 6 a.m. here and there!
As for historic sites, the oldest marae is the ‘Āfareaitu Marae is located in the main village. It dates back to 900 and is quite well preserved.
Tahiti is the largest of the French Polynesia Islands, and naturally, the center of local life and business. Its capital Papeete, or a “water basket” in the local language, has sprung from a gathering place where Tahitians came to fill their calabashes with fresh water.
Now it is a bustling center, offering an array of stores, museums, markets, resorts, hotels to its residents and tourists alike. It is connecting the French Polynesia with the rest of the world and serves as a forepost for the travellers to discover the mesmerising beauty of the French Polynesia.
The name of Tahiti, might come up in association with the name of Paul Gauguin, a French post-impressionist who spent around 6 years on the island – later moving on to even a more secluded way of life in the neighboring less populated remote Marquesas islands. It is his bold paint expressed the striking beauty of local women and luscious tropical landscapes, which were in fact the first publicly recognised works of primitivism movement in art.
Although there are some picturesque inland attractions such as Maraa Grotto, Fautaua waterfall, and some great galleries and museums – the true appeal of the island is to be discovered from the sail yacht. Its grand distinctive outline as seen from the ocean is a sight to be seen.
A few more words about Polynesian Culture and traditions.
When you are setting off to explore a new country inevitably you discover the new way to look at the world around us. Polynesian culture was formed in close connection with nature – the early settlers were at the mercy of the powers of nature, ocean and winds. The multitude of spirits and gods were believed to be responsible for the key events of people’s life. Traveling around the islands you will see the ruins of marae, outdoor temples dedicated to local deities.
You will be also curious to learn that the word tattoo comes from Polynesian tautau, the tradition of Tattoo here dates back to 1500 B.C. It was an integral part of the culture and each tattooed image had a deep meaning – indicating ancestry, rank in society and occupation. The tattooing would start at adolescence and the story will be completed within a few years. The tradition was nearly extinct under the influence of missionaries, but luckily, well documented, nd found its second birth in the 80 ies.
Ori Tahiti, or Dance of Tahiti, has a close connection between movement and oral tradition. It has become widely popular and well known thanks to the dancers’ sensual dresses and original headpieces. Currently, there are 4 types of traditional dance preserved:
- The Otea: one of the most famous Tahitian Dances, originating, most likely as military dance. It is reserved for men only
- The Aparima: in this dance, the hands of the dancer tell the istory
- The Hivinau: it includes male and female dancers, where a male voice also has the dialogue with the choir.
- The Pa’o’a: this simple dance is reminiscent of the motions used to make tapa (a parchment made vegetables. It also includes a male soloist and a choir.
So if you are at all interested in Polynesian cultural traditions, come to Tahiti in July for Heiva festival. This colorful event lasts approximately a month with a busy schedule filled with dance, music and performances, bringing performers from all over the archipelago. The festival brings us closer to the times when happy and expressive inhabitants of polynesian islands expressed their feelings and emotions and feelings openly and without reservations.
French Polynesia has a lot to offer from history and unique culture to great picturesque views and superb diving sites. Whether you are a nature lover, and archeologist or a seaman at heart it caters to everyone!
Discovering it on board of a sailboat makes this experience more personal. Waking up with a next tropical island to discover each day, and being able to have a great time snorkeling and enjoying a leisurely stroll on the sunset beach at your own pace… what else could be more exhilarating?