The name French Polynesia conjures up images of soaring rainforests, lagoons of blues and greens, rings of coral and the smell of tropical flowers.
As soon as you get off the plane, you are presented with flower necklaces while ukulele sounds celebrate your arrival. But only a few people realize that when they land in Tahiti airport, they become a dot on a map of five million square kilometres.
French Polynesia is composed of 118 different islands, and the choice of which island to go to can be extremely difficult. So here are the seven French Polynesian islands you must visit during your stay.
“The young women wear their hair long, falling in waves down to their waists and decorated with the white leaves of the fara as well as with scented flowers.
They also make necklaces with fara seeds and flowers that are beautifully arranged. All in all these are the most beautiful women that we have seen in these seas…”
James Morrison (1789)
Being the biggest island, Tahiti is the beating heart of French Polynesia. It is not only the front door of the country but also the front door of Polynesian culture.
The first must is to visit the Old Papeete and most importantly the Papeete market where you will be surrounded by floral scents, fresh tropical fruits and local arts like pareo and jewelry.
The Paul Gaughin Cultural Center and the Robert Wan Pearl Museum are great places to visit if you are eager to know more about Polynesian culture. Religion is a huge part of the Polynesian culture, so you must go to the church on a Sunday.
Even if you not religious, get permission to go upstairs during mass and you will be amazed by the traditional dresses, the straw hats and how heavenly Tahitian religious songs sound.
To finish your transformation into a real Tahitian, you need to eat at the Place Vai’ete one night. At 6.30pm, a dozen of food trucks lay out tables and offer countless specialities, from Chinese food to Tahitian food, all in a familial atmosphere.
The second main island after Tahiti, Raiatea is also know as the Holy Island. There many not be that many beaches to go to, but the island offers many possibilities to have a more rustic Polynesian experience.
The first step is to visit the royal marae of Taputapuatea, the biggest and holiest one in French Polynesia. Marae used to be sacred places that served religious and social purposes in Polynesian societies (Hawaii, New Zealand, Cook Islands…).
The only rule here is to not touch the stones as they contain a mystical power. You can also visit the Uturoa church and dive into the ocean to see the Nordby wreck, a ship which sank in the early 1990s.
Finally, you must eat at the Raiatea Lodge Hotel – a hotel and gastronomic restaurant established in a colonial house in a two acre park facing the sea.
Chances are if you go to Raiatea, you might also go to Taha’a as the two islands share the same lagoon.
Taha’a is often called the Vanilla Island, as 80% of the famous Tahitian vanilla is produced there. Visit to a vanilla farm where you’ll learn about the history of vanilla exploitation, the production of vanilla extract and probably be able to buy homemade products at the end of your excursion.
In addition, you might get to visit a pearl farm – an incredible chance to discover the birth of a cultured pearl and all its secrets.
4. Bora Bora
To me, Bora Bora used to be synonymous with celebrities, luxury tourism and honeymoon. But like me you might have a distorted vision of this touristy island.
No matter how famous this island is for its fancy hotels and private resorts, it is also named Mai te pora, “created by the gods”, and for good reason.
As you arrive to the airport you will immediately notice this place was blessed by nature.
You can even go for a swim in the blue diamond lagoon of the Motu Mute Airport which was built by the American army in 1942. With the emerald sea kissing the white sand beach and exotic fish swimming in colorful coral, Bora Bora is a true promise of paradise.
Fakarava is an absolute must-see. It is an untouched wildlife sanctuary renowned in the entire world.
With its many motus, kilometers of white sand and its famous pink beach, this island will transport you to another time.
The underwater wildlife in Fakarava and the crystal clear waters are so wonderful that it became a UNESCO biosphere. Divers all around the entire world wish to dive in Fakarava and see the colorful coral, dozens of sharks and mantas with their own eyes.
The intense shades of blue of this island enthralled painter Matisse during his stay in the 1930s.
The best way to enjoy your stay is to reside in an authentic family pension where you will be able to live the traditional Polynesian way.
Huahine is made up of two islands connected by a bridge over the lagoon. Authentic, Huahine inspires travelers with magic promises and its mysterious side.
It offers countless possibilities to relax and an exhilarating backdrop for hiking as well as underwater adventures.
Being the closest island to Tahiti, Moorea is usually left behind as people in Tahiti get used to seeing the “sister island” everyday. What a shame that is!
To me, Moorea is the most underestimated island in French Polynesia. Not only is it a natural playground where you can hike, paddle, surf, wakeboard and dive but it is also major cultural place.
To dive into Polynesian culture, you need to visit the agricultural school where you can taste unique jams like the tiare jam and visit the Titiroa marae, a former sacred ground used for rituals.
Which French Polynesian islands would you most like to visit? Have you ever been to any of these? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to know what you think!