French Polynesia

Planning a trip to Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, or Huahine in the South Pacific island nation of French Polynesia

These specks of craggy volcanic peaks, sandy crescent beaches, swaying palms, and multihued crystalline waters gangling across the Pacific's deep blue were originally called the "Society Islands" by Captain Cook, who was delighted to find such a string of islands and reefs snuggled so close together in the midst of this vast ocean.

Now properly known as "French Polynesia"—but popularly lumped togther under the name of the largest island, Tahiti—these volcanic scraps of shady coconut palms, soft sands, and warm people have ensnared passersby with their beauty and seduced them with their charms for centuries.

They inspired Fletcher Christian and the Bounty crew to mutiny and settle on Tahiti. A generation later, the painter Gauguin abandoned his Parisian life and family to live out his days here.

By 1962, while filming Mutiny on the Bounty, Marlon Brando fell in love with the islands—and with his Tahitian co-star, who he married and with whom he had two children.

Each island in what is now called French Polynesia has its own character, from the famed and (relatively) crowded Tahiti and its less spoilt cousin Moorea to the infamously expensive idyll of Bora Bora and the little-known "wild isle" of Huahine.

Ferry rides from Tahiti's capital Papeete to the other islands range from around $8 (Moorea) to $66 (Bora Bora); plane connections from $90 to $150.

French Polynesia Tourism information

Tahiti: island of dreams
Tahiti itself--actually a pair of roundish islands (Tahiti Nui and tiny Tahitti Iti) connected by a thin isthmus--has long captured the imagination of Western travelers. This is the earthly paradise that the mutineers of the Bounty made a beeline for after setting Captain Bligh adrift.

This largest of the islands in French Polynesia is also the most developed—especially around its busy capital of Papeete—but it is also among the cheapest, does boast those black sand beaches, and, hey, Tahiti is Tahiti no matter how modernized and built up it has gotten.

Moorea: the less-developed escape
A jagged ridge of rock rising out of the waters just 12 miles from Tahiti, Moorea's swooping craggy profile was likened to "the spines of some forgotten dinosaur" by James Michner.

Many visitors to the islands are content viewing this isle from afar on Tahiti. The smart ones grab a ferry over to spend time on this island beauty.

You need a few days at least to explore the white sand beaches, fin about its reef-protected bays in a snorkel kit, and head to the Belvedere halfway up the mountainous walls of the ancient volcanic crater for one of the South Sea's most stunning panoramas.

Huahine: a hidden gem
It's called "the wild island" for a lack of over-development and the fact that is 4,000-odd inhabitants are rather less Frenchified than their neighbors.

Huahine offers beaches like Bora Bora and a mountainous profile of Moorea while managing to be far less plagued by resorts than either, and to retain much of its native Polynesian culture.

It's actually two islands, linked in the middle by a bridge, and encircled by a single coral reef.

Bora Bora: An island so nice they named it twice
Few places on this globe have the ability to instantly conjure up—just by saying their name—a perfect image of postcard-perfect beaches edging crystalline waters, exotic pleasures under shady palms, and a sense of infinite calm.

It's very name, bouncing twice off the tongue, evokes exotic beauty—or maybe they've just raked in enough cash catering to the jet set they could afford to buy the name twice over. Bora Bora is, after all, the most expensive isle in all of the South Pacific.

Bora Bora has long been a retreat for the rich and powerful, the very definition of earthly paradise in a palm-thatched hut. Not that we frugal travelers are going to let a little thing like a pricey rep stand in our way of enjoying a spot like this on a shoestring. You can still snag a double room here for around $60 if you look hard enough—hint: follow the island's frugal French fans to the Matira area, where cheap pensions, bungalows, and even dorms and camping options abound.

French Polynesia Packages

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in August 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.