Your ticket to Tahiti is booked, but what next? With 118 French Polynesian islands to choose from, if you’re seeking out an authentic Polynesian experience beyond the much-visited islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora, we’re here to help.
Check out these 6 seemingly-remote, diverse islands that are just an hour’s flight from Tahiti!
Nestled in the Society Islands archipelago just north of Tahiti, these islands share a huge protective lagoon which offers some of the best sailing, deep sea fishing and scuba diving. Raiatea is about twice as big as Taha’a and there are just 2.5 miles between them, so there’s plenty to explore.
In Polynesian legend, Raiatea is sacred because it’s believed to be where the great Polynesian migration started, as islanders built dugout canoes and sailed towards New Zealand and Hawaii. Visit Marae Taputapuatea; the ancient remains of a ruined temple which was a place of pilgrimage for Polynesians from as far as Easter Island.
If you’re after action, take to the waters of the Faaroa River (French Polynesia’s only navigable river) which is a great place to try stand up paddle boarding or kayaking. And with the extinct volcano Mount Temehani towering above the island, the northern part of the island is perfect for hiking.
A hike through the island’s interior and the slopes of Mt Temehani is the best place to spot the incredibly rare, five-petaled, white Tiare Apetahi flower. Raiatea is the only place in the world that it grows.”
To the south, head to the Fareatai Valley and take a guided jeep safari into the jungle to uncover the huge archaeological site with many ancient petroglyphs (rock etchings). Head to the island’s main market at Uturoa to source local handicrafts like printed pareos (sarongs), necklaces and sculptures.
Raiatea is a starting point for many boat trips and it’s possible to charter your own catamaran and crew for a minimum of 3 nights. A slightly cheaper option is to book a shared catamaran which keeps the cost down, but either way, you’ll get some of the best lagoon views from the water and you can even cruise over to Bora Bora. There will be perhaps 4-6 cabins on board and you can sail around the lagoons, jump off and paddle board, kayak or snorkel to your heart’s content!
Taha’a is accessible by boat from its sister island Raiatea in just 20 minutes. It’s known as the ‘Vanilla Island’ because Taha’a grows 80% of French Polynesia’s vanilla. Its lush, fertile valleys and slopes are given over to agriculture so you’ll see hillside slopes abundant in bananas, watermelon and coconut, and the highly prized Tahitian vanilla orchid.
Welcoming, ivory-coloured beaches surround this island and there are beautifully delicate coral gardens just offshore which are begging to be explored with your snorkel. And if you enjoy scenic hikes, there are some lovely walks with views over the lagoon and the sandy motus (tiny islets around the lagoon).
The motus surrounding Taha’a are considered to be amongst the most beautiful in all of French Polynesia.”
With the exception of the stunning, 5 star Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa, the accommodation here is mostly small, rustic, pension-style lodges dotted around the lagoon on small motus. The motus surrounding Taha’a are considered to be amongst the most beautiful in the French Polynesian islands. Although they’re not exactly cheap, they’re more affordable than the international chains on the main islands. Stay on the northwest coast of Taha’a and you’re promised utterly spectacular views over the familiar twin peaks of Bora Bora. You can enjoy spectacular views from one of the sleepiest spots in the Society Islands, away from the crowds – simply perfect!
Reach Raiatea on the daily, 45 minute flight from Papeete. Taha’a is reached by a short ferry ride over from the airport in Raiatea and most hotels on Taha’a will arrange boat transfers for you.
The next island on from Moorea is Huahine, the ‘Garden of Eden’ – every bit the authentically Polynesian getaway you hope for
It’s a tranquil, beautifully manicured island which truly delivers on the promise of offering ‘time out’. The locals take great pride in tending their surroundings; in fact Huahine is regarded by many as the most beautiful island in all of French Polynesia.
The southern of the two islands (Huahine Iti, meaning ’small’), offers the best beaches and a sleepy pace of life. Don’t expect much high-end luxury here; instead you’ll find comfortable, authentic pensions. That said, if you’re looking for a classic overwater bungalow stay, the Royal Huahine offers bungalows with a little more privacy than you can expect in Bora Bora – ideal for a peaceful, secluded honeymoon.
The Sunday market in the main town of Fare is a great spots to source local produce and handicrafts and nearby you’ll find some of the best surf spots in the South Pacific. Popular day tours include taking an outrigger canoe tour around the island and you’re guaranteed some magnificent views.
Inland, you’ll find the largest concentration of ancient temples in French Polynesia – so you could take a guided archaeology tour to learn more about Polynesian history and legend. Locals tell how the god Hiro cut the island in two with his canoe and now, the two parts are linked by a short bridge. Huahine derives its name from the Tahitian word ‘vahine’ meaning ‘woman’ and locals believe the island is good for fertility. From Fare, you can see how the mountain ridge resembles the outline of a pregnant woman.
Reach Huahine on a 40 minute flight from Papeete.
Situated to the east of Tahiti in the Tuamotus is one of the largest atolls on French Polynesia, Fakarava, pure and calm and packed to the brim with endemic bird and marine life and deserted beaches.
You’ll feel very secluded here. The activities are mostly water based and include scuba diving and snorkelling but beyond the beach you’ll find sleepy villages; the charm of this place is its seclusion and friendly, welcoming hospitality in the form of locally-run pensions.
Reach Fakarava by flight from Papeete in 1hr 10m.
The lagoon surrounding the atoll of Rangiroa is so big, the entire island of Tahiti could fit within it. Rangiroa’s main draw is the diving and what you can find beneath the surface. You’ll often spot wild dolphins jumping in the waves as they play in the pass that links the lagoon to the ocean.
Spend a day enjoying the solitude on a deserted pink beach at ‘les sables roses’, to visit a quaint village and church. If you take a boat trip to ‘Ile aux Recifs’, you’ll find some impressive eroded coral formations, or you could sail to the beautiful Blue Lagoon which is surrounded by 12 islands. The lagoon’s crystal clear waters are ideal for bathing and swimming between the islands is completely safe. The calm waters in the Lagoon form a safe haven and a nursery for young black tipped sharks who will frolic in the shallows by the beaches.
You could also cycle around the island and watch the local people at work and play, for a glimpse into every day Polynesian life. Whilst you’re here, why not visit a pearl farm and find out how pearls are cultured before choosing your own ‘jewel of the ocean’ as a keepsake of your time here?
Uniquely, Rangiroa is home to French Polynesia’s only winery. It’s not open for touring but you can taste the sweet wine from the harvest at most guest houses and hotels.
Reach Rangiroa by a 1 hour flight from Tahiti.
With a tiny population of 500 people, these low-lying, coral islands offer a contrasting experience to the mountainous Society Islands. Tikehau consists of many small motus around the edge of the long, broad lagoon. With so many islands making up the atoll, lagoon excursions, diving, snorkelling and surfing are all very popular. It is renowned for being very natural and authentic resulting in many visitors returning again and again to experience this very special place.
Tikehau is the kind of island that day-dreams are made for, with its rare pink-hued beaches, formed from corals.”
One of the best ways to explore is to jump in a boat and head to your own private island for the day! You’ll stop on route to catch the fish for your BBQ lunch and it’s a fascinating experience to snorkel above the fishermen diving in the waters below who will use a spear gun to catch a fish.
Another popular trip is to visit Bird Island, where it’s so safe from predators that many of the indigenous birds don’t even build nests; they simply lay their eggs on the tree branches – a unique sight. As you uncover Tikehau, you’ll get a strong sense there’s more to the island than its beaches and coconut trees. Here, you can really sense the ‘Mana’, which according to Tahitian legend is the embracing life force and spirit that surrounds the soul.
When it comes to accommodation, think beautiful seclusion. You’ll want to spend at least 3 nights here as Tikehau’s pensions and resorts tend to be very private with many situated on their own island. If you’re on the main motu which is also home to the airport, it’s easy to explore locally at your own pace as most places have bikes freely available for their guests to use. Across the island, most budgets are catered for with basic pensions and boutique lodges all the way up to good 4 star accommodation so you’ll enjoy a memorable, local and authentic stay.
Reach Tikehau via a 55 minute flight from Tahiti.
If you’d like to explore beyond Tahiti, our team of specialists can put together an itinerary that visits whichever islands you choose. We can arrange international and domestic flights and transfers, recommend accommodation to suit your style and budget and help plan any day tours you might like to include. To start planning, simply call Travel Nation on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.