French Polynesia has become so well known for its three main islands, Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora and their collection of magnificently decadent resorts. But did you know that these three islands are just a small part of one archipelago, the Society Islands? There's more. French Polynesia is a country spread over 118 islands and another four more archipelagos, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Marquesa Islands, the Austral Islands and the Gambier Islands.
We've picked some of our favourite French Polynesia and Bora Bora images to give you an introduction to paradise.
Credit: Paul Gauguin Cruises
Elegant ribbons of palm-fringed sand stretch around glorious lagoons. If you’re looking for picture postcard landscape with a volcanic backdrop, then you’ve come to the right place. Bora Bora’s twin peaks of Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu form one of French Polynesia’s most recognisable vistas and work their way into many a luxury hotel brochure. They also formed the backdrop for the 2009 film ‘Couples Retreat’, set on Bora Bora.
The volcanic origin of French Polynesia's islands birthed of some of the world’s most picturesque landscapes, like the lagoon around Huahine above. Crystal clear lagoons fringe coral atolls that have gradually subsided into the water. The warm, clear waters are protected from currents by the coral barrier, creating calm waters that are a haven for marine life and a snorkeler’s dream.
Credit: R. Sahuquet/Tahiti Tourism
On the island of Taha’a in the Society Islands archipelago, you can appreciate the distinctive fragrance of vanilla orchids. These edible orchids flower during July or August, producing vanilla seed pods that flavour both local rums and green tea. Tahitian vanilla grows on the windward side of the island where you can visit a vanilla plantation and find out how it develops and how they extract it.
Fertile valleys are home to tropical plantations of tasty crops including pineapples, bananas, coconuts, coffee and sugarcane, as well as gardens full of Frangipani and Bougainvillea. Considered to be the sweetest tasting pineapple on earth – you can try Moorea’s pineapples at any road-side stand, or you could even head to the tasting counter of the delightful fruit-juice factory on Moorea to sample the local guava, lemon, mango, pawpaw or grapefruit juices.
Credit: N.Perez/Tahiti Tourism
The origins of tattoo are mysteriously vague, but Tahitians tattooed patterns to signify status, life events and rites of passage. Originally, bone or tortoiseshell combs and ink were used to create designs in the skin. After the missionaries banned the art form, it made a revival in recent years and many Tahitians now proudly display symbols important to them.
Snorkelling and diving are amongst the top 10 things to do in French Polynesia since this part of the South Pacific is home to world-class dive sites, with the best-known locations in the Tuamotu islands. If you’re more of a snorkeler, this is a great area to snorkel all year round, whether close to the shore or further afield with the help of a local guide. Look out for sharks, manta rays, whales, parrot fish, clownfish and many, many more!
Out in the Tuamotus, Fakarava’s ‘Tumakohua Pass’ is home to an underwater valley known as Shark’s Hole. It’s densely populated with lemon, whitecap and hammerhead sharks, making this a popular choice for divers. These somewhat shy creatures don’t represent a threat to divers, but show them respect!
Credit: © Grégoire LE BACON/Tahiti Tourism
After tourism, pearls are the second most significant economic resource of French Polynesia and the country’s main export. Tahitian pearls develop inside black-lipped oysters and are diverse in size and colour, but a truly ‘black’ (as opposed to charcoal grey) Tahitian pearl is incredibly rare and considered amongst the most beautiful in the world.
As early as 1797, the first Protestant missionaries arrived in Tahiti to evangelise to the people of Oceania. In less than 30 years, all five of the archipelagos populations converted to Christianity. Moorea’s Ha’apiti church is a great place to experience religion in this part of the world.
If you want a break from the beach, head inland. Travel through deep valleys, towering waterfalls and vast plantations, and you'll discover lush island interiors. Jeep safaris and quad bike trips are an exciting way to explore. Booking a tour with a local, English-speaking driver is your key to decoding mystical Tahitian legends. Top spots are the royal village of Maeva on Huahine, Moorea’s magic mountain or 4WD tour to admire the breath-taking views of Haamene Bay on the island of Taha’a.
You can find both the endangered Green Turtle and the Hawksbill Turtle here, and both species are protected. Both the Le Meridien Bora Bora hotel and the Intercontinental Moorea have turtle sanctuaries that shelter and rehabilitate these extraordinary creatures in protected lagoons, before being releasing them back into the wild.
The elegant, white flower ‘Tiare Tahiti’ or Gardenia taitensis is the country’s national emblem. Its flexible stems, delicate shape and gentle aroma, make it the nation’s choice for ‘hei’s (flower necklaces) and flower crowns, worn during festivals and used to greet visitors. It tends to grow mostly on the high islands like Tahiti, but you can also find it in the lower-lying islands in the Tuamotus.
“A flower behind the left ear means the person is single, behind the right, they are taken. But no matter who wears the flower or how, it’s the ornament of choice of the entire country”. Source: Polynesie.com
Credit: R. Sahuquet/Tahiti Tourism
Flower garlands are common throughout Polynesia, and in Tahiti, you may be welcomed with a ‘lei’ (sometimes ‘hei’ in Tahitian). These lovely floral necklaces are composed of orchids, frangipani and Tiare Tahiti flowers, and you should treat them with respect; simply cut the cord and release the flowers when you leave, never put them in a bin.
Few places in the world offer the variety of coloured beaches you’ll find throughout French Polynesia; white sands, black volcanic shores and most uniquely, serene, pink sand beaches. Head to the remote island of Tikehau or Fakarava’s ‘sables roses’ for undisturbed enjoyment.
There are numerous waterfalls all over this region, but Fautaua waterfall is one of the most breath-taking, and at 443 ft it’s the 28th highest waterfall in the world. It’s well worth the trek. Head inland from the beaches of Raiatea, and you’ll discover mountainous jungles and three magical cascading waterfalls (known locally as Les Trois Cascades).
Paddle through turquoise water in an outrigger canoe, (known as a 'va’a' in Tahitian), and you might even spot a dolphin or two. A unique part of the Polynesian culture; originally, outrigger canoes were used for exploring and fishing. Two major outrigger races take part here, one with a course around Huahine, Raiatea, Taha'a and Bora-Bora, and the 3-day Tahiti Nui Va'a race around Tahiti held every two years.
Credit: Shigeo Kobayashi/Tahiti
Tourism Polynesian dances are a significant tourist attraction for the luxury resorts. The 'aparima' is a dance of gestures with hands describing a story, while the ote’a is characterised by abrupt moves and a quick rhythm.
Many lagoon tours (“safaris”) include the opportunity to stop and feed Manta Rays. Standing in waist-high water, you’ll be able to enjoy the unique experience of getting up close to these magnificent creatures.
Credit: Le Meridien Bora Bora
The iconic Polynesian overwater bungalow originated here; indeed the epitome of luxury, this is the stuff of honeymoon dreams. Head to Bora Bora for the best examples and expect exclusive locations, breath-taking views and direct access to the lagoon from your doorstep!
Credit: Le Meridien Bora Bora
It would be remiss of us not to mention that some bungalows have a unique glass floor allowing you to gaze down at the clear waters teeming with tropical fish below. Le Meridien Bora Bora is one!
If all this has made you consider dipping your toes into French Polynesia, but you’re not sure where to start – give us a call. Our experienced and knowledge South Pacific experts can arrange direct or multi-stop flights, stopovers, accommodation and trips to the main islands and some of the beautiful and much less visited isles. Call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email to start planning your dream trip to French Polynesia.