French Polynesia, also known as the Islands of Tahiti (more info on the Tahiti Tourism website), is a set of islands located in the South Pacific Ocean, more or less halfway between California and Australia.
You’ve probably heard of its most famous island, Bora Bora, and it’s quite literally paradise on earth, thanks to its turquoise lagoon, white sand beaches and Mt. Otemanu, the dormant volcano rising at the heart of the island. However there is so much more to the Islands of Tahiti than Bora Bora, so keep reading to find out why you need to be booking a flight there ASAP.
What’s the best time to go to French Polynesia?
It is warm all year round in Polynesia, however some months are more humid than others. June and August are considered to be the drier months, and October to January tend to be popular but beware of flights getting booked up during school holidays.
Tahiti islands to visit
Where to stay: The Manava Suite Resort Tahiti (rooms from around £200/night) is hard to beat thanks to its close proximity to the airport (it’s a short 10 minute drive), and the fact it overlooks the crystal clear ocean, a welcome view after a long flight. The food there will give you a delicious taster of what to expect during your stay on the islands. Fresh tuna, spices, coconut and vanilla-infused dishes as well as some seriously tasty tropical cocktails.
Get over the jetlag by having a swim in the large infinity pool, and sip cocktails while watching the unbeatable sunset.
What to do in Tahiti: Tahiti is the biggest island in French Polynesia, and also includes the capital, Papeete. There is lots to do, from visiting the culture rich city, to the many black-sand beaches, lagoons, waterfalls and two extinct volcanoes.
Where to stay: The Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort (from around £600/night). Only a ten-minute boat ride from the airport and fifteen minutes across the lagoon from the village of Vaitape, the resort boasts unbeatable views of the dormant volcano. Sipping a cocktail with your feet in the sand, whilst watching the sun setting over the sea is one of the most ‘pinch me’ moments you’re ever likely experience. Total bliss.
The hotel boasts authentic Polynesian style and architecture, and I loved the authentically designed rooms. Our beach villa boasted its own private tropical garden and hot tub, as well as a terrace and room with air con (a god send). You can also push the boat out with an overwater villa surrounded the resort’s own coral garden.
Where to eat: The Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort has three dining options, so it’s a good place to start. For daytime snacking, try the Miki Miki Bar & Grill, for anything from the island’s specialty ‘poisson cru’ (usually raw catch of the day in coconut milk), paninis, colorful salads or tasty pasta.
For a romantic dinner, it has to be Tevairoa restaurant. Its terrace is the highest elevation point at the resort with peaceful views of the dazzling lagoon and Mount Otemanu. Dine on international cuisine with a creative French-Polynesian touch, with mouthwatering dishes including grilled fish, risotto and tropical desserts.
There’s also a sushi bar, and you won’t be able to find a better place than Tahiti for fresh raw fish.
If you’re visiting the main island, then a visit to the institution that is Bloody Mary’s is a must. Past diners have included Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford and Diana Ross, all of which can be found on the wall of fame at the entrance. We feasted on red tuna sashimi and grilled catch of the day with a vanilla-infused sauce and fresh vegetables. Also worth noting they had the best virgin pina colada I’ve ever tasted.
What to do in Bora Bora
A private sunset cruise of the lagoon. We booked the Bora Bora Cultural Lagoon Tour (around £200 for a private 2 hour tour for 1-5 people), and our host Narii shared his wealth of knowledge whilst we sailed around the island. It’s hard to describe how magical and tranquil the whole experience was, gliding over the water, seeing the many colours that painted the sky before twilight, from orange to pink and purple. The tour also included some traditional nibbles such as toasted coconut and fruit, as well as punch.
A 4×4 tour of the island. It would be a shame to leave without visiting the mainland island, and you’ll be hard pressed to do it in a more fun and adventurous way than with Tupuna Safari for a half day 4×4 island tour (around £70pp). Our friendly guide Moana made sure we knew everything we needed to know about the island, taking us past the many little villages and off the beaten track (you’ll have to hold on tight for this) up to the highest point on the island. We also stopped by some pareo painting stalls and were treated to a live demonstration of the traditional painting.
Whilst it might be hard to drag yourselves away from Bora Bora, rest assured there are plenty more gems to discover, such as Rangiroa, a mere hour away by plane.
Where to stay: Kia Ora Resort & Spa (rooms from around £400 a night) overlooks a lagoon so clear and vivid that it’s got its own shade named after it, a fitting ‘Rangiroa Blue’. The entrance to the hotel will give you a taster of what to expect from your stay, a palm tree forest, colourful blooms shining in the glistening sun and no sound but that of the water hitting the shore. Each private guest room is decorated in Polynesian style with a modern twist, and each comes with its own terrace, perfect for lazy mornings in the sun.
We stayed in a pool villa, which, thanks to an outdoor bathtub, tropical garden surrounded by white coral walls and turquoise swimming pool, gave us a delightful taster of Tahitian outdoor living. The king size bed, soft white sheets and luxury bathroom were also pretty dreamy.
Where to eat: Situated in the centre of the resort, the main restaurant, Te Rairoa, has something for everyone. Try the Possion Cru, fresh fish with lime and coconut, swordfish coconut curry or dessert drizzled with Rangiroa honey and vanilla essence, the perfect fusion of local and French cuisine. On Polynesian nights, you’ll even be treated to a local dance performance. There are also more continental options such as pizza, pasta and steak.
If you’re venturing out of hotel to visit the island’s local village (please do, it’s beautiful), then make sure you stop by Les Relais de Joséphine for lunch. It’s renowned worldwide for its fine take on local cuisine, with dishes including Korori in curry, hot sashimi, Pacific fish soup, Green Papaya gratin, and coconut, chocolate, and rum tart.
What to do in Ringaroa:
A massage at Poekura Spa: Not that lounging around on the beach or snorkeling in the lagoon is particularly taxing, but a massage is always lovely, let’s be honest. I recommend the traditional Polynesian massage with ylang ylang essential oil, which will leave you walking on air. Massage from around £66 for 30 minutes.
A full day tour at the Blue Lagoon: There are so many activities the hotel can organise for you, from diving to wild dolphin spotting, that it’ll be hard to pick. However, I recommend the day excursion to enjoy the expansive lagoon – 200km in perimeter – of Rangiroa coral in its entirety. You’ll also visit Motu, a small island filled with palm trees, and possibly spot sharks on the way back. Other excursion destinations include the Pink Sand Beach with salmon pink sand reef, Reef Island with coral fossils and tide pool – choose from a range of activities to get closer to the amazing nature of Rangiroa. A full day tour including lunch costs around £88 per person.
Another fun way to discover the island is by renting a Twizy (the hotel will help you with that) and drive down the length of the island to Avatoru Village, which will give you a glimpse into everyday life on the island.
Gauguin’s Pearl Farm: You can’t visit French Polynesia without shopping for the pearls it’s known for. There’s no better or more ethical way to do this that at Gauguin’s Pearl Farm. As well as a very well-documented guided tour, in this place you can discover the whole process from the birth of a Tahitian pearl to the creation of a jewel.
How to get to French Polynesia
United Airlines offer direct flights from the United States to Tahiti, from cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. The flight will take around 8 hours, which goes by quickly thanks to the on-board entertainment, including new film releases.
How to travel around in Tahiti
The only way to travel between the many islands of Tahiti is by plane, with Air Tahiti, which operates several flights a day within the archipelago, as well as long haul ones too. It never took us longer than an hour to fly in-between Tahiti, Bora Bora and Rangiroa. Flights from around £250.