The Islands of French Polynesia

When people think about French Polynesia, a tropical paradise comes to mind – but not all tropical paradises are the same.  Do you dream of sunbathing on beautiful white sand beaches? Or SCUBA diving through magical underwater reefs? Perhaps catching a wave on the Tahitian surf is your idea of a good time?  For some people the dream is hiking through lush jungles on remote islands, for others it’s learning the secrets of ancient Maori cultures. Whatever’s your definition of a tropical paradise, French Polynesia has it. But with 118 islands and atolls, stretching over 1,200 miles (2,000km), deciding where to go in French Polynesia can be overwhelming.  If that’s how you’re feeling right now, you’ve come to the right place!

8730177637_9d5f33e7d6_z

Photo copyright Daniel Chodusov

 

French Polynesia is divided into five groups of islands: the Society Islands Archipelago, the Tuamotu Archipelago; the Gambier Islands; the Marquesas Islands; and the Austral Islands.  Knowing about each of the island groups can help you narrow down your search for the ultimate vacation getaway. In this post, we will take an in depth look into each one to help you make the decision that’s right for you.

 

SOCIETY ISLANDS

8044046451_a6b685b935_z (1)

Photo copyright dany13

 

The Society Islands are the most well-known islands in French Polynesia, and include Tahiti, Mo’orea, Bora Bora and many others.  Tahiti was born when two volcanoes erupted and formed an island so large that it represents almost 30% of French Polynesia’s landmass and 68.7% of the population of all of French Polynesia. It is high and mountainous with surrounding coral reefs.  On the island of Tahiti, you will find small towns dotting the parameter of the island and the cosmopolitan city of Papeete in the northwest. The population drops as elevation rises inland, bringing you majestic peaks like La Diàdeme, and a stunning thousand-foot waterfall. Tahiti’s quieter side, Tahiti Iti, is on the southeastern end of the island and is home to the world famous surfing wave, Teahupo’o. Surfers, kiteboarders, and swimmers dot the shore and add color to the exotic black sand beaches that ring the island.

Just off the coast of Tahiti is Mo’orea, a heart shaped island with two small, nearly symmetrical bays on the north shore. It is encircled by coral reefs which provide a tranquil refuge to a wide variety of exotic and iridescent fish. Bora Bora is a 12 mile-wide island group consisting of a main island surrounded by a lagoon and barrier reef. The center island is known for its towering volcanic spires which disappear into the clouds, adding a touch of mystery to the island’s remote beauty. Bora Bora is famous for its aqua-centric luxury resorts and overwater bungalows.  

 

TUAMOTU ISLANDS

9171766453_984416cec8_z

Photo copyright Alessandro Caproni

 

With their unparalleled beauty, the low-lying Tuamotus island chain is a scuba diver’s dream. Rather than volcanic activity, these island atolls relied on coral reefs to form.  The heavenly lagoons are so precious and rare that many of them have their own unique ecosystems. In fact, the pristine Fakarava, is deemed a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  

 

GAMBIER ISLANDS

5874393476_97c6a67924_z (2)

Photo copyright Kyle Pearce

 

The Gambier islands is well off the beaten track and offer the perfect mix of cultural treasures and natural scenery.  The mountains on the island of Mangareva rise above the surrounding lagoons and neighboring islands, in fact Polynesian mythology tells of the demi-god Maui lifting the island of Mangareva from the ocean floor. Famous for their pearl farms and historic churches from the 1800’s, travelers to the Gambier Islands get the sense that they have been transported back in time.  

 

MARQUESAS ISLANDS

46847497162_a6e0efd59e_z

Photo copyright Mustad Marine

 

The fierce Marquesas Islands have the hottest and driest climate of all the island chains in French Polynesia. Surrounded by deep, navy colored sea and cold currents of the Pacific Ocean they’re not known for their beaches; but these wild, wonderful and barely populated islands are a dream destination for hikers. Not only are the Marquesas islands home to exotic species of bird and plant wildlife found nowhere else in the world, you will also have the opportunity to experience the rich Maori culture. Pick up a handmade pareo from the local markets of Nuku Hiva, or a protective tiki amulet made by the expert Maori craftsmen of Tahuata.  

 

AUSTRAL ISLANDS

30213624637_2718f3f282_z (1)

Photo copyright Montereydiver

 

The inhabitants of the Austral Islands are as friendly as they are artistic. Visit the colorful, picturesque villages to discover the craftsmanship of the islanders who make a living off of their hand-made goods. Plan your trip to the Austral Islands between August and October and you will see the mesmerizing humpback whales who migrate to the islands each year and frolic in the waters just offshore. 

 

So what will it be?

With so much diversity and natural beauty, a trip to French Polynesia is sure to create memories that will last a lifetime. Hopefully this post has helped you narrow down your perfect French Polynesian destination. For those of you who have already decided where to go, or for those of you who are still needing help deciding, contact one of our French Polynesian travel experts for assistance. Their free, no-obligation help will bring you closer to making your dream vacation a reality, and as a bonus they have access to exclusive discounts to save you money on your trip.

787920461_0b500d18a2_z

Photo copyright RDPixelShop

10 Things to Know Before Going to Fiji

Your flight and hotel are booked, your bags are packed, and you are ready to go! Before you head out to the beautiful islands of Fiji, it’s important to know a little bit about the culture.  We’ve done the research and gathered 10 helpful tips for you to have the best possible vacation! So read on:

6877981135_35c9ccee90_z (1)

Photo copyright Duncan Odds

 

  1. Get To and From the Airport

You don’t want to be stranded after your long flight, and if you’re in a pinch there are taxis for hire, but the best course of action is to have a driver waiting for you when you land.  Most hotels, especially those on the outer islands, will offer an airport service. Double check with your travel agent that this has been arranged before you set off on your trip.  

31655953331_c85541f98b_z

Photo copyright Roderick Eime

 

  1. Fijians Drive on the Left

This can come as a shock to people who are accustomed to driving on the right side, and it’s all the more reason to hire a driver if this is something you’re not used to. You’ll probably adapt to it quickly enough, but if you’re nervous about the prospect of driving, it’s best to sit back, relax and to hire a local.  

6888867323_18eba31f38_z

Photo copyright Kyle Post

 

  1. Forget About Vibrant Nightlife 

Fijians generally go to bed early and wake up with the sun, so if you plan on partying until the sun comes up, you might be on your own. Instead, plan to enjoy your drinks by the pool or on the beautiful beaches by the light of day and save partying for another time.

3362069210_84d925455c_z

Photo copyright Chris Isherwood

  1. Go Hiking with a Local Guide 

Fiji is full of wonderful natural beauty and hiking is a great way to experience the gorgeous tropical rain-forests. However, it’s important to know that many of the paths aren’t well-maintained and the terrain can be hazardous, so hiring a local guide is going to be the safest and most enjoyable option.  Ask your travel agent for help on finding great deals on local tours.  

43845985474_a51e02ffd5_z

Copyright Pablo Marx

 

  1. Be Mindful of Your Attire in the Local Villages

Sundresses, shorts and tank tops are fine in and around the resorts but if you decide to visit a local village it’s best to dress a little more conservatively in order to show respect. Visitors should plan to remove all hats and sunglasses while in the village and plan to wear clothing that covers both shoulders and knees.  

188615749_3e20111243_z

Photo copyright Kanaka Rastamon

 

  1. Visit the Outer Islands 

Many people have the impulse to stay on the main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu on their trip to Fiji but the real magic is on the outer islands.  Steer clear of the urban areas and opt for a seaplane or speedboat ride to places like the Mamanuca Islands, known for their scuba diving, snorkeling and coral reefs or check out Yasawa, known for its pristine beaches and jungles.  With more than 300 islands, there is no shortage of places to explore. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo copyright Joyce T

 

  1. Embrace ‘Island Time’

It can be difficult to slow down when you’re used to fast-paced living but that’s why you’re taking a vacation from the hustle and bustle, right? In Fiji, like most of the South Pacific, people live by ‘island time,’ a slowed down, relaxed mentality and they are happier for it. So relax, take a load off and embrace the slow pace living, you might just learn to love it!

8211987329_99dc9fd52f_z

Photo copyright MickiTakesPictures

 

  1. Attend a Kava Ceremony

Kava is a legal and traditional herbal drink made from the ground root of a spicy pepper plant and is used for medicinal and cultural purposes throughout the Pacific. It has relaxing effects similar to alcohol, but without the risk of intoxication or hangover.  In Fiji, a formal kava ceremony will often accompany important social functions, usually involving drinking kava and a ritual presentation of bundled roots as a gift. If you have the opportunity to attend a kava ceremony, I highly recommend it. 

43472941_230b030727_z

Photo copyright Melody Tan

 

  1. Respect the Locals

Fijians are some of the most welcoming, friendly people I have ever met, and are quick to greet you with “bula,” (meaning hello) and a huge smile on their faces.  Just know that while they are making sure your vacation goes smoothly, they are often away from their families for weeks at a time. It should go without saying to treat them with the respect deserved to all people, but especially those in the service industries. 

8079634_a8935415df_z

Photo copyright Tomas Maltby

 

  1. Watch the Sunrise

Vacations are for sleeping in, right? Yes, but we recommend devoting at least one morning to watch the magnificent light reflecting off the tropical waters. The colors in the sky will make waking up well worth it, just don’t forget to have your camera ready!

7003965691_8dc608b619_z

Photo copyright Kyle Post

Review: Moon Handbooks’ Tahiti – 7th Edition

David Stanley - Tahiti - Moon guidebook

The 7th edition of David Stanley's Tahiti Moon handbook

Technically speaking, guidebook author David Stanley lives in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island…but we’re not sure exactly how many minutes per year he actually spends there. This is a man whose passport gathers no moss: his travels have taken him to 185 countries to date (he’s just back from Iran a few days ago, and has his tickets booked for country #186 for this coming September). And he doesn’t just touch down and check the big highlights of a destination off of his list–he exhaustively explores and documents each destination.

We cracked open his latest Tahiti guidebook–now in its seventh edition–and were pleased to find a wealth of information–and CURRENT information, too, which is important here, since French Polynesia has undergone a number of changes in the past couple of years, from a major change to destination wedding regulations to several famous hotels that have been closed for renovation. Continue reading