When you are looking for that “Somewhere Warm” destination, perhaps your thoughts are of diving and snorkeling in the turquoise, clear waters of the Caribbean, or exploring the jungles and culture of Mexico, or relaxing on the beautiful sand beaches under swaying palms in Hawaii, but what if you could visit one destination that envelops you with all of this and so much more. Welcome to French Polynesia!
Situated halfway between California and Australia, the 118 islands of French Polynesia are clustered in five archipelagos: the Austral Islands, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Tuamotu Islands, and the most populous and popular, Society Islands. My visit included five of the nine islands that make up the Society Islands and each island offered its own share of lush beauty and tropical adventure, mingled with Polynesian and French culture.
With late night departures from Los Angeles, the eight-hour nonstop flight gives you an early morning arrival at the Faa’a International Airport in Papeete, Tahiti, where you can immediately start exploring. The city of Papeete is bustling with shops, restaurants, and a large market place. Outside the city, the island offers hiking trails to waterfalls and hidden pools. Whether a novice hiker or an expert, local hiking guides are highly recommended as the terrain can be tricky even on well-marked paths. And what better way to have a true “off-the-beaten-track” experience than with someone who knows the best trails and best view points? There are also lava tube trails, the Arahoho blow hole and lighthouse, museums, and even a golf course.
For many, the allure to French Polynesia is the island of Bora Bora, and with good reason—she is a beauty. Your first glimpse of her will be from the air (about a 45-minute flight from Tahiti) and that “love at first sight” feeling will instantly hit you. It is truly hard to describe and equally hard to do justice in a photo (or 10 or 100); it must be experienced.
The resorts on the island are mostly high-end and all sit on their own motus (small reef islets or island), so you’ll be met at the airport and transferred to your resort by boat. Besides the beautiful beaches and private swimming you can do from your own resort, the island is nestled inside a translucent lagoon and is only about 12 square miles, so a jet ski trip is a fun and easy way to explore the coves around the island. Single and tandem skis are available with small groups and a guide (leader) that circles the island making frequent stops to enjoy the beach and swim in the beautiful lagoon.
For the diving and snorkeling enthusiasts, this is paradise. Whether organized dives to coral reefs, snorkeling with the rays and sharks, or enjoying an abundance of colorful, diverse marine life right outside your bungalow, the pristine, clear and very warm waters, make diving here a once in a lifetime viewing experience. And after a long day exploring the island, a sunset dinner cruise is the best way to end your day in Bora Bora.
Jet Skiing in Bora Bora Snorkeling with the rays and the sharks
Mo’orea is the sister island of Tahiti and is only a short 30-minute ferry ride from Papeete. The atmosphere in Mo’orea is much more relaxed than Tahiti and is much more affordable than Bora Bora. And exploring on the island can be done by jeep safaris and ATVs as well as many dive and snorkeling excursions. The Intercontinental Hotel also has a “swim with the dolphins” attraction that is especially fun for families.
Beautiful French Polynesian Beach Le Taha’a Resort and Spa
The small island of Taha’a can be reached by boat from Tahiti in less than an hour. When arriving at sunset at the Le Taha’a Resort and Spa it is easy to see how this secluded and intimate island is the perfect location for a romantic getaway or honeymoon.
Taha’a and its neighboring island of Raiatea are home to famous black Tahitian pearl farms. A visit to a pearl farm is a must. As you watch the delicate work of harvesting pearls and the care taken to ensure the highest quality, it will be hard to leave without a souvenir of this amazing and beautiful art, so budget accordingly.
Immediately upon arrival in French Polynesia, you will catch a new scent. Your first thought will be of the fragrant tropical flowers, but it’s not just the flowers, it’s something else. Mingled with the floral scent is the rich Tahitian vanilla that permeates the islands. Another stop to include on the island of Raiatea is to a vanilla plantation. The vanilla produced here is unique from anywhere else in the world as it is actually hand-pollinated and requires labor-intensive care. The quality is like no other vanilla and the scent is quite intoxicating.
All returning flights from Tahiti to the west coast are late departures, so plan to cap off your magical time in the South Pacific with one more “attraction” in Papeete before you head to the airport. Enjoy dinner at the Les Roulottes at Vaiete Square. The square comes alive each evening with dozens of colorful food trucks. They serve everything from cheeseburgers and fries to Chinese food and pizza. There are also traditional island dishes (my favorite are the French crepes). Keep in mind the portions are HUGE and the prices are extremely reasonable, so plan to share.
From the dramatic mountains to the colorful reefs, this “Somewhere Warm Place” beckons you to revive your senses and rediscover your spirit of adventure in a beautiful paradise called French Polynesia. Now accepting travelers from the United States.