You would be hard pressed to find someone who does not like the idea of languidly enjoying a golden sunset on a white sand beach while sipping on fresh coconut juice as a balmy breeze rustles through the leaves of palm trees. Days of relaxing bliss and warm sun kissed skin on a beautiful island is a coveted daydream. There are numerous places in our world to experience times likes these, from the soft sands of the Caribbean Islands to the blues waters of the Mediterranean or the pulse of energy of Thailand’s numerous sunny isles or the palm-lined beaches of Goa, India and more. Another area where islands and beaches abound is the seemingly far off South Pacific, where we find French Polynesia.
An overseas collectively of France with administrative autonomy, French Polynesia is made up of 118 islands and atolls, of which 67 are inhabited, over an area of over 2,000 km / 1,200 mi. The islands are divided into five different groups:
- Society Islands
- Marquesas Islands
- Austral Islands
- Tuamotu Archipelago
- Gambier Islands
It is safe to say that Tahiti, part of the Society Islands, is the most well known. It is also the most populated and where the capital of Papeete is located. Another well known Society Island is Bora Bora, which lies roughly 230 km / 143 mi northwest of Tahiti. And if any of your are fans of the American TV show ”Survivor” then you will have heard of the Marquesas Islands as its fourth season was filmed there. Additionally, French Polynesia is popular for island-hopping by way of sail boat. If crossing the Pacific Ocean in that manner, its many islands are often amongst the first to be visited by these adventuring sailors. Today let’s look a few of these warm island locales, from the popular to the lesser known.
Tahiti is the gateway to all the French Polynesian islands if arriving by air, as the only international airport is located in Papeete. A long time favoured destination this island offers a variety of both spectacular nature and warm Polynesian culture and hospitality. Mountainous peaks in the island’s centre offer hiking trails or 4WD tours in lush greenery with waterfalls dotting the way. Both volcanic black sand beaches on one side of the island to familiar white sand beaches on the other as well as protected lagoons abound. Not to mention water sports such as SCUBA diving and snorkelling are popular past times for a reason. Exhibits of Tahitian culture are performed for visitors and modern conveniences are found in Papeete.
Another of the Society Islands, Mo’orea can be reached from Tahiti easily by plane or ferry (or your own boat if you are sailing) as it lies a mere 17 km / 11 mi / 10 nautical mi northwest. Described as a stunningly beautiful many are taken with this magical isle. Here you will find both high-end resorts as well as charming smaller hotels. Full of mountainous peaks and stunning lagoons with pristine beaches, Mo’orea seems to be stealing the show and becoming a popular place for families, honeymooners, and beach lovers.
It does not surprise me that Rangiroa is described as a diver’s paradise since it is the world’s second largest atoll and the largest in the Tuamotu Archipeligo. Another of the lesser visited islands but no less spectacular, it lies 355 km /221 mi northeast of Tahiti. The large lagoon at the atoll’s centre is created by 240 islets encircling an area of 177 km / 110 mi. An abundance of marine life is waiting to be viewed here including dolphins, manta rays, sea turtles, and fish of every colour and size. Once you are done with exploring the lagoon you can head to the capital of Avatoru to take in a sunset and sip on local wine — yes, wine. Vines are grown alongside coconut palms and produce a couple harvests per year.
The largest of the Marquesas Islands and the second largest in French Polynesia, Nuku Hiva has earned the nickname of ‘Mysterious Island’, perhaps due to its varied landscape. Formed from volcanoes, this mountainous island’s western side sports a rugged coastline that is met with crashing waves while several bays and inlets lie on its northern and southern shores. Inland, the Toovi Plateau is found where the volcanic crater once was, serving now as land for pastures. The capital of Taiohae is at the base of Mount Muake, creating an imposing backdrop rising 864 m / 2,830 ft. Visiting here is not only a nature lover’s paradise, it is filled with Marquesan culture and history. Artifacts and archaeology that pre-date European explorers as well as the local’s important tradition of carving and tattoos can be seen. Don’t forget the snorkelling and diving. Accessible by both boat and plane, it seems this is an island to get away from the crowds and be awed by nature and history.
This snapshot of the island paradises of French Polynesia now has me thinking more about the numerous South Pacific destinations. I haven’t given them much thought in years past as they seem to be so far away, but with flights from the western USA, Hawaii, and Australia or New Zealand it appears that island vacations and can be easier than previously thought. Happy and safe travels.
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