French Polynesia (Polynésie française) is a set of islands that is an overseas country attached to France. Located in the South Pacific Ocean, it is halfway between California and Australia.
Tahiti and her islands cover four million square kilometers of ocean which is the same area as the European Union. However the land above sea level accounts for some 7,000 square kilometers consisting of 118 islands, grouped into five archipelagoes (4 volcanic, 1 coral). Makatea in French Polynesia is one of the three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean - the others are Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati and Nauru.
Tropical, but moderate. Natural hazards : occasional cyclonic storms in January. Very humid.
The average ambient temperature is 27°C (80°F) and the waters of the lagoons average 26°C (79°F) in the winter and 29°C (84°F) in the summer. But do not worry, most resorts and hotel rooms are air conditioned or cooled by ceiling fans.
Summer is from November through April, with a warmer and more humid climate and winter is from May through October, when the climate is slightly cooler and drier. When you step out of the airplane, you'll immediately notice that the air is warm and humid. Consequently, besides your camera and your extra memory cards, do not forget to pack lightweight cotton clothes, sunscreen lotion and a baseball cap or a wide brimmed hat. Synthetic fabrics can get hot and sticky in the tropics.
Mixture of rugged high islands and low islands with reefs.
Highest point : Mont Orohena 2,241 meters (6790 feet)
The Polynesians inhabited these islands for several hundred years before their discovery by western explorers. Several marae (religious sites) still exist, scattered throughout the islands as evidence of this inhabitation.
The British discovered Tahiti in the mid 1760's and Captain Cook visited there in 1769 to observe the Transit of Venus before sailing on to the south and west in search of the fabled Terra Australus Incognita with the assistance of a Polynesian navigator.
The French annexed various Polynesian island groups during the 19th century.
During the 1960's and 1970's, the French conducted atmospheric nuclear tests in the islands, primarily at Mururoa atoll. Testing later moved underground after international protests from other Pacific countries, including a flotilla of yachts and a warship from New Zealand to monitor tests in 1974. Testing continued into the early 1990's, despite attempts to disrupt them by environmental activists. In September 1995, France stirred up widespread protests by resuming nuclear testing on the Mururoa atoll after a three-year moratorium. The tests were suspended in January 1996.
In recent years the islanders have been working towards autonomy and economic independence from France. However, the process is a gradual one and is expected to take a decade or two to occur.
French Polynesia has a very remote position in the South Pacific Ocean, so unless you are already there, flying is the only option. There are cruiseships and cargo ships travelling from Hawaii or New Zealand but none on a regular schedule.
The flagcarrier of French Polynesia is Air Tahiti Nui and the main airport is the Faa'a International Airport built on the lagoon, about 5 km west of Papeete near several major hotels such as InterContinental hotel . Air Tahiti Nui flies internationally to Tokyo, Osaka, Los Angeles, New York, Auckland, Sydney and Paris. They cooperate with Air France, Japan Airlines, Air New Zealand and Qantas. They no longer participate in either of the American Airlines Advantage Program or the Delta Air Lines program. Air New Zealand also has regular flights to Tahiti. LAN Chile flies twice a week to/from Easter Island, with connections on to Santiago de Chile.
Passengers arriving on international flights must collect their baggage, go through customs and then recheck-in at the domestic flight counters some 50 m to the right of the International arrivals area.
The territory of French Polynesia has about the same surface as the European Union but the combined land area (all islands and atolls) is just about the size of Mallorca. Most people live on the two islands of Tahiti and Moorea. These islands have street networks and public transport (including good touristic infrastructure). To jump from island to island there are different options:
Air Tahiti offers domestic flights to other destinations in French Polynesia, and Air Moorea makes the short hop to Moorea several times daily. Charters flights such as Air Archipel are available on request. Helicopters are one other option
Air Tahiti operates 11 turboprop aircraft (4 ATR42-500 with 48 seats, 5 ATR72-500 with 66 seats, 1 Beechcraft with 8 seats and 1 Twin Otter with 19 seats). The ATR42 and ATR72 reach a cruising speed of about 500 km/h. Most of the inter-islands flights in the Marquesas are operated with Twin Otter.
Air Tahiti offers several types of Air Tahiti Airpasses:
Extensions to the Marguesas cost € 443,- with 20 kg baggage allowance, € 620,- with 50 kg baggage allowance, and to the Austral Islands € 246,- with 20 kg baggage allowance, € 345,- with 50 kg baggage allowance (rates of 2010). Passes start and usually end at Tahiti or Moorea. Tahiti-Moorea or Moorea-Tahiti can be flown on Air Moorea or Air Tahiti flights. The itinerary does not need to cover all the islands of the Pass. All flights must be reserved and confirmed. The full journey must not exceed 28 days. The islands of one archipelago must be visited before moving to the next archipelago (eg islands of the Society archipelago must be visited before those of the Tuamotu archipelago). The islands within an archipelago can be visited in any order. Stopover or transit in Tahiti within the Pass is not allowed, except for the Lagons Pass between Moorea and the islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago, for a Pass with Extension, between the Pass and the Extension, where a maximum of 24h transit in Tahiti is permitted. Only one stop per island (of more than 24h) is allowed. A transit (less than 24 hours) with a flight number change is considered as stopover. Exception: change of flight number with a transit of less than 2 hours in Rangiroa on Bora Bora to Tikehau, Manihi, Fakarava or vice-versa flights. Change of reservations is not permitted after the Pass has been issued. Air Passes are non-refundable after departure. For details see http://www.airtahiti.com/articles.php?id=69
Air Tahiti suggests the following multi-island itineraries:
Check-in at the airports begins 1 hour and closes 20 min before departure time (except for flights to Rarotonga where check-in begins 2 hrs and closes 45 min before departure time).
The official languages are French and Tahitian. English is also widely spoken particularly in tourist areas.
Here are the main Tahitian words that you may pick up from a conversation:
Tahitians have a tendency to mix up French and Tahitian words in their conversation, so don't be surprised.
Be aware that everything is very expensive in French Polynesia. Even budget accommodation is tough on the budget, as is food, even groceries. So if you visit, take lots of money, you will need it.
The following forms of payment are accepted: all legal bank notes, international credit cards and traveller's check. The international banks with foreign exchange offices on Tahiti and the most frequently visited islands are the Bank of Tahiti, the Bank of Polynesia and Socredo. International hotels also provide this service but be careful: some atolls and islands in the Austral and Gambier group have no banking facilities.
Currency Exchange/Buy rates: As of 05/21/2007
Black pearls are the high-end purchase in this part of the world. They are beautiful, and of varied quality, so the buyer beware, and the sky's the limit. There is lots of inexpensive mother-of-pearl jewellery that make very nice gifts. Created only by the giant black-lipped oyster Pinctada Margaritifera which thrives in the lagoons of the Tuamotu Archipelago, the rare Polynesian black pearl varies in color from silver through dark grey with green and pink highlights. This Tahitian jewel makes an exquisite and unique souvenir.
For visitors who wish to discover the secrets of Tahitian pearls, a visit to one of the pearl farms on the island of Tahaa or on one of the low islands in the Tuamotu is an experience not to be missed.
Fine food in Tahiti and her Islands is typically a natural style of cooking based on fresh products exotically blended. There is a presence of European cuisine within a tropical setting. Asian cooking has also added its own tastes and textures.
Fish of all kinds, whether tuna, bonito, mahimahi or the many varieties of lagoon fish are prepared in many different ways: roasted, boiled and raw.
The top rated dishes are raw fish a la tahitienne which is marinated in lemon juice and coconut milk and the very popular Chinese ma'a tinito (which is a mixture of pork, kidney beans, chinese cabbage and macaroni.)
Family occasions and celebrations are the time for a huge tamara'a Tahiti (Tahitian-style feasts) where a meal consisting of suckling pig, fish, breadfruit, yams and fe'i bananas is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed in an earth-dug oven over layers of hot rocks.
The larger hotels organize big buffet evenings that offer a vast panorama of local culinary delights accompanied by traditional dance performances.
Do note that tipping is not a custom in Tahiti and her Islands.
Bottles of water are readily available. Being a French territory, wine is common and easy to find. As this is a tropical island, a multitude of fruit juices from pineapple juice to coconut milk are to be found everywhere. Pineapple juice from Moorea is not to be missed! It is sometimes better to crack open your own coconut yourself and drain it for lunch. Orange juice is the states favorite drink and oranges are grown all along the coastlines.
If you're a fan of beer, the Hinano Beer will definitely be one you will like to taste and bring a few cans home.
Around fifty international class hotels can be found on twelve islands covering three different archipelagoes - Society, Tuamotu and Marquesas. Although the islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora provide over 80% of hotel capacity, the lesser known islands are also opening top-of-the-range establishements. Several international groups are established: InterContinental, Sofitel, Novotel, Meridien, Starwood-Sheraton, Orient Express, Club Med and Radisson. Two local chains, Maitai and South Pacific Management, complete the hotel scene. Although complying with international standards, Polynesian style has been respected in the overwater bungalows with the use of pandanus, bamboo and shell light fixtures. Some bungalows are fitted with glass-bottomed tables for watching the fishes without ever getting your feet wet.
For travelers who prefer the simplicity and authenticity of the local experience, family hotels are the ideal type of accommodation. The welcome is warm and friendly. Family hotels are divided into four categories: Bed and Breakfast, Holiday Family Homes, Family-run guest houses, Family hotels.
The Gauguin Museum (Musée Gaugin), about 50km from Papeete on Tahiti Nui contains artifacts from Gauguin's time in Tahiti, including reproductions of many of his paintings. Open-air buildings and a gift shop are situated in a well-manicured lawn just next to the ocean, well away from the city and resorts. Botanical gardens are just next door.
The Museum of Tahiti and her Islands, about 15km from Papeete, contains really great displays of Polynesian history, culture and ethnology. Anyone who is interested in anthropology or the history of the Polynesian culture should see this museum.
For pearl lovers, there is also the Robert Wan Pearl Museum in Tahiti.
Tahiti has one of the lowest crime rates within France and its territories. However, petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching occurs.
As an overseas territory of France, defence and law enforcement are provided by the French Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) and Gendarmerie.
No vaccines are required.
Be sure to bring jelly-type sandals for walking amidst coral in the water and along the beaches or either old sneakers so you don't cut your feet on the coral or don't step on a stonefish.
Encounters with sharks in the lagoon will be most likely when scuba diving or even snorkeling but they are harmless. So are stingrays. However, be aware of moray eels which hide deep in the corals and are generally curious. Be sure to keep your fingers to yourself or risk a painful bite.
Medical treatment is generally good. Two major hospitals as well as several private clinics provide 24-hour medical service.
No vaccines are required.
Tahitians are proud of their islands and happy to share their way of life with their guests in many ways. They are really relaxed people who live according to the aita pea pea philosophy (meaning "no worries"). Their culture should be respected as well as their way of life. Don't make them feel that you're superior to them but just be natural. They are a very welcoming and warm people.
Please also respect the land and its diversity. Activities which include approaching whales and other marine mammals are regulated and authorizations from the environmental authorities are mandatory.
Internet access in Polynesia is provided by MANA, a subsidiary of the Post and Telecommunications Office, either by modem or by ADSL. For a short stay, a subscription-free connection is best. You can make the connection with the following information: Telephone # of the server: 36-88-88 - Log-in: anonymous - Password: anonymous. This type of modem connection is available in all archipelagos.
There are cyber-spaces on Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Bora Bora, Raiatea and Rangiroa (about 250 Fcfp for a 15 minute connection.) Most of the hotels and some small hotels and pensions provide Internet access to their guests. On some islands, access is possible from post offices.
Wifitiki has a useful page listing wifi hotspots in French Polynesia.
Iaoranet also provides wifi in the Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Bora Bora, Raiatea) as well as some of the Tuamotus (Fakarava, Manihi, Rangiroa), Gambiers (Mangareva), and Marquesas (Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa). One hour costs ~$5US, but blocks of time can be purchased online for as little as $2US/hour. The service is slow but fairly reliable.