If you live in a cold weather area, sunshine and beaches couldn’t sound better right now. One destination continuing to grow in popularity for a warm weather getaway is French Polynesia.
An 8-9-hour flight from California, French Polynesia is comprised of 118 islands and atolls. Most often referred to as the Islands of Tahiti, the land masses are spread across five archipelagos in the South Pacific Ocean. These archipelagos are known as the Society Islands, Tuamotu, Australs, Marquesas, and Gambier Islands. Combined, the archipelagos are equivalent to the size of Europe, which is about two million square miles.
Most popular are the Society Islands – Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Tahaa and others. Moorea charms visitors with her emerald mountains and sandy shores; Bora Bora romances lovers with her gentle lagoons of unimaginable blue and turquoise; Huahine, Raiatea, and Taha’a captivate explorers with their lush vanilla plantations and ancient maraes; Rangiroa and the Tuamotu Atolls beckon divers with their untouched coral reefs and vibrant marine life.
Travelers anticipating their arrival picture an island paradise with miles of white sand beaches surrounded by lagoons, but there are also extinct volcanic mountains, coral atolls, dense rainforests, giant tiki and even a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (Fakarava). You may be surprised to learn that each of the 118 islands and atolls feel distinctive, with local customs and traditions that differ from one island to the next.
One of the most interesting ways to experience The Islands of Tahiti is to stay at or visit a motu. A motu is a Tahitian word used to describe a tiny island, usually located just off the coast of a larger one. For example, the island of Bora Bora has many motu surrounding the main island. The perfect picture of seclusion, a motu can be so small you can easily walk from one side to the other in a matter of minutes. They are usually covered in coconut palms and may have wonderful coral gardens full of colorful fish that are perfect for snorkeling.
Not planning to stay on a motu? You can still visit one when you do most water excursions, such as a shark and ray tour, diving or snorkeling tours. Lunch is usually served on a motu French Polynesian-style, with the national dish, “poisson cru,” coconut bread, and sometimes grilled fish or meat.
Climate varies slightly in this region depending on which island group you visit. If you’re wondering when the best time to visit Tahiti is based on the climate, it’s generally tropical year-round with an average temperature of around 80 degrees. Traditionally November-April is considered the rainier season and May-October is considered the drier season. The rains don’t tend to last very long and can be refreshing during the hotter summer months (November-April).
Because of this almost ideal climate, visitors will find crops that are typical of tropical locations, such as coconuts, breadfruit, sugarcane, Tahitian vanilla, and coffee beans. Coconuts are especially important and are grown throughout the Islands of Tahiti, for the production of coprah, used for making coconut oil.
The number of people living in French Polynesia reaches around 285,000, where about 70 percent of the nation’s population lives on Tahiti. If you were to break it down, about 75 percent of the population is Polynesian, 15 percent European, and about 10 percent Chinese. With a varied culture that possesses so many different languages, it’s no surprise that when the Tahitian language evolved over the years it adopted some slang from other languages on the island. When Tahitians say they are going to ‘la Chine,’ they mean they are going shopping, as many Chinese people on the islands own shops and supermarkets. This mix of Chinese and Tahitian language is just one example of how the all-encompassing nature of the islands and their language has evolved over the years.
Tahitians are considered to be some of the most genuinely friendly and kind people in the world. But, Tahitians are also known for being a little shy as well. Visitors are encouraged to offer the first smile or Ia ora na (hello) when arriving to Tahiti, and you will be quickly met with warm and welcoming hospitality.
Interested in learning more about travel to French Polynesia? Email Linda at LindaB@PiqueTravel.com.