Top 10 Things To Do In French Polynesia

May 27, 2016
Welcome to paradise! Who knew even the living could pay a visit? A voyage to the Islands of Tahiti in French Polynesia is the stuff dreams are made of. Surprisingly, the islands are not only for luxury travelers and honeymooners – independent travelers have a world of opportunity to explore one of the most exotic places on earth. Sure, if you want to relax on the beach, there’s plenty of that. But if you’re looking for more, there are plenty of ways to get wet and work up a sweat. I spent three months visiting 11 islands, and here’s my list of the top things to do in French Polynesia.

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Heading off to French Polynesia? In-depth island guides to all 5 archipelagos await you, including sample itineraries and essential travel tips & tricks.

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10. Shopping!

From the exotic market in Papeete, the black pearl farms of the Tuamotu atolls, the woven hats of the Austral Islands, and the superior craftsmanship of the Marquesas Islands, make sure you have plenty of space in that luggage and plenty of cash! There is so much to bring back home with you, and let’s not forget – it’s the best way to prove to yourself the quick trip to paradise wasn’t just a dream.

Bags and hats Papeete market Tahiti French Polynesia

Huahine Nui Pearl Farm Huahine Island French Polynesia necklace

wooden carvings at taipivai crafts market - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Tangy wood carver - Hakaui Valley - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

9. Get A Window Seat On Domestic Flights

Island hopping in French Polynesia? There is one very essential rule of thumb that should be applied on every Air Tahiti domestic flight: grab a window seat! With no assigned seats, don’t miss out on aerial views of the dream islands. As if to tease you, the captain will usually swing the plane before the final approach for a quick tour of the island. As in gymnastics, it’s all about the landing. And in French Polynesia, it might be in the middle of a tiny islet floating in the lagoon or deep in a valley surrounded by jungle covered peaks. The only question remains: should you sit on the right side or the left side?

Anaho Bay aerial view Nuku Hiva French Polynesia

Bora Bora French Polynesia aerial view

Aerial view of Maupiti coral reef and main island - French Polynesia

Bora Bora Landing Page - Aerial View - טיול עצמאי לבורה בורה

8. Immerse Yourself In Island Life

With a huge smile on their face and heavenly scented tiare flowers in their hair, friendly Tahitians will welcome you with open arms to their island and share with you the secret to their seemingly carefree lives. So stop on the side to buy some tropical fruit and do a bit of chit chatting, feel a part of the family by staying at a family operated pension, and grab a beer with your guide after a hike or lagoon tour. If there is one word you’ll pick up in French Polynesia, it will surely be ‘ia orana. Tahitians never miss an opportunity to greet each other hello, and so will you after a couple of days in paradise.

fruit stand in Moorea French Polynesia

Island life in Fakarava French Polynesia

Pifa tour guide Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

7. Roadtrip Around The Islands

On a world map, the islands of French Polynesia look like tiny grains of sand, surely small enough to be explored on foot – right? Wrong! Some of these islands are relatively small but actually quite huge. This can mean only one thing if freedom is what you’re ultimately after – hiring a car or a scooter and hitting the road. In Tahiti, explore the coastline of Tahiti Nui, before crossing over to its sleepy little sister – Tahiti Iti. In Moorea, drive around the beautiful twin bays that give this island its heart shape. In Huahine, stop at ancient temples on the roadside and find your own beach to kill a few hours. In Raiatea, have the southern part of the island all to yourself, and in the Marquesas – brush up on your off-road driving skills as you explore bay after bay of magnificent coastline.

driving in marquesas islands - aapaka cliffs nuku hiva - french polynesia

Driving in Raiatea French Polynesia

seeing the pinnacles from road trip - Ua Pou - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

6. Practice Your Polynesian Skills

For centuries before the arrival of television and internet, islanders had very little to do after sundown. Maybe that’s why when the first European explorers arrived, they met exotic looking people who just LOVED to dance and play with fire! With elaborate costumes, ladies shaking their hips like there’s no tomorrow, and men twisting their knees better than Elvis ever could – you just have to see (and take part) in Tahitian dancing! If you can make it to the July Heiva Festival in Tahiti, you’ll be treated to a hard-faught competition between teams from around the territory in the fields of dance, traditional sports, singing, and craftsmanship. But if you can’t make it to the festival, check with your hosts for local shows during your visit. If you’re in Moorea, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Tiki Village for dinner and show, while in the Marquesas, a local will show you how a real haka is performed!

Polynesian fire dance Tiki Village Moorea French Polynesia

Tahitian dancing Tahiti French Polynesia

Traditional Polynesian stone liftiing Tahiti French Polynesia

5. Feel The Power In Ancient Polynesian Temples

Deep in the rainforest, up in the mountains or down by the beach – the islands of French Polynesia are scattered with relics from an ancient past. Known as marae, it is believed there are still hundreds (if not more) ancient temples still waiting to be discovered. Though successfully converted to Christianity by 19th-century missionaries, Marae Taputapuatea in the island of Raiatea is still a source of immense spiritual power for Tahitians and a newly named UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over in Huahine, hundreds of temples dot the coastline and mountains around Lake Maeva, while in distant Hiva Oa – huge tiki statues taller than any NBA players mysteriously guard the forest.

three headed statue Hikokua archeological site - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Lipona archeological site Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia six fingered tiki

Lipona archeological site Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia massive tiki

4. Hiking, hiking & hiking!

It is common thought that French Polynesia is all about white sand beaches and overwater bungalows. Sure, there is plenty of that, but the French territory’s high islands are also a hiker’s paradise. And so few people around, all you need to do is put on some comfortable shoes and hit the trail… that is if you can find it. While a lot of the hikes in French Polynesia, unfortunately, require a guide, some of the best ones are totally doable when flying solo. From Mount Aorai in Tahiti, the peaks of Moorea, searching for the rarest flower in Raiatea, to catching 360 views of pretty Maupiti, discovering a secret beach in Hiva Oa, and getting a closeup view of the basalt pinnacles of Ua Pou – there are plenty of opportunities to work up a good sweat!  

the diademe from Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

hike to pierced mountain moorea - french polynesia

Hiking in Hakaui Valley Nuku Hiva French Polynesia

View from summit of Mount Teurafaatiu hike - French Polynesia - Maupiti

me at the summit of mount manureva - rurutu - austral islands - french polynesia

3. Spend The Day Exploring A Pristine Lagoon

Few are the days you actually remember in life, but I can guarantee you’ll vividly remember the days you spent exploring the pristine lagoons of French Polynesia. Almost completely separating the islands from the infinite South Pacific Ocean that pounds the coral reef just a short distance away, the lagoons create a unique world of their own. Join a lagoon tour and explore these giant swimming pools, complete with a delicious BBQ lunch on a dreamy motu at the edge of the reef. From the pink sand beaches of Fakarava and Tikehau to swimming with nurse sharks in Bora Bora, to sharing leftovers with stingrays in Maupiti – this is the stuff dreams are made of!

Didier bora bora lgoon tour guide French Polynesia

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia riding shark fin

Picnic lunch in water lagoon tour Huahine French Polynesia

snorkeling in coral garden Maupiti French Polynesia

pink sand beach 6 - tikehau lagoon tour - french polynesia

2. Scuba Dive & Swim with Humpback Whales

Here’s another way to get yourself wet in French Polynesia. The scuba diving in this part of the world is simply superb, drawing some of the world’s biggest ‘dive freaks’ to come all the way out here for the marine life. The best places to dive are the atolls of Rangiroa and Fakarava, where you’ll be greeted by walls of sharks and families of friendly dolphins. In the Society Islands, cruise along canyons and chasms, as nurse sharks come to check you out or maybe head to the ‘cleaning station’ in the Maupiti lagoon to witness giant manta rays in nature’s version of a ‘car wash’. Between July and October, humpback whales visit the islands to enjoy the warm water, breed, and give birth. The island of Rurutu in the Austral archipelago is the best place in the Pacific for whale watching and swimming with whales.

swimming with humpback whales - rurutu - austral islands - french polynesia 6

Living A Fantasy In The Fakarava Atoll - post cover

Scuba diving in Rangiroa French Polynesia - sea turtle

Scuba diving in Rangiroa French Polynesia - dolphin

manta ray cleaning station - lagoon tour - tikehau - french polynesia

1. Find The Perfect Beach

Let’s face it, the main reason you come all the way to the end of the world is to find that dream of a beach. If you thought paradise only existed in a travel magazine, think again! The beaches of French Polynesia are as beautiful in reality as they are in print or on your screensaver. From the black sand of Tahiti to the pink sands of Fakarava and Tikehau, to the white sand of pretty much everywhere else – you’ll easily be able to find a slice of paradise for the day and have it all to yourself!

pink sand beach 7 - tikehau lagoon tour - french polynesia

Maupiti from motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - boat

dricia climbing coconut tree in Anaho Bay - nuku hiva - marquesas islands - french polynesia

Hanatekuua Beach - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

PK9 tropical beach Fakarava French Polynesia

What’s Next?

There you have it! The top things to do on the Islands of Tahiti in French Polynesia. Start planning your dream vacation to paradise with the Independent Traveler’s Guide to French Polynesia. Need some help with planning your trip? Get in touch and get the ins and outs of planning your own Polynesian adventure.

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  1. Having searched last couple of weeks information about French Polynesia and how to backpack there I find your blog the best of all. Also read about Fakarava and I have to say thank you for sharing all that! It’s hard to find that kind of information from internet when everybody are talking about luxury bungalows, honeymoon and splurge. It has been one of my dream to travel to Pacific Islands especially ones like Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Samoa and Tonga. As we are going to move to New Zealand within next 3 months and going to spend a year there I’m finally so close to achieving this dream of mine. I’m planning to travel to French Polynesia with my fiancée probably in coming May and I’m already excited planning this trip. Your blog is exactly what I have been searching for. We want to spend as less as possible to accomodation and explore as long and much as possible- pristine beaches, hiking trails, diving, snorkeling is our thing. Also we want to live and feel local culture as much as possible. And if possible do some volunteer work and live with locals if possible. Just incredible blog!

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback Imre! That was exactly my mission with these guides: showing that the South Pacific doesn’t have to stay on some ‘bucket list’ Pinterest board. Let me know if you need any advice and considering the volunteering opportunities you mentioned, have a look at this website which has plenty of them in the South Pacific:

      Safe travel and enjoy the guides!

  2. Hi! I’m hoping you might be able to recommend some destinations in the South Pacific for me. I’ve done a fair bit of research but I’m finding it hard to determine which places are best suited to our needs.
    My partner and I will be travelling for our honeymoon, but we arent looking for a traditional honeymoon. We want a destination that is relaxing and not too touristic.. we want somewhere that has a little town with enough choice of restaurants that we could go somewhere different to eat each night and maybe a few bars too. We enjoy staying at boutique resorts or guest houses.. we arent after huge resorts. We want somewhere that we can explore independently, via car, motorbike or bicycle. We would love to be able to go to a different beach each day and do some hikes too. We also dive too, so somewhere with great diving would be ideal.
    If any island or region in particular springs to mind please let me know! It’s really hard to find honest comparisons of different destinations online!

    1. Hi Alana

      The ultimate honeymoon destination would be French Polynesia in my opinion. It is diverse, has everything you mentioned and surprisingly does not have to be mega expensive. If you would like some assistance, please reach out to me via: I am currently somewhere between the Pitcairn Islands and Easter Island but will be home in about 10 days.

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