Best Time to Visit French Polynesia…7 Islands You Must See

September 8, 2022

best time to visit french polynesia

French Polynesia might be the closest thing to paradise on earth and a bucket list destination for millions of tourists. An overseas collectivity of France, it encompasses 118 islands and atolls (76 inhabited) in the South Pacific.

French Polynesia is divided into five archipelagos known as the Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Society, and Tuamotu archipelagos. The islands are known for their picture-perfect overwater bungalows cantilevered over coral-fringed shimmering turquoise lagoons. Visitors will also find mountains, craggy interiors, and soaring waterfalls.

Best Time to Visit French Polynesia

best time to visit french polynesia

French Polynesia is at its best between May and August when the climate is its driest and the weather is balmy, sitting comfortably in the high-70s to mid-90s Fahrenheit. Between June and August is considered the high season with more tourists. April/May and September/October are the shoulder seasons where temperatures are a bit more comfortable and prices (somewhat) lower.

French Polynesia at a Glance

  • Capital: Papeete
  • Currency: CFP franc
  • Continent: Oceania
  • Population: 280,904 (2020) World Bank
  • Official language: French

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7 Nuka Hiva

nuka hiva

  • Area:  131 square miles
  • Highest elevation:  4016 feet
  • Highest point: Tekao
  • Population:   3120 (2017)

Nuku Hiva (sometimes spelled “Nukahiva”) is the largest of the remote and still wild Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

Herman Melville’s Typee is based on his experiences Nuku Hiva. Robert Louis Stevenson’s first landfall on his 1888 voyage on the Casco was here.

It takes over three hours to fly here from the international airport in Papeete, Tahiti. And then another (memorable) 90-minute voyage from the airport to your accommodations. This is not the calm crystal-clear lagoon experience of other islands; instead, you’ll find thundering waterfalls deep in the lush rainforest, rough, unspoiled beaches, and lots of spectacular landscapes.

Outdoor enthusiasts can hike 1.5 hours to Vaipo Waterfall, one of the tallest waterfalls in all of Polynesia. The soaring cascade plunges down 1,148 feet, a sight to remember.

6 Raivavae

raivavae

Raivavae, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

  • Area: 6.911 mi²
  • Island group: Austral Islands
  • Population: 903

Raivavae, a veritable Garden of Eden, has been likened to ancient Polynesia, with people even riding horses as their main means of transportation.

The island is of volcanic origin, with Mount Hiro rising to an elevation of 1434 feet and is surrounded by 28 islets (“motu”) and an emerald-colored lagoon where a multitude of sea birds nest, the island is mountains dense with lush vegetation.

Miles away from the usual tourist tracks, the warm and friendly inhabitants add to this incredible island creating an authentic Polynesian experience.

Aesthetically, Raivavae is said to look like Bora Bora 100 years ago; but the resemblance ends there; Raivavae has no souvenir shops, no cafes, and no hotels. There is where you go to “get away from it all.”

5 Rangiroa

rangiroa

  • Area: 558 mi²
  • Highest elevation: 39 feet
  • Population: 2567 (2012)
  • Capital city: Avatoru

The largest atoll in the French Polynesia islands and the second-largest atoll in the world, Rangiroa is shaped like a donut that has been tossed into the ocean. It’s relatively secluded with most of the hotels near the small, rustic airport. It does have paved roads, though, as well as a few nice resorts and restaurants, so you kind of get the best of both worlds.

Sometimes called the “infinite lagoon,” Rangiroa boasts crystal clear waters that offer world-class diving. Scuba divers and snorkelers will want to head to the Tiputa Pass home to an impressive variety of marine life, including wild dolphins, tiger sharks, sea turtles, and eagle rays.

In addition to the gorgeous, pristine landscape, Rangiroa is the hub of French Polynesia’s wine industry. Vines grow next to the lagoon and visitors can try delicious wines made from locally grown grapes.

4 Tubuai

tubuai

© Jérémie Silvestro / Wikimedia Commons

  • Area: 17.37 mi²
  • Population: 2,217 (2017)
  • Highest Elevation:  Mt. Taitaa (1,280 feet)

Tubuaʻi is the capital and largest island of the Austral Island group. The island possesses a unique landscape combining a turquoise blue lagoon fringed by a barrier reef scattered with motu (small coral islets), white sand beaches, fertile green plains, vast fields of bright lilies, gently rolling hills, and ancient archaeological sites.

Polynesians have lived on the island for more than 2,000 years. English explorer James Cook first mapped it in 1777. A few years later, the next Europeans to set foot on Tubuai were Fletcher Christian and the infamous mutineers of the HMS Bounty who tried to create a settlement in Fort George only to leave behind traces of their intense battles on the site.

Tubuai enjoys a temperate climate, tropical yet cooler than Tahiti, enabling it to be the fruit and vegetable orchard of this group of islands.

Two volcanic mountain ranges stand out against the sky. Take a walk, ride a bicycle, or go on a 4WD safari tour up to the top of Mount Taita.

Tubuai’s warm waters offer exceptionally preserved underwater marine life with thousands of colorful tropical fish.

Constant year-round trade winds allow kiteboarding and windsurfing in the lagoon of Tubuai.

3 Mo’orea

moorea

  • Area: 51.74 mi²
  • Population: 16,191 (Aug 2007)
  • Highest point: Mont Tohive’a
  • Island group: Windward Islands

Because it’s only a 30-minute ferry ride from bustling Papeete —Tahiti’s main city, Moorea is one of the most popular destinations for any French Polynesia trip.

Competing with Bora Bora for sheer natural beauty, Moorea also has stunning landscapes. Fields of bright hibiscus, jagged volcanic mountains, and sandy beaches abound. In the north, Mount Rotui overlooks picturesque Ōpūnohu Bay and the settlements around Cook’s Bay. The Belvedere Lookout has panoramic views of the island’s peaks and Tahiti beyond. A full-day jeep tour is a fun way to see all of the history, culture, and lookout points of the island.

Surrounded by shimmering clear water, Moorea is popular for water such as snorkeling, diving, shark feeding, migrating humpback whale, and dolphin watching from July to November. It’s my understanding that you can even get on a tour that will put you in the water with these sea creatures.

You may also be interested in:

Jeep Safari Adventure in Mo’orea

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2 Tahiti

tahiti

  • Area: 403 mi²
  • Location: Pacific Ocean
  • Island group: Windward Islands
  • Highest elevation: 2,241 m (7352 ft)

Tahiti is the cultural, political, and economic, cultural center of French Polynesia. Papeete, the capital is located on the northwest coast of the island. With over 70% of French Polynesia’s population residing within it, Tahiti is considered the only “real city” in the archipelago.

Shaped like a figure-8, it’s divided into Tahiti Nui (the larger, western section) and Tahiti Iti (the eastern peninsula). Explored by Captain James Cook in the 18th century, it was also often painted by French artist Paul Gauguin.

Because it’s more commercial than the other islands, many people just use it as a base to land and continue on to other islands. But that is a mistake. Tahiti is a lovely island with much to do and see and worth a couple of days’ exploration. The exotic Pape’ete market is the best shopping venue in the islands, whether you are looking for a colorful hand-printed pareo or exotic black pearls.

The island is home to a lush coastline, black sand beaches, lagoons, tropical gardens, soaring waterfalls, two extinct volcanoes, and lush jungles, all of which can be seen on a fun 4×4 tour around the island.

Tahiti is also one of the best islands in French Polynesia for surfing with locations for all levels ranging from beginners to advanced as well as those who just like to watch the professionals ride the monster waves. It’s such a prime surfing location that Tahiti was chosen to host the surfing events of the Paris 2024 Olympics. Tahiti is where you’ll find the renowned Teahupoo, considered to be the most challenging break in the world because of the sheer force of the wave crashing on the deadly reef below.

Don’t miss grabbing dinner with the locals in the legendary roulottes, the food vans of Place Vaiete. Do try the poisson cru, a dish consisting of raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk, similar to ceviche.

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My Easter in Tahiti

1 Bora Bora

bora bora

  • Area: 11.8 mi²
  • Population: 10,605 (2017)
  • Island group: Leeward Islands

It’s impossible to mention islands in French Polynesia without talking about Bora Bora. Author James Mitchener called it “the most beautiful island in the world.” Having spent most of my adult in search of beautiful beaches, I have to agree.

Its name alone conjures up images of exotic swaying palms over sugar-sand, sparkling turquoise lagoons lined with luxury overwater bungalows perched over the water on stilts.

Bora Bora is popular with starry-eyed honeymooners who rarely adventure beyond their resort. But Bora Bora is so much more. It perfectly mixes low-paced sun-and-sand holidays with action-packed adventures like snorkeling and hiking.

Surrounded by sand-fringed motus (islets) and a turquoise lagoon protected by a coral reef, the island is known for scuba diving and snorkeling with black-tipped reef sharks and stingrays.

Stunning views abound everywhere. At the island center rises Mt. Otemanu, a 727m dormant volcano. You’ve no doubt seen the magnificent iconic photos shot across the lagoon with the mountain in the backdrop.

Bora Bora is truly the most beautiful place in the world. You have my word on it.

You might also be interested in:

Beaches, Bungalows, and Adventures in Bora Bora

Bora Bora Holidays

Overwater Bungalows in Bora Bora

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About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and the southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

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