French Polynesia, centered around the ever popular island of Tahiti, is a holiday of a lifetime kind of place made up of five island groups, each home to soaring peaks, countless shoals of fish and endless visitors lost on a desert island fantasy.
Tahiti, however, probably isn’t quite what you expect. The emerald hills are more impressive than the beaches, as are the tumbling waterfalls. The beaches here have black sand, and capital Pape’ete – which offers an interesting glance at the more vibrant side of Polynesian culture with fresh sea air and manic nightlife – is easier to recommend than the coasts. Unless, that is, you’re a surfer, in which case the big waves at Teahupoo are an exciting – if scary – draw.
Outlying islands like Bora Bora tend to draw the bulk of the tourists, and are the place to go if you’re looking for a post-wedding pampering, with luxury room service and the chance to take a boat ride to Motu, where you can live out desert islands fantasies just for a day. The waters here are an almost unrealistic shade of pale blue, but Bora Bora comes with a hefty price tag attached.
Rurutu becomes a temporary home to migrating humpback whales once a year, and visitors ecstatically dive and swim amongst them. The coasts – made of coral, unlike the other islands, which are usually formed from volcanoes – rise in dramatic pockmarked fashion straight from the water, revealing caves full of stalactites. The entire coast of the island is one endless, snorkelable coral reef.
For a culture fix, hunt down the amazing wooden Tiki on Hiva Oa and shop for colorful pareu fabric, which makes the men and women of French Polynesia as colorful as their home. The French hospitality of old is best tracked down amongst the panoramas of Maupiti.
For diving, snorkeling or a true taste of tropical waters, you’d do well to top French Polynesia, which can be accessed as a splash-the-cash honeymooner or a moth-walleted backpacker. It’s an archetypal paradise, with postcard-perfect views, near flawless weather and flowery garlands galore.