Crystal clear, aqua blue lagoons… Palm-fringed, white sandy beaches… Lush, jagged volcanic peaks… The islands of French Polynesia are the epitome of a tropical paradise. Comprised of 118 islands and atolls in five archipelagos, French Polynesia (commonly called “Tahiti,” collectively) is spread over two million square miles in the South Pacific Ocean. The most famous islands of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora, are located in the Society Islands chain, but there are countless others within the Tuamotus, Gambiers, Marquesas, and Australs that are definitely worth exploring as well.
In anticipation of my trip to French Polynesia (an item that’s very high on my “Bucket List”), I did a little research and was amazed by some of the facts I unearthed. Below are five of the ones that surprised me most:
1) Tahiti is located in the same time zone as Hawaii and is only an 8-hour flight from Los Angeles, making it a surprisingly convenient destination to get to from North America. Situated this side of the International Date Line, it’s not as remote as I had previously thought. However, it is definitely less touristed; Hawaii gets more visitors in 10 days than Tahiti does in an entire year!
2) One of the most famous images of Tahiti is that of the thatched-roof overwater bungalow. Perched above the tranquil lagoon, these romantic huts ostensibly were invented by three Californians known as the “Bali Hai Boys” who came to the islands in the 1960s to work on a vanilla plantation. Jokingly referred to as “Tahitian television,” most overwater bungalows have a small glass floor through which guests can view colorful fish and other tropical marine life.
3) The word “tattoo” (originally tatau) was brought back to Europe from Tahiti in the late 18th century by Captain James Cook and his crew. In Polynesian culture, tattoos have long been considered signs of beauty and Cook’s crew liked them so much that many of them got tattoos of their own. So began the long tradition of sailors getting tattoos!
4) The infamous “Mutiny on the Bounty” took place in April of 1789, off the coast of Tahiti. Much of the crew became so enamored with the idyllic life on the island that they mutinied against Captain William Bligh and set him adrift in a small boat. It took Bligh more than two years to get back to Britain, but he returned to the islands with the navy in tow and had the mutineers arrested. I never knew that this was a true historical event — I always thought this was just a book we had to read in high school!
5) Art lovers will know that French artist Paul Gauguin painted many works depicting the beautiful island life of Tahiti. Gauguin lived on the islands in the late 19th century and died there in 1903, where he was buried on Atuona island in the Marquesas chain. In Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia (located on Tahiti island), there is a small museum with reproductions of his works that tourists can visit.
The islands of French Polynesia have a tropical climate and are blessed with plenty of sunshine and enough rain to keep the mountains and valleys lush and green year-round. The average temperature of the both the air and water is about 80°F (27°C) throughout the year, too. Since the islands are located in the Southern Hemisphere, summer runs from November to April and the “Tahitian winter,” or slightly cooler season, is from May to October. Best yet—there is no cyclone (hurricane) season in French Polynesia so it’s unlikely that a big storm will spoil your vacation.
I returned from my familiarization tour of French Polynesia with amazing first-hand knowledge of this tropical island paradise. I was fortunate to visit four of the islands — Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and Taha’a — as well as extensively tour more than a dozen luxurious resorts. For more information, contact me by clicking the link at the top of this page and I can help plan your very own trip-of-a-lifetime to the islands of French Polynesia, too!
Have you ever been French Polynesia? Which was your favorite island? What travel advice would you recommend? Feel free to comment in the section below!