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FRENCH POLYNESIA

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Hilton Bora Bora Nui, French Polynesia
Bora Bora

French Polynesia is made up of more than 100 islands in the South Pacific, including the Society Islands, the Marquesas, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Gambier Islands and the Austral Islands.  The Society Islands include Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea and Huahine, while the Marquesas includes Nuku Hiva.  The Polynesians settled these islands prior to 1000AD, but their current political affiliation is due to French colonization in the late 1800s.  It is a parliamentary democracy today, but France still exerts major control over the affairs of the country.  The capital and largest city is Papeete on the island of Tahiti.  The population on all the islands is less than 300,000 in total.  The three major sources driving the economy, in order of importance, are tourism, black pearls and tuna.

French Polynesian is an area of heavily eroded ancient land mass.  This creates numerous low level coral atolls and coral reefs surrounding small islands.  Many of these have small extinct volcanic peaks at their center.  Bora Bora is an excellent example of this geography, with extinct volcanic cones and shallow bays that are protected by a ring of coral reefs surrounding the entire island.  The islands of French Polynesia provide a consistent experience among its islands with protected beaches, great snorkeling, stingray and shark feeding, overwater bungalows, shoreline villages and steep roads to mountain viewpoints.

Language:

The Tahitian language has survived the attempts of the missionaries to anhiliate it and is thriving.  Be prepared to use the two most important phrases all the time and to pronouce every vowel (say the letter "a" three times for Faa'a Airport):

  • Ia Orana - hello, goodbye.

  • Mauruuru - thank you, your welcome.

After that, be prepared to speak French.  After all, this is a French colony.  While English will work in many situations, French is the language of choice here.

Visas:

A travel visa is not required for most countries whose citizens visit French Polynesia for less than 90 days.  A small slit of paper is used for travellers to retain during their stay.  Visitors from the European Economic Union get priorty at customs and immigration even though French Polynesia is not part of the Schengen Zone.  Check your specific country at VisaHQ.  For a list of exempt countries, visit Project Visa.

Currency:

The currency of French Polynesia is the the French Pacific Franc (XPF).  It is also referred to as the CFP Franc (Change Franc Pacifique).  US dollars are accepted many places, especially for tips.  Converting money at the bank machine or at the currency exchange at Faa'a Airport is a good idea.  Both of these options charge a heavy standard transaction fee, so the poor exchange rates offered by hotels may actually be an advantage for smaller amounts.

Weather:

The warm weather, picturesque islands and isolation in the South Pacific make French Polynesia a popular tourist destination, especially for honeymooners and anniversaries.  Although temperatures are consistently comfortable on a year round basis, the rainy season and high humidity from November to April tend to make summer the most popular time to visit.  Hotels are very expensive in French Polynesia even in the rainy season.

Access:

Access by air to French Polynesia is through Papeete on the island of Tahiti.  Tahiti Nui is the main airline servicing the islands and has regular service to Los Angeles and Auckland.  A few cruise ships visit French Polynesia, however it takes quite a few days to get to these islands by ship from elsewhere.

Savor the Tastes of French Polynesia:

  • uru - breadfruit

  • taro - root vegetable

  • fish and pua (pork) cooked in a himaa (underground oven)

  • poisson cru - raw tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk.

  • grilled yams and bananas

  • umara (sweet potato) and ufi (yams)

  • coconut bread

  • pineapple and coconut flavored rums and liqueurs

  • mango and passion fruit jams 

  • fafa - chicken cooked with coconut milk and spinach

  • poe - fruit baked in coconut milk

  • French influences with crepes and baguettes

  • servings on hand-woven leaves.

  • Hinano, Polynesian bottled beer

Best Time to Visit French Polynesia:

City Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

 Bora Bora

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 Fakarava

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 Moorea

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 Rangiroa

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 Tahiti

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