French Polynesia: the most beautiful country in the world..?

People playing the ukulele as you walk by in the street…
Women wearing colourful sarongs and flowers in their hair…
Locals calling out “bonjour” as you pass…
Delicious French pastries and baguettes in every shop (and in the basket of everyone’s bicycles)…
The most amazing water you have ever seen…

Where is this place I hear you ask?

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A typical corner shop selection

It is French Polynesia and it really is the picture perfect paradise you dream of and so much more.

We had sky high expectations for the country and it was one of the places we were most looking forward to visiting but our two weeks exceeded even our wildest dreams. We loved every minute of it and didn’t want to leave.

However, the country impressed us in ways we did not expect. It was as beautiful (as we hoped) but what was a real surprise was how underdeveloped and rustic it was. Sure, there are expensive (c.£1,000 per night) over-water bungalows (mainly in Bora Bora) in hotels such as Four Seasons and St Regis, but there are also loads of family owned guesthouses, restaurants and it was really well set-up for independent travel.

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Lagoon-side food trucks

Some other things we noticed in our first few days:

  • Women of all ages casually dressed in their bras or bikinis (it was bloody hot) clearly not concerned about their body image. We even saw a naked man washing himself (and his clothes) in the sea right next to a busy beach
  • Friendly locals would wave to you from cars, bikes and mopeds as you passed
  • Tables of delicious tropical fruits are lined up on the roads for sale (four mangoes for £1!). Also gateaux and fresh tuna
  • Really good tarmac roads are almost everywhere (strangely Bora Bora had the most potholes) and even the small islands have an airport and regular flights to the capital
  • There was no traffic lights but police were out in force to direct the ‘rush hour’ traffic on a weekday morning
  • Most people get around on bicycles as the islands are so small
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BBQ man

The French influence (they still run key parts of the country [e.g. defence, education, justice]) was everywhere:

  • French is still the main language
  • Foie gras, brie and steak in supermarket
  • Menus with crepes, chow mein and prawn curry
  • People kissing policemen/gendarme hello
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Daily supply of baguettes

All of these aspects seemed quite surreal on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific.

In our 14 days we visited four islands, hopping by plane between them, but we only saw a fraction of a country which stretches across Europe, but only covers the land mass of Somerset and has roughly the same population as Newcastle (c.300,000).

Huahine

After an overnight flight from the USA and a short hop we were in Huahine, the island named after a pregnant woman with a population of 6,000. Of the four islands we visited, this was the least touristy with no chain hotels and a very local feel wherever you went.

We had four nights here and explored by bicycle, moped and on foot. There was the gorgeous green jungly hilly interior, deserted roads along the coasts, ancient ruins, a quiet main town and two beautiful beaches.

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Old fashioned fish traps
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Lost…
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View from above
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Our hotel
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Main beach in town
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Massive crab
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Cycling the back streets
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Market in town with fresh fruit
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Sunset beer
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Cheese board for dinner on our terrace
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Another marae
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Avea Beach
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Green hilly interior

 

Bora Bora

Next up was the most famous island in the country, associated with honeymooners and world class hotels, however we found a nice bungalow just steps from the main beach for only £70 per night.

Like Huahine, the island was beautiful but the real draw was the surrounding lagoon. All the islands we visited in French Polynesia were surrounded by calm, deep blue lagoons created from the coral that rings the islands and keeps the waves at bay.

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The main island in the centre, surrounded by the lagoon and motus (sand islands), where most of the posh resorts are

We explored the Bora Bora lagoon on a boat cruise which included snorkelling with manta rays, sting rays and white-tipped sharks; as well as a delicious Tahitian lunch on a deserted motu (sand island in the lagoon).

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Snorkelling
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Amazing shades of blue
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Manta ray snorkelling
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Sharks!
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Snorkelling again
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Motus
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Turquoise + palms
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Lunch on a homemade plate
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Ruining the view
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How to open a coconut workshop
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Over water bungalows with the main island behind

Even the boat journey back to the airport (which is on a motu as there isn’t enough flat land on the main island) was stunning:

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Moorea

Our third island was the triangle-shaped Moorea which was bigger than Huahine and Bora Bora with a 60km coastal road. We rented a scooter for a couple of days and drove all over the island (visiting amazing beaches, bays, churches and food stalls) and up to an amazing viewpoint.

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Street outside our apartment
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Kayaking on amazing water and with stunning mountains behind
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Unreal…
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Les Tippaniers beach
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Helmet seflie

 

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Kids playing on the beach
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Locals on the beach on Sunday
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Church
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Smug in paradise
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View of Tahiti just across the water
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Sofitel over water bungalows on Teavaro Beach
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Church
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Roulotte – food truck
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Stunning view from the Belverdere lookout
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Mangoes, papayas and bananas for sale on the roadside
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Sunset

One day we visited the Intercontinental hotel as they have dolphins and turtles onsite. We watched a dolphin interaction (not sure how humane this is as they made it kiss the participants and do tricks) and learnt about the rehabilitation of injured turtles before they are able to be released back into the wild.

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Go Flipper
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Turtle getting better

Overall, the food we ate was not that special, with lots of low quality Chinese and a surprising lack of seafood (apart from very dry tuna) but we did have a few nice meals and enjoyed the baked goods.

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Coffee and coconut croissant
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Tuna salad
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Our best meal – tuna tartare and garlic chilli prawns – with an amazing setting

 

Tahiti

Our last destination was the capital Papeete, on the main island of Tahiti. Despite the associations that Tahiti inspires, the island is less of a holiday destination, partly as there are no white sand beaches. Half of the population live here and it was massive compared to towns on the islands but still very small for a capital city (26,000).

We visited the market and drunk from a delicious fresh coconut, saw a church and had dinner in a square with loads of roulottes (food trucks).

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Church
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Fruit and veg in the market
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Roulottes – food trucks

Probably the best two weeks of the trip so far, we absolutely loved it and it wasn’t as expensive as you imagine (we spent roughly the same per day in the USA where we had worse accommodation). Just a shame it’s so far from home, otherwise I can see us returning on holiday.

Sad as we were to leave, luckily we had another week booked in the Cook Islands, so the tropical island holiday is not over yet.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Jen says:

    My favourite update so far. Looks amazing. Glad you enjoyed it even if I’m a teeny bit jealous.

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