Many travelers automatically think of Bora Bora when daydreaming about an escape to French Polynesia, that green and blue blip on the RADAR within the Society Island chain made renowned by honeymooners from all over the planet. Bora Bora could be a romantic’s dream come true, mostly due to its eager to please luxury hotels and now ubiquitous over-water bungalows, however French Polynesia is so much more than that. Hop on a plane to get removed from reality and go straight to the center of the Pacific, where you’ll get a taste of what the region has to offer by visiting 5 of French Polynesia’s most distinct islands. Here’s a glimpse into each of the unforgettable islands.
33 miles north of Tahiti sits the Tetiaroa atoll (a ring of islands) with all the attraction of Bora Bora and none of the crowds. Once the playground to Tahitian royalty, this sacred spot within the South Pacific is currently a haven for birds (one of the biggest of all Tahiti) and vacationers seeking sunshine in solitude.
Referred to as Marlon Brando’s personal escape, it’s additionally home to his namesake luxury eco-resort, The Brando, which is situated on the motu (small island) Onetahi, where rates begin at $3,287/night. Reasonable private home rentals on other atoll islands with Tetiaroa are aplenty on sites like Airbnb for rates around $60/night. From Moorea or Tahiti, this non-public coral reef is an easy 20-minute plane ride aboard Air Tetiaroa, or longer via private boat charter.
Within the Society Islands archipelago sits flower-shaped Tahaa, nicknamed ‘Vanilla Island’ due to its production of 80 percent of all Tahitian vanilla. Lacking an airport, the only way to access the 33-square-mile slip of sand is by taking a fast flight from Papeete (PPT) to Raiatea (RFP) and hopping on a shuttle boat from there.
Guests are able to tour vanilla plantations and pearl farms on land, however the crown jewel is below the shoreline within the Coral Gardens, a shallow snorkeling spot that’s easily accessible from LE Taha’a Island Resort & Spa or by boat charter. Make sure to pack an underwater camera to snap photos of the colorful ocean life as well as stingrays, parrot fish, and eel. Anyone still hoping for a peek of Bora Bora can venture to the northwest part of the island for unimpeded views and a perfect spot to observe the sunset.
Panoramic views and an ‘edge of the Earth’ feel make Maupiti a requirement for travelers willing to take the trek to the fringes of the Society Islands chain to fancy untouched French Polynesia. A 50-minute flight from Papeete on Tahiti, this speck of sand which is only four square miles, resists touristy hotels and resorts, and instead hosts guests in family-run pensions (small boarding homes that sometimes provide meals).
Shallow waters between sandbars of Maupiti encourage exploration and stingrays are well-known to call the waters just offshore home. Pack sneakers with great traction to climb lush Mount Teurafaatiu, elevation 1,220 feet, that offers excellent views on the island from her summit and may be conquered in approximately 2 hours.
Home to the origins of Tahitian pearl farming and situated on the Tuamotu Islands archipelago, Manihi conjures up visions of Castaway (without Wilson) meets desktop screensaver.
A halo of coral formations shield the expansive Manihi lagoon which is one of the biggest in Tuamotu, and is the ideal place to snorkel, kayak, or float into sun-soaked oblivion. Ropes and buoys dotting the lagoon indicate oysters culturing pearls below the surface, a trade that’s practiced by several native families on the island.
The largest coral reef within the islands of Tahiti and also the second largest in the world, Rangiroa may be a nature lover’s paradise comprised of 240 islets across 110 miles. This Polynesian coral reef is home to less than 3,000 natives however includes must-visits like a pink sand beach and also the Dominique Auroy Estate, a vineyard tucked away within a coconut grove with 3 grape varietals.
Divers, take note! This off-the-beaten-path destination of Rangiroa offers some of the most famed scuba diving in the world for both beginners and experts due to an abundance of coral, turtles, sharks, dolphins and colorful fish right below the surface.