Described by many as the last Paradise on Earth, these enchanting islands in the South Pacific have inspired many a film maker and seduced a long succession of writers and artists; perhaps the most famous of which is the post-impressionist French painter Paul Gauguin. His tomb on Hiva Oa continues to be a place of great pilgrimage. Known today as ‘Tahiti and Her Islands’, but often still referred to as French Polynesia, Tahiti and Her Islands comprise 118 dramatic and spectacularly diverse islands, all very different from each other, each with their own special charm.
Sculpted into existence as the result of centuries of volcanic erosion, Tahiti and Her Islands are made up of five archipelagos of varying ‘high’ and ‘low’ landscapes.
The postcard greens and blues of the Society Islands form the main archipelago of French Polynesia and it is here that you will not only find the largest and best known island of French Polynesia - Tahiti - but you will also find the beautiful islands of Bora Bora, Moorea, Huahine and Tahaa whose lush mountainous landscapes are surrounded by the calm waters of an emerald lagoon. The coastlines are similarly stunning - some are smooth and regular whilst others are cut by deep and magnificent bays - Cook’s Bay in Moorea being one of the most famous. These islands are protected from the ocean by a coral ring which forms a barrier reef - hence the existence of a lagoon where the lighter turquoise and emerald waters contrast with the darker blues of the ocean. Many of the region’s most idyllic resorts and retreats are located on smaller sandy islets (motu) within the lagoons and these are accessible by a short boat ride.
In complete contrast, the low lying turquoise coral atolls of the Tuamotu Islands offer a lifestyle which the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in all of us can only dream about, whilst the spectacular peaks and valleys of the enchanting and mystical Marquesas Islands will prove a challenge to even the most hardened adventurer.
We do, of course, owe today’s accurate charts of these incredible, wildly varying islands in the ‘South Seas’ to our very own Captain James Cook who marked their exact location with painstaking precision back in the 1700’s. His famous and well documented voyages required many months at sea, but today, this same journey takes approximately 23 hours on a flight from London via Los Angeles; from the moment you arrive, you will be greeted with the same warm legendary Tahitian hospitality which Cook and his men enjoyed more than two centuries ago. You will be welcomed at the airport with cheerful songs and swathed in garlands of the national Tahitian flower, the tiare.
The best means of transport between the islands is undoubtedly by plane using the local airline – Air Tahiti. Don’t expect to be able to see everything, but with such varied scenery and a range of activities including scuba diving, snorkelling, hiking and 4WD touring, not to mention ‘playing Robinson Crusoe’ on a deserted motu, we highly recommend that you combine one or two of the ‘high’ islands with a ‘low’ island experience – as this way, you will really make the most of your time in Tahiti and Her Islands. Cruising and sailing around the islands is also well worth considering.
Tahitian and French are the official languages although English is spoken in most hotels and restaurants.