Tahiti and its islands, a paradise hidden away in the heart of the Pacific
In the middle of the South Pacific, Tahiti and its islands make up the largest marine territory in the world, covering an area of 5.5 million square kilometres (equivalent to the land area of Europe). The land above the sea only represents 4,000 km2 spread over 118 islands and 5 archipelagos: the Marquesas (to the north), the Society Islands and the Tuamotu (in the centre), the Austral Islands (to the south) and the Gambier (to the southeast). Each archipelago has a unique landscape, from the green volcanic islands, to the turquoise blue coral atolls.
"Ia Ora na", "Maeva" and "Manava", three words of welcome: this is how the Polynesians greet their visitors. This legendary hospitality is symbolically shown on your arrival at the airport, by songs accompanied by guitars and ukuleles, and the gift of a Tahitian flower, the emblem of Tahiti and her islands. The multi-racial population of Tahiti and the islands includes Polynesians (83%, of which approximately 20% are of mixed race), Europeans (12%, principally from mainland France) and Chinese (5%, a community which settled here at the end of the nineteenth century). It is a melting pot that has shaped the contemporary Polynesian identity and culture.
With its turquoise lagoons, its islands surrounded by sparkling white-sand beached, its magical atmosphere, Tahiti and the surrounding islands attract many couples looking for a romantic holiday. Ardent fans of romantic love will take the first major step in their life together, whether by marriage or just a union, in this wonderful setting: the traditional Tahitian wedding ceremony is definitely one of the most beautiful gifts for future couples or newly-weds, on their honeymoon, to renew their vows, or simply celebrate an anniversary.
Since 2009, a new law has made it easier for foreigners to get legally married in French Polynesia: the future couple can get married legally without having to live in the territory before the wedding, provided they make sure that a sworn interpreter is present, that they inform the consulate of their country, and they submit their request in the town concerned one month in advance.
Beyond the mythical white sandy beaches, Tahiti and her islands have many rich resources: well-preserved flora and fauna with many endemic species (40% local species), and an incredible variety of landscapes. The authorities have, in the last few years, started encouraging "green" tourist activities, to discover a lesser-known Polynesia. Green tourism is on the rise, with marked footpaths, guided hiking tours and guide associations, and adventurous tourists keen on exploring nature in Polynesia have access to a wide range of activities: hiking, treks in a bivouac, excursions, canyoning, and even eco-tours organised by marine biology specialists.
Diving is another “must”. According to divers, there is no better place in the world to see such a wide variety of sea beds, whether you dive in the lagoons, around the mountain islands, the lower lying islands, or around the atolls. In almost all the main islands - Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa, in the Tuamotu Islands, the Marquesas and even in the Austral Islands, from the smallest to the largest, a large number of clubs have been created.
Amongst the caves and the rocky depths, from lagoons to reefs, divers swim amongst spectacular coral formations and discover red sponges, multicoloured polyps, gorgonia or luxurious gardens of all sorts of anemone, where schools of angel or butterfly fish, blue fin Trevally, clouds of silver and gold are formed by thousands of fish. The whole range of tropical underwater fauna is here: parrot fish, clown fish, butterfly fish, blue tang fish, triggerfish, morays, eagle rays and mantas. There are some impressive encounters: dolphins, manta rays, turtles and even barracudas.
The main attraction for the public, in all the islands, remains diving with sharks, the principal (and Pacific...) stars of each outing. The most spectacular diving is found in the passages of the Tuamotu Islands, particularly that of Rangiroa (but also at Fakarava or Tikehau), considered as the Mecca of deep sea diving.
In French Polynesia, don’t miss:
- Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Maupiti): swimming, nature, culture, romanticism, diving.
- Tuamotu Archipelago (Rangiroa, Fakarava, Manihi, Tikehau): diving, romanticism, swimming.
- Marqueseas Islands (Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa): nature, culture.
- Tubuai (or Austral) Islands (Rurutu): diving with whales, culture, nature.
- Gambier Islands (Mangareva): authenticity, culture.
Main city: Papeete
Visa formalities :
Citizens of the European Union, the European Economic Area, Andorra, Monaco, and Switzerland, must present on entry a return ticket and a passport valid for six months after that departure date, but do not need a preliminary visa. Citizens from other countries must obtain a visa in advance from the French embassy or consulate in their place of residence. The visa must explicitly state that it is ‘Valid for French Polynesia’. If transiting through the United States, which is usually the case, travellers must be in possession of a passport that meets U.S. norms, and must contact the nearest U.S. consulate in order to discover if there are potential visa formalities required. Ever since 12 January 2009, all passengers on flights from Paris to Papeete that connect through Los Angeles, must register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), by filling out a questionnaire on the internet at least 72 hours prior to departure.
Time-zone difference with respect to Paris: 11 hours in winter, 12 hours in summer.
Currency: French Pacific franc (CFP). The exchange rate is permanently set at 1 euro = 119.33 CFP.
Temperature: Average 27 C° (80° F)
There are flights from Europe to Tahiti-Faa International Airport several times a week. Both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui fly from Paris and connect through Los Angeles. It is also possible to fly to Tahiti from other major European airports, via Los Angeles. Air New Zealand operates flights from London and Frankfurt to Los Angeles, with connecting Air Tahiti Nui flights to Tahiti. The entire trip takes 22 hours with the possibility of a stop-over in Los Angeles (see details with each airline). It is also possible to get to Tahiti from Sydney, Australia (Air Tahiti Hui, Air New Zealand, and QANTAS), and Tokyo/Osaka, Japan (Air Tahiti Nui).