Tahiti, the largest island throughout the country, towering over the ocean like a proud and royal Queen, is appropriately crowned by a circle of majestic peaks.
The mountainous interior is adorned with deep valleys, clear streams, and high waterfalls, all bathed in green iridescence of Mother Nature's light. The coastal lands, edged with a rugged coastline, are home to fields of tropical flowers and most of the island's population.
Papeete, meaning the “water basket”, was once a gathering place where Tahitians came to fill their calabashes with fresh waters. Now the invigorating capital city and gateway of the country, boasts world-class resorts, spas, fine dining and unique restaurants, nightclubs, vibrant markets, pearl shops, and boutiques.
A few minutes from the island of Tahiti by plane, and only thirty minutes by high-speed catamaran, Moorea soars magically out of the ocean in an explosion of green velvet - what you would imagine a South Seas island to be.
A wide, shallow lagoon surrounds the island's vertical mountains where poetic threads of waterfalls tumble down fern-softened cliffs. Peaceful meadows flanked by pinnacles of green will fill your senses and renew your belief in the majesty of nature. Pastel-painted houses surrounded by gardens of hibiscus and birds of paradise, circle the island in a fantasy of happy, yet simple villages.
Under a one hour flight from the island of Tahiti or Moorea, the island of Bora Bora, with a lagoon resembling an artist's palette of blues and greens, is love at first sight. Romantics from around the world have laid claim to this island where the castle-like Mount Otemanu pierces the sky. Lush tropical slopes and valleys blossom with hibiscus, while palm-covered motu circle the illuminated lagoon like a delicate necklace. Perfect white-sand beaches give way to emerald waters where colored fish animate the coral gardens as they greet the giant manta rays. This could be easily be described as the center of the romantic universe, where luxury resorts and spas dot the island with overwater bungalows, thatched roof villas, and fabled ambience.
About thirty minutes by plane from the island of Tahiti, Huahine, with its lush forests, untamed landscape, and quaint villages, is one of Polynesia's best-kept secrets.
A deep, crystal-clear lagoon surrounds the two islands while magnificent bays and white-sand beaches add drama and solitude to their virtues. Relatively unchanged by the modern world, Huahine offer a slower taste of old Polynesia.
With only eight small villages scattered across the island, the few residents welcome visitors with great kindness. Not surprisingly, this fertile world offers rich soil providing the local farmers a bountiful harvest of vanilla, melons, and bananas.
Raiatea, meaning "faraway heaven" and "sky with soft light,” was first named Havai'i is considered the most sacred island in the South Pacific. It is believed that the migrations to Hawaii, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and other parts of East Polynesia started from there. This, the second largest Tahitian isle, was the center of religion and culture over 1000 years ago and still lends enchantment to ancient legends told to this day. The green-carpeted mountains include the celebrated Mt. Temehani, a sort of Polynesian Mt. Olympus. The ancient sacred site of Marae Taputapuatea remains a strong symbol of the island’s past.
Taha'a, with the rich aroma of vanilla lingering heavily in the air, offers a glimpse of the traditional, tranquil life of the Tahitians. The flower-shaped island's simple beauty is charmed by soft mountain shapes, deep bays and surrounded by an endless mesmerizing lagoon and tiny “motu” islets with bright sand beaches. The island shares the same lagoon as Raiatea and a legend says that they were one island until they got separated by a giant eel.
Rangiroa, a string of coral encircling a luminous turquoise and jade-green lagoon, is one of the world's greatest dive destinations.
From the air, the atoll - the second largest in the world - seems to be a giant pearl necklace laid upon the water. There is a world where 240 tiny islets, or motu, each no more than three feet in elevation, lay upon the ocean for more than 110 miles completely encircling an infinitely deep lagoon.
Surrounded by two legendary bodies of water, Moana-tea (Peaceful Ocean) and Moana-uri (Wild Ocean), the main villages of Avatoru and Tiputa offer the visitor with a unique look at the South Pacific. Along the few roads, coral churches, craft centers, local restaurants, and tiny shops provide enjoyable land-based experiences to complement the many activities in the lagoon.
Manihi, lost in the vastness of the South Pacific, conjures up castaway dreams of a tropical isle.
Far from the modern world, the crystal-clear lagoon was once filled with mother-of-pearl and is the site of Tahiti's first black pearl farm. Today, Manihi is still the leading supplier for the Tahitian cultured pearl industry.
This is "farm country" South Pacific style. Instead of crops, over 60 farms produce the world’s most sought after gem: pearls. Manihi's lagoon waters are among the most perfect on earth for cultivating pearls because of the temperature, density, salinity, light, and overall climate.
Besides the pearl farms, visitors enjoy exploring the lagoon and the main village of Turipaoa. There are few cars here so walking around the town square and along the coral paths is as peaceful and romantic as the lagoon itself.
Tikehau, a graceful oval crown of white and pink-sand beaches, can only be described as a picture postcard.
Considered to be one of the most beautiful atolls in Polynesia, the fragrance of the air is matched only by the abundance of life in the bright-blue water. The friendly people, their homes awash with gardens, invite you to share and explore their world beyond imagination.
In Tikehau, fish seem to outnumber people one-billion-to one. In fact the density of the fish in the lagoon is so high that Jacques Cousteau's research group declared it to contain the highest concentration of fish among any other Tuamotu atolls.
Fishing is among the primary industries for the 400 residents. Families share fish parks - underwater fenced areas - where they trap parrotfish and other lagoon species as a primary source of food and income. Families also ship fish by air to Papeete for sale in the local markets. Visitors enjoy endless hours of exploring the perfection of the lagoon through snorkeling, diving, and boating and exploring the village of Tuherahera.
Fakarava, is an untouched world where nesting birds and marine life live in harmony with the land and water.
The rich ecosystem is home to rare birds, plants, and crustaceans while the dive sites are virtually undiscovered. Life along the shores is equally unique with quaint villages, old coral churches, and welcoming people.
Even though Fakarava is the newest destination to welcome resort visitors among Tahiti, it was one of the first population centers and once served as the ancient capital of the Tuamotu region.
The lagoon, the second largest after Rangiroa, is rich with life below and above the surface and a prime example of nature at its finest.
So pure is the environment that Fakarava has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for the preservation of rare species. This designates this atoll, and six surrounding atolls, as a recognized area where local communities are actively involved in governance and management, research, education, training and monitoring - promoting both socio-economic development and biodiversity conservation.
The Marquesas Islands
About a three-hour flight from the Society Islands and the Tuamotu Atolls, the Marquesas, or Henua Enana meaning "Land of Men,” are seemingly lost at the end of the earth.
Even now, some of the islands are virtually untouched since the era of European exploration and can only be reached by boat. Their isolation has created an immense pride among the people and a fascinating culture. The language is unique to Tahiti, as the lilting Marquesan dialect is traced directly to the ancient Polynesian tongue of Maohi.
Natural wonders abound as 1000-foot waterfalls cascade down sheer volcanic cliffs, and towering mountains disappear into the clouds. The Marquesas are breathtaking and like no other islands in the South Pacific. Many writers and artists have found shelter in these wild, mysterious islands. Hiva Oa is the final resting place of poet-singer Jacques Brel and artist Paul Gauguin.
Gambier Islands – Mangareva
Over one thousand miles southeast of Tahiti are the Gambier Islands. The cradle of Catholicism during the nineteenth century following the arrival of the first missionaries to the region, hundreds of stone buildings from that era survive including churches, convents, schools, and watch towers.
Mangareva, the largest island of the region, is home to most of the population and the center of the region's pearl industry. The island's only small family pensions are located in the town of Rikitea. In Rikitea, you will find the St. Michael's cathedral dating from 1848 richly decorated in pearls. The lagoons in the Gambier are shelter to some pearl farms producing among the most stunning gems.
Hundreds of miles to the south of Tahiti lay the Austral islands, a chain of five high islands located on the Tropic of Capricorn. The islands are known for the traditional art of weaving coconut and pandanus leaves into elaborate hats, purses, mats, and bags. From July to November, humpback whales and their calves can very often be seen cruising the ocean. Rurutu is more especially famed for that. This island is also home to interesting limestone grottoes and their maze of stalactites and stalagmites.
In 1789, the mutineers of the HMS Bounty lead by Fletcher Christian decided to hide on the island of Tubuai. A conflict arose while the mutineers were still on their ship and several islanders were killed in their canoes. The site of this event still holds a name that reminds of what happened: “Baie Sanglant” (Bloody Bay).