|FRENCH POLYNESIA INCLUDING TAHITI AND BORA BORA
French Polynesia is a collection of 35 volcanic islands and 83 atolls scattered over an immense expanse of the South East Pacific Ocean to the east of the Cook Islands.
There are five main groups of islands making up French Polynesia - the Society Islands, the Austral Islands, the Tuamotu Islands, the Gambier Islands and the Marquesas Islands.
The Society Islands to the west are subdivided into the Windwards Islands and the Leewards Islands. These islands, like the Marquesa Islands to the north, are typically volcanic with high jagged rocky mountains with cascading waterfalls in tropical jungle. The beaches are covered in black and white sand and the lagoons are a brilliant turquoise blue.
The Austral Islands and Gambier Islands to the south are hilly and less jagged in appearance and the Tuamotus at the centre of French Polynesia are all coral islands.
When to go
French Polynesian weather is typically tropical. Being in the southern hemisphere the summer is from November to April and temperatures are around 90º during the day and the mid 70s at night. Although the humidity is high there are cooling sea breezes. Heavy rains are common during this time, usually as downpours in the late afternoon. Very severe tropical storms are not common.
The daytime temperatures in the "winter" months from May to October are in the mid 80s, cooled by the South East trade winds. There is less rainfall and lower humidity.
As a riule of thumb, the closer the islands are to the equator the warmer and wetter the weather.
How to get there
Getting to French Polynesia is fairly easy if not particularly cheap.
The Faa'a International Airport at Parpeete in Tahiti is served by a number of airlines (Air Tahiti Nui, Lanchile, Aircalin, Air New Zealand, Qantas and Air France) which fly from Tahiti to the United States mainland, Canada, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, South East Asia and Europe.
Air Tahiti Nui offer direct flights from Tokyo, Osaka, Los Angeles, New York, Auckland, Sydney and Paris.
Once on Tahiti, local flights fly to 37 airports across French Polynesia.
A cheaper option is to take one of the ferries or inter-island boats that leave Tahiti. The Moorea ferries operate five or six times a day.
Cruise ships and boats regularly arrive at Tahiti and often stop for a day or two.
Where to stay
The larger islands such as Tahiti have hotels to suit every budget, from exclusive resorts to back packers hostels.
What to see and do
Tahiti's capital, Parpeete, is a cosmopolitan town with a French atmosphere and busy waterfront. The morning market is colourful and friendly and full of bargains.
Many of the attractions of French Polynesia are natural such as the many spectacular waterfalls or the Arahoho blowhole, a powerful sea water geyser that showers visitors with its refreshing spray.
Hiking is popular too or you can arrange to trek on horseback to explore the islands. Not surprisingly, scuba diving and snorkelling are popular and allow you to enjoy the beauty below the waves as well as above them, not least around the coral atolls of the Tuamotu Islands.
The turquoise lagoons on many of the islands with the soaring mountains above are breathtakingly beautiful. None more so than the blue lagoon on the world's most romantic island, Bora Bora.
There are shark feeding and Manta ray spotting trips off some of the islands including Rangiroa and dolphins can be spotted off Moorea.
Those interested in historical sites should not miss a trip to the island of Huahine where there are a number of ancient Polynesian temples.
The surfing in French Polynesia is excellent particularly during the winter.
Every month there are festivals but the biggest one is the Heiva i Tahiti at the start of July. This two week carnival has islanders from across French Polynesia converging on Tahiti to take part in competitions, historical plays and processions which finish on July the 14th (Bastille Day).
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