In A Nutshell
French Polynesia is a place to visit – is it what I had imagined? I think so, French Polynesia is beautiful, the people are warm and welcoming, their willingness to assist the traveller plain to see. Papeete like many cities, a little grubby on the edges and a definite sense of weariness of the tourist. My recommendation is to use Tahiti as a stopover point, there are lots to do in the capital of course but if you are looking for an authentic Polynesian experience, move on quickly to the atolls and other islands. Papeete is not a place I would recommend, the rest of the country is a different matter.
We have loved sailing the islands and the atolls of the French Polynesia, the water, the swimming, the beaches, the temperatures, interacting with the ocean’s wildlife make for an idealic location. We have found the locals interesting and interested in us as sailors, they do their best to ensure our experience matches the glossy tourist magazines. The lifestyle is laid back not hurried, the backdrops of green contrast magically with the water. The sailing has been easy, mostly there has been plenty of wind to get us to our next destination.
“Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia towers over the ocean like a proud and royal Queen …. Papeete the invigorating capital city and gateway of the country, boasts world class resorts, spas, fine dining, nightclubs, vibrant markets, pearl shops and boutiques.”
“Tahiti is an extraordinary work of creation – a steepled gem of wondrous green.”
Re the Atolls
“The view from the air appears like hundreds of pearls were gracefully tossed into the ocean. Each atoll is a delicate band of palm-laden coral beaches surrounding a lagoon with water so clear it seems infinite. Only a few feet in elevation, these seemingly lost atolls are dotted with tiny villages where simple Polynesian life, welcomes romantics and divers alike.”
“True oceanic wonders of the world, where excitement and simplicity share the same breath.”
TWENTY ONE DO’s AND DON’Ts
1. DO visit the Tuamotus there are 78 to choose from and I think a must visit location of French Polynesia. You may think you need to rush off to Tahiti but think again, if you love white sandy beaches, clear clean water, swimming with fish, sharing experiences with friendly locals, Tuamotu Atolls are a must visit location.
“Some of the Tuamotu Atolls are so remote, I’ll see them again only if I’m on a sailboat bound for nowhere. Still, I’d return in a heartbeat. My husband and I stopped on one such atoll. We snorkeled and picnicked on silver beach rimmed by a forest of palms.”
Susan Kaye – author of more than 60 magazines featuring Tahiti – is sailing to destination nowhere!
2. DO take care – To enter an Atoll you must go through a pass or entrance to gain access. Some passes are deep, wide and easy to navigate, others you must get the tide and timing spot on to avoid danger. Even then you sail through certain passes with your heart in your mouth. Don’t presume every Atoll has an entrance pass, some don’t so you either have to sail on by, or anchor on a mooring buoy outside the Atoll. We work on day entries and set sail accordingly, others are happy to enter some passes at night – it’s your call.
3. DO have a spotter – if you aren’t a solo sailor have one person on the front of the boat to guide you into the Atolls, to avoid having a boat insurance claim. There are numerous wrecks around the atolls and islands reminding you that navigation is not as easy as you presume.
4. DO pick at least one Atoll with a small local population, no airport which means no big hotels or tourists. This could mean you have an atoll to yourself or one or two other boats maximum.
5. DO visit at least one black pearl farm, go prepared with cash so you can walk away with a constant reminder of your trip to the Atolls. Don’t regret this amazing opportunity to own something beautiful, cost is minor compered to a jewellery store.
Perfection bestows perfection. The warm lagoon waters of the islands and atolls are Mother Nature’s choice for the cultivation of her pure living gem: “the Tahitian Cultured Pearl”
6. Don’t drink in public – Well you can but you have to pretend you’re not. If you are having a cold beer on the wharf don’t be surprised if the local police tell you to cover the bottle. Take a plastic bag to wrap around your drink, or pack your gin and tonic in a drink bottle with plenty of ice. Problem solved.
7. Don’t expect internet. Most islands have an internet tower and you can purchase credit to use along the way, it doesn’t always work. Our best experience was in Ahe where we moored close to shore and except for weekends had great reception from our Bad Boy Antenna. The best surprise was when we purchased one hour internet in the Marquesas – it’s the hour that keeps on giving. We have continued to use that one hour credit across all of French Polynesia –thanks Vini hotspots – I’m a fan. The other surprise was how bad internet was on the main island of Tahiti and capital Papeete.
8. Do use spray – there are tiny bugs that bite and make you itchy, these tend to work in tandem with the mosquitos. Or you could use Captain’s approach and stand beside me thus avoiding any serious bites. As my mum says – Life isn’t fair.
9. Don’t be surprised on the atolls and islands if you see countless skinny dogs on the streets. I am always saddened when I see neglected hungry animals, not all dogs look poorly done by. My tolerance did turn to distress when on Ahe Atoll I met timid, shy stray dogs who had their ears cut off. I was truly shocked to find out this terrible practice is so the dogs can fight longer in the fighting rings. We also met a couple of boys who had their fighting roosters out for a walk.
OK, nowhere do the tourist brochures mention dog and cock fighting as a local pastime.
“Above all, the atolls are end-of-the-rainbow isles where everything is all sea and sky. And always summer.”
10. DON’T expect summer perfect everyday, the rain we have encountered in French Polynesia is of epic amounts, plus there is often plenty of wind which as a sailor on anchor I really don’t mind. Plus there are plenty of days of perfect hot still weather that make the neighbourhood look like the pictures from the tourist magazines.
11. DO Try to coordinate some of your visits to the cultural events of each of the island. Parades, singing, dancing and drumming will remain with you long after the final beat of the drums.
12. DO Go To A Fancy Hotel – I know this sounds like crazy advice from budget driven sailors but find out when the local (expensive) hotels host there cultural nights of local dancing, its usually a weekly event. Go for a drink, yes the price will make your eyes water if you choose alcoholic beverages but the dancing display is worth it. If you go for a meal and something to drink some hotels are happy for you to use the pool and other facilities, not a bad deal if you have the budget or inclination. (Try not to look smug at others when you consider what guests are paying per night for the same experience.)
“Be dazzled at one of the resorts spectacular shows or indulge in one of the many culinary treats.”
13. DO Go to the local beach and sailing club and try to hitch a ride on one of the local’s outriggers. This is the national sport and the locals are keen to share the love.
14. DO Feel Comfortable to stick your thumb up and grab a ride in the back of someone’s ute. On the islands every second vehicle seems to be a big ute and the locals are happy to give you a ride. Handy on many shopping occasions as the Captain found out first hand. I Should add islander hospitality is outstanding and the Captain never had to catch a bus home as strangers offered to take him to the next shop or drop him off close to the wharf.
15. DO Take Your Bikes, or hire bikes for the bigger islands or atolls. The riding is easy and you will have a better cheaper experience than hiring a car, roads are in excellent condition and often have a small bike lane.
16. DO Pack Your Bathers when you go out, you will find the most amazing swimming spots, glorious clear blue shallow water, wonderful.
17. DO Go To Church, even if you are not Christian you won’t be struck down by lightning, the glorious singing from the locals will leave a lasting impression on you. Plus the locals may invite you to lunch as an added bonus.
18. DO Eat Out- at least once on the smaller Atolls, the local food is not expensive well worth the experience, local food often has a Chinese influence and for the better I thought. If eating outside be prepared to use one hand to eat the other as a fly swat. BYO own beer the locals don’t mind.
19. DO expect at times to feel like you are in an aquarium, as you jump from your boat into the water. If you take food you will be instantly surrounded by hundreds of brightly coloured fish looking for an easy feed. On the islands of Moorea and Bora Bora at the right time take fresh fish and instantly be surrounded by black tipped sharks and stingrays for a feeding frenzy up close and personal.
“Cruising is reinvented in Tahitian waters when we embark on a voyage to explore these romantic and unspoiled South Pacific Isles. Here the ports of call are uncrowded and charming… the azure blue waters within the lagoons are calm, and distance between islands is short.”
20. DON’T be shocked when you go to Tahiti to make repairs, to find that you can’t purchase basic items such as oil filters even from the Volvo Dealer. There is so much frustration to be had in Tahiti with getting supplies for your boat and it has more to do with the businesses you encounter – What you the sailor need to do is make sure you take supplies of everything you need to be self-sufficient as much as possible.
21. DO Listen out for the roosters early morning also the drumming of a night, for me both are the sounds of Polynesia. The people of the islands are a people of music and they are always singing, humming a tune or listening to music as they go about their daily business.
PS “The greatest sailors in the history of the world first sailed here. Now it’s your turn. Follow the ancient Polynesian canoes and European tall ships as you chart your own epic South Seas voyage to discover these fabled isles aboard your own yacht.”
What more can I say…….