Situated in the middle of the South Pacific, French Polynesia is about as far away from it all as it’s possible to get. The numbers speak volumes: 2.5 million square kilometres/950,000 square miles of ocean, 4000 square kilometres/1500 square miles of land, 118 islands and five archipelagos make for one outstanding dive destination. The names of the lush volcanic peaks of Tahiti and Bora Bora are synonymous with archetypical tropical islands. Fringing coral reefs protecting calm lagoons are the norm. The crystal clear water redefines blue, and the pure white beaches are set against a backdrop of coconut palms, not high rises.
The country is divided into five distinct island groups, the largest and most well visited being the Society Islands. Surprisingly for such a gorgeous region, French Polynesia was one of the last places on the globe to be settled by human beings. Native Polynesians arrived in the region in 200 BC and further settled nearby islands until AD 300. Europeans sailed by the islands, but didn’t form settlements until the 1800’s, taking over many of the areas formerly housing the indigenous population. France still lays claim to the islands.
Islanders today rely heavily on both tourism and the sea. Exports are few, but the famed Tahitian black pearls make up most of the country’s income from overseas distribution.
Once away from the turquoise sea and white sand beaches, climb some of the lovely mountains on the islands. Magic Mountain and Mount Otemanu are two excellent hikes that offer up unforgettable views.
In Uturoa, the fascinating Anapa Pearl Farm will teach you all about pearls and pearl farming, a highly instructive experience.
Guided historical tours are highly recommended as is shopping in markets scattered across the islands.
It’s easiest to fly into Faa’a International, which is about 3 miles/5 kilometers west of Papeete on Tahiti. Then to take a ferry or two to your island of choice. Utilize the seaside roads to get between towns. These are generally well maintained.