FRENCH POLYNESIA consists of some 118 islands in five scattered archipelagos in the South Pacific Ocean. These comprise five island groups being: (1) The Society Islands which include Tahiti and Bora Bora, (2) the Tuamotu Archipelago, (3) the Marquesas Islands, (4) the Gambier Archipelago and (5) the Austral Islands. Most of the islands are of volcanic origin, mountainous and ringed by coral reefs while the Tuamotu and Gambier island groups are low lying coral atolls.
Tahiti at 17°40’S, 149°30’W, the largest of the Society Islands, is the most populated and best known island, holding 69% of the total population. Immortalised by Gauguin’s paintings, Tahiti is much more than an island, it’s a state of mind. Papeete, capital of Tahiti, on the NW coast, is the chief port and trading centre. It’s also a provocateur luring people to her shores.
Today the island is a charming blend of Polynesian “joie de vivre” and Gallic sophistication. But venture out from Papeete, and you’ll find a landscape of rugged mountains, lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls and deserted beaches. Tahara Hill and Matavai Bay is the perfect viewpoint of the bay where Lt. William Bligh’s HMS Bounty anchored in the novel, “Mutiny on the Bounty.” No name captures the imagination of paradise as well as the island of Bora Bora.
Majestic mountains sculpted by ancient volcanoes, a shimmering lagoon and a barrier reef dotted with tiny islets welcome visitors to perhaps the most stunning island in the South Pacific, and generations of travellers, including novelist James Michener, regarded Bora Bora as an earthly paradise. To discover the Polynesia of Melville, Gauguin and Michener, you must visit Moorea, just 12 miles across the lagoon from Tahiti. This former haunt of Tahitian royalty is a place where you will still see fishermen paddling outrigger canoes, pareo-clad women strolling along the roads and children fishing from island bridges.
Tahiti is the epicentre of superyacht activity in the eastern part of the South Pacific, and has been for many years. Accordingly, there are well established agents, marinas, facilities and service providers that are all experts in supplying visiting superyachts with the services they require and are used to receiving in other yachting centres around the world.
THE TUAMOTU ARCHIPELAGO forms the Earth’s largest group of 78 atolls and islands. From Mataiva in the north to Temoe in the far south, this archipelago forms a loose chain stretching north-westerly to south-easterly. The variety of atolls adds to the scenic landscape, many of which have delicate, almost perfectly circular rings of coral that sit over extinct underwater volcanoes.
The atolls of Tuamotu are some of the largest and most impressive in the world. Divers from all over the world flock to Rangiroa, and for good reason. Its dazzling white-sand beaches and 42-mile aquamarine lagoon are filled with unique marine life and magnificent underwater scenery. Rangiroa, meaning “long sky,” is the largest atoll in French Polynesia, and the second largest in the world. It has more than 240 islets separated by more than 100 small channels that make up its ring of coral, and in the centre of the inside lagoon is the Paio islet.
Discover this long ribbon of islets located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and marvel at this remote and rarely visited coral atoll. The second biggest atoll of the Tuamotu archipelago, Fakarava is an interesting atoll to visit and was classified as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The Scuba diving is reputed to be as stunning as Rangiroa, with excellent visibility, fewer divers and amazing fish encounters. The channel between the passes is well marked so the very few coral heads are easily avoided.
THE MARQUESAS ISLANDS located at 9o00S, 139o30W, are the furthest island group in the world from any continent, jutting out of the open Pacific lying between 400-600 miles south of the equator and approximately 1,000 miles NE of Tahiti.
Nuku Hiva is the largest island in the Marquesas archipelago and offers many protected anchorages. Put on the map by author-adventurer Herman Melville, these islands are breathtakingly beautiful. Brooding volcanic pinnacles pierce the landscape, while the lush vegetation overflows with sweet-smelling plumeria, bougainvillea, orchids, spider lilies, flamboyant, ginger, ylang-ylang, jasmine and tiare flowers. Its volcanic origins are responsible for the dramatic scenery and vast natural harbour that exists due to the partial collapse of a volcano’s caldera.
Hiva Oa is the largest of the southern Marquesas Islands. Its beaches are postcard perfect, with spectacular mountain peak views and sparkling waters. You can ride horses, hike to archaeological sites, snorkel or dive in the myriad underwater caves, or just relax in this remote and unspoiled Polynesian paradise.
Hiva Oa is the final resting place of painter Paul Gauguin and singer Jacques Brel. They are both buried in the cemetery that overlooks the town of Atuona. The Baie des Vierges on the island of Fatu Hiva is perhaps the most scenic anchorage in the Marquesas.
The Marquesas is the usual refuelling stopover point for superyachts transiting between Tahiti and the Galapagos, a leg of some 3,000 NM.
Captain’s log: French Polynesia – In the Realm of Earthly Paradise