The Society Islands
The Society Islands are the most well-known and visited island group in French Polynesia - the three most popular based on visitor numbers are Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora, however the lesser known islands of Raiatea, Taha'a, Huahine, Tupai, Maupiti, and Tetiaroa are also worthy of discovery.
Amongst the largest islands in French Polynesia, Raiatea is a little over 200km from Tahiti. The small town of Uturoa, capital of the Leeward Society Islands, has a harbour that can accommodate large cruise ships.
The island is also the site of one of the largest archaeological sites in French Polynesia, today on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, the Taputapuatea Marae, which is at the heart of eastern Polynesia’s ancient religion and mythology. The sacred marae is believed to be the site from where Polynesian ancient mariners set out from on their journeys to New Zealand (Aotearoa), Hawaii, and the Cook Islands.
There are two quaint hotels on the island - the charming Raiatea Lodge Hotel and the Opoa Beach Hotel. You can also book a holiday in a pension or guesthouse.
With Huahine Nui in the north and Huahine Iti in the south you will find an enchanting island that delights with its slower pace - a short 35-minute flight from the island of Tahiti. Huahine hosts the start of the annual Hawaiki Nui Va'a race each November - the world's longest and arguably most hotly contested international open-ocean canoe race that covers an energy sapping 124 kilometres between Huahine and Bora Bora.
Huahine's fertile soil is the perfect location to grow vanilla, melons and bananas. For those with an interest in the culture of the islands you will be pleased to learn that Huahine possesses the largest concentration of sacred Marae in the Islands of Tahiti.
There are three distinctively unique hotels on Huahine. The Royal Huahine Resort features Overwater Bungalows, the Maitai Lapita Village is a charming lakeside property, and then you have the beachfront Relais Mahana. There is also a selection of pension and guesthouse properties.
Taha’a, accessible by a short ferry ride, shares a lagoon with Raiatea, which is just four kilometres away. The two mountains peering above the centre of the island, Ohiri (590 m) and Puurauti (550 m), are easily scaled on a hiking excursion. The deep bays dissect the coastline, and the coral barrier is scattered with numerous motu. Taha’a is known worldwide for its vanilla (Vanilla taitensis) production, which earned it the nickname “Vanilla Island”. It is also well known for its many archaeological sites, hidden under dense tropical vegetation.
Taha'a offers up some accommodation treats. The Le Taha'a by Pearl Resorts is part of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux Group. Another superb option is the charming Vahine Private Island Resort, which features a limited selection of intimate overwater bungalows and beachfront suites. Both properties are located on their own private Motu. The island of Taha'a also boasts some charming pension and guesthouse options.
Resplendent with a stunning clear lagoon, this small coral atoll paradise is 40km west of its famous neighbour, Bora Bora. The island is rich in cultural wealth and archaeological artifacts including marae. The island is easily navigated on foot or bike, and is accessible through regular air services or by sea.
Maupiti accommodation is limited to pension and guesthouse properties.
Once the holiday retreat for Tahitian royalty, Tetiaroa is known round the world as the home of the luxury eco-resort, The Brando - named for its founder, actor Marlon Brando. This pristine atoll is comprised of 12 motu fringed by a reef and protected lagoon. Most of the motu are bare of any development and are home to one of the largest bird colonies in the Islands of Tahiti.
To get there you can board a 3-hour catamaran charter from nearby Tahiti or Moorea, or if you are a guest at The Brando you can catch a 15-minute Air Tetiaroa flight.
Each group of islands within French Polynesia is unique and will provide a wholly different type of holiday experience.
The Tuamotu Island Archipelago
The Tuamotu Island archipelago of 78 atolls is distributed across an area of 2 million square kilometres that reaches down to the Gambier Islands. This protected marine environment is populated with immense lagoons, pure virgin motu, and possesses some of the worlds best dive locations. The local island community is largely employed in the tourism, fishing and pearl farming industries.
Rangiroa is a typical atoll of the Tuamotu Archipelago. Composed, quite classically, of a barrier reef surrounding a central depression, filled with saltwater forming the lagoon, and surrounded by several islets, called motu in Polynesia, but it is striking for the sheer size of its lagoon, making it the second largest atoll in the world. This exceptional environment has given rise to an impressive submarine fauna, giving the atoll its international reputation.
Sharks, dolphins, open ocean and lagoon fish, and even whales, during the season, abound and are easily observed, especially in the Tiputa and Avatoru passes.
The two main resorts, located near the Tiputa Pass are the Hotel Maitai Rangiroa and the Hotel Kia Ora Resort & Spa. Both offer convenient access to the airport and a selection of lovely beach and garden bungalows; while the Hotel Kia Ora features the highly desired overwater bungalows.
Tikehau is a beautiful oval-shaped atoll, with a maximum length of 27 km by 19 km in width and 20 km² of land above water land, consisting of delicate motu (islets) bordered by beaches of fine white or pink sand. Lying 15 km from Rangiroa and 340 km north of Tahiti, it can be reached by a 55-minute flight.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the famous French oceanographer and explorer who carried out a large expedition here in 1987, considered the waters surrounding the atoll to be the “most fish-filled in the world”.
Tikehau has also carved itself a reputation with surfers worldwide, thanks to the perfect break, in the Tuhieva pass, the atoll’s only pass.
Aside from a few pensions and guesthouses, there are two resort accommodations in this remote locale: Le Tikehau by Pearl Resorts, and alternatively the seven bungalow Ninamu Resort ideal for water sports enthusiast.
This UNESCO biosphere-protected atoll is the perfect getaway for anyone who wants to get off the grid. You won't find an over-water bungalow or resorts on Fakarava, the only accommodation options are Tahitian Guesthouses. What you will find is some of the most spectacular diving in the North and South Passes - which is why Fakarava is top of the destination list for divers from all over the world. Diving the 'shark wall' close to the Tamakohua South Pass and fishing in the lagoon or deep sea are popular activities. The flight duration from Tahiti to Fakarava is a 70-minutes.
Fakarava accommodation is limited to pension and guesthouse properties. There are also shore excursion options from some cruise tours.
Other islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago
Dozens of other idyllic and pristine islands are worth visiting in the archipelago; Ahe (shown opposite), Manihi, Mataiva, Makemo and Anaa are just some of them. Accommodation is limited to Tahitian Guesthouses and activities are mostly centred around the preserved lagoons and pearl farms.