Tahiti & French Polynesia

Tahiti & French Polynesia isn’t just for honeymooners. From kayaking to diving with sharks, we recommend the top things to do in Tahiti & French Polynesia.


1. Lagoon tour on Bora Bora: If you can afford only one excursion in Bora Bora, choose the Lagoon Service tour of Bora Bora. Ramone and Nui, two characterful locals, will take you on a tour of the island with stops to snorkel, swim with sharks and giant manta rays, and enjoy a local lunch on an outer motu.

If you’re staying on the main island rather than an expensive resort, this gives you a great chance to see the beauty of the outer motus. If you stay at Sunset Hill Lodge (see ‘Accommodation’ below), book the tour through Gerard for a discount.

2. Kayak uninhabited islands: Matira Beach, Bora Bora’s only public beach, is beautiful but slightly underwhelming compared to the brochure version of Bora. Instead, hire a kayak from Sunset Hill Lodge (free if you’re staying there) and kayak to the outer motus. We spent a day at Motu Tapu which was simply sublime (see number 6 in DIY Bora Bora for more details).

3. Hike Mount Pahia: Mount Pahia (661m) and its elder sister Mount Otemanu (727m) are Bora Bora’s most majestic peaks. Otemanu can only be climbed with a guide and only to its ‘shoulders’ as the crumbly vertical cliffs of the towering peak prevent further ascent. The slightly less challenging Pahia can be climbed in about four hours (if you’re fit!).

In Vaitape, take the road to the south of the Protestant church and follow it up until you pass clumps of mango trees where you veer a little towards the left. Circle the cliffs keeping to the top of the left side. If you prefer to take a guide (as advised by the tourist office), try otemanu.tours@mail.pf.

4. Cycle Bora Bora: Cycling around Bora Bora is a great way to see the island, giving you freedom to stop of at any points of interest, not just those on the itinerary. Cycles are often included as part of your board. If not, contact Sunset Hill Lodge to enquire about hiring one (see ‘Accommodation’ below). If you’re not a confident cyclist (like Kia!), opt for the Natura Discovery Tour: naturadiscoverybora@gmail.com.

5. See a more local Tahiti: Our first impression of Papeete was “This is not what we expected of Tahiti.” It’s a sprawling city with busy roads, heaving noise, pollution and all the less-than-attractive features of any modern European city. We got out as soon as possible. If you want to see the real Tahiti, head to the smaller island of Tahiti Iti, in particular Teahupo’o, a sleepy little village that comes to life during surfing season.

6. Camp in Ra’iatea:  Take a few days of downtime at Sunset Beach Motel in Rai’iatea. If you don’t have a tent, that’s fine: opt for one of Moana’s lovely little bungalows instead. Sunset Beach is less ‘beach’ (it only has a tiny strip of sand) but definitely very ‘sunset’. While there, make sure you get to Taputapuatea marae, once considered the central temple and religious center of Eastern Polynesia.

7. Take a day trip to Mo’orea: While Mo’orea doesn’t offer an escape from French Polynesia’s seemingly ubiquitous overwater bungalows, it does have a more local, less commercial vibe. Take a daily ferry for a day trip (see ‘Transport’ below) or spend a few days camping on this little gem.

8. Dive with sharks and rays in Rangiroa: If you book a Tahiti Air Pass, ask for a quote that includes Rangiroa. Part of the Tuamotu archipelago, this beautiful islet offers fantastic diving with sharks and rays. Contact Topdive to discuss options.

9. Musée de Tahiti et des Iles: This museum (which translates as ‘Museum of Tahiti and her islands’) is divided into four sections: nature and anthropology, habitations and artefacts, social and religious life, and the history of French Polynesia. Located on the west side of Tahiti Nui, it showcases a wide range of costumes, customs, handcrafts and island rituals – one of the most cultural things to do in Tahiti.

10. Watch ‘ote’a during the Heiva festival: Beyoncé has nothing on the Tahitian girls who can dance ‘ote’a. Characterised by rapid hip shaking, this dance is utterly hypnotising to watch. The male equivalent is decidedly less impressive but, let’s be honest, most male dancing is.

Heiva is Tahiti’s biggest festival and runs for four weeks from end of June to July across various venues in Tahiti. If you visit outside this time, try to get to a show at one of the bigger resorts; just ask at the tourist office in Papeete.

Finally, it’s worth adding that if you have budget, Vahine Island Resort is definitely worth getting to. With just 12 bungalows in total, it offers the ultimate in private luxury. Their snorkel tour was across the most amazing waters we’ve ever seen. Also, we couldn’t get to the Marquesas islands but we’ve heard amazing things about them so if you can go, go!

Lonely Planet Tahiti & French Polynesia is a comprehensive guide to Tahiti & French Polynesia, ideal for those who want to explore the top things to do in Tahiti & French Polynesia as well as take the road less travelled.

Lead image: Dreamstime