7 days in French Polynesia – the ultimate French Polynesia vacation

Dreaming of splashing out on a stilted overwater bungalow in toe-dipping reach of azure lagoons and infinity pools that meld seamlessly into the South Pacific? This idyllic honeymoon vision can become reality at any of the paradise islands within French Polynesia, a cluster of islands known as ‘the Pearl of the Pacific’ watched over by the lofty peak of Mount Otemanu on Bora Bora and grounded by the capital city of Pape’ete in Tahiti. Whatever class of indulgence you’re after, French Polynesia has it in good supply, accessible by flight or ferry 365 days a year. Plan one week in the region with us at Mr Hudson today.

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Bora Bora | Photo: Tomas Gonzalez de Rosenzweig

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As well as water to die for, you can choose from any number of white, pink and black beaches, all outlining tropical lagoons and coral reefs alive with dolphins, turtles, rays and sharks

Travel French Polynesia

Picture this; 118 volcanic and coral islands spread across the turquoise waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean, each island hosting chains of thatched-roof overwater bungalows designed for total relaxation. This is French Polynesia, one of the world’s most beloved travel destinations for good reason. As well as water to die for, you can choose from any number of white, pink and black beaches, all outlining tropical lagoons and coral reefs alive with dolphins, turtles, rays and sharks (mostly the harmless variety). Understandably then, French Polynesia is the perfect destination for snorkelling and diving, with surfing and kitesurfing also on the menu.

Lacking full independence, French Polynesia instead operates as an overseas territory under French governance. As a result, discrimination based on sexual identity and gender is actually illegal across the archipelago. Even within Tahitian culture, gender is more flexible than in the West, with the third gender term ‘rae’ given to men who are raised as women. Polynesian people as a whole are very welcoming towards LGBTQ+ travellers and it’s unlikely you’ll experience any problems while on vacation.

Tahiti, the archipelago’s biggest island, acts as home to two-thirds of the population. The capital city of Pape’ete also lies here, close to the region’s only international airport and first likely stop for international arrivals. Just 15 kilometres from Tahiti across the Pacific lies the heart-shaped island of Mo’orea, famed for its twin bays and hiking opportunities. To escape into complete isolation, however, there’s really no better place than Bora Bora, our final stop.

Photo: Derek Owens

Moorea | Photo: Reiseuhu

Best time to visit French Polynesia

With year-round sunshine and warmth, there’s no bad time to visit French Polynesia, but still, some months are more perfect than others. June to August is prime time thanks to dry weather and comfortable heat (sitting between 25-35°C) as well as the best festivals – including July’s Heiva Nui festival. To avoid competition for the best hotel rooms, however, the shoulder seasons from May to June and September to October are nice alternatives, offering balmier temperatures and better availability across the resorts. The period from November to April is low season largely due to the heightened chance of tropical showers during the daytime. Though more humid than other times of year, the rain almost always passes quickly, meaning that the risk of being rained out is actually rather low. There is one exception to this and that is when El Niño affects ocean currents in the region every few years.

Bora Bora | Photo: Artak Petrosyan

Getting around French Polynesia

Rarely is it such fun to go from the airport to your accommodation, but in French Polynesia, you’ll need to board a boat and jet across glittering oceans before docking beside your private overwater bungalow. Some resorts offer their own transfer service but otherwise, public ferry connections are both regular and affordable, if a little time-consuming and confusing! Cargo ships, sailboats and cruise ships are also available on a sliding scale of expense and comfort.

Besides boat travel, you also have the option of flying with domestic airline Air Tahiti from Papeete to 48 of the islands, though these flights can be a little hair-raising for those not used to flying in small planes. Papeete to Moorea takes just 7 minutes but the longest non-stop flight is between Papeete and the Gambier Archipelago, at around 3.5 hours. Flight availability varies depending on the season, with extra flights scheduled to meet demand in July and August. Acquaint yourself with the Air Tahiti flight schedule (available to download online) if you’re considering a complex island-hopping trip.

An alternative means of travel is to rent a bicycle for 2000 CFP (US$20) a day and cycle any of the smaller islands, a joy when the weather is not too hot. Roads tend to be flat and traffic minimal (outside of Tahiti) and rentals are readily available on many of the islands and accepted on all inter-island ferries.

The ultimate French Polynesia itinerary

So, you have just one week to fill on your first French Polynesia vacation, but how to fill it? Chances are you’ll be landing on Tahiti and so we go from there, diving headfirst into the intriguing attractions of the capital before setting sail to find quieter narratives, first hiking in Mo’orea before finally splurging in Bora Bora.

Photo: Julius Silver

Days 1-2: Pape'ete & Explore Tahití

Go from your aeroplane to your hotel pool in no time at all on arrival at Faa’a International Airport, just 5 kilometres southwest of Papeete, Tahiti’s capital city. Stay within luxury Tahiti resorts in the city or book one of the many Tahiti overwater bungalows along the coast, checking out the main town after getting settled. A seafood lunch in downtown Papeete is a tasty choice, followed by a walking tour of the city where crowds and exotic rhythms pulsate out from Pape’ete Market. Slurp on coconut water and mangoes or barter for black pearls within the market before moving out by car to explore the island’s coastal areas the following day.

A popular itinerary from Pape’ete is to head for the surfing capital of Teahupo’o, stopping at ancient ceremonial sites, botanical gardens and black sand beaches (or the famed white-sand Maui Beach) along the way. Other stops include the home of James Norman, the Gauguin Museum and the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands, all providing insights into the archipelago’s unique history. Get dinner before heading back to your Tahiti overwater bungalow or city dwelling, passing by Place Vaiete for an authentic choice of roulotte food trucks serving a range of inexpensive local dishes, Chinese classics and French crepes to the sound of live music. Want to extend your Tahiti vacation? Fill your extra time with our list of things to do in Tahiti, such as a safari expedition of the island’s interior.

Tahiti | Photo: Michelle Raponi

Photo: Pexels

Days 3-4: Mo’orea

The island of Moorea lies in easy reach as our next stop, just 30 minutes by ferry from downtown Papeete. Ferries run regularly throughout the day but arrive early to ensure getting a ticket at your desired time. As you journey towards Mo’orea’s Vai’are Wharf, you’ll feel the urban distractions of Tahiti slip away and a whole new world takes its place. Keep watch out for dolphins who may escort you to port, arriving on land in time to drop your luggage and embark on a 4×4 safari excursion, across the island’s north shore to view both Cook and Opunohu Bay, finding a bird’s eye view at Le Belvédère lookout. After getting to know the coast, some tour operators will continue inland to explore Mo’orea’s best waterfalls, ending at Tiki Theatre Village for a night-time dance performance.

One of the most popular islands in French Polynesia, for its beauty as much as its convenience, Mo’orea is a fantastic place to spend a night or two, soaking up the dazzling sunsets and bathing in the lagoon up north. Moorea resorts come to suit all budgets but booking well in advance will ensure you get the best value for money, especially during high season (June-September). Consider staying in the area between Haapiti and Papetō’ai for the best access to the lagoon and nearby dining options, avoiding the south for its lack of major attractions or facilities.

Moorea | Photo: Reiseuhu

Days 5-7: Bora Bora

A central talking point of the best French Polynesia vacations, Bora Bora is certainly Polynesia’s prom queen. That’s why we save her until last, revelling for two more days and nights in any of the luxury resorts and bungalows dotting the Pacific waters. Star in your very own postcard, walking the stunning beaches flanked by both lagoons and the sculpted cliffs of Mount Otemanu. The lagoon itself is in fact three times bigger than the island, giving some indication that most of your time on Bora Bora will be spent on the water. Take a full-day boat excursion to get the most out of the lagoon, swimming with nurse sharks, feeding stingrays and snorkelling amongst the reefs before jetting to a private bay for a seafood lunch and ukulele performance.

Once back at the resort it’s up to you if you want to do anything at all, or instead relax on your private deck gazing at water every shade of blue. Though most Bora Bora resorts come with their own tiny white-sand beaches, guests staying on the main island can go to Matira Beach for equally tempting beach days. Of the many things to do in Bora Bora, one of the most authentic treats is to cycle the entire island (all 32 kilometres of it) passing by WWII stations, ancient temples and slow-moving villages. To get around a little faster, 4×4 trips are also popular, allowing for guided off-road excursions to find Bora Bora’s best flora and fauna, all while learning of the island’s volcanic origins and ancient cultures.

Travellers on a budget may actually forego their trip to Bora Bora, instead opting for the laid-back islands of Maupiti and Huahine, or hiking on Raiatea.

Bora Bora

Photo: Afar Dave

Photo: Alex Azabache

Where to stay in French Polynesia?

Planning Bora Bora all-inclusive vacations will centre around which resort you choose. Even then, sorting through the huge number of options to find your dream hotel is rarely an easy feat! So, we bring you our favourites, condensed down to just four superstar properties.

First up is the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora built on stilts above the crystalline waters of the Bora Bora lagoon. Epic is certainly the word for their luxury bungalows covering a number of palm-strung islets all joined by a series of wooden walkways, making it easy to go from beach to infinity pool in a matter of seconds. With the craggy peaks of Mount Otemanu in the distance, guests can partake in stand-up paddleboard yoga, shark feeding, or snorkelling with the resident marine biologist, moving to the spa when things get tiring.

The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort is another worthy consideration boasting some of the largest overwater villas in the South Pacific, as well as rather more secluded beach villas surrounded by palms. Whichever you choose, guests have the comfort of a 24/7 butler service, with option to sail in the resort’s vessel, dive with black tip reef sharks or swim in the protected Lagoonarium. The spa, fitness centre, swim-up bar and four restaurants all await your return.

Have a private island all to yourself at the Sofitel Bora Bora Motu Private Island, a resort offering a mix of overwater and garden based bungalows overlooking Mount Otemanu and Matira Bay, just a short boat ride from sister resort Sofitel Marara. The ultimate choice for a Bora Bora honeymoon, this resort highlights seclusion and intimacy with its own bar and French Tahitian restaurant, delivering breakfast by canoe. Book the ‘Romantic Soiree’ atop the hill for the perfect honeymoon meal under the stars.

Last up is Conrad Bora Bora Nui on the southwest end of Motu To’opua with its own 500-metre stretch of shoreline and some of the area’s best coral reefs in easy reach. The overwater bungalows here come fitted with a pool deck and hammock suspended over the seas, some even built across two levels with full butler service, plus shared terraces and an infinity pool with bar area. The hillside Hina Spa, as well as offering luxury treatments also offers panoramic views over the island.

Photo: Julius Silver

Extra days: Tuamotus

Travellers not wanting to go home so soon can move onto the Tuamotu islands for more paradise beaches and island lifestyles across some 78 coral atolls. Lying north and east of Tahiti, these islands are just remote enough to remain untouched by mainstream tourism, allowing for authentic getaways without a crazy long ferry ride. The archipelago’s main industries are age-old; think fishing, coconuts, black pearls, as so visitors to the island can expect less emphasis on tourism. While there are a few high-end hotels, the range is not so large, so booking early is essential.

Once here, you’ll probably want to base yourself on Manihi Island, the most developed atoll known for its pearl production and wild landscapes running 28 kilometres in length and 8 kilometres in width. Take it slow, enjoying leisurely lagoon time and bathing under palm trees, moving to Tikehau island when in need of something a little more high octane. On Tikehau you’ll find more of the same Robinson Crusoe surrounds, though there’s also a range of diving and snorkelling opportunities to be had around Tuheiva Pass, where sharks and manta rays reside. Among a number of great affordable guesthouses and family-run hotels, the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort stands out as the island’s most exclusive offering.

In need of more exotic vacation inspiration? Discover the top 10 tropical destinations around the globe.

Photo: Moon-Ru

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Travellers not wanting to go home so soon can move onto the Tuamotu islands for more paradise beaches and island lifestyles across some 78 coral atolls

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Bora Bora | Photo: Artak Petrosyan

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