The ultimate guide to French Polynesia – Society Islands

Ia ora na ! In early April, we left Paris for our three weeks’ honeymoon. Our first stop was Los Angeles and you can read about it here. Our final destination was French Polynesia, where we spent two full weeks. I couldn’t wait to share our ultimate guide to the Society Islands, including travel tips and other spots to consider!

As it was our first time in French Polynesia, we wanted to see a bit of everything. Since we only had 14 days there, it was not possible for us to take too many long flights between each islands so we decided to focus on one archipelago, the Society Islands. We organized our trip so we could stop in (almost) every islands there : Tahiti, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora-Bora and Maupiti. We wanted to go to Moorea while we were staying in Tahiti, but we finally ended up not going (and spent the day with some friends instead!). A half-day-trip to Tupai was also planned but unfortunately the company cancelled it when we were in Los Angeles.

While two weeks might not be enough to fully explore this paradise, I do feel we got a nicely balanced taste of what makes this place such a dream.

Itinerary

As we always do, we chose to organize everything by ourselves, without the help of a tourism agency. It is cheaper and you are at liberty to plan your very own itinerary! Though I have to admit that it was not easy to schedule our flights. Some islands being more secluded, connecting flights are therefore extremely rare. For example, there is only two flights per week going to Maupiti, one from Tahiti and one from Raiatea (that’s what makes this island a gem though!).

Once I figured out what we should do and how many days we should spend on each island, I used the Air Tahiti’s Excel file to find out the best flights possible. I really recommend using it rather than their PDF file, since it allows you to filter all the stops/days you’re interested in. After a month looking for the perfect itinerary so we would not lose a day or spend too much time somewhere less interesting, I ended up with the itinerary below, which perfectly fit with our 14-day trip. However, I recommend you to add 4 days if possible, so you can stay longer in Maupiti and add Moorea to your trip.

Tahiti (1 day) ✈ Huahine (3½ days) ✈ Bora Bora (2½ days) ✈ Raiatea (1½ days) – Taha’a (1 day) ✈ Maupiti (2 days) ✈ Tahiti (2 days)

Here’s my travel guide to French Polynesia, including my “don’t miss list” mixed with things we actually did and some other spots to consider, in hope that it could help you with your own trip planning! You will find the detailed “day by day” itinerary at the end of this post and you can find our travel log here.


The Island of Tahiti, An unexpected adventure

The island of Tahiti is worth more than an overnight stop. For those willing, it is a place where you can enjoy various excursions and unspoiled nature as well as traditional culture and fine dining. I recommend that you allow three days to visit the island, and add at least another day for a day-trip to Moorea. (places are listed from Papeete, clockwise)

  • Le Marché: Papeete colorful and lively market. I recommend you go early, before 9 am, so you can enjoy all the colorful stalls. Cafe Maeva is a great place to drink a smoothie or have breakfast.
  • Vai’ete Square’s roulottes: a perfect place to enjoy dinner in the waterfront. We ended up not going because we wanted to spend more time with our hosts.
  • Belvédère Pirae: a breathtaking view on Pirae and Papeete, the lagoon stretching to the horizon. It’s located two turns before the eponymous restaurant.
  • Pointe Vénus: Pointe Venus is a peninsula located in the Matavai Bay, with a black-sand beach where you can picnic and relax and a beautiful white lighthouse.
  • Papenoo-Ahonu black sand beaches
  • Teruaporea blowhole in Arahoho: right on your left after the tunnel. Nothing much to see, but the sound of the waves getting inside the hole is impressive.
  • Faarumai three waterfalls: on your right a few meters after the blowhole.
  • Teahupo’o surf break (you can also book a boat tour)
  • Vaipahi water gardens
  • Vaiava beach: the only white-sand beach with a beautiful clear water.
  • Museum of Tahiti and her islands: set in a 3 hectares park, bay-side. The best place to learn more about Polynesian culture.

We stayed one night at Fare Tutehau in Papeete and two nights at Kanahau Lodge, in Punaauia. The first one consists in just one bedroom in a cute house with a beautiful garden (a simple yet delicious breakfast is also included). The latter is a lovely house located on a hill with a perfect view on Moorea, breathtaking during sunset. Teva and Tahia are two lovely people who also run a restaurant/foodtruck (or roulotte in french) called “Noix de Coco by Teva“. It was so delicious that we went there twice!

Huahine, Society Islands’ best kept secret

Located only 40 minutes away by flight from the island of Tahiti is the enchanting Huahine, also called “the authentic island”. With its lush forests, untamed nature and quaint villages, Huahine casts a spell over you from the moment you arrive. It is surrounded by a deep crystal-clear lagoon home to colorful corals and fishes, with magnificent bays and white-sand beaches. Relatively unchanged by the modern world, Huahine is said to offer a timeless, more tranquil pace of old Polynesia. The 6,000 inhabitants are extremely kind and friendly and will welcome you warmly on this secluded island. (things to do are listed from Fare, clockwise)

  • Diving: we dived for our first time with Mahana Dive and it was absolutely perfect!
  • Roulottes K’on est Bien & Chez Doumé: in the waterfront of Fare, those two foodtrucks are the best place to have a delicious and cheap lunch or dinner.
  • Marae Maeva: the largest archaeological site. The introduction labels are unfortunately unreadable, but it’s still a beautiful place to see.
  • Coral Garden (near the former Sofitel Hotel): after the marae, cross the bridge on your left and turn right at the end. The hotel is at the end of the road, and the coral garden on its left. Be careful of the current which can be dangerous some days.
  • Huahine Pearl Farm: closed during our stay.
  • The Sacred blue-eyed Eels of Faie: those huge eels are usually hiding under the small wall or under the bridge.
  • Belvedere: follow the road from Faie, and you will find some beautiful views over the islands.
  • Maison du Paréo: at Parea, Miri is making some unique and beautiful paréo, a beautiful souvenir to take back home.
  • Chez Tara: a traditional restaurant where you can enjoy a Tahitian Oven every Sunday. We were a bit disappointed, mainly because it felt a little bit overrated with more tourists than locals (not my favorite ratio) …
  • Hana’Iti Beach: only reachable by boat/kayak, it is a lovely place to relax and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of Huahine.
  • Secret Coral Garden: it is located in front of the Hana’Iti Beach and only reachable by kayak. In the shallow lagoon, the corals and fishes are lively and colorful. Also remember not to touch or feed them, and stay calm so you don’t stress them.
  • Mount Pohue (Huahine-Iti) or Mount Tapu (Huahine-Nui) hike: both hikes require a guide but will allow you to discover Huahine’s backcountry. In the Pension Maeva where we rented our car, we met Temo, a young woman from Huahine who can actually take you for free in the mountains for a 2-3 hour or longer hike. It’s such a shame that we didn’t have the time to do so. She will soon open her own pension, called Pension Havai, near the Royal Hotel of Huahine, on a motu. We highly recommend to check this out if you’re planning to go in the coming years!

We stayed at Pension Tupuna, which is definitely a must-stay place. Loretta and Franck are absolutely lovely and will welcome you warmly in their beautiful wood-made bungalows right by the lagoon. The breakfasts (included) and dinners (additional cost but so worth it) are the best way to discover the traditional Polynesian food. It is without a doubt the best pension we’ve ever stayed at.

Bora Bora, Romance central

We were kindly invited by the Four Seasons. You can read about our experience here.

  • Lagoon Sanctuary: some resorts are home to Lagoon sanctuaries, where biologist are healing damaged corals, making a home to hundreds of marine species.
  • Snorkeling: in the most beautiful lagoon of Polynesia. “Motu Piti ‘U’u Uta”, located in front of the Sofitel, is a beautiful spot, reachable by renting a kayak from the Sofitel Hotel or the Intercontinental.
  • Diving: diving in or outside the lagoon to maybe see manta rays. Some friends dived with Dive and Smile and were quite satisfied (both confirmed and beginners).
  • Island tour by bike: 40km, with a lot of small beaches perfect to cool off.
  • Mount Otemanu hike (with guide)
  • 4×4 or quad safari: on hidden roads up to overlook the lagoon.

I will not recommend you to choose a lagoon tour (often including snorkeling and a picnic on a private motu) because they all attract fishes, rays and sharks by feeding them with bread or similar (which is super bad for their health making them diabetic), cutting off the rays’ stings, holding them so you can touch them, etc. Fishes and rays, including manta rays, are a naturally curious animal so if you stay calm, there is a good chance that one of them will approach you.

Be aware that rays need to swim continuously so water can flow through their gills (otherwise they would die since it’s their way of breathing). Their skin is also covered with mucus which protects them from infections. Touching them is thus deteriorating their mucus and putting their health at risk (and it’s forbidden).

Raiatea, Homeland of ancient Polynesia

Formerly named Havai’i, Raiatea is considered as the homeland of ancient Polynesians. Their expansion throughout the Pacific began on Raiatea from the sacred Marae Taputapuatea, venturing north to Hawaii and west to New Zealand. The green-carpeted mountains of Raiatea rise to the cloud-capped peak of Mount Temehani, surrounded by a beautiful turquoise lagoon.

  • Marae Taputapuatea : UNESCO World-Heritage site, it is the most spectacular and first international marae of the Polynesian triangle. It is considered to be the home of the sacred culture of Hawaii, New Zealand and the Cook Islands.
  • Hike on Mount Tapioi : an easy 2-hour round-trip hike (no guide needed), which offers a breathtaking view of Huahine, Taha’a and Bora.
  • Hike on Mount Temehani: with a guide, try to find tiare ‘apetahi, the symbol of Raiatea, found nowhere else in the world.
  • Canoe ride on the Faaroa : the only navigable river in French Polynesia, through a dense tropical forests. According to the legend, the river would have been the departure point of all Polynesian migrations to Hawaii and New Zealand.
  • Diving : there’s a well-known shipwreck in the north-east part of the lagoon at around 20 meters deep. We dived with Floriane of Temaranui Center and went to this point since two other people from the Center intended to dive to the shipwreck at the same time. It was not the best place to dive, even though we’ve seen a lot of beautiful fishes and a turtle, because Floriane was attracting fishes with bread and I can’t stand this practice.

We stayed at Teavapiti Lodge, a basic and rustic lodge, but comfortable and close to a store to get breakfast. A good restaurant for dinner is reachable by foot (also expensive so we didn’t go), and there is a good foodtruck called Snack Tonoi, where we had a delicious and cheap dinner by the sea. The lodge is pretty far from the town center of Uturoa, which might be inconvenient if you don’t rent a car.

The secluded Island of Taha’a, Where time stops

Only reachable by boat from her sister island of Raiatea, Taha’a is a quiet place offering a peaceful life. The soft and unspoiled mountains, surrounded by tiny motu with bright white-sand beaches, leave the impression that time has been suspended. This place is also well-known for its unique vanilla tahitensis and its pearl farms.

  • Vanilla Valley: in this vanilla plantation, you will learn the process for growing and harvesting the Tahitian vanilla. The explanations are really interesting, and you can buy some vanilla at the little shop. But you cannot know if all the vanilla they sell here are from this single plantation, as a lot of vanillas are actually harvested on other islands and imported here to dry.
  • Pearl Farms visit: We’ve done both Champon Pearl Farm and Love Here Pearl Farm and both are worth a visit. Staff will explain you the different Tahitian black pearls and how to obtain those pearls. Champon Pearl Farm is aiming to a perfect quality while Love Here Pearl Farm offers a variety of pearls, from the keshi to the perfect big ones.
  • Coral garden: snorkeling in the coral garden around the motu Tautau, near the Taha’a Island Resort & Spa where you can have lunch and enjoy the afternoon at the beach.

We stayed at Pension Hibiscus Taha’a and it was far from being the best pension of our honeymoon. I am sure Leo and Lolita are nice people but they are not as welcoming as all the other hosts we met. I’ll tell you more about it on my travel log but I would not recommend you to stay there. We rented a car at Tahaa Locations which was perfect, the owners are the kindest people ever (from Taha’a !). For dinner, we followed their recommendation and went to the restaurant Taha’a Maitai: the food is pure delight, only made with local ingredients from Taha’a by the French chef Bruno. We had an enchanting dinner that was alone worth the visit on Taha’a!

Maupiti, Jewel of Leeward Islands

My favorite island of all, Maupiti is a secluded and authentic tiny island of 11 square km, with only 1,200 inhabitants, one road and a 10km circumference. Sand, sea, sun, time and tide are the keywords there. The only mountain, Mount Teurufaatiu, is surrounded by the most beautiful lagoon, dreamy turquoise waters with various corals and fishes, sharks and rays.

  • Tereia beach: the most beautiful beach of Maupiti. You can cross the lagoon by foot to the motu Auira.
  • Snorkel at the coral garden: in the southern part of the motu Auira.
  • Hike on Mount Teurufaatiu: it offers a 360° view on the beautiful turquoise lagoon (be careful if you are afraid of heights!).
  • Sea house made with seashell : like a little museum made by a local who offers guided tours twice a day. Ask your pension for more details.
  • Circle island tour: easy to do by bike. Our friends did it with 2 little girls (2 and 4 years old).
  • Trip to the motu: you might be able to see some leopard whiprays and manta rays or baby sharks.
  • Diving: we did our third diving lesson with Yannick from Maupiti diving (the only diving center in Maupiti) and it was the best one. Yannick taught us everything from taking the water off your mask underwater to taking off the regulator underwater before taking us to the manta rays point at 10 meters deep for more than an hour! We were lucky (and calm) enough to see three manta rays passing upon our head and curiously coming back to see what kind of living beings we were before going back to their coral reef where they get cleaned.

We stayed at Pension Tereia and it was the best place ever. Sandra and hers are such a warm and hospitable family. They will do everything to make you feel at home and enjoy their beautiful island. The homemade breakfasts and dinners are lavish and the excursions on the lagoon are a must! We really feel like we’ve gained a new home! It’s super close to the beach and we can only recommend you to stay there while in Maupiti!


Day by day

Day 1 Tahiti

[7:00] arrival at Faa’a International Airport & rent a car at Avis

🍴Breakfast: Le Captain Blight

[12:00]
– Belvédère Pirae
– Phare de la Pointe de Vénus
– Plages de sable noir entre Papenoo et Ahonu
– Trou du souffleur

🛌Stay at: Fare d’hôtes Tutehau
(click here for a 10% discount on Booking!)

Day 2 Huahine

🍴Breakfast: Fare Tutehau (included)

[7:00] return the car at the airport & flight for Huahine

[10:00] rent a car at Fare Maeva location (pick up at the airport) & drop off our luggage at the pension Tupuna

🍴Lunch: Hôtel Le Mahana

Relaxing at the beach and snorkeling

🍴Dinner: Pension Tupuna’s restaurant

🛌Stay at: Pension Tupuna

Day 3Huahine

🍴Breakfast: Pension Tupuna (included)

Relaxing at the beach of the pension

🍴Lunch: Chez Tara (tahitian oven)

[13:30]
– Marae Anini
Maison du Pareo (8:30-12:00 ; 13:30-17:30)
– Belvedere
– Sacred eels of Faie
– Maeva Marae
– Coral garden near the Sofitel

🍴Dinner: Kon est bien (snack in Fare)

🛌Stay at: Pension Tupuna

Day 4 – Huahine

🍴Breakfast: Pension Tupuna (included)

[10:00] return the car at Fare Maeva

[12:00] Kayaking and snorkeling in the lagoon of Huahine Iti, from Pension Tupuna to the Motu Vaiorea (in front of the Hana iti beach)

🍴Lunch: on the rocks near the secret coral garden

Kayaking to the Hana iti beach and relaxing

🍴Dinner: Pension Tupuna’s restaurant

🛌Stay at: Pension Tupuna

Day 5 –Huahine | Bora-Bora

🍴Breakfast: Pension Tupuna (included)

[9:00] First scuba diving lesson with Mahana Dive

🍴Lunch: Chez Doumé

[12:30] Flight to Bora-Bora

[13:30] Arrival at Bora-Bora & pick up by the Four Seasons

[14:00]
– Exploring the resort
– Relaxing on our private bungalow

🍴Dinner: in-bungalow dining

🛌Stay at: Four Seasons Resort Bora-Bora

Day 6Bora-Bora

🍴Breakfast: Four Seasons (included)

[9:30-10:45] Guided snorkeling tour in the Lagoon Sanctuary

Relaxing on our bungalow before snorkeling in the lagoon sanctuary again.

[17:30] Cocktail party at TAHIA

🍴Dinner: Beach bar grill

🛌Stay at: Four Seasons Resort Bora-Bora

Day 7Bora-Bora

[8:30] Spa & massage (8:30-17:00)

🍴Brunch: Four Seasons (included)

[14:00]
– Relaxing at the pool and beach
– Paddle
– Snorkeling

[17:30] boat ride to the airport

[18:30] Flight to Raiatea

🍴Dinner: Snack Tonoï

🛌Stay at: Teavapiti Lodge

Day 8 Raiatea

[11:30] Marae Taputapuatea

🍴Lunch: sandwiches on the beach next to the marae

[14:30] Mount Tapioi hike

[18:00] Boat ride to Taha’a

🍴Dinner: Pension Hibiscus Taha’a’s restaurant

🛌Stay at: Pension Hibiscus Taha’a

Day 9Taha’a

🍴Breakfast: Pension Hibiscus Taha’a

[9:00]
Champon Pearl Farm (8:00-16:00)
– Vallée de la Vanille (everyday, 9:00-17:00)
Love Here Pearl Farm

🍴Lunch: La Plage restaurant

Relaxing on the motu, swimming and snorkeling in the lagoon.

🍴Dinner: Le Tahaa Maitai restaurant

🛌Stay at: Pension Hibiscus Taha’a

Day 10Raiatea | Maupiti

[7:30] Boat ride to Raiatea

[9:00] Second diving lesson with Temaranui

🍴Lunch: at the restaurant of the airport

[13:30] Flight to Maupiti

Relaxing on the beach and walking in the lagoon to the motu Auira

🍴Dinner: Pension Tereia (included)

🛌Stay at: Pension Tereia

Day 11 Maupiti

🍴Breakfast: Pension Tereia (included)

[9:00] Third diving lesson with Maupiti Diving (manta rays point)

🍴Lunch: snack on the beach

Relaxing on the beach, swimming and snorkeling in the lagoon.

🍴Dinner: Pension Tereia (included)

🛌Stay at: Pension Tereia

Day 12Maupiti

🍴Breakfast: Pension Tereia (included)

[9:00]
– Hike on Mount Teurufaatiu
– Relaxing on the beach and swimming.

🍴Lunch: panini of the Pension Tereia (not included)

Last sight of the perfect lagoon before heading to the airport.

[16:20] Flight to Tahiti

🛌Stay at: Kanahau Lodge

Day 13Tahiti

🍴Breakfast: With our hosts

[9:30] Exploring Papeete
– Papeete market
– Place Vai’ete
– Waterfront (under reconstruction in 2019)

🍴Lunch: from the market

[14:00] Faarumai waterfalls

Driving around the island to Teahupoo.

🍴Dinner: Noix de Coco by Teva (our hosts!)

🛌Stay at: Kanahau Lodge

Day 14Tahiti

🍴Breakfast: With our hosts

[10:00] Musée de Tahiti et des îles – Te Fare Manaha (9:00-17:00)

Pointe des pêcheurs to see the black sand beach next to the white sand beach.

🍴Lunch: Chinese restaurant with a friend

Relaxing on the beach Vaiava and last swim in the lagoon.

🍴Dinner: Noix de Coco by Teva (so delicious we went back!)

🛌Sleep at: the airport


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2 Comments

  1. LyonSeb69
    1 June 2019 / 17 h 59 min

    What a journey! 😍

    • Marichankobe
      Author
      1 June 2019 / 19 h 19 min

      Yes it was perfect !

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