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  • Tahiti and French Polynesia

    Tahiti and French Polynesia travel guide

    Overview

    Captivating Tahiti and 118 attendant islands and atolls, allradiant with iridescent green and turquoise, make up the country ofFrench Polynesia, a French overseas territory that is spread acrossan area of the South Pacific that is as big as western Europe.

    The earliest explorers thought they had found paradise on earthwhen they came across these picture-perfect islands, and today'stravellers are no less entranced by the volcanic mountain peaksclothed in lush tropical vegetation and exotic flowering plants,and encased by coral reefs, warm waters, and white sand beaches.Add to this abundant beauty the warm hospitality of locals, acollection of world-class resorts, spas, fine restaurants,nightclubs, and vibrant markets, and one would imagine the islandswould be overrun with exuberant vacationers.

    It is surprising then, to discover that despite being a dreamdestination for many, French Polynesia remains gloriouslyuncrowded. The lack of tourist hordes is mainly the result of theremoteness of the islands, ensuring that travellers who do manageto visit find the French Polynesian islands friendlier, moreauthentic, and less crowded than many similar destinations. Thismeans it is possible to tuck a (Tahiti's national fragrant white flower) behind yourear, pack your swimsuit and (sarong), and head off to find your own idyllic pieceof Polynesian paradise.

    One group of travellers who reliably come to French Polynesia indroves are surfers, for whom Tahiti is an established paradise. Thefamous French Polynesian surf spots are mostly not for thefaint-hearted, with notorious breaks like Teahupoo treated asserious testing grounds for world-class surfers. However, despiteits formidable reputation as a big wave surfing destination, FrenchPolynesia does also offer fodder for beginners and surf can befound all year. It is also a gem of a travel destination for scubadivers and snorkellers.

    French Polynesia consists of more than 100 islands soit can be hard to know where to start exploring. Most trips beginin the capital, Papeete, which is situated on the island of Tahiti,home to more than 60 percent of French Polynesia's population andthe country's main airport. Tahiti is one of the most popularislands with travellers, boasting vibrant markets and some famoussurf spots as well as good infrastructure and pretty beaches.

    Other famously attractive French Polynesian islandsinclude Bora Bora, known for its beautiful luxury resorts and afavourite with honeymooners and celebrities; the lovely Moorea,which is conveniently close to Tahiti and celebrated for its sandybeaches and watersports; and Rangiroa, which is widely consideredone of the best scuba diving and snorkelling destinations in theworld.

    Travellers might also want to investigate the variouscharms of islands like Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Wallis, Nuka Hiva,Tikehau, Fakarava, and Hiva Oa. The options are almost endless andnatural beauty is guaranteed whichever island you visit.

    Island hopping can prove expensive as the islands ofFrench Polynesia are widely spread over about 1,600 square miles(4,160 sq km), which is one reason that many first-time travellersare more than content to explore Tahiti and nearby Moorea, whichare connected by a regular ferry service. Cruises can be booked andcargo ships are often happy to transport travellers for a fee, butflying is still often the only practical option.

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    French Polynesia enjoys tropical, warm, and humid weather allyear round, averaging eight hours of sunshine per day. The islandsexperience a rainy season, generally between late October and earlyMarch, when cloudy skies and brief heavy rain showers can occur.During the rest of the year, rain is rare and temperaturesconstantly high, tempered sometimes by refreshing breezes. Thewater temperature ranges from 79°F to 84°F (26°C to 29°C) makingfor extremely pleasant bathing all year round. The most populartime to visit is between May and the end of October, whentemperatures are a bit milder and there is less rain, but outsideof this peak season the comparative emptiness of the resorts andcorresponding special prices compensate for the hotter weather.

    Tahiti Faaa International Airport
    Location: The airport is located about seven miles (11km) fromPapeete, on the island of Tahiti.
    Time: Local time is GMT -10
    Transfer Between Terminals: Domestic Terminal 1 and the International Terminal are locatedwithin the same building. To transfer from this section of theairport to the third terminal, Domestic Terminal 2, is easily doneon foot via the well signed walkway.
    Getting to the city: Taxis are available. It is worth making sure that the fare isagreed on up front before setting off in a taxi. Hotel shuttles arealso commonly used and should be organised in advance.
    Car Rental: Several car rental agencies operate at the airport, includingHertz, Avis and Europcar.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis are available at the airport.
    Fascilities: There is a bureau de change, a bank, some fast-food outlets, aduty-free shop, tour operator desks, gift shops, and boutiquestores. Baggage storage facilities are available.
    Parking Parking in P1 is charged at XPF 200 for 30min, XPF 220 for anhour, XPF 440 for two hours, and XPF 120 per hour thereafter, up toa daily rate of XPF 1,800. Long-term parking is XPF 1,500 for twodays and about XPF 4,500 for a week.
    Money:

    The unit of currency in French Polynesia is the French PacificFranc (XPF), divided into 100 centimes. The exchange rate is fairlystable as it is linked to the Euro. Banks throughout the islandsare open mainly on weekdays only and are the best place to changeforeign currency; rates of exchange are not as good at hotels.There are ATMs on a few of the islands, but they shouldn't berelied upon. Credit cards and US currency are readily accepted onthe main islands. Tourism taxes are levied for accommodation andactivities.

    Language:

    Though French is the official language,Tahitian is widelyspoken. English also has a fairly strong presence.

    Electricity:

    The electric current in most hotels is 220 volts,60Hz. European-style two-pin plugs, with a round pin plug, are inuse.

    Entry Requirements:

    US citizens require a passport valid for three months afterintended travel. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90days.

    British citizens require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond travel period but no visa to enter French Polynesia. Allother British nationals require a passport valid for three monthsafter intended travel, and no visa is required for a stay of up tothree months. Visa extensions are obtainable.

    Canadians require a passport valid for three months afterintended travel. No visa is required for a stay of up to threemonths in any six month period.

    Australians require a passport valid for three months afterintended travel. No visa is required for a stay of up to threemonths.

    South Africans require a passport valid for three months afterintended travel. A visa is required for South African citizenswishing to travel to Tahiti and French Polynesia.

    Irish citizens require a passport valid for three months afterintended travel. No visa is required.

    US citizens require a passport valid for three months afterintended travel. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90days.

    New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for three monthsafter intended travel. No visa is required for a stay of up tothree months.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    All foreigners entering French Polynesia must hold returntickets or documents for onward travel and proof of sufficientfunds. Although French Polynesia doesn't officially require it, wealways recommend that passports have six months of validityremaining prior to travel.

    Travel Health:

    A yellow fever vaccination is required for travellersto French Polynesia arriving from an infected area. Vaccinationsfor hepatitis A and hepatitis B are recommended, and those stayinglong-term and eating outside of major hotels and restaurants mayalso want to consider a vaccination for typhoid. Malaria is not aconcern but cases of dengue fever are on the rise so precautionsagainst mosquito bites should be taken.

    Tap water in hotels and resorts should be safe todrink, but bottled water is also freely available throughout theislands. Tahiti has decent medical facilities and there are a fewprivate doctors and clinics in the outer islands but healthcareoptions are limited outside of major cities. The only decompressionchamber is at Papeete. Comprehensive medical insurance isrecommended for all travellers.

    Tipping:

    Tipping in Tahiti and the islands is not required or expected -it is seen as contrary to the local custom of hospitality.Generally prices quoted are all-inclusive.

    Safety Information:

    Visits to French Polynesia are usually trouble-free. The crimerate is low, but sensible precautions should be taken withvaluables. Tropical storms and cyclones can occur between Novemberand April.

    Local Customs:

    The culture in Tahiti and French Polynesia is relaxed andwelcoming, with hospitality and generosity considered importantvalues. People greet each other with a handshake or kiss on thecheek, and it is considered impolite not to greet everyone in theroom unless there is a large group. Guests should remove theirshoes when entering someone's home.

    Business:

    Business etiquette is relatively informal in Tahiti and FrenchPolynesia. French is the main language of trade, however English isoften understood in more popular tourist areas and main urbancentres. Business hours are generally 8am to 12pm and 1.30pm to5.30pm Monday to Friday.

    Communications:

    The international dialling code for French Polynesia is +689 andthe outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code(e.g. 0027 for South Africa). Wifi is available in the largerhotels and resorts.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers aged 18 or over do not have to pay customs duty on400 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 2 litres of wine, beeror cider and 2 litres of alcoholic spirits; a reasonable amount ofperfume and eau de toilette for personal use; and items valued upto XPF 30,000 (for adults) or XPF 15,000 (children under 15 years)for gifts or personal use.

    Useful Contacts:

    Tahiti Tourisme, Papeete, Tahiti: www.tahiti-tourisme.com

    Tahiti and French Polynesia Embassies:

    Embassy of France, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 9446000.

    Embassy of France, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7073 1000.

    Embassy of France, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 1795.

    Embassy of France, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 425 1600.

    Embassy of France, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6216 0100.

    Embassy of France, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 277 5000.

    Embassy of France, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 384 2555.

    Foreign Embassies in Tahiti and French Polynesia :

    United States Embassy, Suva, Fiji (also responsible for FrenchPolynesia): +679 331 4466.

    British Embassy, Paris, France (also responsible for FrenchPolynesia): +33 1 4451 3100.

    Canadian High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand (alsoresponsible for French Polynesia): +64 4 473 9577.

    New Zealand High Commission, Alofi, Niue: +683 4022.

    Tahiti and French Polynesia Emergency Numbers : 20 (Police), 120 (Fire), 15 (Ambulance)
    Tahiti and French Polynesia