Where? How? and How Much? Practical information for those planning to travel to French Polynesia.
There are two ways to reach French Polynesia: to fly or to arrive by boat. For most, a trip to French Polynesia is likely to begin at Papeete’s Faa’a International Airport in Tahiti’s capital. It will also be a starting point for those wishing to visit other islands.
One way is to use the Air Tahiti pass. The company offers 6 different options with two more possible extensions to the Marquesas and Australian Islands. The price of a pass, starting at about $400, varies depending on the route, season, and baggage selected, and is one of the safest options in terms of time and money.
Some islands are also connected by boat. Many cruise ships sail from Papeete's harbor, or if you’re up for something less commercial, a cargo ship with passengers.
In both cases there are pros and cons. A boat trip is usually twice cheaper, but the trip takes longer. The Maupiti Express from Maupiti to Bora Bora (about $50, twice cheaper than by plane) takes 2 hours 30 minutes. The flight from Maupiti to Bora Bora takes about 15 minutes, but as always, you have to be at the airport earlier, which is usually reached by another ship, and before that maybe by a car, so you will have to add at least a few hours to the 15 min flight. So the total journey time ends up being almost the same. The only bigger con is that ships do not sail every day. To buy tickets, you must contact the company directly by phone 87 78 27 22 // 87 740 240 or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Knowledge of French would be very helpful in this case. In addition, you should always have a time reserve in case the ship does not show up on time due to bad weather or any other reason.
As I mentioned in my previous article, Maupiti is an island whose inhabitants protect its island by not admitting any large hotels. So when planning a trip, keep in mind that the number of beds on a small island is very limited, so try to book as early as possible if you want to have options. Also, if luxury is important to you, you will not find it there, so do not waste your time or spoil your good mood 😊 This is an island for those who cherish silence, peace, and nature.
Of course, what’s meant to happen in life will happen, and I can simply be happy that I got so lucky for the way it happened to me. I have to admit that the trip to French Polynesia has been the most logistically challenging of my life so far. I don’t know if it’s due to lack of time (the trip wasn’t planned in advance), or because of the strange behavior of some of the websites, or because I didn’t speak French (sometimes it would be easier to call and just talk); the pandemic also somewhat contributed to the challenges.
The hardest part was buying the Air Tahiti pass, which is needed to visit more islands. When buying a pass, you need to know your exact schedule. I was able to order mine after almost a week of trying, and finally, when I had almost lost hope, my transaction went through. Now, I think that the website of Air Tahiti is simply imperfectly done. Maybe it would be easier, if you knew the exact flight schedules, but that’s very unrealistic. Since flights to the islands are not guaranteed on all days, and if you enter the wrong day, the search engine does not allow you to buy tickets, you have to start the search all over again. Some people online advise writing directly to Tahiti airlines, saying they help book themselves. I wrote to Air Tahiti, but while I waited for their response, I was able to buy the Air Tahiti pass myself.
Another challenge is accommodation in Maupiti. I wrote directly to various pensions, and after receiving a negative response from everyone, I thought I would have to bring a tent 😊 However I accidentally discovered the Tahiti tourism page, through which I received a reservation. And not just any reservation! Espace Beach Maupiti is located on the best beach of the island. It shares the beach with another guest house nearby, Maupiti Residence (if I understand correctly, Maupiti Residence is different from Espace Beach which does not provide meals but don’t take my word for it). So now I can safely say that there is no better place to stay on Maupiti Island other than Espace Beach (well, maybe except those in the small motu, but then you will be completely locked because even to get to the main island, you will have to look for somebody who could give a ride by a boat). On the map, Espace Beach Maupiti is marked with a red letter "E".
Some lodging options on Maupiti:
The choice of accommodation on this island is determined by the depth of your pocket, as there are many options to choose from: AirBnBs to luxury large villas with full service on scaffolding and glass floors, i.e. from over a hundred to thousands dollars per night.
If you are not staying at one of the expensive resorts and are not planning to rent a car, there are a few things to keep in mind.
In particular, whether there is access to the water. Find out where the public beaches are. There are not many of them on the island and they are not large. Most of them are located in the southern part of the island, the most famous being Matira. The island of Bora Bora is not small and is hilly in certain parts, so it can be difficult to reach many locations with a simple bike. Online photos do not always reflect the real situation.
In the AirBnB photos, the huts looked like they were on a beach, but in reality, that beach is just a few feet of sand where the sunbeds barely fit. Since we only had to spend three nights there, it was a great option. One day, we sailed all day. We started off by circling the island with various stops. Later on we dove with manta rays, sharks, and hundreds of fish lieutenants. We fed the rays and sharks without reaching out because apparently until there was no food, there was no danger :). To end the day, we watched the sunset on a private motu. These were some of the best experiences on the island of Bora Bora, so that’s one of the reasons I would recommend Tereva Bungalow. True, the tour costs about $100, although the final price depends on the number of people participating and your ability to negotiate :) But the experience is definitely worth that money.
Tereva Bungalow Bora Bora (price about 150 USD per night, minimum - 3 nights):
It is a great place with small children as there is a separate lagoon with lots of fish where you can swim, and the water is only up to the knees 😊
The next day, the exploration of the island was possible because of a car rented from the hosts for half a day (5000 PXF, ca. 50 USD per day).
It was Sunday, a real Sunday: almost everything, even the market was closed. I thought that everything was still closed because of the pandemic, but the next day, Monday, all the doors were suddenly wide open 🙂 As it should be on Sundays, you were able to attend Mass: all the churches were open for a few hours. The grocery store was reminiscent of the old Soviet times, when we waited for the mandarins to arrive, only here, everyone armed with polyethylene bags waited for French bread instead. I had to take part in that bread battle. Three large carts of hot bread (probably well over a hundred loaves) were pushed in at the same time and everyone attacked in one direction. After five minutes, once again all you could see were the empty containers marked "60 PXF" (approx. 0.60 USD). It’s probably one of the cheapest products in the archipelago, and likely irreplaceable. It’s used during breakfast with banana-coconut or mango jam and butter. For lunch, it is used to make sandwiches: both sides are greased with mayonnaise and seasoned with one thin piece of meat and cheese, lettuce and tomato, or even yesterday’s Chinese noodles, or french fries. Paradise for carbohydrate fans 🙂
There were many food vendors on the sides of the road who were selling packed lunches: usually fried chicken with potato salad or Chinese dishes, sometimes freshly caught fish, seasonal vegetables and fruit, but the leader was - firi firi, traditional breakfast food which are hot donuts made from flour, coconut milk, water, yeast, a little salt and sugar. I watched one place where a few people carried bags to their cars, another stopped for a minute, sometimes even a line formed; the vendor barely managed to fulfill everyone's wishes. The price of the six pieces is 300 PXF (3 USD).
Don’t make a false impression of the local diet. It's just one part, more breakfast, where carbs are still more friends than enemies 😊 The islands have a lot of different fruits and fresh fish. Not many fast food eateries were seen. Locals joke that people from other islands fly to the capital Papeete to shop at the mall or dine at MacDonald 😊. Yes, one is also at the airport, but there you will also find a local fast food chain "Vini Vini", where everything is made from fish, mostly tuna, and mostly raw: sushi, sashimi, carpaccio, tartar, poke, salad, fish cakes, etc. Don’t pass by, you’ll discover some unusual combinations next to the traditional poisson cru, e.g. tuna sushi with tuna salad. Everything is fresh, and it is gone when it is gone, there may be nothing left in the evening. Prices range from $ 5 for a tuna sandwich to $ 13 for a sushi.
The choice of food in Papeete is really wide: from a variety of dishes at the market to top-notch restaurants. Prices are most frightening in ordinary grocery stores, where e.g. a small tray of sliced fruit costs about $ 28, a strawberry container costs $ 7, chicken drumsticks about $10/kg, a kilogram of potatoes almost $ 3, and so on. However, if you like fish, fruits and pastries and are not attached to particular dishes, you would definitely make a great living there. In the photos below: images from Papeete’s market, which sells not only food but also flowers, oils, clothes, souvenirs, vanilla and, of course, black pearls (about them in a separate article).
The restaurant market is dominated by eclectic French and Polynesian cuisine. I only had to visit one real restaurant - L'O A La Bouche, which was difficult to get to on Monday night without prior reservation. We came a second time, before close, not knowing if we would be served. The waiter sat us at the table only after receiving the permission from the chef. The foie gras appetizer platter was the most intriguing dish on the menu. It was an unexpectedly strange and delicious combination of macarons filled with foie gras. There was a big variety of fish, with known and never-before-heard names. It was very easy for me to choose since I saw one dish with my favorite fruit - papio with passion fruit and ginger sauce. I do not know how to translate the name in English. Papio is a common fish in the Pacific Ocean, and the countries surrounding it: Japan, Hawaii, Australia and part of Africa. An adult papio can reach up to 100 pounds and is then called ulua.
The most popular place to eat is in the town center at Papetee’s harbor square, where roulottes (food trucks) gather in the evenings, set tables around, and the square turns into a huge open-air canteen. It is one of Papeete's attractions, where you will find both locals and tourists. Dinner costs 10-15 USD here.
Just in front of the harbor square there is another very popular place - a huge 100 year old French chain (around 50 breweries worldwide) brewery "3 Brasseures" meaning “three brewers,” with food and beer specials, happy hour and live music. The place has a huge selection of homemade beers with different tasting options, including one meter of beer lined up with ten 25 ml of different brews. Even on Monday evening, it was very crowded.