Jessica Festa a RoamRight Blog Author

Lesser-Known Islands Worth Exploring In French Polynesia

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While Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea have much to offer visitors, French Polynesia is home to many islands worth exploring. Whether you’re looking for something wild and untamed or easily accessible, it's possible to enjoy unique experiences you didn't know were possible. To help you plan your trip, here is a guide to French Polynesia’s lesser-known islands worth exploring. 

Fakarava

Despite the fact Fakarava is only an hour and 20 minutes away by plane from Tahiti, it still remains a lesser-visited island in French Polynesia. This is a shame, as the island – which is a UNESCO biosphere reserve thanks to its rare and abundant flora and fauna – is touted as one of the best for diving in the country. Here you’ll find the coral reef pass of Garuae, the largest of its kind in French Polynesia and a hot spot for hammerhead sharks, grey sharks, oceanic sharks, dolphins and rays. Kayaking, snorkeling and swimming in Fakarava's warm turquoise waters are also popular activities. On land, spend time touring the local pearl farms (Hinano Pearl Farm is a top choice), as French Polynesia is known for its organic black pearls.

Raiatea

Raiatea is a backpackers paradise, full of budget-friendly accommodation and outdoor adventure activities like kayaking to nearby motus, snorkeling coral reefs, mountain hiking, diving and canoeing French Polynesia’s only navigable river, the Faaroa River. Another interesting offering of Raiatea is that it’s the only place in the world you can find Tiare Apetahi, a rare flower that looks like an open palm with five extended fingers. It sits atop Mt. Temehani, which can only be visited with a guide.

Additionally, Raiatea is nicknamed the “Sacred Island,” as it was the first of the islands to be settled by the Polynesians. In fact, it's here where you’ll find Taputapuatea, Polynesia's first royal marae (a sacred place used for religious and social purposes), as the island has historically been a center for religion, royalty and culture. Visitors to the island can visit the site on their own or through a guided tour.

Tahaa

Known as the “Vanilla Island,” as soon as you step foot onto Tahaa you'll be enveloped with the sweet scent of Tahitian vanilla. Tahaa is about 30 minutes from Raiatea by boat, so most people fly into Raiatea first before taking a water transfer across. Of course, touring the vanilla plantations is a must, as over 80% of Tahitian vanilla comes from there. A top choice is La Vallee de la Vanille one of the island's only organic operations. Here you’ll learn exactly how Tahitian vanilla is made, sample local fruits from the property, and browse the onsite gift shop full of vanilla-infused spirits, lotions, perfumes, coffees, sugars, soaps and more.

Along with snorkeling, kayaking, cycling and hiking, Tahaa is a great place to experience what it's like to be a VIP. For example, the idyllic Vahine Private Island Resort sets you up with your over-water or beachfront bungalow surrounded by coconut trees and coral gardens on a private island. A number of activities and experiences can be enjoyed onsite free-of-charge, some of which include windsurfing, kayaking, coconut shows, pareo demonstrations and beach games. And at their onsite restaurant and bar, enjoy typical French fare paired with tropical drinks.

Don't leave Tahaa without experiencing its famous coral gardens, filled with otherworldly corals in all shapes, colors and sizes. Tropical fish abound, and you can even bring some bread to have the fish eat out of your hand.

Hiva Oa

Part of the Marquesas Islands, Hiva Oa is a majestic island featuring steep mountains home to goats, pigs and wild horses. Unlike the Society Islands -- especially the more popular ones -- Hiva Oa showcases truly untamed beauty that’s nearly unaffected by tourism. Along with offering great opportunities for photographers and hikers, Hiva Oa holds a number of interesting archeological sites, like the Tehueto petroglyphs in the Tahauku valley; petroglyphs near village Hanatekuua; Taaoa archaeological site; and Iipona archaeological site. As the island was where artist Paul Gauguin and poet Jacques Brel lived and died, visitors can see their graves in Calvaire Cemetry (there are beautiful views from here of Atuona, the former capital of the Marquesas Islands). Moreover, the Centre Jacques Brel and Espace Culturel Paul Gaugin are must-visits for creative minds.

For most activities on Hiva Oa, like trekking and visiting archeological sites, a guide is recommended as trails are not well marked.

Maupiti

Often touted as a less-glamorous (and less expensive) version of Bora Bora, this small volcanic island and coral atoll is home to five beautiful motus – perfect for kayaking to or having a secluded picnic – and archeological sites dating from 850 AD. One of the most popular is Marae Vaiahu, a coral-constructed temple structure made by ancient Polynesians to pray for successful fishing (you can even see fish kings etched into the sides). Another top attraction is Mount Teerefaatiu, the highest point on the island. From the top you’ll enjoy unobstructed views of Bora Bora, Raiatea and Tahaa. Divers can have underwater adventures at sites like Manta Point, known for its abundance of manta rays and when its time to relax, Tereia Point is famous for its soft sugar sand beach with warm, translucent waters.

Which of these islands do you want to visit the most?

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About the Author

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa, a RoamRight Blog Author Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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