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Holiday Guides for Oceania - French Polynesia

Tahiti and French Polynesia

Dawdling in the middle of the South Pacific halfway between South America and Australia, the spectacularly beautiful collection of French Polynesian islands sit on a tropical oasis, coaxing thousands of visitors to their golden shores each year.

Controlled by the French since the 19th century, the islands are populated by the eternally friendly Polynesian people, as well as hundreds of species of flowers, plants and wildlife.

Many people see the islands as textbook paradise, and come in their droves to experience the stylish resorts that are still springing up; go scuba diving in sapphire-blue lagoons with multi-coloured fish, and eat some of the best inter-cultural cuisine available.

Tahiti, the capital island of the French Polynesians is often referred to, quite rightly, as the Isle of Love.

Popular with honeymooners from Europe, the US and Japan, the island offers everything from utter relaxation to high-adrenaline thrills.

Although the largest of the group of islands, the Isle of Love has fewer stunning, unspoiled landscapes of green forests and mountains than many of the other islands, yet it is the most populated - with the city of Papeete offering shopping, restaurants, nightlife and fine hotels.

However, many of the photographs and images of white sandy beaches and still blue lagoons will have been captured on the nearby island of Bora Bora – a name synonymous with tropical South Pacific beauty.

With its lush green landscapes and stunning beaches, the island dazzles the eyes and lives up to its postcard-perfect status.

Visitors to Bora Bora often tour the "Circle Island" either by road or on the lagoon (which rings the island), with one of the highlights being the Marae – a series of mysterious ancient rock walls and piles.

The best time to visit the islands is between April and October, as there are often heavy downpours from November to March.

However, the Moorea Marathon held in early February is a must-see for any visitor, as Tahiti and the islands celebrate the arrival of the first missionaries with music, dancing and sports competitions, as well as the ever-compulsory beauty contest.

Polynesians are very keen on beauty and the contests are organised for both men and women, culminating in the prestigious Miss Heiva i Tahiti competition in July.

Getting to and from the islands as well as getting around them is relatively easy, with many international airlines flying into Tahiti and cruise ships often docking in the region as part of their tour of the South Seas.

If the sheer beauty of both the islands and their people were not enough, the French Polynesians manage to blend exciting activities such as surfing, 4x4 safaris and shark-feeding with an ineffable cool relaxation in its bars and resorts, tempting every kind of traveller from the tired and world-weary backpacker, to the honeymooning couple.

And with its cheap costs and countless redeeming features, it doesn’t get much better watching a fiery red sunset from a glorious beach in the heart of the South Pacific – leaving travellers with an experience not many will forget.