French Polynesia may not ring big bells in most people’s ears. Situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean half way between Sydney and Los Angeles, not even a dot on the world map it’s quite a remote and exquisite location. And if you’re not a big sailor like captain Cook or a lucky retired person searching the oceans of the world for a place to anchor your boat you might never think of going to this tiny dot on the world map.
Unless you’re actually into lush green, steep tropically mountainous islands with a practically un-used single road winding around the edge passing white and black sand beaches, tropical fruit stands and bungalows built on wooden stilts on top of the clearest waters imaginable and colourful reef and sea life, I’d absolutely not recommend French Polynesia.
But if you’re like me, I’d say pack your bags once in your lifetime and make this magical place your destination!
The easiest way to get from island to island is to be retired and, well, have you own boat… other than that you’re other option is to take the local Air Tahiti airline. Luckily most islands have a tiny landing strip and the little 50 person Air Tahiti planes get you there and back pretty regularly.
Once on an island it’s pretty easy to hitchhike around. People are genuinely friendly and laid back.
So for the first 2 weeks of our stay we pack our tent and cameras and fist head to the most accessible island: Moorea.
A big ferry heads to Moorea straight out of the capital Papeete on the main island of Tahiti – the place everyone starts out at when they first land in French Polynesia.
We time it right and get to catch one of the two buses that do the island run in opposite ways. And after telling the driver that we want to stop at the only camping spot on Moorea: ’Camping Nelson’ we get to marvel the islands amazing scenery.
It’s August and that’s high season in French Polynesia. But not a soul seems be big on camping here and if you’re out to have the bungalow on stilts on that fake looking turquoise water at the Hilton you’re probably out of luck, as they are overbooked… if you like camping though you most likely get to pick the front row spot right on the water front.
Unfortunately Camping Nelson being the only camping on this islands has no competition and according to the grumpy manager the place ‘doesn’t have a kitchen at this stage’ and the promised ‘hot’ water is a rather short lived experience before it turns to cold. We don’t care… we’ve just scored a prime spot overlooking the reef for a fraction of the price of our neighbours and we’re alone! Every backpacker/camper knows the value of that!
Moorea is pretty…I mean it’s jaw droppingly spectacular! We hire bikes and explore most of the island in a day, spend a few days on the beach and snorkel whenever and wherever we can. After hitching up the only inland road we find ourselves on a viewpoint from where it feels like we’re just discovering paradise! We get a little lost on the trails and after 4 days it’s time to move on… there are 100s of islands to discover!
Next stop: Raiatea.
Together with 50 other people an Air Tahiti jet takes us on the 45min flight to Raiatea airport where we are greeted by the Sunset Beach Motel owner, who gives us a free lift to his place.
Again we find ourselves carefully picking our spot between the coconut trees out of the way of possible falling coconuts but close enough to still have the ‘I’m-sleeping-under-a-coconut-tree-feeling’.
With its long, magical pier stretching out onto the reef we soon find our new favourite hang-out spot. Again, we’re the only campers and have a huge kitchen with 2 fridges, 2 stoves and a big bathroom area to ourselves. We can finally go shopping and cook our own cheap meals.
Although French Polynesia feels and looks a little like South East Asia with a French touch it certainly doesn’t run on the same budget as Indonesia or PNG might do – expect to pay the full western price for food and accommodation. Surprisingly you might also end up eating anything but local food – supermarkets are loaded with imported food from all around the world – even the coconut milk is Thai!
Sunset Beach Motel offers free kayaks and being the travellers we are we wouldn’t miss out on anything free. We grab a kayak and soon find ourselves paddling towards a Motu. A tiny island just off the coastline – usually with white coral sands and palm trees. Little dots of paradise, speckled around the already tiny islands of French Polynesia. The waters around this Motu are crystal clear and we pursue our new found passion for capturing the tiny underwater life around the corals and also attempt some underwater ‘fashion’ shots.
With a ‘massive’ 90km road all around the island of Raiatea we decide to hire a car for one day and head off to explore. Hitchhiking is not recommended for most of the southern part of the island as it is uninhabited and you might end up waiting for days before someone comes around…
We soon learn that world famous neighbour island Bora Bora is not as great as you might think… unless you have your own boat and too much money to spend, that is. Being on a budget we quickly scrap it from our island list and decide to instead take a 20 min taxi boat to Taha’a. Again: don’t attempt to hitchhike, it’s a virtually car free island with a surprisingly good road though! So we hire a scooter and spend the day exploring every single inch of it, visiting a pearl and vanilla farm.
After a week of exploring by car, scooter, on foot and by thumb and spending more time under than above the water we finally pack our bags and head back to Tahiti and make our way down to Teahupo’o.
After all, that’s what I actually stopped over for: to capture the world’s best surfers take on one of the most impressive waves our planet has to offer during the 2015 Billabong Pro WSL event at Teahupo’o.
I’d like to thank all the people we met along the way who picked us up, helped out in any way and of course to the amazing people of French Polynesia. A place is only as good as it’s people and French Polynesia is certainly a great place!
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