French Polynesian Vacation: Tahiti and Beyond

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A French Polynesia vacation is the stuff of dreams. These remote, tropical islands are situated in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. Consisting of 118 islands, travelers will encounter fabulous untouched waters, pristine coral atolls, towering green mountains, loads of adventure, and relaxation in droves. 

Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia. Surely you’ve heard of Bora Bora; your friends went there for their honeymoon. But how about taking a Tahiti vacation with kids? 

In 2017, French Polynesia had under 200k visitors for the entire year while Hawaii had approximately 9.4 million visitors. The remote nature of the islands and the natural beauty of the landscape, water, and the sea life weave together to make for an unforgettable tropical family vacation.

Tahiti is now more accessible than ever for families. French Bee airline now flies from San Francisco to Tahiti for roughly half the cost of what it cost previously at a price just a smidgen more than flying to Hawaii.

Tahiti in a (Coco) Nutshell

Tahiti with kids, paddleboarding
Paddleboarding Tahiti with kids | Photo by: Tahiti Tourisme

Excuse the pun, I’ve got fresh coconuts on my mind. A Tahiti vacation is not really an all-inclusive resort with kids club kind of vacation. It’s rather a relaxing experience with amazing sunsets and the opportunity to swim with otherworldly creatures that you previously thought were scary. The wifi may be scarce, but that’s what we’re after isn’t it? Tahiti has it — peace, natural beauty, a place for your family to connect to each other.

A Tropical Safari

While on the island of Tahiti, which is the largest and contains the capital city of Papeete, we head out for a 4×4 safari expedition into the interior with Mato-Nui Excursions. We traverse the length of  Papenoo Valley, leaving the turquoise shores and heading up through impenetrable rainforests hued with every shade of green.

Safari with Mato-Nui through Papenoo Valley
Safari with Mato-Nui through Papenoo Valley | Photo by: Brennan Pang

Our guide, Herve, a friendly Polynesian who hails from the outer Marquesas islands, deftly pilots our Land Rover through miles of pothole ridden dirt roads. We stop periodically to take in the sights, a plethora of majestic waterfalls which sail over emerald cliffs and majestic fog-shrouded peaks.

Phone reception is nil, but my Garmin GPS watch manages to show coordinates once it locks onto a satellite. As I glance at the draining battery on my watch, Herve regales us with stories of how he paddled his outrigger canoe all the way to the Philippines and on to China by himself, navigating only by the stars as his ancestors did.

At one point we stop next to Herve’s farm and he grabs a long bamboo pole, running with it as if he’s about to pole vault. In lieu of pole vaulting, he skillfully plucks an enormous papaya from a tree for our lunch. Our guide frequently points out plants, and says, “You see this? This is my food, I eat that!” He then excitedly describes the plant and what it’s useful for.

Herve of Mato-Nui Excursions
Herve of Mato-Nui Excursions | Photo by: Brennan Pang

We arrive at our midpoint, a camp in the middle of the rainforest surrounded by lofty green peaks. Herve frequently helps run Tahitian culture and educational camps for kids here. A swimming hole with a cascading waterfall greets us and I decide to jump in despite not having brought my swimsuit. I ascertain that there may be no greater joy in life than to jump into a refreshingly cold pool of water in the tropics.

A Tropical Bounty

We are in a true tropical paradise surrounded by natural and cultivated gardens full of nature’s bounty – mouth-watering starfruit, papayas, guavas, pineapple, limes, mangos, passionfruit, bananas, coconut, taro, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, pomelo, and too many herbs to count.

Our lunch is prepared by Moana and Herve over an open coconut husk fire. Lunch is a reflection of the bounty of the islands, tropical fruits and yams doused with fresh coconut milk. Fresh tuna with lime, ginger, carrots, and coconut milk – a simple poisson cru, the national dish of Tahiti. This is the highlight of our expedition into the interior of Tahiti. I can’t stop eating all the things.

Moana cooking up a traditional Tahitian meal
Moana cooking up a traditional Tahitian meal | Photo by: Brennan Pang

During lunch and throughout the day, Herve is an unstoppable ball of energy; his entire being seems to flow with Mana. Mana is the Tahitian life force and spirit that flows through all living things. Tahiti is a special place, a magical group of islands where life is celebrated to the fullest.

French Bee Airlines in Tahiti
French Bee makes getting to Tahiti affordable | Photo by: French Bee

Enough, enough. Get me on my French Polynesia Vacation!

French Polynesia is now more affordable and accessible than ever for families. Newly minted low-cost airline French Bee now flies direct routes from San Francisco International Airport to Papeete, Tahiti. It is only a scant 2 hours longer to get there than Hawaii, and nearly the same cost!

Recent checks on French Bee (flyfrenchbee.com) show ticket prices for $660 round trip. A round trip ticket to Tahiti could have previously run you twice the amount. French Bee operates on an a la carte model, where you can choose more space in Premium class, or save more in a standard economy class seat. You can choose to add a meal, additional bags, or upgrade to the Cosy Cabin, which offers a more secluded option located near the front of the plane.

Which French Polynesia island should I visit?

Each French Polynesian island is unique, so here are a few to consider:

Tahiti

Tahiti, French Polynesia
Photo by: Gregoire Le Bacon / Tahiti Tourisme

No matter where you’re headed, you’ll fly into Faa’a International Airport on the island of Tahiti. The capital city of Papeete is here, consisting of 26,000 people with small museums and nightlife. The whole island of Tahiti has just under 70% of the entire population of French Polynesia. Some of the highlights of Tahiti include the public market and the 4×4 safari with Mato-Nui to the heart of the island.

Spending the night? Find a family-friendly place on Tahiti Island

 

Rangiroa

Rangiroa, Tahiti marine life
Photo by: Brennan Pang

Rangiroa is a giant atoll, one of the largest in the world. In Tuamotuan, it means ‘vast sky’. It is home to the blue lagoon, a lagoon within a lagoon and is one of the world’s premier scuba diving and snorkeling sites. Home to just 2,500 residents, it’s a sublime and tranquil spot. Read more about Rangiroa with kids, a water paradise.

Moorea

Moorea, Tahiti
Photo by: Gregoire Le Bacon / Tahiti Tourisme

Moorea’s towering peaks and spires of green are the center of an adventurer’s paradise. Located near Tahiti, it offers opportunities to scuba dive and snorkel with stingrays, sharks, turtles, and other marine life in addition to hiking, ATVing, and cycling. Read more about our family adventures on Moorea, Tahiti.

Tikehau

Tikehau, Tahiti - Tuamotu Islands
Photo by: Tahiti Tourisme

Tikihau is a tiny atoll reachable from Tahiti via a short flight. Tikehau means “go find peace”. Home to just 500 Tahitians, small islets of sparkling white and pink sand encircle what Jacque Cousteau’s research group determined has the greatest variety of fish species in French Polynesia.

Bora Bora

Tahiti Overwater bungalows
Photo by: Bigstock

Bora Bora is the honeymooner’s paradise, overwater bungalows and isolated beaches make for a romantic getaway. If you’re looking for all-inclusive resorts and kids clubs, Bora Bora is one of the islands in Tahiti where you’ll find them. Bora Bora also offers great snorkeling and scuba diving, as well as shopping and dining in the town of Viatape. Looking for a family vacation package to Moorea, Bora Bora, or Tahiti? Check out the options over at the official Tahiti Tourisme site.

Top 5 Things to Do in Tahiti for Families

1) Swim with Sharks and Stingrays

Swimming with stingrays in Moorea, Tahiti
Photo by: Brennan Pang

Have kids that love the ocean and sealife? Tahiti is a natural aquarium full of marine life and a water lovers paradise. In addition to millions of fish, swim with elusive creatures such as sharks, stingrays, turtles, dolphins, and whales.

2) Sleep on the Water

Overwater bungalows at Sofitel Ia Ora Resort in Moorea, Tahiti
Overwater bungalows at Sofitel Ia Ora Resort and Spa in Moorea, Tahiti | Photo by: Brennan Pang

Tahiti is the birthplace of the overwater bungalow. You and the kids can sit in a chair and peek down through a glass window in your overwater bungalow at the marine life below. You can also opt for different lodging styles, a garden villa with a private pool, or a guesthouse where you can interact more with locals.

3) Save the Coral Reefs

Planting coral to restore the reefs
Planting coral to restore the reefs | Photo by: Brennan Pang

Be positive change in the world. Coral reefs are diminishing all over due to warming oceans, including in Tahiti. Be a coral gardener, learn about how to protect our reef system, plant some coral, and follow its growth online even after you’ve left the islands of Tahiti.

4) Picnic on a Deserted Island

Blue lagoon, Rangiroa, Tahiti
Don’t miss a Tahitian motu picnic | Photo by: Brennan Pang

Motu (islets) are everywhere in Tahiti. Take a trip to a motu to snorkel or picnic and you’re likely to be the only ones on the island. Create your own tale of the South Pacific alongside the hermit crabs and coconuts.

5) Unplug, for a device free vacation

Unplug Tahiti
Photo by: Bigstock

Yes, I’m throwing this one in there. With the exception of the major islands and hotels, Wi-Fi and cell coverage can be spotty. Many kids and parents may be addicted to their devices, but really, would you rather play a video game on your phone or swim with incredible marine life? Really.


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Disclosure: The author was hosted by Tahiti Toursime and French Bee to facilitate this article.  However, as always his opinions are always entirely his own.

Lead photo by: Grégoire-Le Bacon / Tahiti Tourisme

About the author

Brennan Pang is Co-founder of Trekaroo. He is a father to 2 boys and a girl and loves exploring and adventure travel. A California kid at heart who loves mountaineering, climbing, snowboarding, and mountain biking. He doesn't love running but does it anyway. He has lived in a hut at a chicken farm in Zimbabwe, gotten amoebic dysentery while paddling a dugout tree in Madagascar, hiked to Everest base camp in winter, chilled with the giant tortoises of the Galapagos, and witnessed a fair number of volcanic eruptions. He spent six months traveling through Central and South America with his family and recently swam with sharks and stingrays in Tahiti. Follow him on instagram at @overdare.

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