French Polynesia is pretty much the ultimate tropical island paradise.

It would be easy to split your time between waterside dining, taking in the sparkling glory of boundless ocean peppered, twiddling your toes in the sand, taking multiple dips in said glorious ocean and going home feeling like you had a ripper of a holiday.

But there are a few incredible things you shouldn’t leave the islands without experiencing, the absolute best things to do in French Polynesia.

Snorkel and Dive in French Polynesia's Spectacular Underwater World

With very little wildlife to be found above the water, the place you should be exploring is just below the surface. We didn’t manage to make it to Rangiroa, the renowned diving mecca in this part of the Pacific, but the places we did dive, snorkel and generally splash about were pretty darn spectacular.

Snorkelling from the shore will always give you a decent show of colourful fish and corals, but the further out you venture, the more you will be rewarded. A motu visit will dazzle with whiter sand and clearer waters than the main islands, bringing with it a greater variety of fish and possibly larger creatures as well, but the true gems are found on the pristine sections of outer reefs. The deep blue water is swarming with colourful fish and inquisitive reef sharks that come a little too close for comfort.

Diving and snorkelling in this part of the world is a true delight and definitely something that should not be skipped, despite the expense. While a daily dive was far out of our budget we still managed to squeeze a in couple on both Raiatea and Tahiti. Every other day though, our time practically revolved around snorkelling right off the beach, exploring areas both near and far from shore. You’ll be surprised at what you may find lurking just off the jetty.

Snorkelling and diving at Raiatea, French Polynesia
Diving and Snorkelling on Raiatea, French Polynesia
Scorpion Fish, Motu, Raiatea, French Polynesia
Diving and Snorkelling on Moorea, French Polynesia
Spend the Day on a Motu And Enjoy Your Own Private Island

On a backpackers budget, you’d be forgiven for thinking that spending any length of time on a private island paradise in the Pacific is the very definition of a pipe dream.

Not in French Polynesia.

Picture-perfect motu, small sandy islands, speckled between the main island and their fringing reef, are there to be enjoyed by all.

Of course, there are private motu braided in luxe overwater bungalows and resort spas that charge a small fortune for the pleasure of visiting, but for us, arriving on our private little patch of palm-shaded sand in our own boat [read: kayak] and being greeted with complimentary drinks [aka fresh coconuts rescued off the beach and cracked open with herculean effort by Chris] was just as luxurious.

Our day was split between sunbathing, snorkelling and walking the few hundred metre perimeter of our truly tiny piece of paradise to ensure that for today at least, this place was all ours.

Exploring Raiatea by car, Motu, French Polynesia.
Eat All The Coconuts

In Australia, generally the closest we get to a coconut is the cream in our thai curry or the flavoured liqueur spiking our piña coladas. So, it’s unlikely that the novelty of walking down the road, the beach, or sometimes just to our tent in the evening and finding literally dozens of fresh coconuts there for the taking would ever quite wear off.

On a daily basis we collected coconuts to put in the fridge, which we would later crack open to drink and devour.

Exploring Raiatea by car, French Polynesia.
Go Island Hopping

French Polynesia is made up of 118 islands and atolls sprinkled across five archipelagos and the landscapes, reefs, beaches and culture are distinct from one island to the next.

In the Society group alone, Moorea is thought to have the most picturesque setting, Bora Bora the most photogenic lagoon and Huahine to be a reflection of true and authentic Polynesian culture. But beyond this, each island group is unique, whether it be for cultivating the most sought-after pearls, continuing ancient weaving traditions or for the endless string of ribbon-like sands.

Basically, the diverse islands of French Polynesia are too beautiful to just stay in one spot. There is plenty to be gained by moving around a little.

Visiting multiple islands can quickly become costly, so don’t miss our budget tips in this post.

Sunset over Bora Bora from Sunset Beach Motel Pier, Raiatea, French Polynesia
Hike The Interiors To Discover Some Breathtaking Panoramas

Well, hello there good lookin’!

For a place that is as ridiculously good looking as French Polynesia, missing out on the sweeping mountain views would, quite simply, be a shame. Steep jagged cliffs, the tangle of verdant jungle and glistening azure bays make for a unique combination.

The interior of Tahiti has some wonderful hiking trails passing waterfalls and dense forest, while the belvédére on Moorea is still one of the most beautiful panoramas we’ve seen yet.

Billabong Pro 2015 WSL, Teahupoo, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Learn How To Surf Or Get Barrelled Like A Pro

Teahupoo, the world famous break on the western point of Tahiti is a magnet for surfing heavy weights. If your balance skills are any less than that of an olympian gymnast tackling the beam you might be better off experiencing these crushing mounds of water from a viewing boat – unless, like Freya, the mere sight of waves this size will send you running jelly-legged out of there.

If you’re a little closer to uncoordinated donkey than say, Mick Fanning, there are several surf spots suitable for any level from beginner to expert. In such a picturesque setting, even sitting on your board way out at the fringing reef and look back at the island is often worth the attempt in itself.

Billabong Pro WSL event 2015 at Teahupoo, Tahiti, French Polynesia
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What Not To Miss In French Polynesia | The Best Things To Do In French Polynesia
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  1. a lot of helpful information, thank you. Any suggestions for transportation from the cruise dock to our hotel? One shuttle service looks like 450$ for 5 people…..Thank you.

    • As Tahiti is so big, prices can vary enormously depending on where your hotel is, but that does seem excessive. Most hotels will offer transfers so I’d recommend contacting your accommodation first. For example, my guesthouse in Papeete was able to arrange airport pick-up for just $25 (this was 4 years ago). Otherwise, Viator has a number of transfers listed, both shared and private, which seem to be much more affordable than what you’ve mentioned. You could also consider renting a car or taking the public bus depending on where your hotel is.

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