Mention Tahiti to most people and they’ll envision life on dreamy, secluded beaches, sharing space on the soft, white sand with palm trees and the odd errant coconut. And in reality, they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. French Polynesia (also referred to as the Islands of Tahiti) is a collection of 118 islands and atolls situated halfway between Los Angeles, California and Sydney, Australia. Only eight hours from Los Angeles, this postcard-perfect destination is actually a lot more accessible than many people realize, and one that offers so much more than a place to honeymoon.
Wondering which islands in Tahiti are right for you? Here are eight beautiful islands of Tahiti to put on your must-visit list, and what makes them worthy of your travel time.
No matter which island you’re planning to call home (for a few days, at least), you’ll start your French Polynesian adventure by flying into Faa’a International Airport on the main island of Tahiti. The name refers either to the main island, or the entire destination. But simply flying in and out would be a mistake since this is an island with a lot to offer.
Home to the vibrant capital city of Papeete, the island is divided into two parts: the larger Tahiti Nui and the smaller Tahiti Iti. Make time to visit the Pearl Museum, the Gauguin Museum and neighboring Botanical Garden, shop the 155-year-old public market, snorkel or dive the picturesque lagoon and take a guided hike or 4x4 trip into the island’s interior to visit epic waterfalls and lush valleys.
Best for: culture, adventure
It’s not difficult to understand why Huahine is known as the Garden Island. Dense tropical jungle covers much of the island as well as banana groves, watermelon fields and coconut plantations – needless to say, there are photo-ops aplenty here. Huahine is a 40-minute flight from Tahiti and is actually two islands connected by a small bridge: Huahine Nui to the north and Huahine Iti to the south. The former is where you’ll find the main village of Fare where the bulk of the action takes place, albeit at a charmingly slow pace.
As for what to do on Huahine, visitors have their pick of white sand beaches, as well as the chance to dive and snorkel, kite surf, hike and even explore one of the largest archeological areas of French Polynesia, found near the village of Maeva.
Best for: relaxation, water sports, nature
When people think of French Polynesia, it’s often Bora Bora that first comes to mind, bringing dreams of secluded over-water bungalows and hidden beaches perfect for honeymooning couples. But Bora Bora is more than just a postcard-worthy romantic escape. The island itself is actually a volcano, set in a stunning lagoon surrounded by gleaming white sand beaches. The lagoon is filled with marine life well worth donning a snorkel mask and fins to explore, or you can spend a day aimlessly wandering the main town of Viatape, browsing shops and taking breaks at local bars and cafes. Located just northwest of Tahiti, Bora Bora is less than an hour away by plane from Papeete.
Best for: romance, shopping, snorkelling
It’s tough not to fall in love with Tikehau, also known as the Pink Sand Island. The tiny atoll consists of countless white and pink sand islets perfect for getting away from it all. Tikehau, which means "peaceful landing," is home to a lagoon formed by a ring of coral, meaning it's filled with marine life just waiting to be explored on a snorkel or dive trip. You can also take a boat into the middle of the lagoon and visit Motu Puarua at the northeastern end, a small islet known as Bird Island and a natural aviary for numerous colonies of nesting sea birds including the rare Blue Footed Booby. An afternoon on Bird Island is a bird watchers dream so bring your camera, as well as sturdy shoes for traversing the rocky terrain.
Best for: total seclusion, beach-hopping, relaxation
Taha'a is only accessible by a short boat ride from sister island Raiatea — but it’s an island that shouldn’t be missed on a trip to French Polynesia. Known as the Vanilla Island, Taha'a grows close to 80 percent of all vanilla produced in French Polynesia. Arrange a trip to Vallee de la Vanille vanilla farm through your accommodation to see how the fragrant spice is grown and harvested and buy some to take home with you.
In addition to learning all about vanilla, Taha’s offers the chance to snorkel the calm, marine-rich waters surrounding it, and if you just want to relax on a pretty stretch of sand, this is a great place to do it. Champon Pearl Farm is also worth paying a visit to, to see how Tahiti’s famous pearls are cultivated and harvested. There are free daily tours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment.
Best for: learning about vanilla and pearls, snorkeling, relaxation
Raiatea, known as the Sacred Island, is the second largest island in French Polynesia next to Tahiti. The name Raiatea translates to "faraway heaven" and it is said to be the first Polynesian island to be populated. Raiatea shares its lagoon with sister island Taha'a, meaning if you visit one, it’s pretty easy to also include a visit to the other. If you plan on seeing the islands of Tahiti by boat, the island is home to many sailboat and yacht charter companies, including Tahiti Yacht Charter. Raiatea’s large, protected lagoon makes it one of the best islands in French Polynesia for sailing, deep-sea fishing and scuba diving. This is also where you can visit Taputapuātea, a sacred meeting ground recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Best for: boating, fishing, scuba diving
Moorea, along with Bora Bora, is one of the top honeymoon destinations in Tahiti. Known as the Island of Artists due to the many artists live on the island including painters, carvers, jewelers and tattooists. Moorea is also ideal for water sports, from paddle boarding to canoeing to kite surfing, thanks to the April to October trade winds. Diving and snorkelling are also great in the calm waters of Moorea’s marine-rich lagoon. But if you get waterlogged, there’s also a mountainous side to the island perfect for hiking, biking and even 4WD adventures.
Best for: water sports, romance, art and culture
Known as the Endless Sky, Rangiroa is one of the largest atolls in the world and the largest in French Polynesia. The atoll’s lagoon is a diver's paradise and is in fact so large that it could swallow the main island of Tahiti in one gulp.
World-class dive sites abound, but if you’re not interested in spending time underwater, there’s still plenty to do. The snorkelling around Rangiroa is phenomenal and in addition, over 200 motu (islets) surround the lagoon, many of which you can explore or even picnic on for a secluded afternoon. Interestingly enough, Rangiroa also has its own vineyard and winery. Located in the main village of Avatoru, the Dominique Auroy Winery produces French Polynesia's only wine label, Vin de Tahiti (the rose is excellent). Ask your accommodation about visiting the winery for a tasting.
Best for: scuba diving, snorkelling, atoll-hopping