Best French Polynesian Islands for a holiday: Six of the best


The largest French Polynesia island, home to unlovely transport hub Papeete, is often just an overnight of necessity for visitors. While it's true its lagoon and resorts can't compare to some other islands, there is reason to linger. Drive right around the island on the 114-kilometre coastal road and you get great scenery, vignettes of island life and the Gauguin Museum, which pays homage to the French painter renowned for his Polynesian canvasses. But it's the interior that's best, with adventure tours taking you into lava tubes, rappelling down waterfalls, and four-wheel driving into valleys overlooked by peaks wreathed in cloud.


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Intercontinental Bora Bora. 

For all its eye-watering prices and outrageous cliches, you really ought to stay in a Bora Bora overwater bungalow at least once in your romantic life. This is one of the most stunning Pacific islands, featuring vertical volcanic peaks, a necklace of tiny islands and a lagoon vivid with so many blues it looks Photoshopped. Nothing better than waking up, enjoying baguettes and mango for breakfast, then diving off your deck into water busy with brash fish and grinning turtles. Sunsets are ludicrously lovely. Get the champagne ready, and perfect your pose for the camera.


The ultra-isolated, wave-pounded and jagged Marquesas Islands are scarcely visited except by occasional cruise ships, but will suit those who hanker after wild, remote destinations. The largest island Nuku Hiva isn't just spectacularly vertiginous but dotted with archaeological remains that attest to its long human presence. Sacred statues, gathering places and ruins of stone buildings dot lush valleys where excursions on horseback will have you feeling like Indiana Jones. Tiny "capital" Taiohae is a picturesque collection of weatherboard houses and gardens bright with bougainvillea and flame trees. This is the ultimate in relaxation, disturbed only by a daybreak chorus of roosters.


This atoll, one of the Tuamotus, barely raises its fringe of coconut palms above the ocean, which means the above-water landscapes are all horizontal, though nevertheless a delight of blinding white sands, hibiscus hedges and a coral-walled church with a red tin roof. An even greater treat lies beneath the neon-blue islet-scattered lagoon, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of fluorescent corals, butterfly fish, parrotfish and kaleidoscope of other wonders. The lagoon is so warm you could snorkel for hours. For scuba divers, drift dives and shark dives at the passes that link lagoon to open ocean are among the world's best.


This double island joined by a short bridge has the rainforest peaks, scalloped beaches and shimmering lagoon you expect of the Polynesian stereotype. If you have the good fortune to arrive by cruise ship or yacht, Maroe Bay, encased in steep jungled hillsides and rocky outcrops, is outrageously beautiful. Yet though scenic and historically important – Huahine is abundant with ancient Polynesian architecture – the island is splendidly sleepy, with just a few small villages, barely any vehicles and a very slow-paced island rhythm. Weave yourself a frangipani tiara, strum on a ukulele and slurp the local melons.


Moorea (credit Tahiti Tourisme & Stephane Mailion)2.jpg

Moorea is just 20 kilometres across the water from Tahiti but has even more abrupt mountains and a magnificent peacock-hued lagoon. The superlative scenery culminates around Opunohu Bay, where eroded volcanic peaks rear. You can wade among string rays and small sharks in the pellucid lagoon, and snorkel among fish gaudy as drag queens. On land, trekking, quad biking and horse riding gets you into the rugged interior and its lush valleys. With no shortage of quality accommodation and yet plenty of wild landscapes and an uncommercial feel, this is the Goldilocks option for an island getaway.