FRENCH POLYNESIA (Pōrīnetia Farāni)
The large passenger planes that fly across the South Pacific act like buses, landing on small islands, dropping off and picking up. It's quite odd to think of a Jumbo Jet as a bus. I landed under nightfall, and slept at the airport for a few hours until dawn. Then I caught a lorry that had the back converted into two rows of seats. It took me the 2.5 miles into town, passing on the way a small town made up of very poor housing, or shacks I guess would be the correct term. I wasn't expecting this in paradise. I got off the Lorry/bus at Papeete, the capital, and caught the ferry 10miles across the sea to the island of Moorea.
Moorea was everything I'd imagined it to be, thick saturated green foliage, sharply rising peeks and sandy beaches lapped by tropical seas. I hopped off onto the island bus, which made a lot of noise and grunting, but only managed around 5mph. Unfortunately I was staying on the other side of the island, so it took an hour to get there. The scenery was gorgeous, and life looked good. I stayed at 'Moorea Camping' at Hauru, where a few wooden huts provided shelter. Although sadly not from mosquitoes or a snoring fat German chap i had to share the cabin with. The campsite was on the beach, which initially looked glorious, but actually wasn't. The beach was covered in tiny ants, and swimming was a mission. The sea was full of lots of small round reefs, like oil drums randomly dumped in the sea, making a relaxing swim impossible, and the only open area was by the main reef, where the sharks swim! Hauru provided a few restaurants, including one selling amazing fresh pineapple that blew me away. A nearby mini-mall allowed one to peruse the aisles with the odd rooster strutting about.
The best beach was at Teavaro, on the other side of the island near the ferry port. A long sandy palm fringed beach, with bungalows nearby for the lucky. The sea here was perfect bath water warm, and didn't have the ants or coral of other beaches to contend with. Sadly I had to cycle here with a crappy rented bike. I did get to see more of the island though, including pineapple and sugarbeet fields, small waterfalls and the climb up to where I am in the photo below, overlooking Opunohu Bay. Thankfully this photo was taken with an old point and shoot, and the awful dehydrated state I was in hasn't shown on the t-shirt. The humidity and heat drained my body of fluids, and finding a water outlet became a priority.
I spent the last evening in Papeete, where Les Roulottes (vans that become restaurants) operated on Place Vaiate. Music played, and kids and the odd couple danced on the square. A terrific evening. The island is owned by the French, and has it's own currency involving large coins and notes. I left feeling a little non-plussed, was it worth the effort of flying around the world, only probably. If flying from Europe, I would head to the nearer and equally amazing Caribbean islands. However if you sweat copious amounts of cash, and crave relaxation, you couldn't go far wrong landing here.
Language: French & Tahitian
Currency: Pacific Franc
Visa: Not required
Plug: European two round prongs, 220v
GMT: GMT -9 to -10
GDP Ranking (IMF): Part of France (Similar to most caribbean islands)
Communications: Country code is +689
Health: No vaccinations are needed. Dengue exists, so protect from mosquitoes during the day. Bed bugs may be a problem in cheaper accommodation.
When to Visit: As French Polynesia is in the Southern Hemisphere, May to October are the cooler less humid months. January suffers the odd cyclone.
Personal Safety: French Polynesia is mostly safe, petty theft is the worst one is likely to expereience. The area between Papeete Airport and the actual town is considered dodgy. F&CO advice here.
Getting Around: Buses (converted lorries) operate on the two most populous islands of Tahiti and Moorea, although mind bogglingly slow on Moorea. Put a branch out on the side of the road to stop a bus. For those in a rush, planes fly to most populated islands, otherwise ferries and ships are the way to go. Frequency is less for the less populated islands. A regular ferry runs between Tahiti and Moorea, an hour or so away.
What to see/do: Hanging out on the quay in Papeete in the evening is recommended to watch locals. Also eat from the Roti vans that pull up and turn into mobile restaurants with plastic seats. There's little else to do, other than beach and water based activities. Hiking is possible on the larger islands, which usually have a mountain in the middle.
Food & Drink: According to press reports (here), human is still on the menu in some of the more remote islands. Poisson Cru is considered a national dish, red Tuna fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk. Him'a is a traditional South Pacific method of cooking, usually involving wrapping food and cooking it amongst hot stones. The seas provide the main source of local fare, including such treats as grouper, mahi-mahi, bonito and the ever present tuna dominate menus, with barracuda, parrotfish and sea urchin being rarer finds. The pineapple served here is amazing. Hinano Beer will help with finding relief from the hot sun.
Other notes: French Polynesia is rather expensive, as most things have to be transported around the world.