Region Review: French Polynesia

P1040003I’m trying to stick with my plan of doing some sort of region review as we exit a country or a region, but the reason it took me so long to write this is I struggled with whether is it possible to review a region this large in which we spent so much time?! It’s a country we fell in love with, that marked us permanently and with which we would return to with excitement someday.
First, to get a sense of how we traveled in this region, you can see where and how we spent our time there. Second, even though we spent more than 2 years in this single country there are tons of places we didn’t visit (e.g., we never visited the Australs). We can only rank what we saw.
Of the 4 archipelagos that we visited, Livia ranks her enjoyment in this order:
  1. P8220328Tuamotus – This is what I dreamed of when I was shivering in British Columbia through several winters of living aboard a boat we purchased to enjoy low latitudes. The water clarity, the underwater scenes, the wildness of being able to romp around on the motus playing survivor Estrellita, the crazy kiting – the stuff of my dreams. Fave spots: see below.
  2. Societies – I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the Societies. More heavily populated and with more damaged coral, but as is often the case, there is a reason they became such a popular destination for tourists – they are stunningly beautiful – laIMG_0270ndscapes and blue lagoons. And you can find your own semi-remote spots if you take the time to look for them. Perhaps also, after so long in isolated spots in the Tuamotus, the ability to have burgers and beer, the social aspects of the Societies, were a refreshing contrast. The three M’s of paradise: Maupiti, Mopelia & Moorea.
  3. Gambiers – If there was more than just Mangareva to visit, the Gambiers would beat out the Societies for  #2. I loved the Gambiers. Great underwater scene, great land play opportunities, amazing kiting and we met some fantastic tweeners to hang out with. If it weren’t for the slightly claustrophobic feeling of being stuck for part of hurricane season with the same set of sometimes gossipy, sometimes clique-ish, ex-pats-who-never-leave boats, I would have had an even better time. Favorite anchorages: Motu Tauna, Taravai’s West side.
  4. Marquesas – Don’t let the fact that the Marquesas areP1040065 #4 make you think I didn’t enjoy them. Also, remember that we only spent 3 weeks in the Marquesas because, at that time, we only had 3 month visas for the entire country and having a short stay in an area is an easy way to have a false impression of the place. While the Marquesas were beautiful land-wise, they were missing the underwater play that I love. In a tight race between 4 fantastic spots, they are the 4th most interesting to me.
Carol (asked to rank separately without hearing mine above) chose the same rank order!
Livia’s Tuamotu Top 3. Now, the really hard part. Where were our favorite spots within our favorite archipelago? Again, there are lots of places we didn’t visit even though we spent the bulk of our time in the Tuamotus. I’m going to let us have a top 3 list for the Tuamotus which is hard enough. It is no surprise to me that my three favorite places are also the three places featured in our video Kiteboarding the Tuamotus although it isn’t just the kiting that makes these places special.
  1. Rangiroa – If you don’t have very much time Rangiroa is a bit harder to enjoy. While the village area has some great snorkeling, you have to get out of the village to see the beauty of this atoll and for reasons of time and weather, most people don’t. You need time to make the circuit of the 35nm long atoll because in the various corners of the atoll there are totally different scenes: village with great snorkeling, strange moonscape upraised reef, kitiP1000726 (2)ng paradise as well as a bunch of other gorgeous nooks to tuck into. We were there a full month and didn’t get to go everywhere we wanted, in part because we spent two weeks kiting a mara’amu in the SE corner. Warning: It isn’t easy to safely travel the really big atolls such as Rangiroa and we got our asses kicked there.
  2. Fakarava – The South pass of Fakarava is stupendous. Diving through a cloud of slick shiny slightly twitchy missiles that are grey sharks, drift snorkeling with great coral and fish, and doing it all again and again, seeing different things each run, absorbing a little more of the scenery passing by at high speeds each time. Hirifa is an epic kite spot. We anchored in front of the restaurant at Hirifa and also just West of the restaurant on our own sandbar.The rest of Fakarava is quite nice too but the South pass is why it makes my #2. Scenic kiting also to the West of the S Pass although a little crunchy with coral bits.
  3. P1030315Tahanea
– Tahanea is one of those places that went from undiscovered to discovered because of word of mouth, track passing and blogs. This makes portions of the French ex-pat community grumpy (even though they were the ones spreading the word of mouth). It is isolated, has a wildly beautiful South coast and three great passes to snorkel on the East side – oh, and kiting. Coral in the Westernmost pass is better than at Fakarava although you don’t have the schools of sharks. Oh, and we swam with mantas. Just one time out of the nearly dozen we were there but that always makes my day.
Carol picked Fakarava, Tahanea and added Toau which is isolated and spectacular in the South side (through the East facing pass) and also has the family at Anse Amyot to visit with in the North side – particularly fun when they aren’t overloaded with visitors.

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