Things to Do in French Polynesia
Magical Mountain is on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. Though the mountains on Moorea are not extremely high, they are particularly rugged. Magical Mountain is one of the highest points on the island. It is located along the exterior part of the island, and it offers spectacular 360-degree views of the island and the surrounding clear blue waters of the lagoon and the ocean. On the way up the mountain, visitors will pass villages, scenic valleys, fruit trees, and pineapple plantations. Magical Mountain lets visitors experience the breathtaking scenery an ancient volcanic island. The mountain is not accessible by regular cars and can only be reached by 4WD or ATV. For this reason, the best way to experience Magical Mountain and its views is by taking a tour of the island that includes a trip up the mountain.
Belvedere Lookout is a scenic viewpoint awarding views of Cook's Bay, Opunohu Bay, Mount Rotui and the fertile Opunohu Valley with its many pineapple plants, craggy peaks and gentle slopes. There are many ways to reach the top -- uphill hiking, ATV, scooter or car -- as there is a road leading to the lookout. That being said, now that it is more accessible it is also more crowded, meaning you should allow yourself adequate time for photo snapping. The most popular time to visit is at sunset at around 5:30pm, where you can see the sky and landscape illuminated by a rainbow backdrop of reds, pinks, yellow, oranges and purples. At the top there is a small snack, beverage and souvenir stand. And if you're still feeling energetic, you can access waterfall and nature treks from the top.
Matira Beach is the only public beach on Bora Bora. Although it's not associated with any resort, it still boasts 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) of bright white sand, coconut groves and lapping waves. The beach opens onto a shallow, sandy bottomed lagoon with perfect snorkeling conditions. Swimmers can see colorful corals and the huge variety of tropical fish which give the area its nickname: “The Aquarium.”
The beach stretches from the Hotel Bora Bora to Matira Point, which is a low sandy peninsula that juts into the lagoon. At low tide you can wade from here all the way out to the coral reef.
The only downside to Matira Beach is that it can get somewhat crowded and hectic, particularly on days when a cruise ship is docked nearby. Nonetheless it's still a beautiful (and free) attraction. In the evenings this west-facing beach is perfect for watching the sunset.
There are numerous waterfalls all over Tahiti, but the most popular and accessible are the three waterfalls at Faarumai, known as the Cascades of Faarumai. Turning off the main coastal road, a dirt track cuts through the teeming jungle to a parking spot. From there a 5 minute walk brings you to the first cascade, Vaima Hutu. This is a truly impressive sight, with crystal clear water rushing down a sheer rock face into a cool, inviting pool. The other two waterfalls – Haamaremare and Haamaremare Iti – are close by each other about 30 minutes’ walk away, and are well worth seeking out.
Bora Bora is one of the most famous islands in French Polynesia. The main island is surrounded by a lagoon, a barrier reef, and tiny islets that help keep the water calm most of the time. On Bora Bora across from the main island, you'll find the fascinating Coral Gardens. This coral reef is not far below the surface of the water, so it makes for easy and fun snorkeling. Visitors will get to see colorful coral as well as a variety of fish that live in the area. Some of the fish you could see include butterfly fish, parrot fish, puffer fish, Picasso trigger fish, snapper, tang, goat fish, grouper, trumpet fish, zebra unicorn fish, wrasse or Japanese moray eels. In some areas, it's possible to even see sharks and stingrays.
There aren't many public beaches on Bora Bora since the resorts own them privately. This makes access to the Coral Garden reefs a bit limited depending on where you're staying.
Lycée Agricole, or Agriculture School, is French Polynesia's only agricultural school, located on the island of Moorea. At the agricultural school, visitors can see pineapples, lemons, grapefruits, bananas, vanilla beans and many other fruits being grown and learn about the cultivation process. The school also makes fresh fruit juices, jams and sorbets, which are available for purchase. They also offer tastings of the fruit products they make. Visitors can hike on educational trails in the school's plantations in order to learn more about the school and its work and to enjoy the scenery. At the agricultural school, you can also learn about the different tropical plants, flowers, and fruits that are native to French Polynesia.
The sights, sounds and smells of authentic Polynesian life are on offer at Papeete’s main market, also known as the Marche de Papeete. This is the commercial and social hub of Tahiti’s laid-back capital and the oldest surviving institution on the island, now housed in a large, open-sided modern building.
Vendors come from all over the island to sell traditional handicrafts, particularly baskets, hats and other woven goods, as well as brilliantly colored sarongs and other garments. If you can’t find a reasonably-priced souvenir here you’re just not trying. Naturally there is also a large range of tropical fruits and vegetables, with snack bars selling fresh cooked fish and other dishes.
Bloody Mary's is Bora Bora's most famous restaurant. It is as well known for its food as it is for its colorful history and atmosphere.
The restaurant was founded in 1979 by an eccentric Polish nobleman, the Baron Jerzy Hubert Edward von Dange (George to his friends). It was sold to a Los Angeles businessman in 1985 but the restaurant still maintains what it calls its “old Tahiti style.” The building is a fare tiurai, a traditional hut with a thatched roof and open sides. The kitschy interior features a sand floor (bare foot dining encouraged), tiki torches and polished palm trunks for seats.
Bloody Mary's is open for lunch, dinner and drinks. On the menu is fresh seafood and the daily catch is displayed on ice at the entrance. You will no doubt be encouraged to pair your meal with a fruity island cocktail. Don't forget to check out the open air restrooms which have waterfalls instead of sinks.
More Things to Do in French Polynesia
Mount Otemanu is the highest point on Bora Bora. Together with Mount Pahia it forms the remnants of an extinct volcano that once existed in the center of the island. Today its craggy remnants tower over the island, reaching heights of 2,385 feet (727 meters). It's rugged, black face makes a stunning contrast with the jungles and the sparkling blue sea below.
While it's possible to hike up Mount Pahia, Mount Otemanu is best enjoyed from below. It's impossible to climb to the summit because of the brittle volcanic rock which is too fragile to hold a person's weight. According to the locals, nobody has EVER successfully scaled the top. You can, however, take a hike up to the base. The path is confusing and the jungle is thick so it's recommended to take a guide or a 4x4 tour. Here you will find leftover US cannons from World War II and scattered altars from the ancient past.
The Lagoonarium is located one of Bora Bora’s “motus” (the small islands which form the outer ring of the lagoon). This is essentially an aquarium without the glass, and a great opportunity to see many sea creatures in their natural habitat.Swim with sharks, turtles and rays as tropical fish dart about your feet in the warm, shallow waters. After you’ve feasted on a tropical barbecue, watch the sharks and rays get their turn in the afternoon feeding session.
One of Papeete’s few museums, the Musée de la Perle (or Black Pearl Museum) celebrates all aspects of pearl culture. In the days before large-scale cultivation, these ocean jewels were charged with mystical significance, associated with religious rites and coveted as status symbols. The museum, established by local entrepreneur Robert Wan, looks at the pearl in art, history and literature, and shows how they get from the sea to the display case.
The real star here is the black pearl. While a little more abundant than in the days when Mary, Queen of Scots adorned herself with a priceless necklace of the dark sea bounty, this Tahitian specialty is still a sought-after rarity.
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