French Polynesia includes 5 archipelagoes, a total of 118 islands and atolls, in the South Pacific Ocean, about half way between South America and Australia. 4 of the archipelagoes are volcanic, including the Austral Islands, Gambier Islands, Marquesas Islands, and Society Islands. The 5th archipelago is coral, the Tuamotus, which form the largest chain of atolls in the world. The terrain is a mixture of rugged high islands and low islands with reefs. The highest point is Mont Orohena at 2,241 meters (7,352 feet), on the island of Tahiti. By far, the islands most visited by tourists are Tahiti, neighboring Moorea, and Bora Bora, all in the Society Islands. Bora is often characterized as the most beautiful island in the world.
Environmental issues include biodiversity loss due to poaching, coral reefs threatened by climate change, waste management in general, and nuclear waste in particular. From 1966 to 1996, 46 atmospheric and 147 underground atomic tests were made by the French army on Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls, in the Tuamotus. DIREN (Direction de l’Environnement) is the government’s environmental directorate; whereas, MEM (Ministère de l’Environnement, de l’Energie et des Mines) is more concerned with energy and mines. (Makatea atoll is one of the three great phosphate rocks in the Pacific.) Fenua Ma (Societe Environnement Polynesien) is a semi-official company founded in 1997 to handle waste management.
Te mana o te moana is an NGO founded in 2004 to protect the marine environment of French Polynesia. The UC Berkeley Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station on Moorea, in concert with the Centre de Recherche et Observatoire de l’Environnement, is working on Moorea Coral Reef Long-Term Ecological Research. The Tetiaroa Society cares for the flora and fauna of the island Tetiaroa, made famous by Marlon Brando. There is a Bora Bora Turtle Center, run by Le Méridien Bora Bora resort. The Moorea Dolphin Center is a captive dolphin facility. The website Des baleines à Tahiti is dedicated to whale watching in Tahiti. For birding, Manu (Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie) serves as the ornithological society of French Polynesia.
In addition to diving, Topdive organizes whale watching tours on the island of Tahiti. Dive Tahiti Blue is based on Moorea. Also on Moorea, Vincent Lelong’s Aquablue offers helmet diving. On Bora Bora, there is kitesurfing with Kitesurf School Polynesie and paddlesurfing with Bora Bora Stand Up Paddle. Reef Discovery guides snorkelling tours into the coral gardens. Bora Diving Center is a dive shop at Matira beach. The 6 passengers is a diving center on Rangiroa atoll in the Tuamotus.
- Atoll de Taiaro UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve
- Bellinghausen (Motu One) Territorial Reserve
- Eiao Island Natural Reserve
- Hatutu Island Reserve Integrale
- Ilôt de Sable Natural Reserve
- Mohotani Reserve Integrale
- Scilly Atoll Territorial Reserve
Originally, the indigenous Polynesians were organized in loose chieftainships based on islands groups. First the Portuguese, then the Dutch, English and finally French explorers sailed through the islands, beginning in the 16th century. Both Spanish and English missionaries settled in the islands by the late 1700s. French missionaries colonized Tahiti by force in the 1800s. By the end of the 19th century, France had annexed the Tuamotus, the Marquesas Islands, and the Austral Islands. In the early 20th century, the colony was named officially re-named “French Settlements in Oceania”. The administration of French Polynesia sided with the Free French Forces in 1940, and following WWII Polynesians were granted French citizenship. However, the overseas territory was not officially re-named “French Polynesia” until 1957.
As a result of Algerian independence, French nuclear tests were transferred from North Africa to Moruroa atoll, beginning in 1966. In 1974, atmospheric testing was moved underground; but, in 1979 a serious accident occurred that cracked the atoll and caused a tsunami. In response to a Greenpeace plan to lead a protest flotilla to Moruroa, the French foreign intelligence service bombed the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor, killing photographer Fernando Pereira on 10 July 1985. France finally stopped nuclear testing following the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty of 1996.
In 2011, it was widely reported in the press that a German yachtsman had been killed by a cannibal on the island of Nuku Hiva. According the French High Commissioner, much of the crime in French Polynesia can be linked to Cannabis; though, local politician Sabrina Birk has pushed for decriminalization.
The ministry of culture, Ministère de la Culture, maintains the department of culture and heritage, Service de la Culture et du Patrimoine; however, the Tahiti Heritage website is maintained by the association Richesses Du Fenua. Two significant archaeological sites in the Society Islands are listed on Wikipedia, at Fa’ahia on Huahine and Taputapuatea marae on Raiatea. Major museums include the Robert Wan Pearl Museum in Papeete, and the museum of Tahiti and the islands, Te Fare Manaha, in the Punaauia suburb. There is both a Paul Gauguin Museum in Tahiti, and a Paul Gauguin Cultural Center on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas.
There is an official cultural center in Papeete, called Te Fare Tauhiti Nui. Va’a means canoe in Polynesian, and Polynesians enjoy outrigger canoe races to this day, for instance coordinated by the Fédération Tahitienne de Va’a, such as the Hawaiki Nui Va’a Outrigger Canoe Race and the Tahiti Nui Va’a Outrigger Canoe Race. Body art is another Polynesian tradition, and Tricia Allen has written a book all about it titled, The Polynesian Tattoo Today. There are at least two options for getting tattoos in Papeete, Mana’o Tattoo and Tagaloa Tattoo. If you’d like to study the French language in Tahiti, Renée Pellet’s Le Cours d’école is available in Papara.
The good news is that French Polynesia has lots of pensions or “Bed & Breakfast” inns. Tahiti Pensions is the official Tahiti Tourisme web portal for these family hotels all over French Polynesia. For instance, even Bora Bora has guesthouses, such as Chez Nono. Not only are there hostels too, such as Teamo Hostel in Papeete, but also camping, like Camping Nelson on Moorea. The InterContinental Resort and Thalasso-Spa on Bora Bora is worth mentioning due to its seawater air-conditioning, using form of deep water source cooling called ocean thermal energy conversion. As of 2013, The Brando resort on Tetiaroa was still under construction.
Air Tahiti Airpasses are the generally recommended way of getting around the far flung island groups. The Aremiti is the fast ferry between Tahiti and nearby Moorea. The Port de Papeete coordinates interisland transportation throughout the region. The freighter Aranui specializes in 14-day adventure cruises through the Marquesas islands. Bora Bora Submarine even provides a deep reef experience.
- Tourist Wastelands In French Polynesia: Examination Of A Destination In Crisis And Manner Of Resistance To International Tourism by P Bachimon, 2012
- Impact of shark-feeding tourism on surrounding fish populations off Moorea Island (French Polynesia) by M Vignon, P Sasal, RL Johnson & R Galzin, 2010
- The impacts of Tourism on Bora Bora, French Polynesia: An Analysis of the Economic, Socio-cultural and Environmental Impacts by AK Gieysztor, 2004
- Tourism Development and Migration Dynamics in the Outer Archipelagoes of French Polynesia by AM D Hauteserre, 2003
- Islands and coral reefs, population and culture, economy and tourism: worldview and a case study of French Polynesia by B Salvat & C Pailhe, 2002
- A future for tourism in French Polynesia? by AM d’Hauteserre, 1999
- The impact of the tourism industry on the indigenous population of French Polynesia by JL Ra’i-Atea Pambrun, 1998
- Tourism in French Polynesia by M Gaston, 1995
- Moorea & Tourism: Managing the Balance Between Development and Conservation by I Kennedy, 1990
- International tourist flows; an integrated approach with examples from French Polynesia by DG Pearce, 1983
- Development of tourism in French Polynesia: promise and problems by R Salmon & B Farrell, 1977
- The Impact of Dispersed Tourism in French Polynesia by EJ Donehower, 1969