French Polynesia covers a vast area in the South Pacific with 5 island groups spreading over more than 2000 kilometers. People often compare it to the size of Europe. Unlike the wide diversity of land animals in Colombia and Panama, French Polynesia has only a few and they’re primarily domesticated. The real action is in the water. In our year there, we had amazing marine encounters in French Polynesia. This post features our best videos and tips of where to spot marine life from The Marquesas to the Society Islands.
Fun with Marine Animals
One of the highlights of living on a sailboat traveling around the world is getting up close with marine animals. After over four years on board, spotting these animals in their natural habitat still gives us a thrill! Turtles, sharks, and dolphins have been regular sights since the beginning, and rays and whales are more common since we’ve hit the Pacific. The South Pacific, so far, seems more untouched than much of the Caribbean. We love spotting marine life in French Polynesia just as much as everywhere else and here are some highlights.
We spent a few months in the Tuamotus, and would gladly return, because the water is beautiful and the living is easy. We visited several islands in the archipelago, enjoying our experiences in each. Read on for our Tuamotus favorites: where to anchor and eat and fun activities to enjoy.
This is for the sailors out there, and is based on our limited knowledge of only a handful of motus. We barely scratched the surface in this archipelago. Still, we can’t talk about our Tuamotus favorites without mentioning our favorite spots to stay on the boat for a while and these are definitely worth mentioning.
Hirifa is paradise for liveaboards. It has almost everything a cruiser needs: good internet, calm water for swimming and paddling, nice beaches for chill time, and for the kiteboarders, a sandbar for launching and consistent winds. Friends spent so much time there, they started a cruisers net.
French Polynesia is a vast area, with five major island groups: The Marquesas, Tuamotus, Gambier, Austral, and Society Islands. We are traveling west with the winds after crossing from Panama and landing in the magical Marquesas islands. After a few weeks or months in The Marquesas, the next island group is usually the Tuamotus. Cruising the Tuamotus is like nothing we’ve experienced, and a great reason to get the long stay visa. We can’t believe we almost raced through all of these islands, a necessity with the standard French Polynesian three month visa.
Introduction to The Tuamotus
Motu in Tahitian means a small islet of coral reef, an atoll. The Tuamotus is a chain of 70+ of these small islets, many sparsely inhabited.
To sail from The Marquesas to anywhere in The Tuamotus takes 3-4 days, depending on departure and arrival points, and, of course, the wind. Once you’re in the chain, you can do short day or overnight hops to get from one motu to the next.
The archipelagos’ total population is only about 15,000 people. That’s right, across almost 80 islands. The main industries include pearl farming, copra cultivation (coconut oil), and a small amount of tourism in a few places.
After spending so much time on land in Tahiti, we felt lucky to escape to its beautiful sister island, Moorea. Located 11 miles northwest of Tahiti, it is busy and tourist-filled, but still feels like a tranquil getaway. On two different getaways from Tahiti, we spent four weeks communing with the marine life in Moorea.
First, a little background. Like Tahiti and The Tuamotus, the island of Moorea is surrounded by coral reef, providing protection from big ocean waves. Moorea allows us to anchor in beautiful places with close proximity to shops, restaurants, and other amenities of civilization. One of the highlights is the marine life in Moorea.
The Marquesas are beautiful and fun to explore. Located in one of the most remote regions on earth, tourists are uncommon and supplies are thin. In contrast, the land and seascapes are stunning! Read about cruising in the Marquesas, with some tips for first-timers.
About The Marquesas
The Marquesas archipelago is in the northeasternmost part of French Polynesia. This location makes it a common first stop for sailors crossing the Pacific. Other than sailors, not a lot of tourists visit this part of the world. Which means a lot of unspoiled beauty and some difficulty accessing basic goods.
The Marquesas consists of six occupied islands and we have been to five. Mountainous and green, the land provides ample fruit for its residents and visitors. So much fruit that Marquesan citrus is exported to Tahiti and beyond. The hard part of cruising in the Marquesas is finding internet, fresh veggies, and propane, and if you can get that all in one anchorage with clear water, don’t ever leave!
Sailing in The Marquesas
Sailing between islands in The Marquesas is good in that distances usually allow for daytime trips from one island to another. Here’s an idea of distances between islands (obviously differs depending on departure and arrival bay), from northeast to southwest (our route):
Nuku Hiva to Ua Pou: approximately 22nm
Ua Pou to Tahuata: approximately 60nm
Tahuata to Hiva Oa: around 20nm
Hiva Oa to Fatu Hiva: about 45nm
The island we didn’t visit – yet – is Ua Huka, 30 miles from Nuku Hiva, so would take 6 hours.
It’s nice to have the luxury of jumping between islands without overnight trips, and each island is unique and worth visiting! Sometimes we have to motor sail, or just motor, especially when travelling between Tahuata and Hiva Oa.