French Polynesia General Information
If you look on a map, you'll find that French Polynesia is one of the most remote locations on the planet. It is located in the middle of the Southern Pacific Ocean and it is almost halfway between the western coast of the United States and the eastern coast of Australia.
It is made up of five different archipelagos. Four of them were created by volcanoes and one is coral. The size of the entire area is huge, being about four million square kilometres. The actual land area that is found here is about one tenth of one percent of that entire area. It is made up of many small islands and atolls that create turquoise lagoons, protected from the rough seas of the Pacific.
The climate of French Polynesia is fairly stable throughout the year. It is considered tropical, but because of the vast amount of surrounding water, the temperature is moderate and it has an average temperature of about 27° C. The temperature of the water can vary around that same mark and only by a few degrees depending on the season.
Polynesians were the first to populate the area. Some of the islands are thought to have been inhabited for as long as 1,700 years and others as recently as 1,200 years. Because of their remoteness and size, many small islands and islets are still uninhabited.
Magellan was probably the first European to see French Polynesia and he was soon followed by others from the Netherlands, Britain and France. By about 1800, the French had a strong presence in the area and at one point even sent a militia to protect French missionaries. Through some tumultuous times in the 1880s, the islands became a French colony. People from the area even fought for France in World War II. Some have sought autonomy from France but they appear to be a minority.
Many of the people in French Polynesia still rely on fishing as a way to earn a living. Because of the vast amount of marine life that is available, they can still manage to live in remote areas. The region is well known for the production of black pearls, and many of the people will farm them and sell them to resorts who will in turn sell them to tourists.
The official currency of French Polynesia is called Comptoirs Francais du Pacifique- Franc Pacifique. It has a currency symbol of XPF. Many visitors will be pleased to find that they don't really need to convert to this currency as some foreign currencies are readily accepted in the area. You should have no problem using U.S. Dollars, Euros or British Pounds. One thing that visitors should be aware of is that there are many small islands and atolls that do not have any kind of banking machines so it is important to bring a sufficient amount of cash for your vacation.
Visitors sometimes find that goods are relatively expensive in French Polynesia and this has much to do with the remoteness of the area. Of course, the tourist population has helped to increase prices. Something that people should also be aware of is that the practice of tipping is not particularly common here as it is in some places. You may even find that local people will not take your offering of a gratuity.
Language and culture
The official language in French Polynesia is French. This is widely spoken but there has also been a resurgence of the original Tahitian language. For many years it was not allowed to be taught in schools but it is now. You'll even find that many of the local people will mix French and Tahitian. Most of the people have a basic understanding of English and other common languages that tourists use. This is particularly true in the resorts. If you want to endear yourself to the locals, it helps to learn a few simple phrases in French or Tahitian.
The Polynesian culture remains very strong in the area. Many people still practice the traditional dances and they are often accompanied by music. The clothing is particularly colourful and the resorts will have people of Polynesian descent perform shows for guests which are particularly well received. The hospitality of Polynesians is world-famous and they are very welcoming to visitors.
Being that the area is one of the most bio-diverse in terms of sea life, many people come here to experience the best snorkelling and scuba diving available. Many of the atolls protect shallow lagoons that are known for their turquoise and aquamarine water that is so clear, you can easily see the bottom. The resorts take particular advantage of the lagoons and will set up small cottages or bungalows on stilts right above the water. Some of them provide a section of glass flooring to admire underwater life or even feed the fish from the living area of the villa.
Different water sports are offered. You can find things like water skiing, parasailing, canoeing, kayaking and jet-skiing. There are many tour operators that have glass-bottomed boats that allow passengers to view the colourful coral and sea life in dry comfort.
You have probably heard of places like Tahiti, Moorea or Bora Bora because they are known to be some of the most isolated and romantic destinations on earth. They have incredible, white beaches, pink beaches and even black beaches and many of the islands have peaks that rise majestically from the water. They have been the inspiration for artists like Robert Louis Stevenson and Paul Gaugin because of their incredible natural beauty.