French Polynesia is a fascinating place. While we are about to look at nine things you probably don’t about it, there is one thing to know right off the top – French Polynesia is NOT Tahiti. A common mistake, and an easy one to make, is that French Polynesia and Tahiti are one and the same.
In fact, there are five archipelagos and over 115 islands that make up French Polynesia. Though many people will refer to all of them as Tahiti, it is only one of the islands that make up the entirety of French Polynesia. As you make plans to pay a visit, it is helpful to note that Tahiti is comprised of Tahiti Iti (a small area to the southeast) and Tahiti Nui to the north.
While Tahiti is home to a huge percentage of the French Polynesian population, it is only a part of what are known as the Society Islands. Here, you find other well-known names, including Bora Bora. The other archipelagos include Tuamotu, the Marquesas, the Gambiers, and the Austral Islands.
So, there are a few things you might not yet know about French Polynesia. Before you book your luxury villa or overwater bungalow in the region, we’d like to share with you a lot of other lesser-known but important details.
It is Part of France
Today, French Polynesia is called a semi-autonomous region of France, though they were once their own private kingdom with a royal family. In the 1880s, however, France annexed the region and today has authority over civic and property rights as well as law enforcement. This is why the official languages are both French and Tahitian. Additionally, each island grouping will have its own dialect, and English is a commonly known language in all areas.
It gets fewer visitors in a single year than the Hawaiian Islands host in a single day. That is why it is deemed one of the most exclusive destinations in the world. What is so interesting is that the area that French Polynesia covers is far larger than Europe, covering more than four million square kilometers.
There is a Vineyard on an Atoll
With its connection to France, it makes sense that it would be home to a vineyard. The coral atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago is home to e Domaine Dominique Auroy Winery and its Vin du Tahiti vintages – the only French Polynesian wine.
Moorea is the Home of the Overwater Bungalow
You may look in many exotic and tropical areas of the world and find lots of overwater bungalows. They can range from primitive to extremely luxurious, but all of them take their inspiration from the island of Moorea, which created the first such structures during the 1960s.
What caused them to be built? Three American investors had tried, unsuccessfully, to create a vanilla plantation on the island. And they decided to attempt to make the area a tourist village. Calling it Bali Hai Moorea, it was a success, and scores of other companies now emulate this style of accommodation.
The Region is Home to the Most Photographed Island
Though Bora Bora and Moorea get their fair share of photographs appearing in travel journals and websites, it is the tiny island of Motu Tapu that can rightfully claim to be the site appearing in the most photos. With its turquoise lagoon, tall palms, and stunning white sands, it is a picture-postcard vision that inspires many visits to French Polynesia. In fact, it was once a private retreat for a Polynesian queen.
Moorea is known in the area as the Magical Island, while nearby Bora Bora is the Romantic Island, and Tahiti is the Queen of the Pacific. Another island close to the largest group, Raiatea (formerly Hawaki), is where French Polynesians believe the world began.
There Are No Snakes
Millions of people live in fear of snakes and avoid going on hikes or adventures where there may be a high risk of running into snakes. Fortunately, in French Polynesia, the islands are so remote and distant that there are no poisonous snakes or any snakes at all. There are also no poisonous bugs, and the only pest around are the sandflies that rarely bother travelers.
It Provides a Home to an Ultra Rare Flower
Men and women in French Polynesia commonly tuck a tiare apetahi behind an ear. Why is not quite clear, but what we do know is that this gorgeous white flower thrives only in French Polynesia and only on one of its many islands – Raiatea. Even then, it will grow only on Mount Temehani, and it has never been replanted successfully anywhere else in the islands nor out in the world.
When married, the flower is tucked on the left ear, and when single, it is tucked behind the right. It is also the scent behind many famous fragrances.
There is a Huge Chinese Community
One of the great cultural experiences you can enjoy during a visit to Tahiti is the enormous Chinese community living throughout the region. There are many shops owned by Chinese residents, and this makes for a great experience.
It is Home to a Church Built of Coral
There is a saying about using what you’ve got, and this was taken literally on the island of Fakarava, which is where one of the largest lagoons of the region is found. It is also where a protected coral atoll exists, but where early settlers harvested coral to use as a building material. They constructed only one building – the Catholic church of Jean de La Croix. The exterior has other materials, but the interior is entirely built of coral from the waters nearby.
Breadboxes and Mailboxes Are the Same
Finally, keep an eye out for oversized mail or letterboxes outside of French Polynesian homes. This is because they are not used for mail at all. In fact, there is no residential postal service. The boxes are for home bread delivery!
Clearly, the area known as French Polynesia is far more interesting and surprising than many think. If you are booking a trip to the region, you’ll appreciate this rare and unusual facts, but are far more likely to appreciate the endless beauty and noted hospitality of the region.