FRENCH POLYNESIA – “A dream destination in the middle of the Pacific”
The area stretches over a surface area equal to Europe (excluding Russia), but has a land area of only 4,000 square kilometers (less than half the size of Corsica). It comprises 118 islands that form five archipelagos: the Society Islands (including the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands), the Tuamotu Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Australs and the Gambier Islands.
Tahiti is the main island in the Society Archipelago with Papeete as the administrative capital, and it is also the largest and youngest island (2 million years). The other islands include Moorea, Tetiaroa, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora, and Maupiti (the oldest… ~ 4 million years old). All are high tropical islands surrounded by lagoons. Weather is wet and warm, but seldom adverse.
Approximately 250,000 inhabitants live in Polynesia, 2/3 on the island of Tahiti. French and Tahitian are the official languages, but English is spoken in the tourist areas.
RAIATEA – The largest island in the Leeward Group, it was formerly the religious center of all the Society Islands. The Marae Taputapuatea is the most famous archaeological site, where, according to legend, the great Polynesian voyagers who discovered and colonized Hawaii and New Zealand set sail. Today, with a population of 10,000, it serves as the economic and administrative center of the Leeward Islands. Raiatea has no beaches.
HUAHINE – The name, translated, means “pregnant woman” and is considered to be one of the most picturesque and geographically diverse islands in the Society group -- actually two islands connected by an underwater isthmus. The 4500 residents have a long tradition of independence and pride in their Polynesian heritage.
BORA BORA – The name translates to “first born”, indicating that this may have been the most important island after “sacred” Raiatea. It was created from a huge volcano 3 to 4 million years ago. James Michener called this “the most beautiful island in the world” [I disagree. It has the most beautiful lagoons, but Moorea is more dramatic.] Bora Bora definitely gets the award for the most tourist resorts and shops.
MOOREA – Translation “golden lizard” – The rugged beauty of this heart-shaped island is attributed to a great volcano (the northern half of which either fell into the sea or was blown away in a cataclysmic explosion). The striking jagged peaks left behind drop dramatically into Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay (where the most recent production of “Mutiny on the Bounty” was filmed). The 12,000 residents live on the fringing coastal plain in small settlements where lush valleys meet the lagoon.