Getting around the islands in French Polynesia
Are you preparing your future trip to French Polynesia, do you already have an idea of the possible itineraries over there? Have you bought your plane tickets to Tahiti? Do you want to know how to go from Tahiti to Bora Bora by boat? Are you looking for information on how to travel between the islands in Polynesia? Then this is the page for you! I have been living in Polynesia for almost 4 years now. I am therefore in a very good position to know how to travel between the islands in Polynesia. Indeed, as soon as you start planning an itinerary around the whole of French Polynesia, things quickly become a headache. Because, yes there are 5 archipelagos, 118 islands in which 47 are served by plane and others only by boat. To sum up, it’s not easy to find your way around at the beginning! For those who are preparing your trip, the article on the travel budget to French Polynesia will be very useful in helping consider the cost of your trip. Here is a quick overview of the different possibilities.
Getting around French Polynesia from island to island
Let us be clear from the beginning that almost all people travel by plane for most of their journey, even if it is far from being economical (in relation to the distance traveled…). But that’s the way it is. It’s the easiest way.
Air travel to the islands in French Polynesia
With the exception of a few private companies (
which you can’t afford anyway!), all air traffic is handled by the local airline Air Tahiti. The views when traveling around by plane to the islands is often memorable.
47 islands are therefore accessible throughout the country, some several times a day (Bora Bora, Raiatea, Huahine, etc.) and others only once a week (some lost atolls in Tuamotu). The map below (© Air Tahiti) shows the company’s entire network. For example, the distance Tahiti – Bora Bora is about 250 Km, which is about one hour of flight.
On the other hand, when preparing your itinerary, the only thing you have to do is to choose the islands you want to visit and organize a planning according to the flights available between the islands.
There is on the Air Tahiti website, a page of updated flights in French Polynesia.
I would also advise you to buy your flights to the islands on the company’s website (or in an agency on Tahiti) rather than on a comparator. Indeed, some special rates (“blue” = cheaper) do not seem to appear on the comparators….
Note: Air Tahiti offers one flight per week to the Cook Islands (Rarotonga) for those who are interested in discovering another paradise nearby.
Air Tahiti passes
For those who wish to discover many islands in the same archipelago, the company offers Passes by archipelago. These are very economical and advantageous. This is clearly the best way to visit many islands and save money.
Here are the passes proposed by archipelago by the company:
Prices vary from 250 € (for the Moana Pass for example to about 700€ for a Marquesas Pass). Look carefully at the general conditions of the Passes (28 days validity, 1 visit per island max, no Pass for babies under 2 years old, etc.).
The company also offers a 5 archipelagos card (65€, 18 months validity): in other words, you can visit 4 archipelagos and they give you the last one! (Tip: save the most expensive for last: Marquises/Gambier).
This is clearly the card to take if you are sure to visit 4 archipelagos during your trip on the territory (only in Tahiti).
10 Tips in summary about flying to Polynesia
- There are 3 price ranges (White, Blue, Red) depending on the time of day and the dates of the trip. So check before you buy (on the company’s website), you can already save money by leaving early in the morning for instance.
- Most of the Leeward Islands (near Tahiti) are very well connected (often several times a day). You will generally not have any problems getting out of these islands.
- The Australes and Marquesas Islands are generally served 3 to 4 times/week (check the article on how to get to the Marquesas). Be careful therefore to take an extra time if you fly on an international flight back from distant archipelagos (and even nearby islands). I recommend arriving the day before your international flight!
- The most touristy atolls are also relatively well connected (Rangiroa, Fakarava, Tikehau, etc.),
- Some atolls only have one flight per week! Be careful therefore according to the time you have on site,
- You cannot go from the Australes Archipelago directly to the Marquesas, Gambier or Leeward Islands (and vice versa). A return to Tahiti is required;
- However, you can reach the Tuamotu from the Windward Islands (flight Bora Bora/Raiatea -> Rangiroa/Fakarava/Tikehau);
- Only 4 Marquesas Islands are served by plane (the others by boat);
- There are Archipelago Passes for those who visit several islands. Use them if you plan to visit several islands in the same archipelago.
- If you have decided to visit 4 archipelagos, consider buying the 5 archipelagos card! (which is only possible to buy locally).
Travelling by boat in French Polynesia
Flying remains the easiest and fastest way to get around the islands in French Polynesia. However, for people who have time, and a more limited budget, the boat can be a very interesting option. However, it should be noted that inter-island boats in Tahiti and throughout Polynesia are rare. It is clearly not the most common means of transport (oddly enough).
There are several types of boats on the territory.
There are cargo ships or schooners that accept to take passengers over longer distances, either in the cabin or on deck. Rotations vary according to destination, several times a week on the Leeward Islands, every 15 days for the Marquesas or Australes Islands and once a month for the Tuamotu-Gambier.
However, the available places are limited and rare. Priority is given to local people and people working on the islands (normal). It will then be necessary to try to call well in advance to make a possible reservation. According to recent information I have received, you will be told in 90% of the time that it is already full. The best thing is to go there a few hours before the boat leaves and ask if a place is available!
The majority of boats can theoretically accept up to 12 passengers.
Here is also another interesting link of the Port autonome (Harbor) of Papeete where you can search by archipelago or islands, transport between the islands.
Prices, dates and schedules are very variable in all cases. It is therefore necessary to be well informed. In any case, you will have to be patient with these journeys. For example, a Tahiti-Bora Bora crossing by cargo boat takes about 20 hours (with some stopover).
One thing is certain: prices are much cheaper than air travel. For people who have time, a smaller budget and who love the sea, this can be a perfect solution!
July 2018 Addition
With the agreement of Wissam and Gabrielle, a couple on a world tour that i met here in the fenua (local name for French Polynesia), I would like to complete the information on boat trips in French Polynesia. Here is the information summarized below by archipelago. The information is dated summer 2017.
For the Tuamotu:
- There are several mixed cargo ships (passengers/freight) that can carry passengers,
- It is often necessary to book very far in advance and even with that you are never sure of anything,
- Otherwise, you should go to the boat loading port in Papeete (Fare Ute) and ask there to board, often at the last minute or so,
- On the islands, it is recommended that as soon as the boat arrives, you should go and see the captain to find out if it is possible to embark.
The boat Cobia 3 (tel 40 43 43 36 43)
- Boat that leaves Papeete (4pm) every Monday and serves the atolls of Kaukura, Apataki, Fakarava (Wednesday), Faaite and Arutua -> Route to be confirmed,
- Count 7350 fr (60€) for the trip,
- There are 2 to 4 hours of stopovers on each island,
- There would be 3 rooms with 4 berths, the meal is not included (so bring your food).
The Mareva Nui (tel: 40 422 553)
- It also serves the Tuamotu every week,
- I’m still looking for more specific information,
- The trip to Fakarava would cost 24000 xpf -> To be confirmed because it is not worth it with the little difference in price range with the plane
Saint Xavier Maris Stella 4: (tel 40 42 23 23 58)
- Departures do not seem to be as frequent as other boats,
- It serves in particular the nearby atolls (Tikehau, Rangiroa, Fakarava)
- Count 3500fr (30€) per day of travel,
- There is no cabin, no rooms, you sleep where we can,
- 3 meals included per day.
For the Leeward Islands, it’s the same story, try to book your place well in advance. If it’s full, go straight to the boat to see the captain!
Hawaikinui : (tel 40 54 99 54) :
- This is clearly THE good plan for those who want to sail across Tahiti to Raiatea, or take a boat between Papeete and Bora Bora at a low price!
- Two departures are possible in the late afternoon: Tuesday and Thursday (around 4pm),
- Count only 2000fr (16€) on deck, without meals or place to sleep,
- You arrive on the first island in the morning (Huahine), and in the late morning for the last one (Bora Bora),
- Count 1000fr (8€) to cross from one island to another.
The Maupiti Express (February 2020)
According to the information I have recently received, the Maupiti Express boat is back on the sea between the island of Raiatea and Bora Bora. Here’s what we must remember:
– Only the Raiatea – Bora Bora connection exists on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays,
– Departures are from Bora Bora at 7am (except Sunday at 2pm) and return from Raiatea : 4pm (Monday/Sunday) and Friday at 5pm,
– Rates : Adult (5400cps – one way / 10800xpf return) — Child (2700xpf – one way / 5400xpf – return)
– Reservations only by phone at 40 67 66 69 or 87 740 240
– More info by email
- The Raiatea – Tahaa (Leeward Islands) crossover: 2 main companies make the round trips : Tahaa Rapid Transport (TTR) and Te Haere Maru. Tahaa Island is superb, by the way.
The prices are around 12€ One-way ticket. Please note that you can ask the guesthouse where you sleep to arrange transport with a private boat. Some large hotels will also include transfer with your stay.
- Hiva Oa – Tahuata – Fatu Hiva (Marquesas) crossing: A maritime shuttle “Te Ata O Hiva” makes the round trip between the islands. Please contact the Hiva Oa Town Hall for information on departure times and days. Here’s the website you should fine the fare, date and time of the boat (in french, i’m sorry).
Hiva Oa – Tahuata: 2500 fr (20€)
Tahuata – Fatu Hiva: 4500 fr (38€)
Hiva Oa – Fatu Hiva : 6000 fr (50€)
This is clearly ideal if you want to discover the Southern Marquesas and these wild islands at a lower cost, which are only accessible by boat!
Throughout French Polynesia, there are a few official ferries operating between nearby islands. The main ones are:
- The trip from Tahiti to Moorea (Windward Island): There is clearly no need to fly between the two islands. Two companies make the trip: Terevau and Aremiti. The prices are almost identical. Count 10€ for a trip between the two islands. There are special rates for residents, books of 10 tickets, for cars by length, etc. Be aware that the distance Tahiti Moorea is only 17 Km.
The prices can be consulted here for Terevau and here for Aremiti.
Be careful to book in advance for public holidays and long weekends.
Note that the Terevau is faster (45min) but has less space for cars!
Star or outboard
In many cases, there is always a possibility to go to an island that is only accessible by boat. You can always ask around to find someone who will make the crossover, for a fee of course.
Many atolls and some islands are well connected with local boats (e.g. Tahuata and Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, Atoll d’Amanu and Raraka in Tuamotu, etc.).
Cruise ships in Polynesia
Well, I don’t know if I should really talk about it on a blog whose priority is to guide on travels at a lower price, but well….
It is nevertheless one of the possibilities to discover Polynesia and its islands, for those who have the means of course.
I can’t mention them all, but there are some of the most famous ones:
- Paul Gauguin who cruises on the Leeward Islands, Tuamotu and Marquesas (even to Cook Island).
- Aranui: famous for its tours in the Marquesas in particular;
And many others….
Prices range from 3000 to 8000€ (wow!) for a one week to 15 days cruise.
Tips for getting around the islands in Polynesia
In addition to this article to find out how to get around the islands in Polynesia, you will find below the list of means of transport to travel on the islands.
Trucks: This is Polynesia’s most emblematic means of transport, particularly on the island of Tahiti, but also on all the Leeward Islands. It is a kind of colorful bus/truck, with no fixed times or stops. Only a wave of the hand is necessary to make him stop and then a little bell to get down.
Buses: This is the recent evolution of the truck (which is tending to disappear). Here, it’s the same thing, no air conditioning, no fixed schedules that are really respected, and no definitive stops. They drive all week long from 4/5 am to 4/5 pm. It can be nice, but don’t be in a hurry….
Taxis: Taxis are more or less everywhere, on all the islands. They will help you out on arrival at the airport (if no one has been able to pick you up). Count 2000fr (16€) for a Papeete -> Airport (2500fr per night).
Car and scooter rentals: Rentals are present in almost all the islands where there is some tourism development. Renting a scooter may be a very good solution to visit the Leeward Islands in particular. The car will (sometimes) cost you more, even if you can find acceptable prices in Tahiti. A scooter will cost you about 3500 fr/day (30€), a car from 4000 to 7000fr/35€ to 60€ (minimum). For Bora Bora and Moorea, I recommend going to Avis Location.
The boat: In some islands, boats or taxi boats are necessary to connect mainly the islets of the lagoon (motus) to the main island. This is the case of Bora Bora or Maupiti for example. On some islands, you can access isolated villages or beaches that are also inaccessible by boat. You will just have to find out on arrival, in the village, to find someone who will take you there.
Cycling: It is one of the perfect ways to get around the small islands. I would not recommend it in Tahiti (too big and too much traffic), with Moorea it is also a big tour…, Raiatea, etc. But it is the perfect means of transport for many small islands: Bora, Maupiti, Tahaa, all the atolls of the Tuamotu.
“Faire du stop”: hitchhiking in Polynesia is possible, even if we don’t see too many people doing it. However, you should know that on most islands, people will take you without much trouble if you raise your thumb and may even stop if you are walking along the road.
Walking: And yes, in some cases, one of the best ways to get around the islands is to use your feet. For the small islands (Maupiti) and for the most part of the atolls, no more is needed.
The Horse: This is still in use on some islands. You will have the opportunity to discover some parts of the islands by horse, such as Rurutu in the Australes Islands, or Hiva Oa in the Marquesas. Overall, the Marquesas and Australes Islands are in favour of this type of transport. Although, it will be necessary to ask the inhabitants or at your pension, to find out from whom you can rent horses…
Here, I hope that this article will help you to prepare your itinerary for your trip or holiday in French Polynesia? If you have not yet purchased the airline tickets, do not hesitate to read the article on how to find “cheaper” tickets to fly to French Polynesia.
The article therefore discussed how to get around islands in French Polynesia, and also, as a bonus, how to move around the islands? So do you feel ready to come and discover this little paradise? If you have any comments, questions or concerns about this article, please feel free to write me a comment, I will be happy to answer them. If you are not sure about your itinerary, send me your ideas! Besides, you may be hesitating about whether or not to use a local agency for your trip to Tahiti? I also familiarize you with the pros and cons in another article… personal view guaranteed!
I’m look forward to seeing you soon for a new article.