Things to Do in French Polynesia
Magic Mountain is on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. Though the mountains on Moorea are not extremely high, they are particularly rugged. Magic Mountain is one of the highest points on the island. It is located along the exterior part of the island, and it offers spectacular 360-degree views of the island and the surrounding clear blue waters of the lagoon and the ocean. On the way up the mountain, visitors will pass villages, scenic valleys, fruit trees, and pineapple plantations. Magic Mountain lets visitors experience the breathtaking scenery an ancient volcanic island.
The mountain is not accessible by regular cars and can only be reached by 4WD or ATV. For this reason, the best way to experience Magic Mountain and its views is by taking a tour of the island that includes a trip up the mountain. Most tours also include Belvedere Lookout, which is located toward the center of the island and offers gorgeous views of both Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay, ancient Polynesian sites, and the agricultural school. It is a great way to take in the wonderful sights and culture that Moorea has to offer.
Belvedere Lookout is a scenic viewpoint awarding views of Cook's Bay, Opunohu Bay, Mt. Rotui and the fertile Opunohu Valley with its many pineapple plants, craggy peaks and gentle slopes. It’s a great place to visit simply to take in the views or to get a bit of outdoor exercise in.
Perched along the rocky coast of Tahiti and bordered by a scenic black sand beach, Arahoho Blowhole is one of the island’s most visited natural wonders. As waves crash against the shore, a powerful geyser-like eruption sends spectacular plumes of water into the air, wowing visitors and creating the opportunity for some impressive photos.
Located on the southern tip of Bora Bora, the public Matira Beach (Plage Matira) is one of the island’s most popular sandy spots. With clear water ideal for swimming, and a beach backed by swaying palm trees, it is an idyllic destination for sunbathing, snorkeling, and watersports.
Encircled by a lagoon and barrier reef, the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora is known throughout the world for its marine life. A paradise for snorkelers, the Coral Gardens are a section of the reef with calm, shallow waters ideal for beginners. Look for resident creatures such as parrotfish, Japanese moray eels, and more.
There are numerous waterfalls all over Tahiti, but the most popular and accessible are the three waterfalls at Faarumai, known as the Cascades of Faarumai. Turning off the main coastal road, a dirt track cuts through the teeming jungle to a parking spot. From there a 5 minute walk brings you to the first cascade, Vaima Hutu. This is a truly impressive sight, with crystal clear water rushing down a sheer rock face into a cool, inviting pool.
The other two waterfalls – Haamaremare and Haamaremare Iti – are close by each other about 30 minutes’ walk away, and are well worth seeking out.
The sights, sounds and smells of authentic Polynesian life are on offer at Pape'ete’s main market, the Marché de Pape'ete (Pape'ete Market). The indoor market hall is the commercial and social hub of Tahiti’s laid-back capital and the oldest surviving institution on the island.
Lycée Agricole d'Opunohu, or Agriculture School, is French Polynesia's only agricultural school, located on the island of Moorea. At the agricultural school, visitors can see pineapples, lemons, grapefruits, bananas, vanilla beans and many other fruits being grown and learn about the cultivation process. The school also makes fresh fruit juices, jams and sorbets, which are available for purchase. They also offer tastings of the fruit products they make. Visitors can hike on educational trails in the school's plantations in order to learn more about the school and its work and to enjoy the scenery. At the agricultural school, you can also learn about the different tropical plants, flowers, and fruits that are native to French Polynesia.
A visit to Lycée Agricole is often included on tours around the island. Other highlights of these tours include the lookout points at Magical Mountain and Belvedere Lookout, which offer different vantage points for viewing the island, the volcanic landscape, and the surrounding water. In addition, these tours often include ancient Polynesian sites, hiking, swimming, and taking in the gorgeous island scenery.
The Lagoonarium is located one of Bora Bora’s “motus” (the small islands which form the outer ring of the lagoon). This is essentially an aquarium without the glass, and a great opportunity to see many sea creatures in their natural habitat.
Swim with sharks, turtles and rays as tropical fish dart about your feet in the warm, shallow waters. After you’ve feasted on a tropical barbecue, watch the sharks and rays get their turn in the afternoon feeding session.
Mt. Otemanu is a jagged, green-sided mountain in the center of the island of Bora Bora. The volcanic mountain is visible from across the island. Visitors can admire the mountain from a boat, or explore the base of the mountain on a rigorous guided hike.
More Things to Do in French Polynesia
Recognizable for its sunny yellow façade, Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedrale de Notre Dame) is one of the oldest and largest churches in Papeete. The Gothic structure was originally built between 1844 and 1875 but has been destroyed and restored several times, most recently in 1987.
This small park with a tranquil stream, benches, lush vegetation, and an enormous banyan tree providing shade to visitors was named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a French explorer who believed he had discovered Tahiti and claimed it for France, unaware that less than a year prior it had been discovered by Samuel Wallis.
The Vaima Shopping Centre is the largest shopping mall in Tahiti, French Polynesia's main island. This multilevel mall opened in 1977 and is located in the capital city of Papeete. At the Vaima Shopping Centre, visitors can shop at high end stores for clothing, jewelry, shoes, electronics, art, and much more. Some worldwide brands include Nike, Billabong, and Bose, but there are also many other local stores at the mall. It's a great place to buy souvenirs and island themed clothing. The mall is well known for its French bookstores that sell books in both English and French in many different genres and maps of the French Polynesian islands. A popular item to shop for in Tahiti is the Tahitian black pearl, and there are several shops in the Vaima Shopping Centre that specialize in black pearls.
The mall has restaurants and cafes, so you can take a break from shopping to get something to eat. There are also a few travel agents, airline offices, a locksmith and shoe repair shop, salons and a bank.
Established by local entrepreneur Robert Wan, Robert Wan Pearl Museum (Musee de la Perle Robert Wan) explores the role of the pearl in art, history, and literature. Exhibits reveal how pearls get from the sea to the display case and how ocean jewels were associated with religious rites and coveted as status symbols.
Tahiti is not overflowing with historic monuments, which makes Papaeari stand out even more. It is the island’s oldest village, settled somewhere between 400 and 500 AD. It is also known by art lovers for its association with Paul Gauguin, who lived in the area. The nearby museum dedicated to his life is one of the area’s major draws.
But this is also a great place to relax and enjoy island life – watch fishers bringing in the daily catch which may well end up on your plate. Hike in the hinterlands, stroll black sand beaches or travel west along the south coast to reach Atimaono, where you'll find Tahiti’s only golf course.
For a crash course in Polynesian culture, Tiki Village Theatre is the place to go. In a stunning lagoon-side location on the island of Moorea you’ll experience traditional weaving with natural fibers, the art of flower garlands, and intricate woodcarving. The village also celebrates two very different forms of adornment: tattoos, which came to the West via Polynesia, and a model pearl farm which produces rare black pearls.
Music and dance are also of course integral to Polynesian culture. Grass-skirted performers enliven a lunchtime presentation, while the evening spectacular offers fire dancers to the sound of ukuleles and drums. Both shows are served up with authentic Tahitian cuisine.
The Museum of Tahiti and the Islands (or Musée de Tahiti et des Îles) represents one of the world’s most important repositories of cultural and natural studies concerning the Polynesian archipelago. It is divided into 4 sections covering nature and anthropology, habitations and artifacts, social and religious life and finally the history of French Polynesia.
Costumes, customs, handcrafts and rituals of the island-dwellers are all thoughtfully presented, along with etchings and drawings capturing Europeans’ first impressions of the South Pacific.
Natural wonders on show include stuffed birds, preserved plants and a display of seashells, some particularly large. The museum’s own natural surrounds are free to visit, and abound with native species.
Surrounded by rugged mountain landscape that seems to reach up from the water, Cook's Bay is one of the main tourist areas in Moorea (it's here that cruise ships come to moor their boats). The area is home to restaurants, shops, and hotels, but it’s still relatively sleepy and laid-back—this is Moorea, after all!
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