Best Islands for Water Sports in French Polynesia

It is easy to get your water sport adrenalin pumping in French Polynesia, where you can snorkel, dive, and surf to your heart’s content. Whether you hop on a stand-up paddleboard and visit fish-filled lagoons in Moorea or kayak out to a motu in Raiatea, French Polynesia is paradise for water sports enthusiasts. Here are our favorite islands for aquatic adventures.

Raiatea, French Polynesia
I launched my kayak from the edge of Raiatea Lodge Hotel, which rents the boats free to guests. Here you can have the unique experience of kayaking to a motu. Motus are small islands made up of coral and its derivatives. From Raiatea, one such island you can paddle to is Motu Miri Miri, which allows you to float over vibrant gardens of coral and see tropical fish while getting a workout. Exploring the motu is also nice, as it allows you the complete peace of a deserted island, as well as views of Raiatea from out in the water. The kayaking journey takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
Poste restante, Fakarava 98763, French Polynesia
Fakarava’s lagoon is majestic, with translucent blue waters filled with vibrant coral and tropical fish. In fact, Fakara is touted as the “mecca of diving” thanks to its waters rich with flora and big fauna. Enjoy a walk along its perimeter white-sand beach littered with lush vegetation and billowing palm trees.
Tikehau, French Polynesia
This oval-shaped atoll in the Tuamotu island group strung across the South Pacific Ocean some 300 kilometers from Tahiti is covered in pink and China white sand and surrounded by a jaw-droppingly beautiful turquoise, jade, and cerulean hued lagoon and is considered to have the best beaches in all of French Polynesia. Most are empty – it has a Robinson Crusoe vibe and still remains mostly undeveloped.

Beyond the sand you’ll find excellent snorkeling and even surfing in spots where the reef breaks. For scuba you’ll want to head to the magnificent Tuheiva Pass, where you’ll likely encounter sharks and manta rays. Lagoon excursions are also popular, and allow you to snorkel in the out-of-this world hued waters.

The Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort is the most exclusive place to sleep on the island, but there are also a number of excellent small family-run guesthouses right on the beach for those wanting to experience its “paradise lost” ambiance at more affordable rates.

Air Tahiti flies to Tikehau from Tahiti daily.
Maupiti, the smallest and most isolated of the Society Islands, feels like an unblemished tropical playground, where tranquility trumps everything else and romantic love stories of deserted sparkling white-sand beaches surrounded by shimmering aqua lagoons are realized. The best beaches are on the five motus, or small sandbars that also house pensions, ringing the main island. Of the five motus, Motu Tiapaa has the best beaches by far. For surfing and decent kite-boarding, you’ll want to head to Motu Tuanai, which also houses the airport.

Serving up a Robinson Crusoe version of paradise, Maupiti seduces lovers and adventurers on a quest for the heavenly Polynesia of lore, but it is not for everyone. Time moves slowly on this island, and the resort focus here is on small family run “pensions” (guesthouses), not luxury five-star resorts with multiple restaurants and Wi-Fi. If you’re the kind of traveler who’s craving a temporary separation from your Facebook account, and love watching the sun set over the lagoon while reading a book or chowing on fresh caught seafood with the family that owns the pension where you’re sleeping, Maupiti may be the perfect island for you. Oh, and if you stay at any of the guesthouses here, sign up for full-board, as it isn’t really the kind of place where many restaurants exist.
Encompassing 35 private villas on the Motu Onetahi coast of Marlon Brando’s very own French Polynesian island, Tetiaroa, The Brando is arguably the most luxurious place to stay in the entire South Pacific country. All of the villas at this all-inclusive resort have their own private pools along with direct beach access, and there’s a gorgeous spa offering a range of healing modalities, including traditional Polynesian taurumi massage. For those who want to add a bit of activity to their stay, there’s plenty to do on the island and in its surrounding waters, from snorkeling and scuba diving to discovering the flora and fauna of the surrounding landscape under the tutelage of a research scientist. Travelers with an interest in Polynesian culture may also want to try their hand at the traditional outrigger canoe, perhaps taking a trip out to one of the surrounding private islets that share an atoll with the Brando.
Teahupo'o, French Polynesia
Tahiti is the birthplace of surfing, and the island offers a few excellent beginner breaks as well as one of the world’s most powerful waves, Teahupo’o. To hone your surfing skills, visit the Tura’I Mataare Surf School in Paea, which offers both single and multi-day lessons by qualified instructors that include equipment rentals in the fee. Located on the southern half of the island, known as Tahiti Iti, the monster wave at Havae Pass, also known as Teahupoo, is the wave that experts make pilgrimages to ride – please don’t attempt unless you know what you are doing. This is where the Billabong Pro Championships are held each year over a week in August.
Huahine, French Polynesia
Welcome to the vagina island, no joke (the rough English translation of the word Huahine is vagina). And although no one knows exactly where the name originated, historians think it has to do with the important role women played in the island’s history. Comprised of two islands – the more developed Huahine Nui (Big Huahine) to the north, and Huahine Iti (Little Huahine) to the south – there isn’t a lot to do here, but the unpretentious and relatively sleepy vibe appeals to budget travelers and surfers, as Huahine has some of the cheapest beds and best breaks in all of French Polynesia. It is also home to untouched beaches, isolated coves, enchanted azure lagoons and the most extensive complex of pre-European marae in French Polynesia. It also has a noticeable lack of luxury resorts, making it still feel like a Robinson Crusoe style getaway. Some of the most consistent and best surf in French Polynesia is found off Huahine’s shores, but local surfers can be very possessive, so make sure you check with them before hitting up their turn. This is also not the place for novices, as the left and right reef breaks can chew you up pretty badly. Huahine is also home to some great dive spots, including a canyon where you can see barracuda, jackfish, rays and sharks. For snorkeling head to Fare, which has a pretty sand beach just north of town and a wide, translucent lagoon that drops off quickly for excellent snorkeling around coral and through schools of multi-hued fish.
Taha'a, French Polynesia
Set against a backdrop of lush jungle, this secluded luxury resort offers a mix of accommodations, from gorgeous villas with their own private plunge pools located right on the resort’s powdery white sands to overwater bungalows with traditional thatched roofs, large lagoon-facing decks, and deep soaking tubs. The resort sits on the mountainous, verdant island of Taha’a, off the coast of Raiatea, and is accessible only by speedboat or helicopter. Taha’a is also known as the vanilla island, renowned for producing some of the finest Tahitian vanilla in the world, and the hotel offers excursions out to local vanilla plantations as well as to pearl farms, where guests can learn how famous black Tahitian pearls are harvested. Marine conservation tours are also available, and the hotel can even arrange yacht rentals for guests on request. Cultural activities include weekly Polynesian-themed evenings, complete with a Tahitian buffet and local performers, such as traditional fire dancers.
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