The Best French Polynesian Beaches

Many of French Polynesia’s 100 islands are actually coral atolls that lack beaches entirely, meaning that if you want a classic beach holiday you will have to know where to look. Luckily, there are pristine stretches of white-sand beach in French Polynesia, both on the main islands and on the surrounding motus, where you can fulfill your visions of paradise. This guide gives the lowdown on the best islands to find these classic beaches.

Motu Tuvahine Hipu, 98733, French Polynesia
Technically part of Tahaa in French Polynesia, Vahine Private Island Resort is an escape from reality. The hotel features three beach bungalows, three self-contained beach suites and three overwater bungalows, all with beach views and designed using only natural materials in such a way as to make you feel like you’re in a traditional Polynesian home. Moreover, the resort is set on a 23-acre private island lush with coconut trees and white sand beach.

Snorkel in their vibrant coral gardens, kayak to nearby motus or to natural sting-ray pools, take in a coconut show, learn how to tie a pareo or weave palm leaves, paddle a traditional Polynesian outrigger canoe or take an excursion to the nearby mainland of Tahaa (the “Vanilla Island”) or a private motu. Guests love their food and beverage program, with French dishes crafted using local cuisine and cocktails infused with local fruits and juices.

Tip: Don’t leave without having a traditional massage with scented Monoi oil on your deck, where you’ll hear nothing but the billowing palms and gentle crashing of waves.
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.
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.
French Polynesia
Taking a plunge from our overwater bungalow was the start to yet another perfect day. We had a great time staying at the Intercontinental Moorea with our kids. The water is spectacular for swimming, snorkeling and all kinds of watersports. We all loved it!
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.
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.
Rurutu, located in the remote Austral Archipelago, is a magical land of migrating whales, abundant vegetation, limestone caves, and smiling faces. Accessed via Air Tahiti flights from Papeete five times per week, the car-free island is like no place else in French Polynesia. Comprised of a massive chunk of coral that was lifted up to form it, Rurutu has otherworldly topography – think sheer cliffs of pocked coral and giant caverns filled with ferns and stalactites. It is home to unique coral snorkeling, white-sand beaches, sacred marae, and fabulous biking (the island is very hilly). A continuous reef rings Rurutu (so there’s no lagoon), but despite the open ocean fronting it there are more beaches on Rurutu than most French Polynesia islands. The sand is also a bright white here and made from ground, bleached coral. Besides lounging on the beach, you can look for whales along the shores from roadside observation stations between July and October. Note, unlike the rest of French Polynesia, the Australs get really chilly between May and November and are best avoided during this time. From December to April you’ll find warmer temps, but it still isn’t hot enough for air-conditioning most of the year.
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.
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