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There is no bad time to go to French Polynesia, but some periods are better than others. The weather is at its best -- comfortable and dry -- in July and August, but this is the prime vacation and festival season. July is the busiest month because of the Heiva Nui festival. Hotels on the outer islands are at their fullest during August, the traditional French vacation month, when many Papeete residents head for the outer islands to get away from it all. In other words, book your air tickets and hotel rooms for July and August as far in advance as possible.

May, June, September, and October have the best combination of weather and availability of hotel rooms.

The Climate

Tahiti and the rest of the Society Islands enjoy a balmy tropical climate. Tropical showers can pass overhead at any time of the year. Humidity averages between 77% and 80% throughout the year.

The most pleasant time of year is the May-through-October austral winter, or dry season, when midday maximum temperatures average a delightful 82°F (28°C), with early morning lows of 68°F (20°C) often making a blanket necessary. Some winter days, especially on the south side of the islands, can seem quite chilly when a strong wind blows from Antarctica.

November through April is the austral summer, or wet season, when rainy periods can be expected between days of intense sunshine. The average maximum daily temperature is 86°F (30°C) during these months, while nighttime lows are about 72°F (22°C). An air-conditioned hotel room or bungalow will feel like heaven during this humid time of year.

The central and northern Tuamotus have somewhat warmer temperatures and less rainfall. Since there are no mountains to create cooling night breezes, these islands can experience desertlike hot periods between November and April.

The Marquesas are closer to the Equator, and temperatures and humidity tend to be slightly higher than in Tahiti. Rainfall in the Marquesas is scattered throughout the year, but is most likely from June through August, exactly opposite that of the rest of French Polynesia. The trade winds reach that far north and temper the climate from April to October, but the Marquesas can see hot and sticky days the rest of the year.

The climate in the Austral and Gambier islands, which are much farther south, is more temperate year-round.

French Polynesia is on the far eastern edge of the South Pacific cyclone (hurricane) belt, and storms can occur between November and March.

Another factor to consider is the part of an island that you'll visit. Because the moist trade winds usually blow from the east, the eastern sides of the high, mountainous islands tend to be wetter all year than the western sides.

Also bear in mind that the higher the altitude, the lower the temperature. If you're going up in the mountains, be prepared for much cooler weather than you'd have on the coast.

The local office of Météo France, the national weather service, posts the forecasts and climatic observations in French on www.meteo.pf.

When the Moon Is Full -- The islands are extraordinarily beautiful anytime, especially so at equinox time in late September and late March, when the sun's rays hit the lagoons at just the right angle to highlight the gorgeous colors out in the lagoons. The play of moonlight on the water and the black silhouettes the mountains cast against the sky, make them even more magical when the moon is full. Keep that in mind when planning your trip -- and especially if it's your honeymoon.

The Busy Season

July and August are the busiest tourist season in French Polynesia. That's when residents of Tahiti head to their own outer islands, in keeping with the traditional July-to-August holiday break in France. Many Europeans also visit the islands during this time. In addition, July brings the Heiva Nui, the territory's biggest annual festival, when locals flock to Tahiti to see or participate in dance contests.

Christmas through the middle of January is a good time to get a hotel reservation in the islands, but airline seats can be hard to come by, since thousands of islanders fly home from overseas.

Holidays

Like all Pacific Islanders, the Tahitians love public holidays and often extend them past the official day. For example, if Ascension Day falls on a Thursday, don't be surprised if some stores and even banks are closed through the weekend. Plan your shopping forays accordingly.

Public holidays are New Year's Day (government offices are also closed on Jan 2), Good Friday and Easter Monday, Ascension Day (40 days after Easter), Whitmonday (the seventh Mon after Easter), Missionary Day (Mar 5), Labor Day (May 1), Pentecost Monday (the first Mon in June), Bastille Day (July 14), Internal Autonomy Day (Sept 8), All Saints' Day (Nov 1), Armistice Day (Nov 11), and Christmas Day (Dec 25).

Tahiti Tourisme publishes an annual list of the territory's leading special events on its website.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.