advertisement

By Plane

Having Air Tahiti Nui or another carrier book your domestic flights along with your international ticket will greatly simplify matters in case of a local cancellation, and you will avoid an extra fee if you have to change your flights once here.

Air Moorea -- A subsidiary of Air Tahiti , Air Moorea (tel. 86.41.41; fax 86.42.99; www.airmoorea.com) provides shuttle service between Tahiti-Faaa International Airport and Temae Airport on Moorea. Its small planes (and I do mean small) leave Faaa on the hour and half-hour daily from 6 to 9am, then on the hour from 10am to 3pm, and on the hour and half-hour again from 4 to 6pm. Each plane turns around on Moorea and flies back to Tahiti. The fare is about 3,700CFP (US$46/£24) each way, half-fare for children. Air Moorea's little terminal is on the east end of Tahiti-Faaa International Airport (that's to the left as you come out of Customs). Air Moorea will take you from the airport to your Moorea hotel for 600CFP (US$7.50/£3.75) each way, but you must buy your transfer ticket in Papeete. It is not available after you arrive on Moorea.

Air Tahiti -- The primary domestic carrier is Air Tahiti (tel. 86.44.42; fax 86.40.99; www.airtahiti.pf), which provides daily flights between Papeete and all the main islands, most in modern ATR turboprop planes seating 44 or 72 passengers. It's wise to reserve your seats as early as possible, especially during school holidays.

Air Tahiti's central downtown Papeete walk-in reservations office is at the corner of rue du 22 Septembre and rue du Maréchal Foche (tel. 47.44.00). It also has an office in the Tahiti-Faaa International Airport terminal (tel. 86.41.84).

The baggage limit on both of these airlines is 20 kilograms (44 lb.) per person if you're connecting with an international flight within 7 days, but 10 kilograms (22 lb.) per person if you're not. You will face a substantial extra charge for excess weight. You can leave your extra belongings in the storage room at your hotel or at Tahiti-Faaa International Airport.

Check-in times vary from 1 to 2 hours in advance, so ask Air Tahiti when you should arrive at the airport.

An alternative to taking Air Tahiti's scheduled flights is chartering a plane and pilot from Air Moorea, Air Tahiti, Air Archepels (tel. 81.30.30; www.airarchipels.com), or Wan Air (tel. 50.44.18; www.wanair.pf). Polynesia Hélicoptères (tel. 86.60.29; www.polynesia-helicopter.com) charters helicopters. When the total cost is split among a large enough group of people, the price per person could be less than airfare on a scheduled airline.

Most hotel dining rooms open for breakfast at 7am and close by 9:30am, so if you're catching an early morning flight to another island, stock up on some munchies and something to drink the night before, and bring them along on the plane.

Air Tahiti Fares & Money-Saving Pass -- Air Tahiti's approximate one-way adult fares on the usual visitor's circuit are as follows (double the fare for round-trips between any two islands; halve the cost for children):

Tahiti to Moorea 4,200 CFP (US$53/£27)

Moorea to Huahine 14,800 CFP (US$185/£94)

Moorea to Bora Bora 21,240 CFP (US$266/£134)

Huahine to Raiatea 6,300 CFP (US$79/£40)

Raiatea to Bora Bora 7,200 CFP (US$90/£46)

Bora Bora to Tahiti 18,100 CFP (US$226/£115)

Bora Bora to Rangiroa 27,400 CFP (US$343/£173)

Rangiroa to Tahiti 18,200 CFP (US$228/£115)

You can save by buying an Air Tahiti Pass over the popular routes. For example, the "Bora Bora Pass" permits travel over the popular Papeete-Moorea-Huahine-Bora Bora-Papeete route for about 38,800CFP (US$485/£246), which is about 10,000CFP (US$125/£63) less than the full adult fares. The "Bora Bora-Tuamotu Pass" adds Rangiroa, Tikihau, and Manihi. Whether you save anything will depend on how many islands you plan to visit, so add up the regular fares and compare to the price of the passes (they're explained on Air Tahiti's website). All travel must be completed within 28 days of the first flight, and other restrictions apply. See www.airtahiti.pf for details.

The Best Seats & Something to Eat -- It depends on the pilots and how much sightseeing they want to do, but usually you will have the best views of the islands by sitting on the left side of the Air Tahiti aircraft when you're flying from Papeete to the outer islands, on the right side returning. Make sure you have your camera and a lot of film and camera batteries at the ready.

By Ferry to Moorea

Two companies -- Aremiti (tel. 50.57.57; www.aremiti.pf) and Moorea Ferry (tel. 86.87.47 on Tahiti, or 56.34.34 on Moorea; www.mooreaferry.pf) -- run ferries between the Papeete waterfront and Vaiare, a small bay on Moorea's east coast. It can seem like madness when the boats arrive and depart at the wharves, so take your time and be sure to get on one of the fast catamarans, which take 30 minutes to cover the 19km (12 miles) between the islands. The Aremiti V is larger, faster, and more comfortable than the Moorea Express. Don't get on the Aremiti Ferry or the Moorea Ferry, which are much slower. The one-way fare on any ferry, whether fast or slow, is about 900CFP (US$11/£5.70).

Since the departure times change from day to day, I usually pick up a schedule at the ferry dock and carry it with me throughout my visit. In general, one or another of them departs Papeete about 6am, 7:30am, 9am, noon, 2:40pm, 4:05pm, and 5:30pm Monday to Friday, with extra voyages on Friday and Monday (Moorea is a popular weekend retreat for Papeete residents). Weekend hours are slightly different on each ferry.

Buses meet all ferries at Vaire, except the midday departures from Papeete, to take you to your hotel or other destination on Moorea for 500CFP (US$6.25/£3.15) per person. From Vaiare, they take about 1 hour to reach the northwest corner of Moorea.

By Ship to the Outer Islands

You can go by ship from Papeete to Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, and Bora Bora, but it's neither the quickest nor most comfortable way to travel, nor the most reliable.

Two cargo ferries, the Vaeanu (tel. 41.25.35; fax 41.24.34; torehiatetu@mail.pf) and the Hawaiki Nui (tel. 45.23.24; fax 45.24.44; sarlstim@mail.pf), make three voyages a week. Both have passenger cabins. Usually they depart Papeete about 4pm, arrive at Huahine during the night, and go on to the other Leeward Islands the next day. They return from Bora Bora over the reverse route. Contact the ship owners for fares and schedules, which are at the mercy of the weather and condition of the ships.

Once in the Leeward Islands, you can make the voyage between Bora Bora and Raiatea on the Maupiti Express (tel. 67.66.69 on Bora Bora, 66.37.81 on Raiatea; maupitiexpress@mail.pf). This small, fast ferry departs Bora Bora for Tahaa and Raiatea at 7am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, returning to Bora Bora in the late afternoon. It stops at Tahaa in both directions. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, it sails from Bora Bora to Maupiti, departing at 8:30am and returning in late afternoon. In other words, it's possible to make day trips from Bora Bora to Raiatea or Maupiti. Fares on either route are 3,000CFP (US$38/£19) one-way, 4,000CFP (US$50/£25) return.

Except for the excellent Aranui 3, which is as much cruise vessel as cargo ship, ships to the Tuamotu, Marquesas, Gambier, and Austral island groups keep somewhat irregular schedules in terms of weeks or even months, not days. I once met a young Australian who took a boat to Rapa in the Austral Islands, expecting to return in a few weeks to Papeete. The ship later broke down and went into the repair yard on Tahiti, stranding him for 3 months on Rapa, where he survived on coconuts and the generosity of local residents. Consequently, I cannot recommend them. If you're interested, contact Tahiti Tourisme for a list of interisland schooners, their fares, and approximate schedules from Tahiti Tourisme. You'd best have a 3-month visa to stay in French Polynesia.

By Rental Car

Avis and Europcar have rental-car agencies (locations de voiture in French) on Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, and Bora Bora. Hertz is present on Tahiti, Raiatea, and Bora Bora.

A valid driver's license from your home country will be honored in French Polynesia.

Service stations are common on Tahiti, but only in the main villages on the other islands. Expect to pay about twice as much per gallon of gasoline (essence in French) as in the United States.

Drive Defensively! -- Except for the four-lane expressways leading into Papeete, the roads here are narrow and winding. Add a penchant for speeding on the part of some locals, and you have the recipe for danger. If you rent a vehicle, keep your eyes on the road and drive defensively at all times.

Driving Rules -- Driving is on the right-hand side of the road, as in North America and continental Europe.

All persons in a vehicle must wear seat belts. If you drive or ride on a scooter or motorbike, helmets (casques, pronounced "casks") are mandatory.

Speed limits are 40kmph (24 mph) in the towns and villages, and 80kmph (48 mph) on the open road. The limit is 60kmph (36 mph) for 8km (5 miles) on either side of Papeete. The general rule on the Route 5 freeway between Papeete and Punaauia, on Tahiti's west coast, is 90kmph (54 mph), although there is one short stretch going down a hill where it's officially 110kmph (66 mph).

Drivers on the main rural roads have the right of way. In Papeete, priority is given to vehicles entering from the right side, unless an intersection is marked with a traffic light or a stop or yield sign. This rule differs from those of most other countries, so be especially careful at all intersections, especially those marked with a priorité à droite (priority to the right) sign, and give way accordingly.

Drivers are required to stop for pedestrians at marked crosswalks, but on busy streets, don't assume that drivers will politely stop for you when you try to cross.

Traffic lights in Papeete may be difficult to see, since some of them are on the far left-hand side of the street instead of on the driver's side of the intersection.

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.