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By Plane

A few cruise ships stop in the islands on their way across the Pacific Ocean, yet today, all but a handful of visitors arrive by air.

All international flights arrive at Tahiti-Faaa International Airport (PPT), on Tahiti's northwest corner, about 11km (7 miles) west of downtown Papeete.

The Airlines

  • Air Tahiti Nui (tel. 877/824-4846; www.airtahitinui-usa.com), French Polynesia's award-winning national airline, has more flights -- all on relatively new Airbus planes -- to and from Tahiti than any other airline. Some of Air Tahiti Nui's flights depart Los Angeles in the afternoon California time and arrive in Papeete in the evening local time, thus enabling you to make connections to Moorea or to get a good night's sleep on Tahiti before tackling the islands the next morning. Most of its return flights are overnight, but you arrive in Los Angeles early enough in the morning to make convenient connections to other cities. Air Tahiti Nui also flies between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Papeete from April through October, with a stop in Los Angeles. Those planes keep going to Sydney, which means you can fly between New York and Australia with stops in Los Angeles and Papeete. Air Tahiti Nui also links Paris, Tokyo, Auckland, and Sydney to Papeete. It also code-shares with American Airlines and Northwest Airlines, meaning frequent fliers of those carriers can use their miles to reach Tahiti.
  • Air New Zealand (tel. 800/262-1234 or 310/615-1111; www.airnewzealand.com) flies its own planes between Auckland and Papeete, and it code-shares with Air Tahiti Nui between Los Angeles and Papeete. It flies to several Australian cities, so Aussies can reach Tahiti through Auckland. It links Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Taipei, and Beijing to Auckland, with connections on to Papeete. Air New Zealand is a member of the Star Alliance, which includes United Airlines and several other carriers, which means you can get to the islands from many cities in the United States, Canada, and Europe on an Air New Zealand ticket.
  • Air France (tel. 800/321-4538; www.airfrance.com) flies to Tahiti from Paris and Los Angeles.
  • Hawaiian Airlines (tel. 800/367-5320 in the continental U.S., Alaska, and Canada, or 808/838-1555 in Honolulu; www.hawaiianair.com) has the only direct link between Honolulu and Tahiti, usually once a week. You can fly from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle to Honolulu, and then change plans for Tahiti. Beware: The plane change can result in delays and even an unexpected Hawaiian holiday.
  • Lan Airlines (tel. 800/735-5526; www.lanchile.com), the Chilean national airline, flies at least weekly between Santiago, Chile, and Tahiti by way of Easter Island.
  • Qantas Airways (tel. 800/227-4500; www.qantas.com), the Australian carrier, code-shares flights to and from Papeete with Air Tahiti Nui.

Arriving & Departing

Arriving -- All international flights arrive at Tahiti-Faaa International Airport, 7km (4 miles) west of downtown Papeete.

Once you've cleared Customs, you will see a visitor information booth to the right. Group tour operators will be holding signs announcing their presence. Pick up some pocket money at Banque de Polynésie, to the left as you exit Customs, or at Banque Socredo to the right. Banque de Polynésie opens its exchange window whenever international flights arrive and depart, while Banque Socredo's office is open only during normal banking hours. Both have ATMs, and Banque Socredo has a machine that will change U.S. dollars and other major notes to CFP (French Pacific francs).

I have spent many hours waiting for flights at the open-air, 24-hour snack bar to the right. There's a McDonald's next to Air Tahiti's domestic departure lounge, also to the right.

Getting to Your Hotel -- Unless you're on a package tour or your hotel has arranged a transfer, your only choice of transportation to your hotel between 10pm and 6am will be a taxi. Official fares from 8pm to 6am are 1,500CFP (US$19/£9.45) to the hotels on the west coast; 2,500CFP (US$31/£16) to downtown. Add 100CFP (US$1.25/65p) for each bag.

If you arrive when buses are running and you're in good physical condition, haul your baggage across the parking lot in front of the terminal, climb the stairs to the main road, and flag down a local bus. If you're driving a rental car, take Route 1 west to the InterContinental Resort Tahiti, the Sofitel Tahiti Maeva Beach Resort, or Le Meridien Tahiti. Route 1 east passes the Sheraton Hotel Tahiti & Spa on its way to downtown Papeete. If you're going to downtown, watch for the Route 5 signs directing you to the expressway connecting Papeete to the west coast.

Baggage Storage -- Most hotels will keep your baggage for free. The airport's baggage storage room (tel. 88.60.08; hmoea@yahoo.fr) is in the parking lot in front of the international departures gate. It's the small building behind the open-air pavilion where Tahitian women sell leis and flower crowns. Charges range from 640CFP (US$8/£4) per day for regular-size bags to 2,700CFP (US$34/£17) for large items such as surfboards and bicycles. The room opens 2 hours before every international flight departs. Regular hours are Monday 4am to 7pm, Tuesday to Thursday 5am to 11pm, Saturday 5am to 12:30am, Sunday and holidays 1pm to 12:30am. MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted for charges in excess of 1,200CFP (US$15/£7.60).

Don't Forget to Reconfirm -- Air Tahiti Nui requires that you reconfirm your return flight within 72 hours of departure. It's mainly so the airline will know how to contact you should the schedule change.

Departing -- Check-in time for departing international flights is 3 hours before flight time; for domestic flights, be there 2 hours in advance. All of your bags must be screened for both international and domestic flights leaving Papeete. (There are no security procedures at the outer-island airstrips.)

There is no airport departure tax for either international or domestic flights.

Note: There is no bank or currency exchange bureau in the international departure lounge, so change your money before clearing immigration.

By Cruise Ship

Although the days of great liners plying the Pacific are long gone, occasionally it may be possible to reach the islands on a cruise ship making an around-the-world voyage or being repositioned, say, from Alaska to Australia. In addition to Princess Cruises , other companies likely to have ships in the South Pacific include Cunard Line (tel. 800/528-6273; www.cunardline.com), whose vessels include the Queen Elizabeth II, and Orient Lines (tel. 800/333-7300; www.orientlines.com).

Most sell tickets through travel agents, although some offer them directly to the public on their websites.

Lindblad Expeditions (tel. 800/EXPEDITION; www.expeditions.com) occasionally has exploratory voyages from Easter Island to Tahiti, from there to Fiji, and from Fiji to Papua New Guinea.

You can also go to www.cruisecritic.com, where you can check out cruises throughout the world; www.cruise411.com, which has itineraries, deck plans, and other information; and www.cruisepage.com, with reviews of more than 300 ships.

Your best bet for steaming through the islands, however, is to fly to Tahiti and take one of the ships based here.

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.