Your French Polynesian experience will be much richer if you really do get off the well-worn Tahiti-Moorea-Bora Bora tourist track and visit islands even less developed than Huahine, Raiatea, and Tahaa. (Although four islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago have first-class resorts, the far-flung atolls still meet this criterion.) The Marquesas Islands are even farther off the beaten path. Indeed, they are a world removed from the rest of French Polynesia, since their Polynesian residents have a different culture and even speak a different language than the Tahitians.

Since Air Tahiti has at least one flight a week between Rangiroa in the Tuamotus to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, it's possible to combine the two groups in this itinerary. Air Tahiti doesn't fly between the Tuamotus every day, either, so your precise itinerary will hinge on its current schedule. Depending on the flights, you can start on Manihi or Tikehau instead of Fakarava. The easy alternative to all this is taking a 2-week cruise through the Tuamotus and Marquesas on the Aranui 3.

Days 1-3: Exploring a Large Lagoon & Old Village on Fakarava

An early morning flight from Papeete should put you in Fakarava in time to play in French Polynesia's second-largest lagoon. Spend your full second day here on a lagoon excursion, especially one that will take you to Tetamanu village, where you'll see the ruins of an 1834-vintage Catholic church before swimming in the lagoon, riding the riptide in the adjacent pass, and enjoying a beachside picnic.

Days 4-6: Swimming with the Sharks at Rangiroa

As I noted in the Grand Tour earlier, the world's second-largest lagoon demands full-day excursions by boat to its two key sites: Les Sables Rose (Pink Sands) and the Blue Lagoon. On your third day, don your snorkeling or scuba-diving gear and ride the riptide through Tiputa Pass into the lagoon. Be sure to watch the dolphins playing in Tiputa Pass at sunset, and don't miss sampling the local vintages at Cave de Rangiroa. Have dinner one night at Relais de Josephine, another night at Restaurant Le Kai Kai.

Days 7-10: Following Paul Gauguin to Hiva Oa

The Air Tahiti flight from Rangiroa to Hiva Oa, administrative center of the Marquesas Islands, will eat up half a day, so spend your first afternoon exploring the village of Atuona. The French painter Paul Gauguin died in Atuona in 1903, so visit his grave and the Tohua Papa Nui/Paul Gauguin Cultural Center, where you will see meticulous copies of his great works. The center shares space with Espace Jacques Brel, dedicated to the French singer Jacques Brel, who also expired here and is buried near Gauguin. Spend the next day on an expedition to lovely Puamau village, beside a gorgeous settlement next to a half-moon beach. The snakelike road along on the northeast coast is virtually chiseled into the cliffs above the sea, so the ride out and back will occupy a full day. On another day, you can go fishing, hiking, or exploring the Atuona area on mountain bike or horseback.

Days 11-14: "Surviving" on Nuku Hiva

The Survivor TV series brought Nuku Hiva to the world's attention when it was taped here in 2002. However, you'll have a better chance of seeing Taipivai Valley if you go to see it on your own. It's where Herman Melville hid after jumping ship in the early 1800s. Unless the local helicopter is operating, it's at least a 2-hour ride by four-wheel-drive vehicle across three mountain ranges from the airport to Taiohae, Nuku Hiva's only town. Spend half a day exploring the town and the Herman Melville Memorial beside its picturesque bay, including a visit to Taetae Tupuna He'e Tai, where American Rose Corser shows a fine collection of Marquesan art and sells exquisite handicrafts. Later on, you can relax on the town's black-sand beach. Devote the next day to an excursion to the Taipivai Valley and Hatiheu, an enormously beautiful bay on the north coast and home to ancient maraes with tikis resembling the mysterious statues on Easter Island. On your next-to-last day, you can go hiking or horseback riding. You will need all of Day 14 for the ride back to the airport and the 3-hour Air Tahiti flight to Papeete.

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.