Perhaps you have heard of Tahiti and Bora Bora. These are just two of 118 islands and atolls in French Polynesia! Each one has its own character and allure, from the remoteness and gin-clear waters of Maupiti to the craggy peaks of Mo’orea. You’ll have to do some digging to see which ones suit you, and if you’ve got a baby coming along, you’ll want to be extra picky. The information below should help you make the right choices.
Note: This guide is by no means comprehensive! It is based purely on my own experience. This guide focuses mainly on travel with a baby, and only provides information about the locations we actually visited. There is far more to do in French Polynesia, so be sure to visit the link at the bottom for more information.
When to Go
Aim for May to October. Otherwise you’ll be in the rainy season and dealing with heat, humidity and wetness…with a baby. Even in April, we found the temperatures to be too warm for all of us. The country pretty much shuts down between 10am and 3pm, when the sun is at its most intense. Be ready to follow suit and find some shade for playtime.
Apart from some shuttle services, let go of some of your North American standards when it comes to transportation, unless you’re willing to fork out some serious cash on car rentals. If you’re worried about where you’ll find a car seat, bring your own. Otherwise, you’ll be holding onto your baby in the backseat of pretty much any vehicle you climb into.
If you do splurge on a car and don’t have a car seat with you, be sure to book one as soon as possible as there are a limited amount of car seats available on these islands.
Otherwise, we enjoyed bike rides with the baby on various islands either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as it was often the only way to get around. Be ready to MacGyver some kind of harness in the baby seat, and bring your own baby helmet because no helmets are provided (for adults or kids).
Where to Stay/What to Eat
The best place for families to stay is either at the resorts (if you can afford it) or at a pension (you’re most affordable option apart from camping). Babies love to meet new people, and you’ll get to see some regular faces in a smaller setting like a pension or guesthouse. If a pension offers half board (breakfast and dinner), I highly recommend you take it, as it can be very difficult to self-cater on the islands. Plus, this will be your chance to try the famous Tahitian dish, poisson cru au lait de coco (raw fish in coconut milk), and sample the catch of the day.
Food, including fresh fruit and vegetables, is not as plentiful as you think. Bring prepackaged baby foods and snacks. The squeezable puree packs make the best treats for babies, especially when they’ve been refrigerated (and they are a good way to supplement fruits and veggies into their diets). Some islands have affordable roulottes (food trucks) or snacks where you can get a good meal for lunch and/or dinner when you don’t feel like cooking for your family. Bring a travel high chair (check out this carrier with a built-in chair harness!).
Some islands and accommodations are better for the baby than others. Our top picks were Pension Rose des Isles in Maupiti and Pension Chez Justine on the atoll of Tikehau, where we also took half board and enjoyed fresh fish each night. We always made it work no matter where we were, but these two spots were really enjoyable with the baby. A close third was Relais Marama on Fakarava, though it was located quite far from the good beaches.
Do some detective work into location. Resorts tend to have prime locations, but with pensions it’s a mixed bag. We didn’t do enough research and ended up far away from the good beaches a lot of the time. Try to find accommodations on the beach so that you can at least sneak in a little bit of activity, even just one parent at a time, and still be close to the baby.
One last note: French Polynesia is full of dogs, many of them stray. They will bark at night, and while your baby will probably sleep through it, you may want to bring ear plugs. They didn’t seem harmful, but we were extra cautious when playing around these dogs.
What to Do
It is difficult to do a whole lot with that blazing sun, especially if you’re carrying your baby, but I don’t want to deter you. It’s possible to make things work with a little bit of research. We visited seven islands (Tahiti, Mo’orea, Maupiti, Huahine, Bora Bora, Tikehau, and Fakarava) and learned the hard way that your accommodations make all the difference because you need to get out of the sun. If you have beaches close by you’re in luck because you can always duck into the shade of your accommodations, and don’t need to worry about transit.
That’s why it’s nice if your chosen accommodation is also a place you feel you can hang out and enjoy without having to go anywhere. We were right on the beach on Maupiti and Tikehau, and often filled a basin full of water and put it in the shade for the baby to play in. When the sun was less intense, we could enjoy the beach and a dip in the water. As parents we took turns swimming, kayaking and snorkelling in the world-famous, gin-clear lagoons. Paradise, truly!
As I mentioned before, bike rides gave us a sense of freedom, and offered a pleasant way of exploring the islands, particularly Huahine, Tikehau and Fakarava. Most pensions had bikes that could be used for free (and kayaks if they were on the water).
What to See
Out of all the islands we visited, our favourites were Mo’orea (craggy, dramatic scenery and lagoons), Maupiti (remote feeling with gin-clear water) and Tikehau (the coolest-shaped atoll you’ve ever seen). You have dozens and dozens of islands and atolls to choose from, and the choice can be overwhelming.
In particular, we enjoyed being on one of the motus (small islands) of Maupiti, and using the kayaks provided at various pensions. The lagoons are calm, for the most part, and you won’t believe how beautiful the experience is floating on those turquoise waters. If you’re on Fakarava, go snorkelling at the local’s beach past the airport. This beachfront offered some of the best snorkelling I’ve ever experienced (sharks and all!).
Overall, the islands are wonderfully scenic and idyllic in their combination of blue lagoons and palm trees. Plan your activities at the right time of day (ie. least hot), and you’re set.
For more information, visit tahiti-tourisme.com.