For many, dreaming of an escape to French Polynesia evokes images of extravagant overwater bungalows, luxurious all inclusive spa resorts and lavish waterfront dining with an excessive price tag to match. But a trip to this trail of island paradise doesn’t have to break the bank. If opting for a less opulent, more backpacker style of adventure, you can still immerse yourself in swarms of diverse marine life and rub shoulders with curious reef sharks, or swim through the still blue waters of postcard perfect lagoons and sun yourself on your own private island, without it costing you a small fortune. Here are our tips to help you plan a trip to French Polynesia on a budget.
We are all for being spontaneous travellers and not knowing where we will be from one week to the next, but French Polynesia is a place where a bit of forward thinking can definitely save you some big bucks.
With a strongly seasonal tourism industry, visiting out of peak season will save you a lot and can also give you a bit of bargaining power. Not only are you more likely to get sale airfares to French Polynesia, domestic flights are also sold at a lower rate out of peak season. You may also be able to negotiate the cost of tours and guesthouses. With most visitors pouring in from France, seasons are largely based on their holiday periods. Avoid July and August which are the busiest when prices will be higher. The Christmas and New Years period can also get very crowded with inflated prices.
Unless you have oodles of time, air travel will likely be your main means of transport between the islands. Considering the flights are often less than an hour long they come at a considerable expense, but a little research can help you get a bit more bang for your buck. And hey, if the weather is clear you will get spectacular aerial views of the islands and their lagoons – a scenic flight and a new island paradise for the price of one. Just be sure to get a window seat at the front to avoid your view being obstructed by the wings.
Air Tahiti is the domestic air carrier that will shuttle you between the islands (not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui which runs on international routes). There are several options for multi-island passes which can save you hundreds of dollars compared with booking single leg flights and allow you to spread your wings a little further across the archipelagos. They are also a great first step in helping you plan your trip and deciding which slices of paradise to discover.
A return flight from Tahiti to Raiatea during the low season will cost you 31,422 CFP ($288), while a multi-island Discovery Pass with stops at Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine and Raiatea will come in at 36,288 CFP ($333). The Bora Bora Pass is a further $100 and allows you to tack on stops at Bora Bora and Maupiti. Not a bad upgrade for that little bit extra.
If perhaps visiting the underwater paradises of Rangiroa and Fakavara are more your cup of tea, these can also be incorporated into your itinerary. Using these passes you can gain access to the further flung archipelagos including the Tuamotos, Margueses and Austral groups of islands, as well as the Society Islands closer to Tahiti.
But be sure to read the details for each pass as terms and conditions do apply and prices will vary based on season. There are also higher rates for extra baggage so if you want to save some extra cash be sure to pack light.
If you have a lot of time, are looking to make your budget stretch as far as possible and have a flare for adventure, travelling by cargo ship may be right up your alley. At a small fraction of the cost of flying, if you have the time this is by far the most cost effective way to travel. Be sure to book well in advance as places are often limited and can book up fast, particularly in the high season. We had planned on using the cargo ship ‘Hawaiki Nui’ to get around the Society Islands but on arriving in Pape’ete found that they were booked solid for the next month.
The Hawaiki Nui leaves from Pape’ete on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4 pm. The Tuesday departure travels to Huahine, Raiatea and Bora Bora, returning via Tahaa and Raiatea, while the Thursday trip calls in to Raiatea and Bora Bora, returning via Tahaa, Raiatea and Huahine. Call to make a booking.
Schedules are notoriously unreliable though so a bit of flexibility is a must. But if all that beach relaxation has been a little too easy and you are looking to add a sprinkle of adventure to your travels, at around 2,000 CFP ($18) for deck class and 5,000 CFP ($46) for a cabin, this is a sure fire way to help stretch those pennies.
Cargo ships ply the routes to the further flung archipelagos so be sure to research these options if you are looking to get a bit further off the beaten track.
A much more comfortable option for a sea crossing is the ferry. Moorea, within an arms reach of Tahiti, is easily reached by a very comfortable passenger and vehicle ferry. The 45-minute ride gives stunning views approaching the island as its peaks rise out of the water. If you are there at the right time of year you may even see a whale breaching beside the boat during the crossing. Local buses meet all incoming ferries and travel north and south along the island’s single road. If heading to Moorea, at 1,150 CFP ($10.50) for the ferry and 300 CFP ($2.75) for the bus, this is by far your cheapest option.
We stumbled a little in planning our visit to French Polynesia and ended up spending a little more than we had bargained for. The high season meant that the cargo ships were booked and flights were often not available. In the end, a combination of flights and ferries between the islands and a mix of biking, hitching, driving and scootering got us around. This meant we didn’t always end up with the cheapest option but this didn’t stop us from having a blast.