5 Incredible Islands in French Polynesia That Aren’t Bora Bora
33 miles north of Tahiti sits the Tetiaroa atoll (a ring of islands) with all the allure of Bora Bora and none of the crowds. Once the playground to Tahitian royalty, this sacred spot in the South Pacific is now a haven for birds (one of the largest in all of Tahiti) and vacationers seeking sunshine in solitude. Known as Marlon Brando’s private escape, it is also home to his namesake luxury eco-resort, The Brando, located on the motu (small island) Onetahi, where rates begin at $3,287/night. Affordable private home rentals on other atoll islands with Tetiaroa are aplenty on sites like Airbnb (rates around $60/night). From Moorea or Tahiti, this private atoll is a quick 20-minute plane ride aboard Air Tetiaroa, or longer via private boat charter.
Within the Society Islands archipelago sits flower-shaped Tahaa, nicknamed ‘Vanilla Island’ thanks to its production of 80% of all Tahitian vanilla. Lacking an airport, the only way to access the 33-square-mile slip of sand is by taking a quick flight from Papeete (PPT) to Raiatea (RFP) and hopping on a shuttle boat from there. Visitors can tour vanilla plantations and pearl farms on land, but the crown jewel is below the shoreline in the Coral Gardens, a shallow snorkeling spot that is easily accessible from Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa or by boat charter. Be sure to pack an underwater camera to snap photos of the vibrant sea life including rays, parrotfish, and eel. Anyone still hoping for a peek of Bora Bora can venture to the northwest side of the island for unobstructed views and an ideal spot to watch the sunset.
Panoramic views and an ‘edge of the Earth’ feel make Maupiti a must for travelers willing to make the trek to the outer edge of the Society Islands chain to enjoy untouched French Polynesia. A 50-minute flight from Papeete on Tahiti, this speck of sand — only four square miles — resists touristy hotels and resorts, instead hosting guests in family-run pensions (small boarding houses that sometimes include meals). Shallow waters between sandbars encourage exploration and manta rays are known to call the waters just offshore home. Pack sneakers with good traction to climb lush Mount Teurafaatiu (elev. 1,220 feet), which offers the best views on the island from her summit and can be conquered in about two hours.
Home to the origins of Tahitian pearl farming and located on the Tuamotu Islands archipelago, Manihi conjures up visions of Castaway (sans Wilson) meets desktop screensaver. A halo of coral formations protect the expansive lagoon (one of the largest in Tuamotu), which is the ideal place to snorkel, kayak, or float into sun-soaked oblivion. Ropes and buoys dotting the lagoon indicate oysters culturing pearls below the surface, a trade that is practiced by many local families on the island.
The largest atoll within the islands of Tahiti and the second largest in the world, Rangiroa is a nature lover’s paradise comprised of 240 islets across 110 miles. This Polynesian atoll is home to less than 3,000 people but includes must-visits like a pink sand beach and the Dominique Auroy Estate, a vineyard tucked inside a coconut grove with three grape varietals. Divers, take note! This off-the-beaten-path destination offers some of the most renowned scuba diving in the world for both beginners and experts thanks to an abundance of coral, turtles, sharks, dolphins and colorful fish right below the waterline.