French Polynesia is made up of four archipelagos in the South Pacific, spanning more than 2,000 km. Perhaps most famous of the islands, Tahiti, conjures images of a postcard-perfect tropical paradise with coral-fringed lagoons and over-the-water bungalow hotels. But with more 100 islands, French Polynesia is certain to harbor a few travel surprises.
Trevor: This is kind of our second “almost Asia” episode, having done a show about Hawaii a few years back. Seems suitable to me that Tahiti would be next as the Hawaiians are believed to have sailed from one island to the other perhaps more than a millennia ago. But, while I know the history of Hawaii, including the influence Asian cultures have had on those islands, I know much less about the evolution of French Polynesia.
Scott: Some history – according to Wikipedia, Anthropologists and historians believe the Great Polynesian Migration commenced around 1500 BC as Austronesian peoples went on a journey using celestial navigation to find islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The first islands of French Polynesia to be settled were the Marquesas Islands in about 200 BC. The Polynesians later ventured southwest and discovered the Society Islands around AD 300. After centuries of isolation, during which Hawaii was eventually settled, European’s discovered the islands, which became part of a French protectorate in the 19th century.
Trevor: Celestial navigation aside, which is a topic worthy of its own show, if we can get Ninoa Thomson or someone from the Polynesian voyaging society on the show, it’s amazing how the culture spread across so many islands. I understand that among its 118 islands and atolls, 67 are inhabited. Tahiti, which is in the Society Islands group, is the most populous island: home to nearly 70% of the population of French Polynesia, which last stood at 275,000. In the capital of Papeete (puh-peet) there are 136,000.
At the 2017 census, 89.0% of people living in French Polynesia were born in French Polynesia (up from 87.3% in 2007), 8.1% were born in metropolitan France. At the 1988 census, the last census which asked questions regarding ethnicity, 66.5% of people were ethnically unmixed Polynesians, 7.1% were ethnically Polynesians with light European and/or East Asian mixing, 11.9% were Europeans (mostly French), 9.3% were people of mixed European and Polynesian descent, the so-called Demis (literally meaning “Half”), and 4.7% were East Asians (mainly Chinese.
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Guest Intro: Celeste Brash has been a travel writer for Lonely Planet since 2005 and has contributed to over 75 books and countless articles. Her travels have brought her to around 45 counties and have helped her learn to communicate in French, Spanish, Thai, Malay and Tahitian. Along the way she’s written for numerous other outlets such as Islands Magazine and National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel. She’s also had her photography published in magazines including Travel & Leisure and has starred in videos produced by Lonely Planet. Celeste is currently flexing her entrepreneurial skills as CEO of www.kamokapearls.com, an online, sustainable Tahitian pearl jewelry boutique, while also trying to complete her memoir about her five years spent on a remote atoll pearl farm.
- Where are you from and where are you now?
- When and why did you first travel to French Polynesia?
- Give us a lay of the land:
- What are the primary tourist destinations?
- What are the primary attractions: Specific beaches, islands, or activities.
- Surfing – are there opportunities for beginner-intermediate? Best area
- Kite surfing
- Best diving islands/areas / attractions
- Paddling? Fishing?
- How about hula. Is it called hula in Tahiti?
- Is it possible to visit more than one group of islands or is it best to stick to one?
- How is Tahiti different from Bora Bora, for example. Are there major contrasts between any of the islands the way the Big island of Hawaii is very different from Kauai.
- Are there islands you can rent a car, say, and explore on your own?
- Any places to camp: National park islands?
- Can Tahiti be visited on a budget or must you be a high roller or a honeymooner?
- What are the best ways to experience local culture?
- Does one need to speak French in order to visit? How much does it help?
- What’s Tahitian food like?
Check out a Google Map of French Polynesia
Trevor’s two week trip notes:
- Maybe Workaway – volunteer/homestay in Tahiti – explore and surf there.
- Camping in Moorea, where you can rent e-bikes (and hitch-hike!)
- There’s also homestays and AirBnb
- Check out Huahine. Can take a ferry there from Tahiti.
- Close with diving on Tuamotu
- Follow Celeste on Twitter
- CJBrash on Instagram
- Facebook: Celeste Brash
- Kamoka Pearls
- Talk Travel Asia #80 – Almost Asia: Hawaii
- Talk Travel Asia #140: The Maldives with Tom Masters
Check out this video of Kamoka Pearl Farm:
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Theme Music by Jamie Ruben