Just saying the names Tahiti or Bora Bora can raise a sailor's heart rate. The islands of French Polynesia can rightly be at the top of your bucket list. The sea in the lagoons is as calm as a pond, there is no need to worry about rough seas and the trip is suitable for children. The inflatable kayak we had packed did not stop on the expedition – aside from operational disembarkation, we used it to get to snorkelling sites, circumnavigate several islands called "motu" and paddle the only navigable river in Polynesia, the Faaroa. Two weeks of cruising took us to five islands: the famous Bora Bora, the cradle of the Polynesians called Raiatea, the home of vanilla and pearl farms Tahaa, the neglected Huahine and the coral atoll of Maupiti.
Bora Bora, it's where everyone heads to, celebrities, backpackers, regular resort loafers and us. The island looks exactly like the promotional photos, a lagoon in the middle and an island with Mt. Otemanu around it. Where else can you find such a view?! The lagoon is flanked by low palm islands, called motu. Here you can meditate under the palm trees and listen to the splash of the surf.
There are plenty of moorings here, so you can move around for days at a time. For example, at Mot Tapu and Toopua, the sharks and rays are fed every morning. Meter-long parrotfish circle around in close proximity and you can even pet them. Just amazing.
Besides the natural beauty, I recommend not to miss the local Bloody Mary's, which is perhaps the most famous restaurant in French Polynesia. You may be sitting on a log in the sand under a palm leaf roof, but the huge portions of fresh fish are second to none!
Maupiti Atoll is probably the most deserted island of the Leeward Commonwealth Islands. 25 nautical miles from Bora, the problematic passage through the Onoiau Passage can plague even experienced sailors, and if the seas roughen up, you can be stranded on Maupiti for weeks.
The island's lagoon is beautiful, we are anchored in two meters of clear water, with endless swimming all around! Maupiti is nicknamed "little Bora Bora" and according to the experts, you will find here an atmosphere like Bora Bora fifty years ago.
Maupiti can be circumnavigated by bicycle, the ten kilometres of circular road offer plenty of photo opportunities and the chance to climb the four hundred metre high peak of Teurafaatiu with its stunning views.
Tahaa Island is known as the home of pearls and vanilla. With Alain, a French sailor who anchored here 30 years ago and has stayed since, we learned the secrets of vanilla cultivation and the specifics of the botany and dendrology of the local nature.
The next day we anchor at Motu Maharare, where the flowing water creates a kind of coral river between two islets. Reach the reef, jump into the clear water and swim through the labyrinth of corals. I could repeat this fun endlessly.
At the pearl farm we learn about the principle of pearl farming and we can also buy (not so cheap) local products. The vanilla plantations are mostly hidden in the hillsides and can be visited by appointment with one of the local guides.
In the evening we tie up the buoy and go for a traditional Polynesian dinner, called "umu". Meat and vegetables are prepared here in baskets of palm leaves on hot stones, all covered with banana and hibiscus leaves.
Tahaa's twin, the two share a lagoon, is Raiatea. According to legend, the island is a kind of cradle of Polynesian civilisation – from here, it is said, the Polynesians set sail in their canoes to settle the surrounding archipelago. On Raiatea you will also find the most sacred Polynesian marae Taputapuatea.
The main magnet of the island for me is Mt. Temehani, on whose western slopes grows the local endemic Tiare apetahi, a white flowering plant about a meter high. I find a single Tiare Apetahi plant on a plateau with a magnificent panoramic view. It was here that it displayed its striking white flower, consisting of five petals about 5 cm long forming a semicircle.
We also visit Faaroa Bay, the mouth of the only navigable river in French Polynesia, the eponymous Faaroa River.
Despite the comfort of our catamaran and the conveniences of modern navigation technology, a yacht tour of the Polynesian islands brings the ultimate in romance and adventure.
The island of Huahine welcomes us with a beautiful beach near the town of Fare and the sleepy atmosphere of a never-ending Sunday. In the village of Maeva, we visit a traditional Polynesian house and admire ancient stone fish traps.
The boat can be taken through the lagoon to the very south, to Avea Bay, a place made for snorkelling. I feel like I'm at the end of the world among pristine islands. Our journey is actually at an end, too, with only a downwind crossing back to Raiatea.
When to go and the weather: you can visit French Polynesia by yacht all year round, the sea is still warm and clear, the weather is mostly pleasant and sunny, the low atolls don't get as many clouds as, for example, mountainous Tahiti. Thanks to the ocean, temperatures are even year-round and pleasant for travel. In French Polynesia, there are 2 main seasons: the warmer and wetter season lasts from November to April, with temperatures reaching 24 and 31 °C, and short showers are typical. The winter season, lasting from May to October, tends to be drier and also slightly cooler with temperatures ranging from 24 to 28 °C.
Prices: For a meal in a restaurant you will pay about 20-35 EUR, a hamburger costs about 12 EUR, a beer in a restaurant about 4 EUR.
Boat charter and sailing arrangements: departures are mostly from Raiatea, where the charter companies Moorings or Dream Yacht are based, but you can also sail from Tahiti. If you circumnavigate all the Leeward Society Islands, you will fill about 250 NM, independent cruising requires good experience of the coral areas. You can sail on a monohull sailboat or a catamaran, but catamarans are preferable – their lower draft makes anchoring in shallow lagoons easier.
Don't avoid Bora Bora – although this island has the hallmark of being expensive and perhaps kitsch, nothing can replace its beautiful scenery. What's more, you'll be quite alone on a boat and out of reach of the hotel resorts.
Although December to March is known as the "rainy season", you don't have to worry about going to French Polynesia, you'll usually get only brief showers.
Sailings are usually from the island of Raiatea, where the charter companies are based, but you can also sail from Tahiti. If you round all the Leeward Society Islands, you'll make about 250 nautical miles; sailing solo requires good coral experience.