Sailing Around the Leeward Islands, French Polynesia

photo by by Pierre Lesage
Navigating the islands of Tahiti – photo by by Pierre Lesage

boat gear
Navigating the waters and islands of Tahiti by boat – with tips on inlet anchorages, marina berths and amazing must-see destinations on your trip

French Polynesia comprises of 118 islands of which the best known is Tahiti, earning it the unofficial name Tahiti and Her Islands. Popular tourist destinations are scattered all around them, and everyone knows that the best way to see Tahiti is by boat.

If you are heading to Tahiti aboard your own yacht, or even chartering one, it is easy to form your itinerary, see the best parts of the islands, and never stray too far from your boat.

Most of the populated areas and tourist hotspots are located on the Society Islands archipelago anyways, cutting down the time you would spend just traveling around French Polynesia, the area size of which approximates that of Europe. The Society Islands, located downwind of Tahiti and thus called the Leewards, consist of Bora Bora, Raiatea, Huahine and Tahaa.

Snorkling in Tahiti - photo by MironCaro
Snorkling in Tahiti – photo by MironCaro

Sailing in Tahiti is a relaxing deal, with the trade winds averaging 15-20 knots all year long. The temperatures stay pretty much the same throughout the year, at 25°C. Navigation over the waters does not require an advanced degree in sailing, due to weak currents.

Every place in French Polynesia is a great snorkeling destination, meaning that your trips will be visually enriched with marvelous sights of barrier reefs and opulent tropical flora and fauna – sea turtles, dolphins, sting rays, sharks, coral fields… sail over all of this upon crystal clear turquoise waters of the ocean and the lagoon.

There are two islands of Bora Bora, connected by a barrier reef. The dominating sight and good marker is the 700-meter Mt. Otemanu. Bora Bora is known for its spectacular beaches and snorkeling opportunities in the blue lagoon. It is the most tourist-devoted of the four Leewards.

photo by Thomas Wasserberg
photo by Thomas Wasserberg

The Bora Bora Yacht Club near Vaitape Village is the main berthing option, a place delightfully crowded with sailors from all over the world. If you dine at the yacht club restaurant you will receive a free berth, water, and Internet access on your boat.

Raiatea is the largest Leeward island. It is home to Taputapuatea Marae, a central temple to the ancient Polynesian religion. Known as the Sacred Island, it is culturally rich, a major port connecting Polynesia to other important islands like Hawaii and New Zealand. It offers sightseeing tours by horseback or hiking.

Waterways spread deep into the island, connecting the Fa’aroa Bay with the Fa’atemu Bay. There are several berths at Fa’aroa Bay, but the recommendation is to continue into the Aopomau River. This trip is unique in French Polynesia, with jungle scenery and Polynesian farms reaching over both sides of the river. Farther inland looms Mt. Tefaatuaiti at over 1000 meters.

Diving from the stern of a boat in Tahaa, Society Islands, French Polynesia - photo by Roger
Diving from the stern of a boat in Tahaa, Society Islands, French Polynesia – photo by Roger

Tahaa, the Vanilla capital of the Islands is connected to Raiatea by a barrier reef (making it another snorkeling hotspot).

If you do sail up to Tahaa, make a visit to the farms and plantations – Tahaa grows most of French Polynesia’s vanilla, and the black pearl farms are an interesting sight open to tourists. This is where you can find the most authentic arts and crafts on the Leewards, with artisans and jewelry makers aplenty on the island.

When you finish observing man-made wonders of the island, walk over to the Tahaa Turtle Conservation Center. Tahaa is interspersed with inlets, so you may anchor deep into the island, and the Haamene Bay is a good destination to berth in while you are visiting.

Huahine is made up of Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti, two islands connected by a bridge. This bridge runs over a stream full of giant eels considered to be sacred, and feeding the eels is a popular attraction on the island. It is another island in the Leewards dedicated to agriculture, earning the name Garden Island. It is not a common destination for most people visiting Tahiti, so the white beaches have that extra pristine charm.

The Fare Village is the largest town on Huahine, a good place to visit restaurants and shops, and to grab a drink at the Huahine Shack. The islanders are especially fond of marine visitors. There are no berths available on Huahine, but there are safe places to anchor to the west of Fare Village… so you can sit back on your boat and take in the amazing island views.

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Editorial Staff

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