The most popular amongst them as a tourist destination is the Society Archipelago consisting of the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands. Tahiti Nui, Tahiti Iti, Moorea and Tetiaora are the four Windward Islands while Huahine, Bora Bora, Raiatea/Tahaa and Mupit make up the Leeward isles.
Tahiti is the largest of all the 118 islands that make up French Polynesia. It is the most popular first step and the perfect introduction to the charms of the South Sea Islands. It is also home to the capital, Papeete.
Well equipped to deal with an onslaught of holidaymakers and honeymooners, Tahiti has superb infrastructure catering to every income group. An extremely picturesque place, Tahiti is a dream of an island with tall mountain peaks that stand with their heads in the clouds and their feet firmly planted in the midst of thick rainforests, miles of ferns, in lush plantations of topical fruits and vegetables that gently open out to sandy beaches where the roar of the surf and the crash of the waves of the Sea of the Moon add to the magical ambience.
Bora Bora is a tiny speck of an island just 18km in circumference and surrounded by a deep necklet of coral reef. The emerald green island sits in its deep aquamarine setting and is billed as one of the most beautiful in the world by none other than James Michener, author of Tales of the South Pacific. Turquoise blue lagoons, aqua waters and fresh green mountainsides make this kaleidoscope of an island a celeb favourite.
Raiatea is the most sacred island in all of Polynesia. It has long been a centre for religious ceremonies particularly associated with the indigenous religion and its Gods. It has equal amount of historical relevance. It was on this island that all the kings of the different islands would collect at the marae or temple of Taputapuatea for important conclaves and conferences.
The nearby island of Tahaa is the vanilla capital of Polynesia producing more than 80% of the scented beans in the secluded environs of its island paradise. It would be the ultimate folly to miss Moorea from any itinerary.
This is the island that inspired the musical Bali Hai and forever became part of Broadway and Hollywood legend. It has deep lagoons teeming with fish, silver cascades, green clad volcanoes and white sandy beaches. And if that wasn’t enough of an attraction, Moorea offers plenty for the active traveller – snorkeling in the bluest of lagoons, treks to some of the most stunning volcanic peaks anywhere and absolutely divine beaches to lounge upon.
A tiny isthmus joins together the picture perfect little islands that make up Huahine – Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti. The islands are covered with the glossy green of dense rainforests with acres and acres of land covered by tall trees. Coral reefs and little motus or offshore islets ring Huahine, their waters are a treasure trove of marine delights - and the islands themselves are rich in archaeological sites and museums that provide insights into the rich heritage of Polynesia.
The Tuamoto Archipelago lies eastwards of Society Archipelago and happens to be the largest of all with a surface area of some 600 sq. miles. Tuamoto is made up of 80 atolls, perfectly shaped little islands ringed by deep blue seas and coral reefs teeming with marine creatures in every hue.The important members of this island family are Rangiroa, Manihi, Fakarava and Tikehau. Diving enthusiasts should head to Rangiroa,the second biggest atoll in the world and where all the ace divers head.
The lagoon is almost like an inland sea and natural forces have gifted it with such a tide that it has become a divers paradise. Add to it the marine life with this massive lagoon and you have it made. Mother of pearl production is big here.
There are a few forgotten islands in the country if you want to explore and be forgotten for a while. The Gambier Archipelago is a prime example. Flights go here twice a month at most, and with a miniscule population of 500 people - whose ancestors managed to survive missionary Father Honore Laval's destruction of the place - you won't have much to worry about crowds or claustrophobia.
The Austral Archipelago is the smallest with just 5 islands lying south of Tahiti. Known as the high islands, they are extremely mountainous with peaks that can be seen from quite a distance. The islands are surrounded by a coral reef that extends from the beach to the outer reef. Rapa, the island farthest away in the Australs is some 1500 km from Papeete.
The Marquesa Archipelago is located 1500 km northeast from Tahiti and consists of 9 islands. The islands in this group are not very impressive and rarely find many takers.
But its island of Hiva Oa found a patron in the guise of the French Impressionist Paul Gauguin who spent the last years of his life painting the islanders and capturing their innocence on canvas for posterity. Gauguin lies buried on Hiva Oa.
Another island whose charms are yet to be discovered by hordes of sunbathers is the island of Fatu Hiva with the beautiful valley of Hanavare tucked away in the midst of enormous volcanic rocks in the Bay of Virgins. Fatu Hiva also houses the important archaeological site of Puamau that has the largest tiki (7ft) on Marquesa.