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Wonders of French Polynesia

Landscape near Hatiheu Bay, Nuku Hiva
Landscape near Hatiheu Bay, Nuku Hiva / Steve Berardi, , CC BY-SA 2.0

WorldBlue  Highlights

French Polynesia includes a huge number of very diverse islands. Many islands here are low-lying atolls entirely covered by waves during the storms but many are adorned with steep mountains covered with tropical forest and rising up to 2,241 m high (Mount Orohena in Tahiti).

The most amazing wonders of French Polynesia are:

  • Diverse natural landmarks. The manifold natural heritage includes unique ecosystems – both above the sea level and below it.
  • Archaeological heritage. Notable are the numerous ceremonial complexes – marae and me’ae, stone sculptures (tiki), petroglyphs, and cave settlements.

French Polynesia is an overseas country of France. It is divided into 5 administrative subdivisions:

Map with the described wonders

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WorldViolet Top 25 wonders of French Polynesia

Geological wonders

Tapueahu Canyon (Grand Canyon of Nuku Hiva)

Marquesas Islands

Very impressive canyon.

Teahupo’o reef break

Windward Islands

A break in the reef, where are formed especially large, glassy blue, smooth waves. These are some of the heaviest waves in the world – a huge water mass is broken and may fall on the head of an unwary surfer. Waves are beloved by surfers but are very dangerous.

Teahupoo wave, Tahiti
Teahupo’o wave, Tahiti / Claudio Toledo, / CC BY 2.0
Vaipo Falls

Marquesas Islands

Approximately 350 m tall waterfall in an impressive valley.

Vaipo Falls, Nuku Hiva
Vaipo Falls, Nuku Hiva / Yves Picq, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0
Vaipo Canyon

Marquesas Islands

A beautiful, narrow chasm surrounded by almost vertical cliff pinnacles rising more than 550 m high.

Toarutu Cave (Mouth of Dragon)

Austral Islands

An amazing cave with numerous columns – it resembles a mouth of a giant dragon. It formed at the times when the sea level was 10 m higher than now.

Mataiva lagoon

Tuamotu-Gambier Islands

The lagoon of Mataiva atoll is almost totally surrounded by the land. The 5.3 by 10 km large lagoon is divided into some 70 smaller parts by the ridges of decaying coral. At the bottom of each smaller basin are rich deposits of phosphates.

Eiao cliffs

Marquesas Islands

Up to 440 m tall seaside cliffs.

Ana Torea Caves

Tuamotu-Gambier Islands

In the impressive Moumu cliffs have formed numerous caves. There are numerous legends about these caves – about treasure left by Spaniards, about ghosts. Caves served for the burial of local noblemen before the coming of the Spanish. Many caves are adorned with stalactites and stalagmites.

Ana Vairua’uri

Austral Islands

An underground stream with a lake that is up to 7 m deep. In the stream are living enormous shrimps. Several sinkholes have formed along the route of the stream. A legend about an octopus who lived here and killed horses.

Octopus Grotto

Leeward Islands

A grotto under the sea level, 120 m long. Located in 30 – 50 m depth. The ceiling is adorned with stalactites that formed when the grotto was above sea level. Numerous fishes live in the cave.

Taupe’e Cave (Maperevaru)

Austral Islands

A beautiful cave with stalactites, stalagmites, gours, cave pearls, and other cave formations.

Biological wonders

Mount Purau rainforest

Austral Islands

Remnant of a unique montane rain forest with a huge number of endemic species of plants (89 species) and animals.

Temehani Ute Ute Plateau

Leeward Islands

A small plateau with 26 species of plants that grow only here. One of these plants is the famous Tiare Apetahi (Apetahia raiateensis) with beautiful, large flowers.

Niau tropical forest – feo

Tuamotu-Gambier Islands

One of the rare areas covered with a specific ecosystem – Tuamotu tropical moist forest. The whole island – atoll is some 20 km² large. The island has a green, hypersaline lagoon. The only habitat of the very rare Tuamotu kingfisher (Todiramphus gambieri).

Archaeological wonders

Marae Arahurahu

Windward Islands

One of the first marae to be restored in 1954. Contains a stone statue.

Marae Arahurahu, Tahiti
Marae Arahurahu, ahu / Rachel Roberts, / CC BY-SA 2.0
Me’ae Iipona

Marquesas Islands

A ceremonial site with the largest prehistoric stone statues (tiki) in French Polynesia, up to 2.6 m high. Restored in 1991.

Me'ae Iipona in Marquesas, old stone sculptures
Me’ae Iipona, old stone sculptures / American, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0
Tuauru funeral caves

Windward Islands

Funeral caves in a remote valley of Tahiti. Caves are intact, and filled with valuable historical artifacts. One flute has been carried away and sold, thus desecrating the cave.

Marae Taputapuatea

Leeward Islands

A unique complex of marae, one of the important sacred complexes of Polynesians. Established around 1000 AD and expanded significantly since then, used as a learning center for priests and navigators. Includes multiple stone structures and sculptures. This unique archaeological monument is partly restored.


Leeward Islands

An abandoned royal settlement. It contains the largest concentration of megalithic structures in Polynesia except for Easter Island. In total there are known some 200 stone structures – marae, dwellings, agricultural structures, stone fish traps, and fortification walls. Includes Marae Oavaura, Marae Vaiotaha, and other structures.

Mata’ire’a Rahi

Leeward Islands

The most important marae in Huahine, the former place of royal ceremonies. Located on the summit of a hill. Constructed sometime around 1450 – 1500.

Ana’o Tetea

Tuamotu-Gambier Islands

A cave – a royal burial site and site of legends. Unfortunately, the burial was desecrated by foreign tourists in 2005.

Contemporary cultural wonders

Robert Wan Pearl Museum

Windward Islands

This is the world’s only museum that is dedicated to pearls, their history, traditions, and collection.

Tahiti pearls
Tahiti pearls / Lizzy Saldana, / CC BY 2.0
Paul Gauguin Museum

Windward Islands

This art museum is dedicated to the life and works of Paul Gauguin and Constance Gordon-Cumming. In the garden are located two tiki – sacred stone statues from Ra’ivavae island.

Tepoto treasure

Tuamotu-Gambier Islands

This small atoll is a possible location where has been hidden a treasure. This legendary treasure was looted in Pisco church, Peru in the 19th century. One treasure seeker has found a cache of medallions from South America but it is unknown whether something more has been found.

WorldYellow Recommended books

Moon Tahiti (Moon Handbooks)

South Pacific expert David Stanley knows the best way to vacation in Tahiti, from browsing the Papeete market to snorkeling off the island of Moorea. This guide includes unique trip ideas like The Best of French Polynesia and Underwater in the Tuamotu Islands. Complete with details on taking lagoon tours and jeep safaris, lounging in Polynesian spas, and partaking in lavish seafood buffets, Moon Tahiti gives travelers the tools they need to create a more personal and memorable experience.

Frommer’s Tahiti and French Polynesia

You’ll never fall into the tourist traps when you travel with Frommer’s. It’s like having a friend show you around, taking you to the places locals like best. Our expert authors have already gone everywhere you might go–they’ve done the legwork for you, and they’re not afraid to tell it like it is, saving you time and money. No other series offers candid reviews of so many hotels and restaurants in all price ranges.

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