With Tahiti opening its international borders, Captain Michael Gooding reflects on vast experience cruising the region.
Written by Captain Michael Gooding
After living and working in French Polynesia for over 15 years, the country and the people are as welcoming as the first time I visited in 2005. This is a destination you will always remember and want to return to.
There are many cultural differences and traditions within the islands, but the spirit of the country – mana – runs deep. Tahitian Fenua, the wildlife, islands and the ocean are all incredible and offer an abundance of experiences, but it is the people who keep calling me back.
The typical season here is June to August as this coincides with the Northern Hemisphere summer holidays. The weather during this time is typically southeast trade winds from 15 to 20 knots. The wetter time of the year is around January or February and this is offset by some remarkable days with no wind or rain.
The main point of entry is Papeete, however, there are several outlying ports where you can clear customs and immigration, including Gambier and Marquesas. In most of the Pacific, I recommend utilising the services of an agent. They can organise clearance, immigration, customs, provisions, fuel and suggested itineraries. It will save a substantial amount of time, stress and money.
Sometimes the entry points can change, or we have been required to fly the customs officers to the requested point of entry.
Even after living here and knowing the system, I still utilise an agent as they know the people in customs and immigration and understand the system and how it can change.
The regulations differ for vaccinated and non-vaccinated travellers, so it pays to work with an agent who has the latest information.
If you’re staying for a short period, visas for crew from most countries can be obtained on arrival. If you wish to stay longer than three months, then a long-stay visa will need to be obtained and, again, I would recommend the services of an agent.
The main port of Papeete is generally more suited to larger yachts and Marina Taina to the West is more suited for vessels up to 45 metres, although it can accommodate larger yachts as well. There is plenty of support in Papeete and a limited amount around the islands. Additionally, there is a growing number of local crew and contractors who understand the quality of work required or the standard expected on a superyacht.
The electrical power supply here is unique with single phase 220 V, 3-phase 380 V and all 60 hertz. It is a little odd and some vessels remain on ship’s power for the duration of their stay.
Fuel is available in most of the major islands with some prior planning. Fuel can be found at the main atolls of Rangiroa and Fakarava in the Tuamotu archipelago, Marquesas Islands, Mangareva, and Papeete. The quality of fuel is great and there are always alternatives of bunker suppliers from Europe for pricing.
Papeete is your best place if you need supplies. In some cases, for charter, we have utilised the agents in Papeete to fly and import produce from overseas. Quality and fresh produce only gets flown in once a week, so some improvisation or access to quality meats, fruits and vegetables is a necessity.
The official language of French Polynesia is French, however, the local population speaks a mix of French with Tahitian and can also usually converse in English. It’s still good to have someone on board who can speak French.
Tahitian was forbidden for a long time and it is becoming more popular as the interest in local culture and the spirit that lies here emerges.
If you are travelling through one of the archipelagos, it’s common to seek some guidance from an agent or local to check if there are any restrictions of which you should be aware. It also gives a good instrument to say hello.
When you do go ashore, being aware of the best locations is paramount. If this is your one and only stay in French Polynesia, you want to have the best view of the islands and what she has to offer.
While travelling through French Polynesia, the islands have their own charm and character. Most guests will fly in and immediately depart the harbour, but I would encourage you to indulge yourself and visit the market and go down the coast to Teahupoo and the famous surf break. Travelling around the island has a charm if you have a little time to spare.
Tahiti is not fast-paced but the islands that lie around her speak of swaying palms, deep anchorages in the bays and images of past volcanoes that melt into the sea. Going ashore here is a must as the reason most of us travel is to appreciate the people and the culture.
One of the highlights I most enjoy when going to Moorea is heading to the beach at Temae for a swim. After the swim, return to one of the resorts for lunch with the local delicacy of poisson cru served with a glass or two of champagne.
On the northwest edge of Moorea is Motu Tiahura and nearby is the local feeding area for stingrays. This is a unique experience and one that I would gladly enjoy every day as elsewhere the local marine life is a little shy.
In Huahine on one of the points the West of Bourayne Bay, a local operator shares some of their favourites. You can enjoy a private barbecue picnic with champagne, red or white wine, lobster, grilled mahi mahi and poisson cru. After lunch, enjoy some traditional sports with spearing coconuts and more.
To the north of Huahine lies Lac Maeva and some of the great archaeological sights of the area. Visit a Marae and some of the historic stone fish traps that lie in the pass.
To the west of Taha’s lies the local resort where you can enjoy a cocktail. Beside the resort in between the Motus is a place called the coral garden. This is a drift snorkel and one you will enjoy more than once.
To the west of Motu Toopua is a shallow area great for snorkelling where you can indulge in the pristine clear turquoise waters for which the Pacific Ocean is renowned.
To the west of Bora Bora is Maupiti. Rarely do we get to go here as the pass can have strong currents of up to 10 knots. When the time is right and you get the chance, this is a great place to see what Bora Bora was like 20 years ago.
In the Tuamotu archipelago and the atoll of Rangiroa, there are two passes. The south pass is great for diving with dolphins and sharks in the wild. It’s truly a unique experience.
To learn more about Tahiti’s entry and stay conditions, click here.