Getting there & away
Tickets can be purchased cheaply on the Internet and many airlines offer excellent fares to Web surfers. Online ticket sales work well if you're doing a simple one-way or return trip on specified dates. However, online fare generators are no substitute for a travel agent who knows all about special deals, has strategies for avoiding layovers (very helpful for French Polynesia, which is so far away from anywhere) and can offer advice on everything from which airline has the best vegetarian food to the best travel insurance to bundle with your ticket.
You may find the cheapest flights are advertised by obscure agencies. Most such firms are honest and solvent, but there are some rogue fly-by-night outfits around. Paying by credit card generally offers protection, as most card issuers provide refunds if you can prove you didn't get what you paid for. Agents who accept only cash should hand over the tickets straight away and not tell you to 'come back tomorrow'. After you've made a booking or paid your deposit, call the airline and confirm that the booking was made.
If you purchase a ticket and then later would like to make changes to your route or get a refund, you will actually need to contact the original travel agent. Airlines issue refunds only to the purchaser of a ticket, which is usually the travel agent or online booking site that bought your ticket on your behalf. Many travellers change their routes halfway through their trips, so make sure that you think carefully before you buy a ticket that is not easily refunded or changed.
Booking flights in and out of Tahiti during the high season (June to September and over Christmas) can be difficult and more expensive - book well in advance.
Good online booking agencies for Tahiti:
Travelling to French Polynesia by yacht is entirely feasible: you can often pick up crewing positions from North America, Australia or NZ, or in the islands; ask at yacht clubs in San Diego, LA, San Francisco, Honolulu, Sydney, Cairns or Auckland.
It takes about a month to sail from the US west coast to Hawai'i and another month south from there to the Marquesas; with stops, another month takes you west to Tahiti and the Society Islands. Then it's another long leg southwest to Australia or NZ.
Getting to French Polynesia by sea can be a real challenge, although cruise ships from the USA and Australia do occasionally pass through for a day or so. Another possibility by sea is to travel with the US-based Society Expeditions (206-728 9400, 800 548 8669; www.societyexpeditions.com), which has regular sailings aboard the World Discoverer between Tahiti, Pitcairn and Easter Islands. Departures are from Los Angeles and fares start at US$7000 per person.
Entry procedures for French Polynesia are straightforward. You'll have to show your passport of course, with any visa you may have obtained beforehand. You'll also need to present completed arrival and departure cards, usually distributed on the incoming flight. You may also be asked to show proof of a return airline ticket - Polynesians don't want to share their paradise with you forever.
You do not have to fill in a customs declaration on arrival unless you have imported goods to declare, in which case you can get the proper form from customs officials at the point of entry.
Most visitors arrive by air. Faa'a airport, on Tahiti, is the only international airport in French Polynesia.There is no departure tax within French Polynesia.
Faa'a International Airport (PPT; 86 60 61; www.tahiti-aeroport.pf), on Tahiti, is the only international airport in French Polynesia. It's on the outskirts of Pape'ete, about 5km west of the capital. International check-in desks are at the east end of the terminal.
A number of international airlines serve French Polynesia. Airline offices in Pape'ete include the following:
Air France (47 47 47; www.airfrance.com; Rue Largarde)
Air New Zealand (54 07 47; www.airnz.com; Vaima Centre)
Air Tahiti Nui (45 55 55; www.airtahitinui.com; Rue Paul Gauguin)
Aircalin (Air Caledonie International; 85 09 04; www.aircalin.nc)
Corsair (42 28 28; www.corsair.fr; Blvd Pomare)
Hawaiian Airlines (42 15 00; www.hawaiianair.com; Vaima Centre)
LAN (42 64 55; www.lan.com; Vaima Centre)
Qantas (43 06 65; www.qantas.com; Vaima Centre)
Flights go to Tahiti direct from Los Angeles (LA), Honolulu and Auckland (with onward connections to Australia) and to a number of other Pacific islands. Tahiti is a popular stop on round-the-world (RTW) tickets and is included in several air passes.
There is no departure tax within French Polynesia.
The Faa'a International Airport (PPT; 86 60 61; www.tahiti-aeroport.pf) is on Pape'ete's outskirts, 5km west of the capital. International check-in desks are at the terminal's eastern end.
A number of international airlines serve French Polynesia from different parts of the world. The following airlines have offices in Pape'ete.
Qantas Airways (airline code QF; 43 06 65; www.qantas.com; hub Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney)
Air Tahiti Nui operates flights between Japan (Tokyo and Osaka) and Pape'ete. Return flights from Tokyo start at US$1500. From other parts of Asia, the simplest connection is via Australia or New Zealand.
All flights from Australia to Pape'ete are via Auckland. In Auckland, Qantas Airways flights connect with either Air Tahiti Nui or Polynesian Airlines for the Auckland-Pape'ete leg. Fares increase considerably in the high season (June to September and over Christmas). From Sydney expect to pay about A$1200/1550 for a return trip in the low/high season with either Qantas or Air New Zealand.
As in Australia, fares from New Zealand increase during high season. From Auckland return fares start at NZ$1000/1300 in low/high season. Both Air New Zealand and Qantas/Air Tahiti Nui offer connecting flights from Pape'ete to Los Angeles.
Many Australians choose to travel to French Polynesia on a package tour.
There are regular connections between French Polynesia and New Zealand, Fiji, New Caledonia, the Cook Islands, Wallis and Fortuna, and Hawaii. Island hopping around the Pacific is not difficult, but because some flights only operate once a week or every few days you may be faced with some scheduling problems if your time is limited.
LanChile operates flights between Santiago and Pape'ete; one flight a week has a stopover on Easter Island. Return fares cost around US$1500.
Air New Zealand (from London and Frankfurt) and Air France, Air Tahiti Nui and Corsair (all from Paris) have flights to Pape'ete via Los Angeles. Return fares from Paris and Frankfurt start at around €1500; return fares from London start at around £1200 in the low season. From other destinations in Europe the easiest option is to travel to one of these cities and connect with flights to Pape'ete. Some recommended agencies across Europe are listed following.
Anyway(0892 893 892; www.anyway.fr)
Lastminute (0892 705 000; www.lastminute.fr)
Nouvelles Frontieres (0825 000 747; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr)
Just Travel (089 747 3330; www.justtravel.de)
STA Travel (01805 456; www.statravel.de)
Discount air-travel ads appear in Time Out, the Evening Standard and the free magazine TNT.
Bridge the World (0870 444 7474; www/b-t-w.co.uk)
Flightbookers(0870 010 7000; www.ebookers.com)
Trailfinders(0845 058 5858; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
Travel Bag (0870 890 1456; www.travelbag.co.uk)
Coming from the USA you can either fly direct from Los Angeles to Pape'ete or go via Honolulu (there's no difference in the fare). Air New Zealand and Air Tahiti Nui serve this route, and Air France and Corsair flights from Paris to Pape'ete go via Los Angeles (Corsair flights are also available via San Francisco). Return fares from Los Angeles to Pape'ete range from around US$800 to US$1500. If you are starting your trip in Honolulu, return fares from Honolulu to Pape'ete start from US$700 in the low season (January to May) and US$900 in the high season (November to December).
If you are interested in exploring other parts of the Pacific, Air New Zealand also offers an excellent deal that allows four stopovers - Honolulu, Nadi (Fiji), Pape'ete and Rarotonga - en route to Auckland. Check with Air New Zealand or your travel agent for ticket options and fares.
If you would like to book your flight and hotel as a package, Tahiti Explorer(800 781 9356; www.airtahiti.com) concentrates exclusively on French Polynesian travel and has loads of information. Avia Travel (800 950 2842; www.aviatravel.com) is another respected travel agent that specialises in custom-designed RTW fares.