Beach & Shallow-Water Critters
Wear plastic or protective sandals when playing in the water to guard against stonefish – fish that look exactly like a piece of rock or coral and have poisonous spines that can potentially ruin your trip.
Another critter to look out for is the sea urchin, which often live on coral and in crevices. They are less present in the daytime but are another great reason to protect your feet in the water and never walk on coral.
What you’re more likely to see are black or beige sea cucumbers in the shallows that can be picked up safely. Be gentle! Hermit crab races make for hours of fun. Then, most importantly, put the track star crabs, or whatever else you've found, back where you found them.
Whatever you do, never, ever pick up a cone-shaped shell. Not all are dangerous but there are a variety or two that are deadly. They sting from the bottom opening where the spine comes out, so are not dangerous unless you touch that one area of the shell.
What to Pack
All ages need the usual suspects: sunscreen (expensive in French Polynesia), insect repellent and rain gear.
Babies & Toddlers
- a folding pushchair is practical for most areas of this guide, while a baby carrier is a better option if you plan on hiking or exploring archaeological sites
- a portable changing mat, handwash gel etc (baby-changing facilities are a rarity)
- nappies (diapers) are available but are pricey (about 2000 CFP for 38 nappies)
Six to 12 years
- binoculars for young explorers to zoom in on wildlife, surfers riding reef-breaking waves etc
- a camera to inject newfound fun into ‘boring’ grown-up sights and walks
- field guides to Polynesian flora and fauna
- a French phrasebook
- mask, snorkel and flippers
- a copy of Mutiny on the Bounty
French Polynesia for Kids
French Polynesia is a water playground for all ages. But beyond sun and swimming it’s also a place of gentle culture and adventures to caves and waterfalls.
Diving, Snorkelling & Swimming
Babies and toddlers will be happy on a soft beach and perhaps with a hermit crab to hassle. For slightly older children, any place with a shallow sandy bottom is a great place to learn to swim. Seasoned swimmers can paddle around the lagoon in areas free of currents and boat traffic.
Once kids are comfortable in a mask and snorkel, it can be hard to get them out of the water. Just be sure that they don’t touch or walk on coral, both for their safety and for the preservation of the underwater environment. If no one touches anything, there are few dangers beyond sunburn.
Many dive centres offer ‘Bubble Maker’ courses for children eight years and up, where kids take their first breaths under water. Good swimmers over nine years can enrol in junior PADI open-water courses, and in some cases even get school credit for it; see www.padi.com.
Dolphin- and whale-watching will thrill kids, but if it’s rough out, the unpleasantness of seasickness may outweigh the excitement of seeing marine mammals. Snorkelling with myriad fish can be tons of fun for all ages, from shallow sandy-bottom areas to coral reef passes filled with sharks – depending on the children's ages and swimming experience, of course.
Surfing & Boogie Boarding
It can be hard to find a board in French Polynesia, but some hotels and pensions have them for guests. Boogie boards are often on sale in local shops; if you can buy one, you’ll make a local kid’s year by leaving it with them when you leave. The best beach breaks are found almost exclusively on Tahiti and Mo’orea. Surf lessons are available on Tahiti.
Hiking & Canyoneering
Kids aged over eight will love Tahiti’s interior, which is chock-a-block with waterfalls, many with icy pools to swim in. There are also plenty of dark caves, though these can be scary so take it slow.
French Polynesian archaeological sites are fun for kids because there is tons of open space. You can climb on almost anything and the surrounding jungles often hold discoveries such as wild passionfruit. Remember the mosquito repellent.
Horse Riding & Biking
There are several places for horse riding on Tahiti, Mo’orea, Huahine and in the Marquesas. In general, the routes go through hilly regions and plantations, and are geared to all ages.
Bicycles can be rented on most islands and, other than on Tahiti, traffic is light. Child-sized bicycles can be hard to find, however.
French Polynesian food is rarely spicy and it’s easy to find kid-friendly dishes on most menus. Don’t expect booster seats or high chairs, but do expect a welcoming atmosphere in most eateries. Kids will love digging into dishes such as chevrettes (freshwater shrimp), brochettes (shish kebabs of meat or fish) or poisson cru (fish in coconut milk). Western-style food is also widely available.
For babies, jarred baby food and infant formula can be found even in remote areas. Polynesians love children; don’t be afraid to ask for assistance in finding certain foods or cooking facilities.
The water is safe to drink in Pape’ete (and other select areas of Tahiti), on Bora Bora and on Tubuai, but you may like to buy bottled water anyway. On the other islands, you will all be dependent on bottled or filtered water.
It’s normal in French Polynesia for whole families to party together; teens are welcome, and usually show up in numbers at any sort of local dance performance or show.
In Pape’ete, discotheques such as Mana Rock Café are swarming with high-schoolers. Be warned that alcohol flows freely and it’s a meat-market atmosphere.
- Swimming & Splashing Temae Beach (Mo’orea) is like a giant swimming pool; Matira Beach (Bora Bora) has gorgeous white sand and shallow swimming; Fare (Huahine) is a mellow, white beach with swimming and snorkelling in front.
- Surfing Teahupoo (Tahiti) has a great beach break at the river mouth that’s swarming with local kids; Papenoo (Tahiti) is where the island learns to surf thanks to the line-up of easy waves.
- Snorkelling Plop in almost anywhere in the lagoon in the Tuamotus, but be prepared to see sharks (attacks to swimmers are unheard of); Temae Beach and Hauru Point on Mo’orea offer easy, shallow snorkelling; plunge in from Fare Beach on Huahine for some beautiful underwater life; sandy Bora Bora is a good spot for beginners; the motu (small islands) of Maupiti are better for confident swimmers, with plenty of fish and corals.
A History Lesson
- Archaeology Taputapuatea (Ra’iatea) is big so it’s great to run around while learning about it; the tiki (sacred statues) at Iipona (the Marquesas) will make older kids feel like Indiana Jones; look for wild passionfruit around Marae Titiroa (Mo’orea).
- European & American Contact Pointe Vénus (Tahiti), where Captain Cook first landed, and Cook’s Bay (Mo’orea); Bora Bora’s WWII guns for war chitchat; the Gambier for European-style churches built out of coral.
- Museums Musée de Tahiti et des Îles (Tahiti) has great history displays plus it’s right on the beach; older kids who know the Mutiny on the Bounty story will appreciate seeing how the author lived at the House of James Norman Hall (Tahiti); Espace Culturel Paul Gauguin (Hiva Oa) in the Marquesas, has a life-sized replica of Gauguin’s house and Jacques Brel’s airplane.
- Caves Mara’a Grotto (Tahiti) is set in a lush, fairytale-like park; the brave can swim to the back of a pitch-black cave at Vaipoiri (Tahiti) and let their eyes adjust to the light; Hitiaa Lava Tubes (Tahiti) is best for older kids who can swim and hike well (guides often provide wetsuits for the cold water); Rurutu has tons of easy-access caves full of stalactites and stalagmites.
- Gardens Tahiti’s botanical gardens is one of the best places for kids on the island with plenty of space to run around, vines to swing on, and ducks and two Galapagos turtles to ogle.
- Waterfalls At Faarumai Waterfalls (Tahiti) look for star fruit along the way and crane your head to see the tops of these incredibly high falls; Vaipahi Spring Gardens (Tahiti) has a beautiful landscaped area around its waterfall.
- Dolphin- & Whale-Watching Mo’orea has heaps of boats available; Tahiti is less popular, so you can avoid the crowds; Rurutu is better for older kids who are more confident on big adventures.
Where to Stay
Choosing the right place to stay in French Polynesia is important. The majority of French Polynesia’s lodgings will cater to children, but some are geared more towards families than others. Some resorts offer kids' clubs and babysitting, while family pensions are usually a great place for your children to play with local youngsters!
The Carte Famille entitles you to significant reductions on some flights. At hotels and guesthouses, children under 12 generally pay only 50% of the adult rate; very young children usually stay for free.