- French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France. Located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean approximately 3,500 miles from the South American continent, and about the same distance from the Australian continent.
- French Polynesia is composed of 118 islands divided into 5 groups of Islands; the Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Society and Tuamotu archipelagos. located. Spread over a surface about the size of Europe, these 118 islands barely occupy 4,000 km² of land (less than 1/100 of the surface of France).
- French Polynesia was one of the last places on Earth to be settled by humans. And it is widely accepted that the first settelers came from South East Asia, around 500 BC. The Marquesas Islands are thought to be the starting point for eastern Polynesia settlements.
- The Austronesian people navigated by celestial navigation to find islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Polynesian knowledge of navigation was mostly based on observation of the winds, marine currents, sky, birds migrations. Positions and names of stars were memorized in songs and it has been proven that their seafaring knowledge was accurate and reliable. All those migrations made the Polynesian people famous sailors.
- Europeans began to arrive in the early 16th century after Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, sighted Puka-Puka in 1521. Dutch and British explorers followed soon after.
- In 1889, the archipelago was united under a French protectorate, and by 1946 the status had changed to an overseas territory. French Polynesia became a full overseas collectivity of France in 2003, and now retains a great degree of autonomy.
- Tourism is the country’s main economic activity. Other sources of economy are coconut oil ‘copra’, black pearl farming, vanilla, commercial fishing and traditional handicraft products.
- Population: 275,918(2017 census)
- Language: French
- (Official) Tahitian ,Marquesa, Mangareva language, Tuamotuan, Austral languages,
- Currency: Pacifique franc (XPF)
Arriving in Polynesia
French Polynesia holds a special place in our hearts. Its hard to summarize all that we have seen and experienced in the eight years we lived there, in just a few words. Here we will share with you our journey and some of our most memorable experiences.
We arrived in the Marquesas Islands on our first boat, ‘Rebelle’, in 2006. It felt like such an achievement to cross the Pacific and arrive in such a lush green volcanic paradise.
We arrived in Polynesia on a sailboat that was falling apart. Leaving Panama in late August, we had fairly strong winds and strong current that pushed our 9 metre Kelt to her limits.
The eleven day sail to the Galapagos Islands against current pushing us down towards Chile, took its toll on the boats rigging. By the time we arrived in the Marquise we had the mast held up with supporting ropes, the backstay had snapped in the night. On the same day the boom broke in two and our rudder snapped off….what a day!
We had been stranded 700 miles from land for two days whist we tried different ways to make a new rudder. The autopilot wouldn’t work with our new makeshift rudder, so we were then taking it in turns between the two of us to be at the helm 24 hours a day.
When we arrived we were trailing anchors behind us to keep the boat in the axis of the wind, exhausted, living in the moment, exhilarated and happy to see land again. (If your interested in reading article we wrote for Cruising World click here).
We stayed in Polynesia far longer than expected, to start with we had to fix the boat up. Our budget had pretty much run out so we needed to start to working. The Marquesans generally weren’t familiar with osteopathy but were very open to natural healing techniques which fit in well with the Polynesian massage and herbalism culture.
We spent the first six months in Nuku Hiva, exploring the Island, fixing the boat and starting to work. Once we were ready to sail again, we moved between Islands, getting a good feel for Marquesan culture and we were lucky enough to be present for the The Marquesas Islands Festival or Matava’a o te Henua Enata in Ua Pou, in 2007. It’s a major event hosted by a different Island every four years. Celebrating Marquesan culture with dancing, singing, sports and a huge feast.
After a brief spell in Tahiti, to earn some well needed Pacific Francs, we returned to the Marquesas Islands, passing by the atolls of the Tuamotu on each passage. We had a second tour around the Islands and stayed a further five months. After a year of living in the Marquesas we started to dream of the calm turquoise lagoons of the Society Islands. We decided to head to Raiatea to put down anchor and build our Osteopathic practice. We then spent the next seven years working in Raiatea, Huahine and Bora Bora. We spent our free time sailing around the beautiful Leeward Islands and the Tamutous.
Time passes fast when you’re having fun and without seasons, one year seemed to roll into the next and there was always somewhere new that we wanted to explore.
Read below for more details on our experience in Polynesia.