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I remember looking at a map of the 110 islands of French Polynesia and scratching my head. How the world will I get from point A to B? I’d just been assigned to write a guidebook to French Polynesia, which meant I’d have to figure it out one way or another.
By sea, road, and sky, getting around the Islands of Tahiti is quite an adventure how you do it. In this guide, I’ll cover all major French Polynesia transport options including car rental, taxis, buses, planes, and boats.
Find out how to get to each island in depth in the Moon Tahiti & French Polynesia guidebook.
The Best Ways to Get Around the Islands of Tahiti
If you’re arriving in French Polynesia by plane, you’ll be arriving in Papeete on the island of Tahiti at Faa’a International Airport.
Tahiti will be your springboard to explore all other islands in French Polynesia. If you’ll be visiting any islands aside from Moorea and Tahiti, the most efficient way to get around is by flying on the domestic airline, Air Tahiti. This is a separate airline from the international carrier, Air Tahiti Nui.
If you are visiting more than three islands in French Polynesia, check out the Air Tahiti Multi Islands Air Pass. This is a pass that allows you to visit multiple islands on one ticket, following Air Tahiti’s set itinerary.
Air Tahiti Multi Islands Pass Options
- Discovery Pass: Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea
- Bora Bora Pass: Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Maupiti
- Lagoons Pass: Moorea, Rangiroa, Tikehau, Fakarava
- Bora-Tuamotu Pass: Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Maupiti, Rangiroa, Tikehau, Fakarava
- Austral Pass: Rurutu, Tubuai, Raivavae, Rimatara
- Marquesas Pass: Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa
- Austral Extension: Rurutu, Tubuai, Raivavae, Rimatara
- Marquesas Extension: Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa
Each pass must be used within 28 days. This includes an extension added to the main pass. So, if you plan to stay in French Polynesia for two months, it’s best to get two passes rather than try to jam in everything into a pass and extension. The two-week Islands of Tahiti itinerary I recommend uses the Bora-Tuamotu Pass.
Your Air Pass includes 23kg (50lb) of luggage, with an extra 5kg (11lb) if you have a scuba diving certificate.
The main thing you need to know about your pass, which I learned the hard way, is that you’ll want to book your flights as soon as possible. Flights often sell out, which makes following the complete route somewhat challenging. For example, the Bora-Tuamotu Pass includes eight islands. If you want to see them all, you need to time your flights with when they’ll be departing, and the flight availability.
I recommend booking all your flights on the Air Pass before you slot in your accommodation and activities, especially if you’re limited on time or seeing many islands.
Note that Air Tahiti flights are open seating, and it’s a first-come, first-served situation for window seats.
Some of the best luxury resorts in French Polynesia are only accessible by private plane (including sea planes) or helicopter. Each resort tends to work with one private charter company, or has their own dedicated aircraft.
By Boat and Ferry
The best way to travel between Moorea and Tahiti is by ferry. There are a few ferries running, all departing from the wharf in Papeete, Tahiti. The ride takes around 30-45 minutes.
If you want to see the Society Islands (Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora, Maupiti, and Moorea) for a fraction of the price of an Air Tahiti Air Pass, check out the monthly unlimited pass with Apetahi Express. You get two 23kg bags included onboard, and changes are allowed up to 48 hours before departure.
Their Six Islands pass runs to Tahiti, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora, and Moorea. You will have to purchase the pass on the island, at the Apetahi Express counter on the island.
The Aranui 5 is a dual-purpose passenger freight ship that ventures around the Tuamotu, Marquesas, and Society Islands on a 12-day loop. You’ll stop for one day at each destination, while staff offload and receive goods.
Large ferries and cargo ships are a budget-friendly, but often uncomfortable, way to see French Polynesia’s outer islands. They connect the Tuamotus, Austral Islands, and Marquesas Islands. Rarely do they run to the Gambier Islands. As these are very weather dependent, I would only recommend taking the ferry if you have quite a flexible itinerary.
Private boat charter is one of the best ways to explore the Islands of Tahiti. You can charter a private catamaran or monohull and venture to whatever island catches your eye!
A liveaboard scuba trip, like the Aqua Tiki III, combines a scuba holiday and transport in one.
By Taxi or Private Driver
One of the most convenient ways to get around the larger islands, like Tahiti, is by taxi or private driver (usually arranged through your accommodation). Unfortunately, this is also one of the priciest ways to get around. Few taxis have proper meters, so you’ll want to arrange a price in advance. As a general rule, the airport to Papeete city center is around 2,000 XPF one-way, or $20 USD. Rates are around 20% more expensive in the evenings.
Some accommodations include airport pick up with the cost of your stay, so request this in advance if so. On Moorea and Bora Bora, many restaurants and tour agencies also provide free transport to and from their location, which can be used strategically to get from one part of the island to the other.
Once you’re on the less-populated islands, like the Tuamotus and Marquesas islands, you’ll likely be relying on your accommodation for day tours and transportation. Many of the Tuamotu and Austral Islands are walkable.
The larger islands in French Polynesia are easy to navigate by car. Avis and Europcar are found on many of the Society Islands, while car rental out on the Marquesas, Tuamotu, and Austral Islands are typically rented privately through your accommodation.
On Tahiti, I’ve had pleasant experiences with both Avis and Ecocar, found near the international airport. It tends to be much cheaper to arrange car renal in advance than booking them on the day of or at the airport.
Expect to pay at least 7,000 XPF per day for the smallest car, not including fuel. Note that almost all cars in French Polynesia are manual drive. If you’ll need an automatic drive, arrange it as far in advance as you can as these tend to be the first cars to sell out.
On the larger islands, one road usually loops around the coast and will range from freshly paved to filled with potholes.
Hitchhiking is quite common in the Society Islands, though I wouldn’t recommend doing it as a solo traveler. Simply stand on the side of the road and stick your hand out whenever a car drives by. It’s polite to offer around 500 XPF or more per ride.
Riding the bus is one of the most popular ways to get around Tahiti–and a cultural experience in itself. Buses run throughout Papeete and loop around the island, costing 450 XPF one-way for the longest distance.
The only other island with semi-reliable bus transportation is Raiatea, which has a main bus stop in Uturoa. You’ll want to ask the locals for their advice on which bus to take and when, as timetables are little more than a loose suggestion.
Ready to take it over to the tropics? Chat with other Tahiti travelers over on our Islands of Tahiti Travel Planning group.