Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tips & Tricks for Travelling (cheap) in French Polynesia

The biggest challenge of French Polynesia, FP (or usually called the Islands of Tahiti) for the average traveller is cost. This place is freaking expensive. The main reason as you could imagine is that it is in the middle of nowhere and there is hardly any livestock farming or consumer goods manufacturing.. this means most things are imported from their closest neighbours New Zealand, Australia or US - coupled with the cost of shipment, storage and low demand (there is less than 300,000 inhabitants!),  the most basic offerings can cost an arm and a leg.

For our own trip, here are some tips and tricks to save some cash and little stuff that will hopefully make small but meaningful difference in your trip..

It is all about the money, money..

1. Salon du Tourisme

Find friends in Tahiti.. if the concept of 6' of separation holds through.. you should know someone that knows someone in Tahiti.. or make new friends.. this is crucial as there are travel fairs that targets locals/residents of Tahiti to visit the other islands. Here is the link:

Unfortunately you need to be physically there to make find deals and bookings, hence the need for a local friend.. some packages might explicitly require you to be a resident of FP but lots of them don't.

The best deals are usually for expensive over-water bungalows in these luxurious resorts that goes from usually USD 1000/night upwards.. you can get something which is like a 50-70% savings which still doesn't make it cheap.. but at least it is within reach for a few nights of stay. There are of course also the regular accommodations and mixing them up will keep the cost under-control. With the special deal we had, we spent 3 glorious nights in Sofitel Moorea.

>> Watch for basic comforts
Word of caution though, if you are on a shoestring budget ask yourself what are the basic comforts that you need.. once out of the main islands, air conditioning, electric mosquito repellents and even hot water can be a luxury!! So do ask in advance and don't take it for granted that you will have it.

The sparsely populated islands are a treat.. there is more sea life, the beach is usually more pristine, life is more natural.. with less humans - there is just less disturbance to nature. However.. it is all about the money money.. the cost goes exponentially up with these island.. there would be no petrol station.. some small islands within the islands still uses a generator for electricity and everything is brought in by plane or ship weekly or even less frequently.. So you could be staying in something REAAAALLY basic for USD 200/night and something for luxurious doubles the price.. so do gauge what you think are minimum comforts that you need and if the cost doesn't correspond to that.. well, perhaps you need to skip it or do very minimum number of nights stay.. 

2. Air Tahiti multi-island tours

There is only one way to fly.. Air Tahiti is the only commercial airline doing local routes. There is a multi-island pass that will save you some money if you want to visit beyond Tahiti and Bora-Bora. See here:

This is very important.. you need to plan where you want to visit then check back to see if the connections are feasible.. many small island do not have daily flight so you need to be able to plan accordingly.. we took the Bora Bora-Tuamotu Pass and visited Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Maupiti, Bora Bora, Rangiroa & Tikehau in 3 weeks. We wanted to visit Marquesas Islands, but alas, cost was a barrier..

3. Stay with the heard

So contrary to the 'normal' instinct to stay away from tourist areas - Tahiti, Bora Bora and Raiatea offers more cheap accommodations and cheap eats simply because there are more people there and enough for them to have supermarkets for example. I found Raiatea to be the cheapest in terms of what you can get for quality over money.. but I'd make another post on the islands that we visited and their 'characteristics' later. Rule of thumb.. more people, cheaper.. but with less people and no major hotels, these islands are far more rustic and fits into your image of:

In the world of FP, this:

is more expensive than this:

4. Cheap eats

Les Roulottes
Food is generally expensive, the bigger islands have proper restaurants (be prepared to spend 2500CFP upwards per person for a meal) and smaller islands have 'snacks' - smaller places to eat which are usually in a shed rather an and actual building (and with limited food choice).. then you have: 

Les Roulottes. These are food trucks or food vans. Papeete has a famous spot for this but I'd rather save these for the smaller islands as there are plenty of restaurants with more or less the same price of what you'd pay at the Roulottes.

our 500 CFP steak & fries
Most non-local people seem to find this exotic but if you are use this Asia... it is like street food/hawker stalls but without the variety!! There is a greater variety in Papeete but other places typically offers: grilled steaks or chicken with french fries (known, respectively, as steak frites and poulet frites), Chinese fried noodle (Chao Men) and Poisson Cru (raw fish marinated in citrus juice and coconut milk). Share too.. for example- Chao Men, one portion can feed 2 (usually cost you 1000CFP)!!

Average price of a plate is 900CFP to 1,700CFP (US$11-US$21) per plate and the cheapest we found was steak in fries in Bora Bora at 500CFP, what a steal!!
If you are on one of the bigger islands, you can make your own meal. If you want to make a picnic or cook, there are supermarkets like Champion, Carrefour and Super U.  Baguettes are found all over the island and are subsidised by the government and cost only 50 CPF each

We cooked only once, we found the price of ham more expensive than the price of tuna (true story), so we bought 2 cuts of tuna, noodles, zucchini and salted butter to make this dish instead:

6. Passeport Gourmand

You might be thinking.. '$*$£^" I am on my honeymoon and I don't want to slum it!!' Luckily there is Passeport Gourmand: 

You can get your hands on one of them and there are genuinely lots of discounts on many nice places. In many nice restaurants, you get a 50% on your bill for 2 or 25% discount for 4.. or something like this.. discounts of excursions and hotels too.. Again it doesn't make things cheap but it becomes more much more affordable. For example you can go to see the Les Grands Ballets de Tahiti for traditional dances and a large spread of Polynesian specialties buffet at half price. 

Our friends Philippe and Makiko had this and thanks to them we did some pretty nice things with it! 

7. Souvenirs 

Carrefour should be your stop for Monoï oil, Tamanu oil, Pareo (unfortunately they are designed in tahiti and made in Indonesia), Hinano T-shirt etc.. the prices are fair, you don't have to haggle and you get it all in one place. For pearls, if you want an exquisite piece that is flawless.. there are a few which are famous names with certificate and all, that your hotel will recommend.. but I wanted something cheap as a small souvenir and I like it if they are not too perfect.. flaws give it a natural feeling.. so buy where the local buy. It seems that many locals told us about a place close to the Papeete market and most local buy them here at a good price. I got mine at PERLE D'O in Raiatea which is a small family business (recommended by our host Raiatea) and one of our host in another island who worked in a pearl shop before had a look at it and said it was a fair price.. a pair of black pear earnings at EUR 60-70.. hey, I am happy :) I saw a higher quality pearls at a famous shop and there was nothing under EUR 200.. eeekk..

All the little things..

1. To the left, to the left

This is a super tip from Makiko. When on a plane, there is one side that gives you a better view of the islands that you are landing on - usually this is on the left. For example from Tahiti to Bora Bora you need to be on the left side to take good pictures of the island - when in doubt.. ask the stewardess. But there is also a terrible case of free sitting on Air Tahiti.. so you need to battle the crowd to be on the best side and to be not blocked by the wings of the plane..

This is one of the times we needed to be on the right..
2. Shoes, Sun and being GREEN

I would have never though of this if not for Fred. You need a waterproof pair of shoes/aquashoes that will let you walk on the beach and shallow water with stones and dead corals as you enter the water to snorkel. Some beaches have plenty of spikey stuff.. as well as sea snakes, stonefish etc.. so watch where you are going.. bring also swim T-shirts (he burns easily so he is well prepared).. this will help you prevents burn on your back.. or even a full suit if you are really afraid of the sun..

The rule of thumb is to NEVER walk on live corals/reef.. just like you'd not like to have people walk on you.. it harms them... but here is the new flash.. there isn't much live corals/reef left in areas where it is accessible to public/tours.. boat anchors, fins, shoes, sun block.. in short humans.. we destroy everything... thankyouverymuch. So do your small bits by finding coral friendly sunblock, don't walk on reefs, don't litter.. but also stay safe.. do use sunblock or wear a swim-shirt, the sun in FP burns.. watch wear you are going too.. there is plenty of wild life and they are not all harmless..

even the sharks are afraid of me...

3. Bring Your Own Sh*t

You really need to be a bit organised than usual..

We got our own set of snorkels. While most places/activities do provide them.. having your own means not having to rent or go all the way to find them when you need them.. You can just swim off your over-water bungalow!

Buy in Papeete or bring your own mosquito repellent, medications or things that you feel will be crucial to your well being when visiting smaller islands.. some islands also don't have ATMs... so be sure you have enough cash.. check this in advance- the easiest way is to ask the hotel! See what your island have or don't have and don't take things for granted!

One of my regrets though is not buying and bringing a underwater camera with us.. so there is no pictures of the manta rays or the lemon sharks that we saw for instance.. *sob*

4. Safety and Security

FP is usually safe in terms of crimes. Nationalistic sentiments are strong in some parts of Paeete and the French may not be so well liked in some areas but usually it is safe.. and the country is very clean too.. However the notion of 'Safety' is not very developed. For example, all of the boat trips that we went did not provide with us life jacket, unless you ask for it. Even in stormy seas, the kids just dove in without any life jackets.... I am surprised that the parents are not more concerned.. While shark feeding for example is not allowed, people still do it but without warning the tourist to keep a safe distance away.. you have people trying to touch the sharks as they eat away.. omg.. the yellow fin sharks as they called it is not aggressive.. but your fingers could be mistaken for food and be bitten of... The guides are all really easy going and really nice, but they leave your safety and security to your own responsibility.. so be responsible and at any time you feel uneasy - speak up or simply don't do it!

5. Language

Sadly, the more remote it is, the more you will need French.. the main islands have loads of tourist from US, Australia and New Zealand that English is very common.. This of course makes travelling more difficult if you don't know the language- it also means it is a barrier for most tourist when you get to be away from the crowd.. I would say be adventurous and go with a electronic translator (many apps you can download), leaving the well beaten path is usually costly and inconvenient... but worth it (for me at least)..However, nothing wrong in just staying with the herd.. if you need basic comforts beyond that what the small islands can offer, have limited time or simply not willing to save that much money.. stay on the more populated islands.. it is still a really wonderful experience..

Enjoy your holidays!

You can check out our holiday pictures on: 

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