Bora Bora is a small island about 160 miles northwest of Tahiti and is the inspiration of the romantic musical South Pacific and the movie Bali Hai. The main island, dominated by the twin peaks of Mount Otemanu with its lush green slopes, is protected by a coral reef enclosing a beautiful turquoise lagoon rich in marine life and a paradise for divers. The tranquil way of life and breathtaking scenery on Bora Bora make it a romantic and magical destination for honeymoon couples and cruise visitors alike. It has inspired artists such as the French post-impressionist painter, Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse as well as movie star Marlon Brando who bought a private island near Bora Bora.
Bora Bora belongs to the Society group in French Polynesia, and is often called the Pearl of the Pacific. It was a US military supply base in World War II, though it saw no actual combat and troops left in 1946. The airstrip they left behind gave Bora Bora an airport. Hotels line the lagoon, built in traditional local style with bungalows much the same as when Gauguin visited during his island-hopping years in French Polynesia. Small islands in the lagoon, known as motu, are privately owned by hotels or local families, and you might have the opportunity to visit one. Pearls, perfumes, oils and wood handicrafts are the main shopping items in the boutiques of Vaitape, the main settlement and port of Bora Bora.
The island of Moorea is best known for unspoilt beaches, crystal clear waters and the chance to swim with bottle-nose dolphins in the lagoon. You can see genuine Tahitian dancing at the Tiki Theatre, a cultural center and re-created traditional village. Neighbouring Huahine is two islands joined by a narrow isthmus, with just one town, Fare. Here, cruise visitors can ingle with local people in a market bursting with melons and bananas, and in quaint waterside shops.
Raiatea and Taha'a are twin islands enclosed by a single barrier reef. The main town of Raiatea is Uturoa, an administrative and trading center of the Leeward Islands, and once a religious homeland for Polynesian Maori. On both islands you can enjoy coral reef diving, wander around vanilla plantations or picnic on a deserted motu in the lagoon.
Tahiti is the largest of the islands that make up French Polynesia and the one with the largest population. Artist Paul Gauguin made his home here during his 12-year sojourn in the south Pacific and there's now a museum dedicated to his life and art. The author James Norman Hall lived here for 30 years and wrote Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea and Pitcairn's Island during his stay. His house in Arue overlooks Matavai Bay where Captain Cook landed in 1769.
The capital, Papeete, is the commercial hub of French Polynesia and the harbour is shared by cargo ships, luxury liners, yachts and cruise ships. Inland the mountains and steep valleys are rich with archaeological sites and impressive waterfalls in between traditional villages, banana groves and colourful gardens. And Tahiti has a par-72 championship golf course and some fabulous barrel-wave surfing spots.
Rangiroa is an atoll with hundreds of tiny islands, or motu, and a lagoon some 42 miles long by 16 miles wide. It is another south Pacific paradise with pristine beaches and clear blue water, but it has an added bonus - a vineyard. There are two harvests a year and the grapes are transported by canoe to the winery. Vin de Tahiti is made from vines brought from France and Italy now flourishing in the limestone and coral rich soil of the south Pacific.