French Polynesia

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WorldSouth PacificFrench Polynesia

An online cruising guide for sailing around French Polynesia.

French Polynesia
-17.53333317°32′S, -149.43839149°34′W Chart icon.png
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French Polynesia
Capital Papeete
Language Tahitian, French
Currency cfp -- French Polynesian Franc. As of 2014, cfp 80 ~= $1 USD. Notes in cfp 10,000, 5,000, 1,000 and 500 are available, and coins in cfp 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, 1.
Time zone (UTC-10, −9:30, -9)
Calling code +689
French Polynesia is not an independent nation (although moves to gain independence are underway, rather it is an overseas collectivity of France. The primary spoken language is French, along with some Polynesian / Tahitian dialects.

French Polynesia is a French overseas collectivity in the southern Pacific Ocean. It is made up of several groups of Polynesian islands, the most famous island being Tahiti in the Society Islands group, which is also the most populous island and the seat of the capital of the territory (Papeete). Although not an integral part of its territory, Clipperton Island was administered from French Polynesia until 2007.

Some odd little cruising notes that I picked up about French Polynesia, which may be of use to the visitor.

  • Learn some French, at least a little. When necessary I found it useful to write down a list of questions I had for a store owner (e.g. ships chandlery, etc), in French and present those on paper (google translate helps here). Even then, expect to have to know the French words for "how much?", "cash", "credit card", etc. Although a number of the population speak reasonably good English especially in the service industry, they will usually refuse to do so to a foreigner who speaks no French.
  • Bring your own toilet paper for public (and marina) toilets.
  • Marina services tend to be over-advertised and under-delivered. Expect a marina that advertises "shower facilities" to have an outside tap with a hose and spray nozzle. Expect a decent helping of attitude if you indicate that this was not what you were expecting.
  • Expect a decent helping of attitude anyway. It's the French way of doing things.
  • Everything is more expensive than you think it's likely to be. Check out the markets and some supermarkets for occasional good deals (I was pleasantly surprised by the prices at the market in Uturoa on Raiatea) but if you have an idea of what something costs at home, double it and then add some for French Polynesia. Certain fruit juices were not so expensive and very tasty.
  • The further you get from Papeete the more pleasant people are. Everyone smiles and waves all of the time in places like Raivavae and even Moorea but not so much in Papeete.
  • French Polynesia is not an independent nation. When arriving you must fly the flag of France, and preferably below that the French Polynesian flag (and until clearing quarantine the Q flag below that of course).

Charts

Land Information NZ
NZ 14607 - Southeast Polynesia.

Also see the charts for the individual islands or island groups.

Weather

Tropical, but moderate: occasional cyclonic storms in January. Very humid.

The average ambient temperature is 80°F (27°C) and the waters of the lagoons average 79°F (26°C) in the winter and 84°F in the summer. Summer is from November through April, with a warmer and more humid climate and winter is from May through October, when the climate is slightly cooler and drier.

Winds: The prevailing winds are south easterly during the crusing season, generally in the 10 - 20 knot range, with occasional stronger Mara'amu winds reaching 35 knots (the mara'amu can persist for several days). Outside of the crusing season the prevailing wind direction is north easterly, with occasional cyclones.

GRIB data and Fleet Code data covering French Polynesia is available through Saildocs and other services -- see the Weather page for details.

A generalised South Pacific weather forecast from the Fiji Meterological Service may be found here or by sending an email containing send nadi.sopac to query@saildocs.com. See the Weather page for more information.

Local forecasts are, of course, in French, but non-French speakers should find them relatively easy to understand. A very useful vocabulary can be found at How to Understand French Weather Forecasts for Sailors


Passages

Suggested Route Through the Group

If you are approaching from the east, as per the Pacific Passage, then you will probably traverse the island groups in this order -- Marquisas, Tuamotus, Society Islands with perhaps a detour to the Gambiers.

An alternative route which has been increasing in popularity in recent years (although with perhaps only 2-3 yachts per year making the passage) is to depart from New Zealand along the line of the roaring forties, and then reach north towards the Australs, perhaps making landfall in Raivavae. From there you would continue north to the Society Islands.

Bora Bora in the Society Islands is the normal departure port towards the Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Samoa or Fiji.

Islands

Clipperton Gambiers Australs Society Islands Tuamotus Marquesas
Clipperton
Mangareva
Raivavae
Moerai, Rurutu
Mataurai, Tubuai
Rapa
Bora Bora
Huahine
Maupiti
Moorea
Raiatea
Tahaa
Tahiti
Rangiroa
Fakarava
Manihi Atoll
Tikehau Atoll
Nuka Hiva
Hiva Oa
Ua Pou
Fatu Hiva
Tahuata
Ua Huka

Communication

Also see World Cruiser's Nets

There aren't any nets specific to French Polynesia.

Consider this a minor whinge if you will -- the local population (French and/or Polynesian) appear to have no idea on how to use a radio. Almost no advertised VHF frequencies were monitored, even when approaching a marina that has "VHF 68" or similar painted in large letters across the front or roof, do not expect that frequency to be monitored at all, day or night. VHF channel 16 appears to be used continually for idle chatter with almost no adherence to standard radio protocols, even during SILENCE periods (3 minutes past the hour/half hour). VHF users in the area frequently pick any random channel to chatter on, and it's not uncommon to find communications between yourself and port authorities on a dedicated port channel to be continually interrupted by fishermen discussing the size of the day's catch. French Polynesia is, so far, the only place in the world I have failed to maintain a listening watch on any of the emergency/calling channels, simply because the continual idle discussion on those channels rendered them nothing more than an annoyance.

Navigation

See the notes about the individual islands or island groups.

Note that the standard in French Polynesia is to mark the entrance channels with the IALA-A standard buoyage system, which has the green buoy to starboard and red buoy to port as you are entering the channels (green buoy to green running light, red buoy to red running light). After you are inside the lagoon, however, green buoys mark the landward side of the channels and red buoys mark the reef side of the channel. Many of the islands (e.g. Raiatea) have lagoons that can be traversed either wholly or in part inside the reef, assuming a yacht with a draft of approximately 2 metres.

Internet Access

Like a lot of things in French Polynesia, internet access is not cheap. There are essentially 2 ways of getting connected to the internet in French Polynesia:

  • Wi-Fi hot spots
  • 3G (via a phone, router or 3G dongle with a SIM card).

Wi-Fi services are provided by a few different companies, these are Iaoranet, Mana, which is a subsidiary of the post office, and a few other local providers. Mana is the largest network but Iaoranet provides some additional services for sailors on their network which can be accessed without additional charges. In both cases the prices are quite high, charged per hour or per MB. An account with either of the two main providers can be purchased in one place, and then used in any other place until the time or credit expires.

3G access is quite good via VINI, but also quite expensive. Top-ups for the SIM card can be purchased in amounts of XPF 500, 1000, or 2000, and with each top-up comes a certain amount of free data (400MB for the XPF 2000 top up). Multiple top ups can be loaded at once to allow extra data allowance while cruising the islands. VINI SIM cards can be purchased at the VINI office in Papeete, or at some post offices in Tahiti and elsewhere in the Society Islands. The SIM cards are hard to find at the outer islands, for example at the post office in Raivavae they had to be ordered in advance and took between 2 and 4 days to arrive.

Once you have 3G access (via a SIM card) then coverage is quite good -- the coverage in the lagoons at most of the islands in the Australs and in the Society Islands was excellent.

Entrance

All visiting yachts MUST make their way to Papeete (Tahiti) to complete the full entry procedures and documentation. If arriving at any of the other islands first, skippers MUST report to the local police. At the first stop, the police will issue an "arrival" document, one copy is mailed to Tahiti and another kept by the skipper. This document MUST be presented to the local police at each island stop-over in the group and/or enroute to Tahiti.

Visiting yachts are required to leave French Polynesia well before the start of the cyclone season in November.

Customs and Immigration

Immigration & Visas

Citizens of France and those of The European Union, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brazil, Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Argentina, Bolivia, Brunei, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Singapore and Uruguay (for a stay of between 1 and 3 months, depending on nationality), do not require visas. All visitors need a passport valid for a minimum of 3 months (except for French nationals). All other nationalities require a visa in advance - obtained from French diplomatic missions.

European Union citizens can apply for an extension to their 3 month stay by applying to the High Commissioner's office in Papeete:
Direction de la Reglementation et du Controle de la Legalite (DRCL),
BP115, Papeete, Tahiti,
Tel:- (+689) 54 27 13
at least 1 month before the end of the 3 month period, and/or apply for a Carte de Sejour - resident card (valid for 10 years).

Non-EU citizens can make application to stay for up to 3 months, by contacting the PAF (Police de l'Air et des Frontieres). It is perhaps better to obtain a 3-month tourist visa (but not extendible) in advance from a French Consulate outside of French Polynesia. Formalities are much simplified if the visa is obtained in advance. If a visitor leaves French Polynesia (e.g. by air) and then returns, you can obtain a new 30 day stamp that is extendible for a further 60 days.

Non-EU citizens wanting to stay longer, can contact a French Consulate and follow the procedure to obtain a "Carte de Sejour" (temporary resident card) to stay for more than 3 months in French Polynesia.

You may be requested to provide proof of the availability of sufficient funds for your stay in French Polynesia, often for those arriving without visas.

BOND: On arrival, each person from a non-European Union country on board the yacht is required to deposit (in a French Polynesian bank) the equivalent value, in cash, of the cost of a one-way air ticket back to their home country. If clearing in to Papeete within 30 days of your first arrival in the Group, you may wait until arrival in Tahiti to post this bond. There are however banks in the Marquesas should you wish to deposit the bond there. This bond money is refunded on the day before departure.

Citizens of European Union countries arriving by yacht are not required to post a bond.

It is possible to have this bond waived for "short-stay" yachts (up to 30 days).

Fees and Charges

Please quote date of posting.

  • Entry fee

Customs

On arrival at any of the outer islands of French Polynesia, visit the Gendarmerie on the island to complete customs formalities. There is a single page form which must be completed in either French or English, most of the form instructions are in both languages. There is no fee for this. At this port the Gendarmerie will check passports for requirements (mentioned above in #Immigration & Visas and stamp passports, which concludes any immigration formalities.

After this, the Q flag should remain flown until you reach Papeete where customs formalities can then be concluded. The Q flag can then be lowered. See Papeete Check-in for more details.

After reaching Papeete, you may or may not be requested to visit the Gendarmerie on each island visited until your final departure point. This is being requested less and less often.

It is important to note that should the vessel (having first made landfall at an outer island) not proceed to Papeete for formal clearance, you will not receive final clearance when leaving French Polynesia. Final clearance can be received from an outer island ONLY if a visit has been made to Papeete at some stage for full documentation.

At Papeete you must nominate your port of departure. The final documentation will be completed by the Gendarmerie at this final port, including processing any bond refund and completing your clearance declaration for your next port of call.

Firearms MUST be declared. For a stay of under 3 days, firearms and ammunition can be kept on board, otherwise they MUST be bonded by the authorities on each island you visit until your departure.

Very strict rules apply for animals on board.

Health and Security

Health

Medical treatment is generally good on the major islands, but is limited in areas that are more remote or less/sparsely populated. Patients with emergencies or with serious illnesses are often referred to facilities on Tahiti for treatment. In Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, two major hospitals as well as several private clinics provide 24-hour medical service. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars.
Note: Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

Security

French Polynesia has one of the lowest crime rates within France and its territories. However, petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, occurs.

Transportation

List transportation to other countries, or islands.

Friends

Contact details of "Cruiser's Friends" that can be contacted for local information or assistance.

Forums

List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)

Links

References & Publications

  • Michael Pocock/Ros Hogbin, The Pacific Crossing Guide, Second Edition, RCC Pilotage Foundation, London, ISBN 0713661828
  • Warwick Clay, South Pacific Anchorages 2nd edition, Imray, ISBN 0852884826
  • Jimmy Cornell, World Cruising Destinations, Adlard Coles, London, ISBN 0071638245
  • Charles E Wood, Charlie's Charts of Polynesia, Charlies Charts, California, ISBN 0969726570

The tourist information office in Papeete as well as the information offices on the various islands have available a number of publications to assist the visitor, mostly aimed at the land based tourist although some are useful to sailors.

Each year or two a publication is produced, in the past it was the "Yachtsmen's Guide to French Polynesia", which has now been superseded by the Stopover Handbook in French Polynesia (Yellow Flag Guides), which are aimed at the visiting cruising sailor. One of these should definitely be obtained at the Capitanerie in Papeete as they contain useful and often recently updated information.

Tahiti Beach Press is another useful publication which is available in English.

Note that most publications here are in French only. Occasionally bilingual French/English editions are found however in those cases the English text tends to be made smaller, fainter, and therefore harder to read. I believe that this is due to a French government regulation, none the less it is exceedily annoying for anyone who is not fluent in French.

Comments

We welcome users' contributions to the Wiki. Please click on Comments to view other users' comments, add your own personal experiences or recommend any changes to this page following your visit. Personal experiences

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