French Polynesia

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Spread over a vast area about the size of Europe, the widely scattered (118 islands and atolls) of French Polynesia - part of an overseas territory of France - are divided into 5 groups: the Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Society and Tuamotu archipelagos. 

Prior to European settlement, the island groups of French Polynesia were inhabited by Polynesians, and organized into loose chieftainships. 

Europeans began to arrive in the early 16th century after Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, sighted Puka-Puka in 1521, and Dutch and British explorers followed soon thereafter. 

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.

These days, the ancient subsistence economy of the larger islands has been replaced by the modern economics of tourism revenues, military employment, pearl farming, commercial fishing and a growing selection of small manufacturing jobs. 

Fast Facts

  • Name: French Polynesia, an overseas territory of France, originally claimed in 1843 
  • Capital City: Papeete, Tahiti
  • Population: 268,270 (2012 census)
  • World Populations (all countries)
  • Currency: Comptoirs Francais du Pacifique franc 
    (Conversion rates)Comptoirs Francais du Pacifique franc  
    500 franc
  • Ethnicity: Polynesian 78%, Chinese 12%, local French 6%, metropolitan French 4%
  • Language: French (official) 61.1%, Polynesian (official) 31.4%, Asian languages 1.2%, other 0.3%, unspecified 6%
  • Largest Cities: (by population) Faaa, Papeete, Punaauia, Pirae, Mahina, Paea, Papao, Arue, Afaahiti, Vaitape
  • National Day: July 14
  • Religion: Protestant 54%, Roman Catholic 30%, other 10%, no religion 6%


BIOT flag

French Polynesia is an overseas possession of France.

Its flag depicts a canoe (piroque), sailing under a golden sun. Its crew of five is representing the five islands groups; the Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Society and Tuamotu chains. Red and white are traditional Polynesian colors. 

Larger French Polynesia flag  

Geo. Statistics

  • Coastline: 1,568 miles (2,525 km)
  • Land Area
    (land) 1,477 sq miles (3,827 sq km)
    (water) 131 sq mi (340 sq km)
    (TOTAL) 1,608 sq miles (4,167 sq km)To convert sq km (kilometers) to sq mi (miles)
    use our converter
  • Land Area: (all countries)
  • Latitude & Longitude: 
    Papeete: (capital city) 17° 32' S, 149° 34' W
    Tahiti: (capital city) 17° 39' S, 149° 25' W
  • Horizontal Width: unknown
  • Vertical Length: unknownNote: Lengths and widths are point-to-point, straight-line measurements from a Mercator map projection, and will vary some using other map projections
  • Geographic Center: unknown
  • Highest Point: Mont Orohena 7,352 ft. (2,241 m)
  • Lowest Point: Pacific Ocean (0m)


Scattered over 965,255 sq. miles (2,500,000 sq. km) of ocean, most of the islands of French Polynesia are volcanic in origin and fringed by coral reefs. 

Of these islands, the Society archipelago is certainly the most famous. It includes the stunning islands of Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti - and like the enchanting Marquesas in the northeast - most are lush, dark green specs of land, volcanic in origin, with jagged-edged peaks jutting boldly into the sky. 

The Tuamotu archipelago (in contrast to the other groups) includes only low-lying coral atolls (78 in all), and of these, only a handful have passable inlets into their central lagoons. 

Rangiroa, the largest coral atoll in French Polynesia, is famed for its natural beauty, and remains a favorite of travelers from across the globe.

The Austral and Gambier islands in the south are lighted populated, as most are still uninhabited. 

The highest point of French Polynesia is Mont Orohena, which peaks at 7,352 ft. (2,241 m).




Travel Info

ATTRACTIONS: (a few major)
Located halfway between California and Australia, the French Polynesian islands contain some of the most beautiful islands in the South Pacific, and offer tourists a breathtaking backdrop to an assortment of activities.

While snorkeling, scuba diving, and other various water activities are the most popular attraction, tourists can also enjoy guided historical tours, hiking and exploring, as well as shopping in some of the various markets scattered across the islands.

Almost 61% of the total population of French Polynesia lives on the island of Tahiti, in and around the capital city of Papeete. Its lively port boasts Parisian-style cafés, a market, and plenty of places to dine. 


The summer months (November - April) are hot and humid, with many sunny days. The balance of the year is slightly cooler and drier. 

Cooling trade winds buffet the islands throughout the year, and the months of June, July, August and October are widely considered to be ideal times to visit. 

Frankly, there's never a bad time to travel to paradise. 



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