French Polynesia – October 2016

Our trip to French Polynesia started on Friday, October 7th as we flew from Vancouver to LAX and then on to Papeete on an overnight flight.  From there we had stops in Raiatea with a visit to Tahaa, Huahine, Bora Bora and Moorea.  We returned home on Sunday, October 23rd.

passport_stamps

This landing page is a menu of all of our posts while we were in French Polynesia.

 

Exchanging Money in French Polynesia

currency

Before you go to French Polynesia you need to do some research on their currency. We ultimately saved about $300 in exchange fees. Here’s how.

French Polynesia uses the CFP franc.  The currency code is XPF.  You need to know that you will not be able to use any currency in French Polynesia other than the CFP franc, or the Euro.  You may be able to get away with some US Dollars in some places (only the larger resorts), but really, you should plan to have the local currency in hand before you go.

We live in Canada, so it wasn’t an option for us to bring our currency.  I suppose it is an option, because there is an exchange business at the airport in Papeete, Tahiti Exchange, that is open for all arriving and departing international flights (including

at 5:00 am when we arrived), and the banks will exchange your currency for you.  But really, you won’t get a favorable rate, and you will stand in line when you could be enjoying your vacation.

Having said that, you will get an equally unfavorable rate from the banks at home.  The reason is that the CFP franc is what is known as a slow moving currency in the financial world.  Where US Dollars and the Euro are common, and therefore fast moving, because the banks will have more of that currency on hand, there is such little demand for the CFP franc that they have little of it on hand.

The difference between a fast moving currency and a slow moving currency is in the exchange rate.  As you might guess, the surcharge a bank adds to the exchange rate is much higher for a slow moving currency.  So where the bank might charge a 5% surcharge for a Euro, they will charge a 12% surcharge for a CFP franc.

A quick side note, if you plan to use your credit card, you will be charged the current bank exchange rate plus a 2.5% surcharge on top of that for a foreign currency transaction, on average.  So if you want to avoid the hassle of doing the currency exchange in the first place, you will pay more to use your credit card.  Plus, there are a lot of places that won’t take a credit card in French Polynesia.

So what did we do?  We were encouraged to get some francs before we left home.  Our travel agent suggested a local currency exchange business instead of the bank.  When I did my research I was shocked at what it would cost to exchange money.  And I did a lot of research, to the point of looking at getting new credit cards that paid as much as 4% cash back on foreign transactions.  In that case though, you were still paying the posted exchange rate plus the 2.5% foreign transaction fee!

The posted rate (not the bank rate) for the CFP franc is 0.01232, meaning that 10,000 francs is equal to $12.32 Canadian dollars (CAD).  The currency exchange’s rate is 0.014, so it would cost me $14 for 10000 francs.  That’s a 12% difference!  As it turns out, the bank rate is just slightly less, but only marginally.

The posted rate for a Euro is 1.47, meaning that 10 Euros would cost $14.70 CAD.  The currency exchange’s rate is 1.4893 for a Euro, so it would cost $14.89 for 10 Euros.  That’s a 1.3% difference.  The bank exchange rate is about 5% over the posted rate, so it was far better to use the currency exchange.

At this point you may be asking why I am talking about Euros.  I mentioned earlier that Euros are accepted in French Polynesia.  The way we saved $300 when exchanging our money was brought about from a conversation I had with a co-worker who happens to be from France.  As I was explaining my frustration at the exchange rates he did some quick research and told me that a policy was enacted in 1999 where the exchange rate between Euros and the CFP Franc was set at a fixed rate, and it’s never changed since then.  So where the exchange rate between the Canadian dollar (or US dollar, or Australian, or New Zeland, or whatever) and the Franc will change, the rate between the Euro and the Franc won’t.  I will always get the same number of Francs if I exchange Euros, any day.

So we picked up Euros in Canada and exchanged them for Francs in French Polynesia.  Yes, we had to stand in line.  We had a layover between Papeete and our flight to Raiatea, so we had lots of time to exchange our money.  You pay a small transaction fee, but otherwise it’s always the same.  At the airport it was 700 Francs.  At the bank it was 1000 Francs.

Two key tips: 1) Tahiti Exchange at the airport will only change 500 Euros per person per day.  2) You always need your passport to exchange money regardless of where you do it. I forgot to bring mine once, and was turned away.

I didn’t know about the 500 Euro limit at Tahiti Exchange when we landed, so that left us having to change our plans a bit, but both Sandi and I were able to do a transaction, so we changed 1,000 Euros which was enough for us through our first week of vacation.  When we exchanged Euros at the bank in Bora Bora I was able to change more than 500 Euros.

If you still don’t believe me, here is an example (note the exchange rates are from Nov. 11, 2016).  I am using the rate from the local currency exchange, not the posted rate and not the bank rate:

$1,000 CAD (@1.4893) = 671.50 Euros
$1,000 CAD (@0.014) = 71,428 CFP Francs

671.50 Euros (@119.33) = 80,131 CFP Francs (less 700 CFP transaction fee) = 79,431 Francs

That’s 8,000 more Francs, or approximately $100 CAD.  Given the price of food, accommodations and activities in French Polynesia, having an extra $300 in your pocket goes a long way.

Also, we paid our additional charges at each of the three resorts we stayed at using Euros.  All happily accepted them.

Day 14 – A Beach on a Motu

Friday was a beautiful day. We started with taking pictures of the sunrise, which meant a walk to the end of the pier at the resort and watching for the sun behind Mt. Rotui and some clouds, so it was not exactly the same as other sunrises we’ve watched, but it beat yesterday when there was nothing but cloud and rain.

We rented a kayak for our second attempt to cross the lagoon channel and get to the motus.  Success this time.  The kayak responded much nicer than the outrigger canoe.  It still took some work, but in general it was a much more positive experience.  Of the two motus, most of the property, meaning beaches, are privately owned, so we had to be careful where we landed.  We ended up on a not quite pristine white sand beach, instead pulling up on some rocks that had sand covered with pine needles.  That’s okay, we were there for the snorkelling more than the beach.

day14-motubeach

The snorkelling was good, but by this time we had figured out that our best experiences were by far in Bora Bora.  This was still fun, but after maybe an hour we had had enough.  After that time we still hadn’t seen any stingrays, but we had been out to where the lagoon meets the reef.  The current was very strong there, and the waves crashing into the reef meant that we couldn’t even think about trying to see what the water was like outside the reef.

After a break we decided to try to find some stingrays.  We had luck only because we creeped into a tour group who had a guy leading the tour that was feeding them.  We spent maybe 10 minutes with them, and had a chance to touch a couple.  They are very gentle creatures and it certainly put a smile on my face to swim with them.

We collected our kayak and headed across to the other motu that has a small restaurant on it, Coco Beach.  It was our best meal of the entire vacation to date.  I had shrimp in a curry sauce, and Sandi had grilled saumon in a vanilla sauce.  Included with each plate was rice, fried banana, pineapple, papaya and mango on a bed of butter lettuce.  Sandi’s pineapple was grilled.  We pretty much didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day after that!

We spent the rest of the day on the beach of Les Tipaniers after that, each of us having a nap.  It was very hot out, right into the evening.  The best place to try and cool off was the beach where there was a nice wind.

day14-tipaniersbeach

To close the evening we took pictures of the sunset, along with about 20-30 other people, and around 8:30 took an attempt at taking some pictures of the stars.  There has been enough light pollution everywhere we’ve been, be it from the moon or just lights along the beach, that there hasn’t been a good opportunity to see the stars or take photos.  While this was our best opportunity, it wasn’t ideal.  We probably would have been better off walking to a spot where there was little to no light to take pictures.

day14-sunset

All things considered however, another good day in French Polynesia.  Tomorrow we have more than half the day on Moorea before taking the ferry back to Tahiti to board our flight home.  We plan to rent a car and drive around the island.

Index of all posts of our French Polynesia trip October 2016

Day 13 – Moorea 4×4 Tour

Cloudy and rainy to start our first full day on Moorea.  The rain lasted off and on through the morning so we just had a lazy start to the day.  Sitting around finally got to us, so put a plan together for an activity.  Let’s call it Plan A.  We have access to free outrigger canoes at Les Tipaniers, and there are two small motus across from the resort that are reputed to have the best snorkelling in Moorea, so we decided to use the canoe to get to the motus for the middle part of the day.  Oh, and there’s a bit of a current between where we were and where we wanted to go.

Paddling that canoe was an exercise in frustration with the current.  It wouldn’t take three strokes and we’d almost be being pushed in a complete 360.  The trick was to try and get the nose of the canoe directly into the current.  Far easier said than done.  Finally though, we reached the point where we were told we could cross the deeper section of the lagoon.  We were warned to watch for boats as there is a fair amount of traffic, and I could see one in the distance, but we started across anyway.  The boat ended up being a police boat, and ended up throwing a fairly large wake that we didn’t navigate as well as we could have (see details above!).  What happened next was straight out of a sit-com.

We rode the first wave okay, but the second one was larger and the angle of the canoe put enough stress on the outrigger that it broke, swamping the canoe and putting both of us into the lagoon.  I think the three guys on the police boat had a bit of a chuckle, but they very nicely came back and helped us out of the water, and towed the canoe back to the resort.  When Sandi went to report the incident she was told the canoes were fairly new, but that the current is a problem for many guests.

Okay, so Plan B.  We decided to rent a car and drive around the island.  One of the top things I wanted to do on Moorea is to go to a lookout point between the two bays on the North of the island, called the Belvedere.  I originally thought that was some kind of formal name, but it turns out that it is a common term and there is a belvedere on many of the islands.  Sandi got rental information on a couple of different options, so we talked about it, decided on one, and she headed back to confirm the rental.  No dice – all cars from all agencies were already rented for the day.  One would think that they might mention that when giving information about rates, but maybe that’s just me.

So Plan C.  We decided to see if we could join a 4×4 tour for the afternoon.  Good news finally, there was room on one!  But not the one we’d originally decided on.  The one we ended up on was maybe a little less formal than some of the polished tours around here shall we say.  The comment from the lady at the front desk when Sandi asked if this tour included the stops that the one we wanted did was, “they all do the same stuff” with a bit of a shrug.  I guess there’s only so much to see and do on a small island.

And we agreed before checking on plan C was that Plan D would be to just sit and drink all the rest of the day.

I am happy to report that the 4×4 tour was great.  We shared it with a retired couple from the south of France who could speak a bit of English.  The young lady running the tour was Tahitian, and did a good job sharing information about the various spots we stopped.  The tour included, in this order:

  • Magic Mountain
  • Belvedere lookout
  • Marae Temples
  • Pineapple Farm
  • Manutea juice and spirits factory
  • Moorea Tropical Garden

The highlights were Magic Mountain and the Moorea Tropical Garden.  The Belvedere was good too, but it wasn’t a spectacularly sunny day, so that took something away for me.  The pineapple farm was cool too.

The evening concluded with a very nice meal at the restaurant at Les Tipaniers.

Index of all posts of our French Polynesia trip October 2016

Day 12 – Bora Bora to Moorea

We were getting picked up for our airport transport at 10:10 this morning, but we missed out on the manta rays the other day, so we decided to give it another shot and arranged for an 7:30 pick-up by Vincent for a 2 hour outing.  We swam again for an hour but unfortunately no manta sighting.  He thought maybe they had gone somewhere to give birth, which causes them to change location for a short time.  However, the views in that area are great.  It’s quite deep but with huge coral reefs – very interesting to look at and lots of schools of fish going by.  My highlight (Sandi here) was 2 tiny little orange stripy fish, about 1 inch long at most, who stuck right by my mask for about 5 minutes.

We got back, had quick showers and were off on our travels to Moorea.  Bus to the ferry dock, boat to the airport, 45 minute flight and then about a half hour to our new place.

day12-airport

Cloudy day with a bit of rain.  We dropped our stuff in the room (hut) and went to get lunch before they stopped serving for the afternoon.  Then we took bikes to a roadside fruit stand and a little grocery store to get some supplies.  These bikes look newer than the ones we’ve had previously, but don’t even have hand brakes.  We had to get used to pedalling backwards to stop, like we haven’t done since our bikes had huge banana seats on them when we were 8 years old!

day12-bungalow

We had a quick snorkel here but it was nothing compared to yesterday.  There is quite a current out front and the water is cooler than Bora Bora.  There is a better spot that we plan to take a canoe to tomorrow.  The forecast isn’t great for tomorrow but better for Friday, so we plan to do some touring up some mountains (not on bikes with no gears!) to get the good views of the 2 main bays here.  Not sure yet if we’ll join a tour or rent a car.

Index of all posts of our French Polynesia trip October 2016

Day 11 – Matira Beach

After a leisurely lunch at our room we spent the afternoon on Matira Beach.  As we’ve said in previous posts, Matira Beach is gorgeous, and is rated on several lists as the best beach in the world.  We walked out maybe 200m and the water never went over our chins.  We discovered the odd stingray following us around a few times, but otherwise it was clear beautiful water, white sand on the lagoon floor, with the odd piece of coral or a Polynesia version of a star fish to navigate around.  Just enjoying the sun and views on our last full day on Bora Bora.

Index of all posts of our French Polynesia trip October 2016

 

Day 11 – Kayaking Bora Bora

Tuesday was a relatively quiet day.  We began with a kayak trip across the lagoon.  Our original plan was to go the farthest motu and pack a picnic lunch.  There looked to be a public sandy beach there.  However, when we went to get the kayak, we were told that we had to have it returned by 12:30 and also weren’t allowed to take the kayak that far on account of a strong current in a channel, so that altered our plans.

Instead, we paddled around two small islands that are owned by the Sofitel resort.  The back side of the main island is where the big coral garden on Bora Bora is.  We were able to pull our kayak onto a rocky shore right beside it.

The coral garden is awesome!  Fish everywhere, all of them looking for a snack.day11-snorkel2

There is a “I ❤️ Bora Bora” design made out of rocks on the bottom of the lagoon at the coral garden.  So, I decided to take the time make our own design, “Brynne ❤️”