Map from Google - French_Polynesia
In French Polynesia, a vast archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, the climate is tropical
, influenced by the trade winds, with a hot and humid season from November to April, and a cooler season from May to October. The hot season is also the rainiest, besides, from December to April, there's the risk of cyclones
(except in the Marquesas Islands). The temperatures vary little throughout the year, they are high in the northern islands, and gradually cooler as you move the south.
In the westernmost area of French Polynesia, we find the group of the Society Islands, divided between the Windward Islands
in the west (Tahiti, Moorea, Tetiaroa, Mehetia, Maiao), and the Leeward Islands
in the east (Bora Bora, Huahine, Maupiti, Raiatea, Tahaa, Manuae, Maupihaa, Motu One, Tupai). In these islands, the temperatures vary little throughout the year, just by a few degrees; the daytime temperatures are about 86 °F from December to April, and they go down to around 81/83 °F from June to August.
The amount of sunshine
is fairly uniform throughout the year, which means that even in the rainiest months, there's no shortage of sunshine: simply, the showers are more intense and more frequent, but they won't last long. In the larger islands, which have highlands in the interior, like Tahiti, the slopes facing east and therefore exposed to the trade winds, are rainier than the western slopes, however, the islands are completely covered by forest, which means that there are not a real dry season anywhere.
, the capital, is located on the north-west coast of the island of Tahiti, and receives 72 inches of rain per year, with a maximum in January, and a minimum in August, however, rainfall exceeds 6 inches per month from November to April. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Papeete
Further to the south, on the west coast, Punaauia and Paea are slightly more sheltered and sunnier. In the island of Tahiti, in the sultriest and hottest months, during the night a breeze blow from the mountains, called Hupe
, reducing a little the feeling of sultriness.
Here are the average temperatures of Papeete.
Average temperatures - Papeete
The sea temperature is high throughout the year in the Society Islands, as you can see in the following table, concerning the water temperature in Tahiti.
Sea temperature - Papeete
In the flatter, but also located more to the north, Bora-Bora
atoll, about 80 in of rain per year fall, and the rain pattern is similar, although the rains a bit more frequent and abundant throughout the year; however, even here there's a minimum in August, of 2.7 in of rain. The temperature is slightly higher than in Papeete, due to the northern position.
Average temperatures - Bora Bora
The Society Islands can be hit by tropical cyclones
from November to April (though less frequently than the westernmost islands of Oceania), as it has been the case with Oli, which hit Tahiti and Bora Bora in February 2010, or Hosea, that struck Bora Bora in late November 1997, a year of El Niño.
The best time to visit the Society Islands goes from May to mid-October, or better, from June to September, being the coolest and the least rainy.
To the east, the Tuamotu Islands have a climate similar to that of the Society Islands, just a little less rainy, especially in the eastern part, in fact they receive around 47 inches in the eastern part, and 60 inches in the western part; also because they are flat atolls, without mountains which could enhance the condensation of moisture. The least rainy period runs generally from May to September. Here is the average precipitation in the north-western island of Takaroa.
Average precipitation - Takaroa
Furthermore, these islands are less exposed to tropical cyclones, since they are located in the eastern edge of the area where they can form.
Here are the average temperatures of Hao.
Average temperatures - Hao
Even the temperature of the sea at the Tuamotu Islands is similar to that of the Society Islands, as can be seen in the following table.
Sea temperature - Hao
In the southern part of the Tuamotu, there is the atoll of Mururoa, now uninhabited. South of the Tuamotus lie the Gambier Islands, which are associated with them administratively, but they have a slightly different climate, because they are located more to the south, therefore we will discuss them later.
The Marquesas are the northernmost islands of French Polynesia, and therefore have a warmer climate
, but above all are almost always out of the path of tropical cyclones. This means that in theory they can be visited all year round, although they are definitely muggy from December to April. Here are the average temperatures in Atuona.
Average temperatures - Atuona
Here the rains have a slightly different pattern: they are not very abundant, being below 60 inches per year, and they have a peak in June and a minimum in October and Novembre; however, the rains are quite erratic from year to year. Being equipped with hills in inland areas, the Marquesas have different microclimates depending on slope exposure, so that some coasts are almost dry. However, considering also the rainfall records, the best time here runs from August to November. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Atuona
in the Marquesas is always warm, due to the location near the Equator, so that the water temperature never drops below 81 °F.
Sea temperature - Atuona
In Atuona, in the island of Hiva Oa, the painter Paul Gauguin, which spent here the last years of his life, is buried, even though he had previously lived for years in Tahiti.
The Austral Islands are divided into the groups of Tubuai
(Tubuai, Rimatara, Rurutu, Raivavae, Îles Maria), which is located around the Tropic, and group of the Bass Islands
(Rapa Iti, Marotiri), which lie more to the south; for their southern location, it's useful to include in this group also the Gambier Islands
, which are the southernmost part of the Tuamotu-Gambier administrative group, south of the Tuamotu, of which we have already spoken.
These islands are cooler
throughout the year: in the Tubuai and the Gambier the average temperature goes from 77 °F in January to 68/70 °F in August; this means that the period from December to April is warm but not excessively, while the period from June to September, when the daytime temperatures are around 75 °F, can be a bit cool for beach life.
Average temperatures - Tubuai
Besides, in these islands the rains are frequent and relatively abundant even in the period from June to September, because they can be reached in winter by the western disturbances. For example, in Rikitea, in September, the driest month, still 4.7 in of rain fall. Objectively, you cannot find a better period for these islands. Here is the average precipitation in Tubuai.
Average precipitation - Tubuai
Even the sea temperature in the Tubuai Islands decreases in the winter months, although it remains acceptable for swimming, since the water temperature drops to 73 °F from July to October, as can be seen in the following table.
Sea temperature - Tubuai
The Bass Islands
are located even more to the south, and south of the Tropic: here it's rare to see hot temperatures, since the daytime temperature goes on average from 77 °F in the period January-March, to 66/68 °F in the period from July to October. Here the rains are abundant throughout the year, and the total amount is above 100 inches per year, in addition the wind is often intense. These islands do not lend themselves to beach tourism.
Average temperatures - Ahurei
When to go
The best time
to visit the Society Islands (Tahiti, Bora-Bora) and the Tuamotus runs from June to September, while for the Marquesas Islands it runs from August to November.
For the Austral Islands there is not a more advisable season, because the hot and muggy summer of the Southern Hemisphere, with some risk of heavy rains and thunderstorms and also tropical cyclones, is followed by the austral winter which is a little cool, and even rainy and windy in the southernmost islands.
What to pack
For the Marquesas, Society and Tuamotu Islands, all year round, tropics-friendly, loose fitting clothing, sun hat, a scarf for the breeze, a light sweatshirt for the evening, light raincoat or umbrella. For the reef, equipment for snorkeling, water shoes or rubber soled shoes.
For the Austral Islands, from June to September (ie in winter), light clothes for the day, a scarf for the breeze, a sweatshirt for the evening, possibly a light jacket, light raincoat or umbrella.
For the Bass Islands, from June to September (ie in winter), spring/autumn clothes, sweatshirt or sweater, jacket, raincoat or umbrella; from December to February, light clothing, a sweatshirt for the evening, light raincoat or umbrella.