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Tahiti is one of the Society Islands which, with the Gambiers, the Tuamotus, the Australs, and the Marquesas, make up French Polynesia. This archipelago spread out over several million square miles of the south central Pacific is a mixture of high volcanic islands and low coral atolls. Moorea, the land mass you can see in the distance from Papeete, is 12 miles away. It's a lovely 82-square-mile triangular-shaped island of sharp peaks, deep valleys, beaches, and bays. The 6,000 people who live there are dependent on pineapple, vanilla, and tourists. The town of Afareatu on the southeast coast is their administrative center. Moorea is the second-most popular destination in French Polynesia and with good reason. The most dramatic way to see Moorea is by hiking. The footpaths among the Marae of Opunohu are excellent, but the best walk is the trek from Vaiare west across to Pao Pao at the bottom of Cook's Bay. It's a longish trek, but the abundant flora are delightful and the views magnificent. Bora Bora - you can see it like a stage drop in the distance from Raiatea - is 160 miles from Tahiti. The pearl of all islands, it has a beauty borne of lagoon, reef, and green mountains. Nine miles long by eight miles wide, with a population of 2,575, it's understandable that tourists have discovered the island. Bora Bora is the scene of paddling, peddling, snorkeling, walking, climbing, dancing, drinking and eating well. If you're willing to sacrifice hotel life, plan to visit one of the dIstant motus (islets) off Rangiroa. Ask Air Polynesie to help, then spend several days living within the discipline of atoll life. Wander among nesting birds, watch sharks patrol a channel to the sea, see manta rays and leaping tuna. Live for a few days under sImple shelter, eat what the sea and thin soil provide. It's a sobenng experience, but you'll be the better for it. In the Marquesas, Nuku Hiva Island with a population of 1,800 is the administrative center for these 12 islands. Nuku Hiva, like most of the others, is majestically mountainous and beautiful. Growing and export of oranges is the main activity. Hiva Oa, according to Robert Louis Stevenson, was the loveliest and most ominous spot on earth. And it was there that Paul Gauguin spent his last years. Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas has a population of 400, is lonely, green, and precipitous. The inhabitants there, as on the other islands, live along flowing water in the deep narrow valleys. The Cook Islands, named after the British Captain who seems to have been everywhere in the Pacific, are scattered like tiny jewels over a large stretch of sea between Tahiti and Samoa. Rarotonga, the principal island, is 2,500 miles due south of Honolulu - as far south of the equator as Honolulu is north of it - a similarity that provides both places with ideal climates. The natural beauty, particularly on Rarotonga with its forest-covered mountains, verdant coastal plain, and fringing reef, is profound. It'll take your breath away when first seen and some writers, with complimentary comparison in mind, insist that Rarotonga is a miniature English-speaking Tahiti. Tonga too has many attractions the king's palace, the beaches, lagoons, flying foxes, blowholes, ruins, exquisite outer islands, and convenient transport. There's good food, perhaps the best in the Pacific, and the weather is cooler than many other Pacific islands. Tonga has good things to bring home: tapa cloth, wood carvings, beautiful baskets, mats and, best of all, prices for everything are low. Tongans are friendly people, a quality Captain Cook recognized 200 years ago when he dubbed this group "The Friendly Islands." All the detail you will need about these Pacific islands is in the guide - the hotels, restaurants, what to see and do, how to get around, the history and the culture. Plus there are color photos throughout the book.

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