Surf and Turf for Less

"What you need most to see Tahiti-Polynesia on a low budget is time, and the wisdom to avoid trying to see and do too much."

That advice from well-traveled author David Stanley in the recently released third edition of "Tahiti-Polynesia Handbook" (Moon Travel Handbooks, $3.95) is followed by a wealth of practical information to make such an adventure possible

Stanley concedes that Tahiti is "easily the most expensive corner of the South Pacific," but he adds that, "Fortunately, facilities for budget travelers are highly developed through the Society Islands, often with cooking facilities that allow you to save a lot on meals. Cheap transportation is available by inter-island boats and local trucks, and bicycles can be hired in many places."

The Tahiti-French Polynesia region includes 130 islands and atolls scattered over the southeastern Pacific Ocean halfway between Australia and South America. Although it's only 2 1/2 hours farther from North America by air than Hawaii, Stanley says that "Hawaii gets more visitors in 10 days than Tahiti-Polynesia gets in a year."

Although Stanley's guide is designed for those traveling in any budget range, it's packed with practical information that is invaluable to the budget explorer. You'll find inter-island ferry services and schedules, candid descriptions of lodgings, including camping and dormitory facilities, information on sporting opportunities, and details on economical entertainment and land transportation.

Stanley advises: "If you're on a budget, avoid prepaying hotel accommodations booked from home. You can always do better locally upon arrival."

The gateway for international travelers arriving by air is Papeete on the island of Tahiti; unfortunately, the way the flights are scheduled, this almost always occurs in the middle of the night. But local budget accommodation operators will often turn up to meet the flights, and usually will offer free transportation to their facilities.

After arriving on Tahiti, says Stanley, independent budget travelers should travel by boat as much as possible. Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Bora Bora are popular among visitors for their combination of beaches, mountain scenery, easy access and the wealth of budget accommodations.

The neighboring island of Moorea, for example, can be reached by high-speed catamaran in just 30 minutes from Papeete for about $10. Slower 400-passenger car ferries also make repeated crossings throughout the day for $8. Hotel prices start at about $10 for a dormitory bed, and budget places often provide cooking facilities. But, Stanley warns; "Be aware that some of the low-budget places included in this book are a lot more basic than what is sometimes referred to as 'budget' accommodations in the States."

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