Lighthouses of French Polynesia

French Polynesia is a broad territory in the South Pacific Ocean including a series of archipelagos and more than 130 islands in all. Many of the islands are low atolls, but others are of volcanic origin and are mountainous. France began colonizing the islands in 1842 and controlled all of them by 1889.

In very broad strokes, French Polynesia includes four island chains aligned in parallel from northwest to southeast. The northernmost chain is the Îles Marquises (Marquesas); then the long chain of the Îles Tuamotu and Îles Gambier crosses the center of the country. To the southwest are the major islands of the Îles de la Société, divided into a windward group (Îles du Vent) including Tahiti and Moorea and a leeward group (Îles Sous le Vent) including Bora Bora. Finally, the Îles Australes lie in the south of the country.

The country was formerly called French Oceania; the name was changed to French Polynesia in 1957. The capital is at Papeete, Tahiti.

The appropriately romantic tower at Pointe Vénus, Tahiti, shown below, and the Pouheva lighthouse seen at right are among the few traditional lighthouses in French Polynesia. Most modern navigational aids in the territory are small, but there are several historic towers formerly used as lighthouses. For most of these sites, additional information and photos are needed.

The French word for a lighthouse, phare, is often reserved for the larger coastal lighthouses; a smaller light or harbor light is called a feu (literally "fire," but here meaning "light"). The front light of a range (alignement) is the feu antérieur and the rear light is the feu postérieur.

ARLHS numbers are from the ARLHS World List of Lights. Admiralty numbers are from volume K of the Admiralty List of Lights & Fog Signals. U.S. NGA List numbers are from Publication 111.

General Sources
Sites historiques de Tahiti et ses îles - Phares
Information on several historic light structures of the Tuamotus, posted by Tahiti Heritage.
Phares d'Océanie
Photos posted by Alain Guyomard and Robert Carceller.
Lighthouses in French Polynesia
Photos available from Wikimedia.
Leuchttürme Australiens und Ozeaniens auf historischen Postkarten
Historic postcard images posted by Klaus Huelse.

Phare de Pouheva
Pouheva Light, Makemo, February 2007
Wikimedia Creative Commons photo by FRED

Îles de la Société Lighthouses

Îles Sous-le-Vent Lighthouses
Pointe Teturiroa (Bora Bora)
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 13 m (43 ft); white flash every 4 s. 13 m (43 ft) post with gallery, painted white. A good photo and a more distant view are available, and Google has a satellite view. Located at the southwestern corner of the coral reef encircling Bora Bora. Accessible only by boat. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K4982; NGA 2982.
* Pointe Tepari Feu Postérieur (Tahaa)
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 20 m (66 ft); red light, 2 s on, 2 s off. 20 m (66 ft) post, painted with red and white horizontal bands. No photo available, but the tower can be seen in trees in a Google satellite view. Tahaa is an island, known for its vanilla plantations, located southeast of Bora Bora in the Îles Sous le Vent. The light is on a point of land north of the Passe de Paipai on the west side of the island. Accessible by road. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K4973.02; NGA 2980.01.

Îles du Vent Lighthouses
* Pointe Aroa (Moorea)
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 23 m (75 ft); white flash every 5 s. 22 m (72 ft) post with gallery, painted white. No photo available, but Bing has a satellite view. This pylon is similar to the Teturiroa Light on Bora Bora. Located at the northeasternmost point of Moorea. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS FRP-004; Admiralty K4968.2; NGA 3008.
Pointe Paveau Range Front
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 50 m (164 ft); red light occulting once every 4 s, synchronized with the rear light. 12 m (39 ft) pylon, painted with red and white horizontal bands. No photo available, but Google has a distant satellite view. The rear light is on a shorter tower. Located on the ridge on the east side of Cook's Bay, a protected harbor on the north side of Moorea. Site status unknown. Admiralty K4968; NGA 3009.
Tetiaroa
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 15 m (49 ft); two white flashes every 10 s. 15 m (49 ft) pylon on a square platform. Pylon painted white with a "red top." No photo available, but Google has a satellite view that suggests there is a lantern atop the column. Tetiaroa is an atoll about 60 km (38 mi) north of Tahiti. The American actor Marlon Brando owned the island from 1965 until his death in 2004; his heirs have sold it to a developer who plans to build a very expensive resort. Located at the southernmost point of the atoll. Accessible only by boat. Site presumably open, tower closed. Admiralty K4968.17; NGA 3006.
* Tipaerui Feu Antérieur
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 23 m (78 ft); green light occulting twice every 8 s, synchronized with the rear light. 20 m (66 ft) pylon, painted with red and white horizontal bandsand carrying a rectangular white daymark. The light is barely visible near the right edge of a photo of the harbor (click on the photo for magnification), and Bing has an indistinct satellite view. This is the entrance range for the harbor of Papeete, Tahiti. Located in downtown Papeete adjacent to the Centre Culturel. Site presumably open, tower closed. Admiralty K4956; NGA 2884.
* Tipaerui Feu Postérieur
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 34 m (112 ft); green light occulting twice every 8 s, synchronized with the front light. 30 m (98 ft) pylon, painted with red and white horizontal bands. No photo available, but Google has a satellite view. Located on the Avenue Destremau, 222 m (243 yd) southeast of the front light and near the Collège de Tipaerui. Site presumably open, tower closed. Admiralty K4956.1; NGA 2888.
* Pointe Vénus (Teara o Tahiti)
1868 (Thomas Stevenson) (restored and extended in 1963). Active; focal plane 31 m (102 ft); white flash every 5 s. 33 m (108 ft) square tower with six stepped stories below the watch room and gallery. Lighthouse painted white with gray trim. Mitch Allen's photo is at right, Thad Roan has another good photo, Jason Hlavenka has a distant view, Pierre Lesage has an aerial photo, Wikimedia has several photos, Klaus Huelse has a historic postcard view, and Google has a satellite view. This beautiful lighthouse was built by Thomas Stevenson, father of the author Robert Louis Stevenson and a member of Scotland's famous family of lighthouse engineers. It was refurbished and raised in height by 7 m (23 ft) in 1963. The name of Point Venus recalls Captain James Cook's observation from there of the transit of Venus in front of the sun on 3 June 1769. Located in a park at the northern tip of Tahiti. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS FRP-002; Admiralty K4952; NGA 2860.
Phare de Pointe Venus
Pointe Vénus Light, Tahiti, August 2007
Flickr Creative Commons photo by Mitch Allen

Îles Tuamotu-Gambier Lighthouses

Rangiroa Lighthouses
Note: Rangiroa is the westernmost major atoll of the Tuamotu group and one of the largest atolls in the world, some 80 km (50 mi) long and 32 km (20 mi) wide.
* Mota Maherehonae (Rangiroa)
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 30 m (98 ft); white flash every 5 s. 28 m (92 ft) pylon. Entire lighthouse painted white. A 2011 photo is available, but Google has only a fuzzy satellite view of the area. Located at the northwestern corner of Rangiroa. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS FRP-003; Admiralty K4988; NGA 2818.
* Hiria (Passe Tiputa, Rangiroa)
1931(?). Inactive. Approx. 11 m (36 ft) square masonry tower with gallery and a small post for a light. Entire lighthouse painted white. The photo by Tahiti Heritage is at right, an aerial photo by Pierre Lesage is available, and Google has a satellite view. The lighthouse has been replaced by a pair of range lights (next entry). Located on the east side of the entrance to the pass. Site open, tower closed.
Passe Tiputa Feu Postérieur (Rangiroa)
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 14 m (46 ft); green light, 2 s on, 2 s off. 15 m (49 ft) white pylon mounted on a round concrete base. A photo is available, and Google has a satellite view. The front light, a 10 m (33 ft) tower, is seen at upper right of the Google view and in a photo of both lights. The Tiputa pass is the principal entrance into the Rangiroa lagoon. Located on a sandbar inside the pass, on the northeast side of Rangiroa. Accessible only by boat. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K4993.1; NGA 2824.

Takaroa-Takapoto Lighthouses
* Takapoto
1922. Inactive. Approx. 8 m (26 ft) square concrete beacon. The light hasn't been found in Google's satellite view. According to Tahiti Heritage, the light was intended as a landfall light for the atoll. Takapoto and Takaroa (next entry) are in the King George Islands (Îles du Roi Georges), a group of atolls north of the main line of the Tuamotus. Located at the southern tip of Takapoto atoll, near the airport. Site open, tower closed.
Feu de la Passe Tiputa
1931 Passe Tiputa Light, Rangiroa
Tahiti Heritage photo
* Takaroa
Date unknown. Inactive. Approx. 9 m (30 ft) 3-story stone structure. The lower two stories are square and the top story is octagonal. We believe the structure is centered in this Google satellite view. Takaroa is an atoll a few miles northeast of Takapoto. Located next to the primary school in Teavaroa, the principal town of the atoll, on the north side of the lagoon entrance. Site open, tower status unknown.

Fakarava Lighthouses
Note: Fakarava is the second largest atoll of the Tuamotus, 60 km (37 mi) long and 21 km (13 mi) wide. The atoll has an airfield and a population of about 900, but it is not well known to tourists.
[Tagaroaromatahara (Kauehi)]
Date unknown. Inactive. Coral stone ruins of a former lighthouse. The ruins have not been found in Google's satellite view. Located at the northernmost point of Kauehi, an atoll northeast of Fakarava. Site open.
* Torea (Fakarava (3?))
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 30 m (98 ft); white flash every 5 s. 28 m (92 ft) triangular (possibly square) cylindrical concrete tower with lantern. Lower half of the lighthouse painted red, upper half white. Billy Eaton has a closeup photo, and Google has a satellite view. This light guides vessels approaching the Passe de Garuae, the best entry into the lagoon of the atoll. Located at the north end of the atoll, about 2 km (1.2 mi) east of the pass. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS FRP-005; Admiralty K5000.4; NGA 2816.8.
* Topaka (Fakarava (2?))
1957. Inactive. 14.2 m (47 ft) coral stone stepped pyramid carrying a square light tower with gallery at the top. Daniel Pennac's excellent photo is at right, Guyomard and Carceller have Olivier Hoarau's photo, a 2010 photo is available, and Google has a satellite view. An 1885 pilot guide for Polynesia mentions that a white flag was displayed atop a pyramid, but no light. A 1916 pilot guide does not mention the pyramid. The lighthouse is endangered; because of its proximity to the atoll's airport, it may be demolished as a safety hazard. Located near the north end of Fakarava, west of the village of Rotoava. Site open, tower closed.
* Taputavaka (Rotoava)
Date unknown. Inactive. Approx. 7 m (23 ft) stepped concrete pyramid. Daniel Carignan has a photo, and Google has a satellite view. Located behind the school in the village of Rotoava, at the northeastern corner of the Fakarava atoll. Site open, tower closed.

Makemo Lighthouse
* Pouheva (Makemo)
1936 (substantially altered in 1998) . Active; focal plane 25 m (83 ft); white flash every 5 s. 23 m (75 ft) tower with approx. 11 m (35 ft) mast mounted atop a 4-story square concrete base. Lighthouse painted white with one red horizontal band on the top story of the base and another at the top of the mast. A photo is at the top of this page, another closeup photo is available, K.S. Hoffman has a distant view, and Google has a satellite view. Tahiti Heritage has a historic photo showing the original appearance of the lighthouse. In 1998, the upper portion of the tower was removed and the mast was added to increase the focal plane of the light. Located near the village of Pouheva on the north side of Makemo atoll, just west of the pass into the lagoon. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS FRP-001; Admiralty K5004; NGA 2816.
Phare de Fakarava
Topaka Light, Fakarava, May 2009
Flickr photo copyright Daniel Pennac; used by permission

Hikueru Lighthouse
* Tupapati (Hikueru)
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 18 m (59 ft); white flash every 5 s. 18 m (59 ft) post mounted on a square platform. Lighthouse painted white with red horizontal bands. No photo available, but Google has a good satellite view. NGA lists this light as Tupatapi, a misspelling. According to Tahiti Heritage, there is also an old lighthouse built of coral stone. Located just inside the reef near the village of Tupatapi on the northwest side of Hikueru atoll. Accessible only by boat, but there would be excellent views from the village. This atoll, however, is rarely visited by tourists. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K5004.86; NGA 2812.5.

Hao Lighthouse
* Ikitake (Hititake, Amanu)
Date unknown. Inactive. Rectangular stone platform formerly used to display open fires for returning vessels. The platform is probably centered in a Google satellite view. Located on the south side of the entrance channel to the lagoon of Amanu atoll, close to Ikitake village. Site open.

Mangareva (Îles Gambier) Lighthouses
* Pointe Kureru Feu Postérieur
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 11 m (36 ft); green flash every 4 s. 12 m (39 ft) white concrete post mounted on a concrete base. The tower also carries a white daymark. No photo available, but Google has a satellite view. This is the rear light of a range. Located at Pointe Kureru on Mangareva, about 3 km (2 mi) northeast of Rikitea, the only substantial town in the Gambiers. The light stands beside the coastal road. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K5006.71; NGA 2799.91.
Île Aukena Feu Postérieur
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 18 m (59 ft); green light, 2 s on, 2 s off. 18 m (59 ft) post mounted on a square platform. Tower painted white with a green base. No photo available, but Google has a good satellite view. This is also the rear light of a range. Île Aukena is a small island about 6 km (3.5 mi) southeast of Mangareva, the principal island of the Gambier group. Located just off the south coast of Île Aukena. Accessible only by boat. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K5006.41; NGA 2799.71.

Information available on lost lighthouses:

Notable faux lighthouses:

Adjoining pages: West: Samoa

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Posted January 3, 2006. Checked and revised March 24, 2013. Lighthouses: 21. Site copyright 2013 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.