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 Mo'orea 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 by various photographers available from Wikimedia.
World of Lighthouses - French Polynesia
Photos by various photographers available from Lightphotos.net.
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 Sous-le-Vent Lighthouses

Bora Bora Lighthouses
Note: Bora Bora is a mountainous island, celebrated as one of the most beautiful in the world. A very popular resort destination, the island has a population of about 9000.
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, a more distant view, and another view from the sea 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.
Passe de Teavanui Feu Postérieur
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 16 m (52 ft); red light, 2 s on, 2 s off, synchronized with the front light. 16 m (52 ft) post with gallery, painted with red and white horizontal bands. No photo available, but Google has a distant satellite view. The front light is on a similar pylon 8 m (26 ft) tall. The Passe de Teavanui is the entrance to Bora Bora through the reef on the west side of the island. Located just off the coast in Vaitape. Accessible only by boat, but easily seen from the shore. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K4982.61; NGA 2984.1.

Taha'a Lighthouse
* Pointe Tepari Feu Postérieur (Taha'a)
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. Taha'a 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

Mo'orea Lighthouses
Note: Famous for its exotic mountainous scenery, Mo'orea is only 17 km (11 mi) west of Tahiti and is accessible from Tahiti by interisland ferries. The island has numerous resorts and a permanent population of about 16,000.
[Passe Tareu (Opunohu Bay) Feu Postérieur]
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 12 m (39 ft); red flash every 4 s, synchronized with the front light. 14 m (46 ft) post, painted white and carrying a rectangular white daymark panel. Both range lights can be seen at the left in Edward Schuster's photo of the bay, and Google has a satellite view. Located just off the east coast of Opunohu Bay, a deep inlet on the north side of Mo'orea. Accessible only by boat, but easily seen from the shore. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K4968.92; NGA 3024.4.
* Pointe Aroa (Mo'orea)
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 23 m (75 ft); white flash every 5 s. 22 m (72 ft) post with gallery, painted with red and white horizontal bands. A photo is available, and Google has a satellite view. This pylon is similar to the Teturiroa Light on Bora Bora. Located at the northeasternmost point of Mo'orea. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS FRP-004; Admiralty K4968.2; NGA 3008.
[Vai'are Feu Postérieur]
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 14 m (46 ft); red light, 2 s on, 2 s off, synchronized with the front light. 14 m (46 ft) post, painted with red and white horizontal bands. A photo is available, and Google has a satellite view. Located just off the waterfront of Vai'are, on the east side of Mo'orea. Accessible only by boat, but easily seen from the shore. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K4968.31; NGA 3021.
Pointe Paroa
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 13 m (43 ft); three white flashes every 15 s. 13 m (43 ft) pylon, painted with red and white horizontal bands. Lightphotos.net has a photo, and Google has a satellite view. Located just inside the reef at the southernmost point of Mo'orea. Accessible only by boat. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K4968.4; NGA 3025.

Teti'aroa Lighthouse
Île Reiono (Teti'aroa)
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. Teti'aroa 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 K4967.5; NGA 3006.

Tahiti Lighthouses
Note: Tahiti is by far the largest, most populous, and best known of the French Polynesian islands. The island has a population of about 185,000, concentrated in the capital city of Papeete (papa-ete).
* 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, guiding vessels through the Passe de Tipaerui. 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. The light is to the right of center in Brice Neham's photo, and 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.
* [Fara Ute Feu Postérieur]
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 20 m (66 ft); red flash every 3 s. 20 m (66 ft) steel pylon, painted with red and white horizontal bands and carrying a rectangular white daymark panel. The front light is on a similar tower 16 m (52 ft) tall. Pete Pantsari's photo shows both lights (rear light on the left, front light on the right). Another photo shows both lights (front light below center, rear light at the far right). Google has an indistinct satellite view. The range guides vessels through the harbor to the commerical and naval piers. Located in the Place Jacques Chirac, a waterfront park. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K4963.1; NGA 2890.
* 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 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. The population is about 2500.
* 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, and Google has a satellite view. 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 Tiputa pass is the principal entrance into the Rangiroa lagoon. 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. 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.
Feu de la Passe Tiputa
1931 Passe Tiputa Light, Rangiroa
Tahiti Heritage photo

Takapoto and Takaroa 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.
* 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. A closeup photo is available, and Google has an indistinct 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. 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, a closeup photo and a view from the sea are available, Guyomard and Carceller have Olivier Hoarau's photo, Lightphotos.net has a photo, 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. A photo and a second photo are available, 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.
Phare de Fakarava
Topaka Light, Fakarava, May 2009
Flickr photo copyright Daniel Pennac; used by permission

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. Makemo is the fourth largest atoll of the Tuamotus, with a population of about 800. Located near the village of Pouheva on the north side of Makemo. Site open, tower closed. ARLHS FRP-001; Admiralty K5004; NGA 2816.

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.

Amanu 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.

Îles Gambier Lighthouses

Mangareva 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.

Îles Marquises Lighthouses

Nuku Hiva Lighthouses
Fort Collet Feu Antérieur
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 34 m (112 ft); red light, 1 s on, 1 s off. 6 m (20 ft) post mounted on a square building. Tower painted with red and white horizontal bands. The light is on the hill on the left in Hervé Cailler's photo of the harbor, and Bing has a satellite view. Located on heights on the northeast side of Taiohae Bay, on the south side of the island of Nuku Hiva. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K5052; NGA 2856.
[Fort Collet Feu Postérieur]
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 47 m (154 ft); red light, 1 s on, 1 s off. 16 m (52 ft) post painted with red and white horizontal bands. A 2010 photo is available, and Bing has a satellite view. Located on a slope above the harbor of Taiohae Bay, about 400 m (1/4 mi) north northeast of the front light. Site open, tower closed. Admiralty K5052.1.

Information available on lost lighthouses:

Notable faux lighthouses:

Adjoining pages: West: Cook Islands | Northwest: Samoa

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Posted January 3, 2006. Checked and revised April 21, 2015. Lighthouses: 23. Site copyright 2015 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.