We often heard or read that French Polynesia is an expensive place for provisioning while we were getting ready to come here last year.
In fact it is.
But the question is, how much?
<This is the Last in a series of Four posts covering our Learnings and Experiences of one season of cruising French Polynesia. Click here for the previous post in the series, covering an assessment of the risk of a Cyclone approaching FP during the 2016/17 season>
With that intent, we tabulated the prices of a few items we have recently bought or researched on Papeete’s Carrefour nearby Marina Taina, where we are. Bear in mind that most of what we will show and discuss below applies to Tahiti, where there is a wide choice of places and items to buy. Availability drops vertiginously in other places, as we have discussed here.
Breakfast first, you can start your day savoring a fresh, deliciously scented and crunchy baguette for ~USD 0.50 a-piece. They feed 3-4 people and remain fresh usually through the next morning. If you are happy to dress it with Canned Butter, you will be paying USD 3 for a can that should last for some 10 days without the need of being refrigerated. But prices escalate quickly as you go up the Gourmet route. A small container of French Cheese Spread costs USD 3 (lasts two breakfasts, max), and a medium pot of Philadelphia an eye-watering USD 7. Same for bread. On Carrefour, as well as on other markets, you will find delicious variations of gourmet bred. And they taste even better than the looks, in true European fashion. But be prepared, Gourmet comes at a Premium, with a delicious Organic Whole Wheat Loaf selling for USD 4 a piece. An alternative is the subsidized Cream Crackers or similar toasts (look for items with a red price tag). A can with 2 kilos of Cream Crackers imported from China costs USD 5, and will keep the crew fed in the mornings for a long time. One last word of caution: be extra careful with Yogurt. Local variations are priced in the “OK” range, but choice products, like Activia – which is imported – can cost a whopping USD 15 for a tray of 4 small cups.
The same applies for other cooking items. Regular Rice of good quality goes for just over USD 1 per kilo, whereas the Basmanti variation will cost 3 times as much, and a bag with 1 Kg Premium Whole Rice making you a staggering USD 11 less wealthy. And don’t even get me started with the Quinoa which, at a sky-high USD 30 per kilo, should be traded as a Precious Commodity at the French stock exchange. But there is good news: as long as you remain within the Basics route, you are off to a series of successful meals all within a reasonable cash disbursement rate. For less than USD 3 you have enough flour for at least four large-sized homemade loaves of bread, and spending just over USD 10 you shall be feeding a troop with 1 Kg of pasta and a jar of sauce.
And then there is Cheese. This IS part of Europe, for God’s Sake, and traveling through here without taking advantage of their delicious cheese just doesn’t feel right. And shopping smartly for cheese here takes a sharp eye. The inexpressive “Cheddar” cheese, presented in 250g tin-foiled bricks, is in fact quite pricey, even more than its far tastier brethren, the Brie or Camembert. But we have found Mozzarella for a reasonable USD 2 per kilo – it is NOT the tastiest Mozzarella you will have ever eaten, but it stands up with dignity on a pizza, or making up a toasted panini inside a fresh baguette.
It is however on the Booze and other Indulgences that the credit card gets really spinning. American (i.e. Imported) Orange Juice, at USD 8 per liter, costs ten times more than Diesel Fuel. A bottle of “meeh” Gin won’t leave the store for less than USD 40 bucks, and a small jar with 250g of Maple Syrup will draw USD 7 off your wallet – promoting Pancakes into the Premium Gourmet category. But, again, with a sharp eye it is still possible to remain within the realms of sanity on this category. For USD 10 you can find very respectable French Wine, USD 11 will buy you enough Concentrated for 12 liters of Juice, and USD 2 will keep your sweet teeth happy with a small bar of Toblerone.
I was particularly surprised with the prices of fresh stuff. Meat isn’t too expensive, with a good chunk of premium Tuna Steak selling for USD 12 per kilo, just a tad above the price of (industrialized) frozen chicken breasts. Fruits, on the other hand, are quite pricey – or so I think. Some are imported, and justify the tag – like Lemon, selling for USD 5 per kilo. But others grow here almost like weeds, and are still well up the marks – Papaya being the worst offender: even though they are the tastiest I’ve ever had, at USD 5 for a medium-sized specimen, I find it exceedingly expensive.
And, finally, the ever-so-interesting Other category. By lumping stuff-that-you-can’t-eat together at will, I came up with a table with some quite interesting surprises. Look at the costs of a Taxi Ride or even taking a Bus to notice that it is really expensive to move around here. Same goes for communication. If you get a local pre-paid mobile phone, be prepared for it to churn around USD 0.70 per minute every time you make an international call using an equally prepaid calling card (which will churn at a similar rate as well. In parallel). But my favorite is the cost of doing your own laundry at a Laudromat: at USD 8 per load (NOT INCLUDING soap, which you have to provide yourself), this has got to be the highest Return on Investment in the history of mankind (I checked the price of a washing machine at Carrefour, and they aren’t too expensive – laundromat owners here must be making loads of money). Other items are equally surprising for the opposite reason. We had to visit a few doctors while here (we are all well, nothing to worry), and prices ranged between USD 30 and USD 60 per visit. Compare that with US or Brazil prices, and you almost feel like getting sick here. And the greatest of all good news: by doing the appropriate paperwork and getting a letter that exempts you from local taxes, the liter of Marine Diesel here is amongst the least expensive we’ve ever put into Pesto’s tanks since the beginning of this journey two years ago !
There you have it – an incomplete list of provisioning items as priced in Tahiti at the end of 2016. Humor apart, what we have found is that:
- prices are indeed higher here, in part driven by the cost of logistics embedded in the products
- however, by being judicious at the supermarket aisles, it is possible to provision well and at reasonable prices