Tahiti, the largest island of French Polynesia is a magical place. For many travellers, this place is a mythical destination.
Tahiti in Brief
Tahiti, the largest of the islands of French Polynesia is colonised by the France, lies in the South Pacific. It is the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that comprise French Polynesia. Tahiti is in the Society Islands, an archipelago which includes the most popular islands of Bora Bora and Mo’orea. Tahiti is an island country that remains as a self-governing French region and Papeete, the capital of Tahiti is the Administrative centre.
This tiny island of Tahiti is best known for its breathtaking emerald lagoons and island vibes. It is unique and ubiquitous island and is world-renowned for its Polynesian charm. This really makes Tahiti one of the number one destination to visit. The thought of immersion into the Polynesian colourful culture and the grass-skirted shaking of Tahitian dance were sure to get my toes tapping and heart thumping. The warm-water lagoons and crystalline ocean tides are host to a rainbow’s worth of colourful marine life and the dramatic nightlife provide an experience to stimulate all the senses. This really made Tahiti a number one destination to visit and I was sure to have this magical locale rejuvenate and excite me to the core while visiting the island.
For many travellers, these islands are a mythical destination. The mention of Tahiti calls to mind visions of an idyllic island paradise and once you visit, you’ll discover that your imagination isn’t too off the mark. Secluded, tropical and lush, these islands are a place where dreams meet reality. Visiting Tahiti, for the first time, I was expecting to see grass huts, female natives wearing pareus (single piece of cloth wraps done in various ways). I was totally wrong and was very suprised to see the modern city of Papeete, the capital of Tahiti. It is a very busy trading centre and the distribution hub to many of the other islands. Tahiti, once a sleepy town, today its harbour is busy with cargo freighters, copra ships, luxury liners and ocean-going yachts. There are sidewalk cafes, shops overflowing with French fashions, shell jewellery and handicrafts and a wide variety of restaurants serving Tahitian, French and Asian cuisine. Though French and Tahitian are the common language spoken there but many people speak English. If you speak or understand French, you will feel more comfortable.
The Circle Road: Seeing Tahiti on Wheels
The island of Tahiti in fact has two islands in one. Big island “Tahiti-Nui” known as big Tahiti is completely encircled by a road along the shore whilst the small island “Tahiti-Iti” known as small Tahiti is only partially accessible by road. The road from the big island joins with the small island. One thing to do, while in Tahiti was exploring the big island on a self-drive tour. A ‘Circle Island Tour’ or a drive around Tahiti but choose self-drive which was easy and proved to be the best way to spend the day seeing the island’s outlying sights and a bit of old Polynesia away from Papeete’s bustle. It allowed me to set my own pace while exploring the many hidden gems along the island’s coast. The road around Tahiti Nui is 114km (72 miles) long.
I started my day with a visit to downtown Papeete, the capital of Tahiti. Spending almost two hours here, I visited the Le Marche, the local/traditional market where the Tahitians sell fish, fruit and vegetables, arts & crafts. Yes, they sell all kinds of things from fruits and vegetables to artefacts and crafts. My favourite things were local crafts and artefacts made from the traditional local materials (pearls, baskets, hats, grass skirts, ukuleles etc). Anything that evokes Polynesian culture to the visitor is available. For any budget travellers, this is pretty much the only place you will want to shop.
After some time exploring the market, I continued around the island. One of my stops along the east coast was at Venus Point. This was the location of successive landings of European navigators, and James Cook gave the name Venus in memory of his scientific trip to observe the planet. Point Venus is a very significant landmark in the history of Tahiti, if not, the whole of French Polynesia islands. Also, at this location, I noticed, the first church by the Protestant Missionaries, a lighthouse which was built in 1867 and is still in use, a monument of the bounty which arrived in 1787 and a black sandy beach which is where the first Europeans landed.
Beaches & Waterfalls
Along the wild east coast, I headed for the islands beach lifestyle. I passed several black sand beaches and waterfalls. Tahiti is interesting and fascinating when it comes to beaches. I stop at the Faarumai waterfalls and Taharuu beach. Here a short path through a bamboo forest that lead me to the base of the first fall, the Vaimahuta Fall. Later along my drive I passed the isthmus of Taravao. It is here that the big island is joined to its peninsula.
Along the circuit road, I found one of the nicest spots, Gauguin restaurant by accident. The restaurant by the seafront is owned by Juliette and Roger who are prominently known in the area. Juliette also gives tours on the medicinal value of plants on their property and it is absolutely beautiful. However, the view from the restaurant is just breathtaking and reminded me of how beautiful this place is. Here I had the chance to walk along this private boardwalk and admire the underwater below.
One of the last stops along my island tour was at the Arahurahu Marae, situated in a pretty valley. This is a sacred place which served both religious and social purposes in pre-Christian Polynesian societies. There was a short walk to reach this quiet sacred site, and the only marae (ancient temple or meeting place) in all of Polynesia that has been fully restored. Maraes are scared places in Polynesian society. They are common across the Pacific and in New Zealand but the Marae in this location is one of the few ones that has been saved. This is one of Tahiti’s most significant Arahurahu Marae, which have been carefully restored and used for the re-enactment of ancient ceremonies performed during the Heiva Nui dance celebrations. This gives you a good idea how these early villages were located for defence purposes and how the houses were situated in respect to the Marae itself. While Polynesians have always revered the sea, there are also many Marae in Tahiti that hold great cultural significance. Marae or pagan temples of the ancient Polynesians were built to worship the islands’ gods, with these sites containing various structures made from basalt rock, coral slabs and stone. The setting is quite lovely and has a really peaceful feel to it.
I continued driving along the coast until reaching the waterfalls and botanical gardens. Tahiti is known for its extremely high waterfalls and some of the place are so peaceful and tranquil wherever I pulled off the road. This waterfall and botanical gardens were absolutely beautiful place to walk and cool off in the shaded gardens and absorb the beauty of all the tropical flowers and the water gardens. It is very peaceful and serene. This botanical garden is a beautiful little stop on the circuit around the island of Tahiti. Though, it is not that large, I found myself wanting to stop in several places to reflect for awhile and deeply appreciating the scenery, tranquility and the beauty of the area. There was so much serenity and a sense of peace as I walked through the gardens.
On the northern side of Tahiti Nui, I found the Arahoho Blowhole. It is scary, especially when the sea is rough. It is expected to be showered by tthis spitting natural phenomenon. I was told by thte locals to be careful if I was viewing from the platform, as it is not a safe place on days when the blowhole is active.
I then headed to Punaauia village, a visit to the Museum of Tahiti and the Islands. I found this museum a very interesting place where Polynesian ethnographic museum is dedicated to conserving the geology, archeology and history of Tahiti. In visiting the museum’s permanent exhibition rooms, it gave me an insight in learning about Tahiti’s natural environment, settlement, material culture, social and religious life and history, and at the same time admiring the Atea’s Gardens.
As I slowly drive back to the town centre, it was beginning to get dark as the sun slowly disappeared over the horizon. In Papeete, and Tahiti in general is famous for its food trucks known as Roulottes (It means something like cart in French) by locals. It was fascinating, yet interesting to see various food trucks fitted out with all kinds of cooking equipment capable of making quite an array of food. These trucks are not content with just selling take-away snacks to passersby but instead set-up tables and chairs in the open-air parking lot nearby and allow people to have a full sit down outdoor meal under the stars. The meals were absolutely delicious and what a good way to end the self-drive tour and sightseeing of Tahiti.
Where to Stay?
There are various types of accommodations in the Tahiti to suit all budget ranging from resorts, backpacker, holiday houses, apartments, B&Bs and camping. Also, the town offers a range of properties throughout the island to fit most holiday styles and budgets. To have a bit of taste of luxury, I stayed in one of the hotels in the heart of Papeete that looks over the waters. Satying in the heart of the town centre, most things were within walking distance.
Tahiti is one of the few islands I would return to for a visit. The people, tropical beauty, cultural history and black Taharuu Beach are stunning. There are very few cars and life goes on very slowly. At times, this part of the island reminded me a lot of Hawaii, after all, two sets of islands have very similar geography and topography.
Categories: PACIFIC ISLANDS