Two volcanoes emerging from an emerald sea gave birth to the myth of paradise known today as the largest of the Polynesian islands with an area of 1,042 sq km (651 sq mi): steep cloud-draped mountains, deep verdant valleys, luxuriant ferns, swift, invigorating rivers and black sand beaches await you on this “island of love”. Tahiti Island is larger than all of its neighbouring Society Islands put together and takes about 6 hours to circumnavigate by car, Tahiti offers lovely coastal scenery, high mountains with tropical rain forests, and some of the best hiking and surfing in the South Pacific.
Getting To and Around the Island of Tahiti
Because of its larger size and population, the island of Tahiti has many transportation options.
Upon arrival, transport from Faa'a International Airport to your hotel or cruise ship is quick and should be arranged by your preferred travel professional or by your hotel or cruise ship. Connecting flights to other islands on Air Tahiti and Air Moorea leave from Faa'a Airport. Passenger ferries to Moorea depart from the waterfront in downtown Papeete.
To get around Papeete and the surrounding towns, the public transit system offers two bus services: the Le Truck allows frequent stops and a unique way of meeting the locals while the large white RTC motor coaches offer more conventional seating. Taxi service is also available from your hotel and is best arranged by your hotel's concierge. Once in downtown Papeete, the waterfront, restaurants, and shopping are within walking distance.
Escorted circle-island bus or 4x4 tours are the ideal way to explore the points of interest around Tahiti's coast and within the interior valleys. Car rentals are also available from the airport and your hotels. Other methods of exploring the island include motorboat and yacht charters, outrigger canoe tours of Matavai Bay, and helicopter tours-all of which can be arranged in advance or at the activity desk of your resort or cruise ship.
Dining on the Island of Tahiti
Supplied by a daily bounty of fresh fish and fruits, Tahiti is replete with many fine restaurants in and around Papeete. Several resorts regularly host Tahitian feasts with spectacular music and dance shows. These events can be reserved in advance by your preferred travel professional or at your resort on arrival.
Resort restaurants include: The elegant Le Lotus at InterContinental Resort Tahiti; La Plantation at Le Meridien Tahiti; Moevai and the famous Quinn's Bar at Sheraton Hotel Tahiti; Hiti Mahana at Radisson Plaza; and Le Bougainville and Le Sakura at Sofitel Tahiti Resort.
A sampling of popular local restaurants includes: Top restaurant : KIKIRIRI (best food and local ambience, dancing nights on Fridays and Saturdays) Lou Pescadou with the best of Italian pizzas and pasta; The Mango Cafe specializes in Polynesian-French fusion offered in a chic, art nouveau atmosphere. Don't forget dessert! Captain Bligh near the Lagoonarium. Other popular choices among locals and visitors alike include alike include Coco's, Lion d'Or, Vaitiare, Morrison's Café, Moana Iti, Le Cigalon, L'O a la Bouche, L'Apizzeria, La Romana, Jack Lobster and Le Belvèdere with views of the city.
Papeete evening highlight: Enjoy a unique and informal dinner or a memorable post-dinner dessert at Vai'ete Square. Here, dozens of colorful roulottes, or food wagons, host a great variety of island cuisine and desserts. The boardwalk atmosphere is an informal and lively destination not to be missed.
For the visitor, Tahiti means unlimited possibilities:
- Dining at one of the surprising number of restaurants around Papeete or at the relaxed roulottes along the waterfront in Vai'ete Square.
- Shopping along the waterfront and in the Public Market of Papeete for Tahitian collectibles such as pareu, monoi oil, artwork, precious native wood carvings, and beautiful Tahitian Pearls.
- Exploration of the pristine interior and beautiful coastline by 4x4 excursion, guided nature hikes, escorted tours, or rental car.
- Discovery of the lagoon waters by diving, snorkeling, sailing, surfing, deep-sea fishing, outrigger canoeing, or guided catamaran tours.
- Enjoyment of the beachside resorts featuring luxurious spas, spectacular shows, fine restaurants, and the full range of rooms, suites, and bungalows.
Some of the most popular activities and sites for visitors include:
Shopping at the Public Mart Discover the true heart of Papeete - 155 year old public market - called Le Marché. Shop from hundreds of stands filled with Tahitian-made crafts, oils, vanilla, fruits, and flowers. The perfect place to find everything imaginable from all the islands. Open everyday except holidays, the market is especially colorful and lively on Sunday mornings when locals stock up for a day of family gatherings. Located two blocks from the waterfront and easily reached by Le Truck or by taxi from the resort.
Evenings at Vai'ete Square Enjoy a unique and informal dinner or a memorable post-dinner dessert at Vai'ete Square. Here, dozens of colorful roulottes, or food wagons, host a great variety of island cuisine and desserts. The boardwalk atmosphere is an informal and lively setting not to be missed.
Circle-Island Tour A favorite among visitors for over 100 years! The route takes in more than 71 miles of dramatic coastline scenery with wave-pounded cliffs, peaceful beaches, and brightly colored churches. Popular stops include many overlooks, waterfalls, and ancient sites. An extended tour takes you to the peninsula of Tahiti-Iti.
Museum of Tahiti The Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands is considered to be one of the best and most beautiful museums in the South Pacific. Polynesian history is carefully recorded and presented. Highlights include rare collections of art carvings and historical artifacts. European arrival is also presented and put into context.
James Norman Hall Home The James Norman Hall Home celebrates one of Tahiti's most famous resident authors. Hall co-authored Mutiny on the Bounty and wrote many other fables of the South Seas. The home is carefully maintained as it was when Hall lived in Tahiti from 1920 to 1951. Visitors enjoy seeing his original writing desk, art collection, and library with over 3,000 books. Guests are invited to the garden tea room where refreshments are provided under the shade of a giant mango tree.
The Gauguin Museum The Gauguin Museum is dedicated to Paul Gauguin's life during his years on Tahiti and in the Marquesas, the museum sits within the beautiful Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens and features exhibits and memorabilia from the late painter himself, including sketches, copies of documents , block prints, and reproductions of many of his most famous paintings.
Pearl Museum The Pearl Museum is the only museum in the world devoted entirely to pearls. The unique presentations describe and demonstrate the history and practice of cultivating pearls as well as their place in art, history, mythology, and religion.
Shopping in and around the Vaima Center Many shops popular with visitors are located in and around the Vaima Center. This four-level, block-square shopping center has everything from boutiques, pearl shops, book stores, newspaper stands, restaurants, coffee shops, and banks. Along the waterfront in either direction are located many unique shops with antiquities, made-in-Tahiti products, music, and art.
Safari Into the Island's Interior Within the unpopulated and lush jungle-like interior of Tahiti Nui is an unspoiled world of towering waterfalls, deep flower-filled valleys, large lakes, and colossal green peaks rising over one mile above the valley floor. This hidden treasure of Tahiti is best explored by a guided 4X4 safari, breathtaking helicopter tour, or on a hiking trip led by a naturalist.
Golfing Tahiti's only course, the Oliver Breaud International Golf Course is located on the southern side of Tahiti Nui. This 6944-yard, par 72 course features two man-made lakes and sprawling fairways. Formerly a cotton plantation, the course was recently renovated and now includes a new clubhouse, driving range, pool, restaurant, pro shop, and tennis courts.
Hiking/Nature Tours Adventurous travelers will love the exciting guided tours that lead into rugged interior. Stops can include spectacular waterfalls and natural pools (some in which you can swim), mountain peaks with panoramic views, archeological sites , grottos, and lava tubes.
Diving The island of Tahiti is perfect for both beginning and advanced divers. Highlights include shallow waters, oceanic drop-offs, sunken ships and planes, bright coral walls, and schools of smaller species.
Bougainville Park In the heart of the waterfront area, visitors find a newly renovated and peaceful oasis. Crowned by a massive banyan tree, the park is named in honor of the French explorer and navigator, Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811) and features running streams and lush vegetation.
Botanical Garden Adjacent to the Gauguin Museum, this lush and manicured garden features hundreds of varieties of tropical trees, plants, and flowers including bamboo, bananas, palms, and hibiscus. The garden was originally planted by American botanist Harrison Smith who moved to Tahiti in 1919.
Point Venus At the tip of a beautiful peninsula lined with black-sand beaches, this area was the historic landing site of many of the early explorers including Captain Cook and Captain William Bligh. Tahiti's only lighthouse, built in 1867, stands within a park popular with locals for community events and festivals.
Other activities and sites in Papeete and around the island:
Deep sea fishing
Lagoon excursions on outrigger canoes or powerboats
Notre Dame Cathedral of Papeete
Papeete Town Hall
Drive to the Belvedere overlooking Papeete
4X4 Safari from Faa'a into the high mountains
Tomb of Queen Pomare V and Royal Family
Waterfalls and walking trails at Faarumai
Maraa Fern Grotto
Surfing sites at Teahupoo, Papara and Taapuna
Guided hike to the top of Mt. Aorai
Guided hiking trips into the remote Pari Region of Tahiti Iti
ISLAND TOUR - PAPEETE:
More than just an international point of arrival for the other fabulous nearby islands, Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, offers visitors numerous treasures: the colorful market, art and history museums, botanical and flower gardens, animated nightlife and cultural exhibitions such as the traditional “Heiva” (in July each year) which provides a lively change of scenery full of folklore, dancing, singing, colors and fragrances. The town has a distinct French flavour, there are exciting nightclubs, lovely cafes and the delightful nightly les roulettes takes over the waterfront car park overlooking the harbour where all types are food are cooked and served at make shift plastic tables. The huge traditional market, which is the main tourist interest, is located donwtown papeete and has a good selection of handicrafts from around the islands, perfumes, oils, flowers, island style clothes as well a few small restaurants upstairs serving fresh raw tuna. On the mountain side, the Fare Rau Hape road brings the visitor to the Belvédère restaurant, over 600m (1,700 ft) high in altitude, where the panoramic view of Papeete and its surroundings is breath-taking, with the island of Moorea in the background. This is the starting point for hikers to climb Mt. Aorai, a sport oriented excursion to over 2000 m (6,500 ft) in altitude, to truly discover the heart of the island.
The NORTH/EAST COAST:
The north coast of Tahiti has the islands' best mountain scenery and a few noteworthy scenic attractions. Here too are several picturesque black sand beaches with excellent surfing, for example Papenoo’s waves, dear to surfers, mingle with the cold Papenoo river waters and the black sand of the beach. All along the road, you can stop to admire the boldness and dexterity of the local young surfers. The closest beach on the North Coast to Papeete is Point Venus, a stunning lookout over tranquil Matavai Bay which has excellent swimming (black sand beach) - you can sometimes spot dolphins in the water. At Arahoho Blowhole a road leads a few km inland to the three waterfalls of Faarumai. It takes only a five-minte walk to go admire the first of these waterfalls. Nevertheless, it takes a good half hour and hiking boots to reach the other two waterfalls located at the bottom of the valley. But the detour is worth the view: an impressive hike amid luscious and wild nature. The trail is well maintained and the walk can be done without any difficulties. Twenty kilometres before reaching Papeete, the inland road from Papenoo offers lovely mountain scenery and is the venue for several 4WD day tours, walking tours and horse back excursions. Not far from the heart of Tahiti, in the middle of the mountains, the Relais de la Maroto invites you to take a leisurely break. You can even spend the night there, as the lodge has 20 rooms, and do not miss its incredible wine cellar, known all over Polynesia. If you follow the road you'll reach the East side of Tahiti, this part of the island have little tourism interests, except for the preserved authenticity and a charmthat is not deprived of nostalgia. At the end of this picturesque road (and also at the South East end of the island) we'll find the village of Tautira which remains an authentic village, unlike those driven through all along the circle island road. The black sand beach at the entrance of the village is one of the most beautiful in Tahiti. You can swim there without danger, even though there is no reef in that spot.
The WEST/SOUTH COAST:
Staring from Papeete, you'll find almost next to it the international Airport of Tahiti Faa'a, and you'll have to drive few kilometers after to reach the most accessible beach on Tahiti which is along the south west coast at Punaauia where the fine white sand makes a picturesque setting looking down the coast and over to Moorea Island. At the northern end of the beach is the grand Le Meridien Hotel. Next to it you'll discover the beautiful land of Pointe des Pêcheurs, at PK 14.6, where you find the Museum of Tahiti and her Islands, essentially dedicated to Polynesian history and culture. Heading South, you'll arrive to the Maraa Grottos before reaching PAEA village. It is at PK 28.7, behind a well planned parking lot, bordered with well maintained gardens, that the Paroa underwater grotto, the largest grotto opens. It is said that there are half a dozen adjacent underwater grottos and many legends enchant the place. The gardens show an abundance of local plants pleasantly aligned in the alleys. Across the road, the lagoon, large et rich in fishes, offers a splendid panorama to its admirers. Going South again and you'll reach, just beyond the bustle of Paea Village, a beautifully reconstructed marae at Arahurahu, a must see, which makes for the spectacular setting for several cultural performances. Slightly after the marae we'll find the golf course of Tahiti and just after it the town of Papara, and his large white sand beach, popular surfing spot, which is one of the privileged meeting place for the city youth. Be aware that swimming is possible, but relatively dangerous because of unexpected currents and stones moved around by the surf, which may cause some painful and durable bruises! Next Village will be Papeari, home of the Gauguin Museum and the Botanical Garden. The museum includes several rooms dedicated to the life of the famous painter. Only a very few of Paul Gauguin's original pieces are seen here, but the visitor will get acquainted with his life in Polynesia, the Polynesia he loved above everything else and helped him to sublimate his art. The Botanical Garden was create early in the 20th century by Harrison Smith, an American adventurer and an ecologist before its time. An impressive collection of tropical specimens are offered to the visitors, under the eyes of two Galapagos tortoises. A mandatory stop, rendered even more enticing by the nearby presence of one of the best gastronomic restaurant, the Gauguin Museum Restaurant. You'll then reach the peninsula's West Coast, where white sand beaches and magnificent scenery await you there. Even the islanders will seem different from those in the rest of the island. The local people "go down" to Papeete only once a year... Needless to say, nobody here has been contaminated by the "progress" virus. The circle island road comes to an end in Teahupoo, in the middle of flowery gardens. Off shore, for experienced surfing afficionados, the reef offers one of the best spots in the world with gigantic waves in some seasons. The road comes to an end here. Further, is the famous Pari coast, in the heart of the Fenua Aihere untouched and wonderful, only accessible by sea.
Family Time on Tahiti
Tahiti offers a world of adventure for families and for children of all ages! Whether here for a day or a week, the urban and island environment provides a unique blend of accommodations and activities designed for family fun and enrichment.
Popular family activities include:
- Large swimming pools- many with sand bottoms- at the resorts with fountains and waterfalls.
- White- and black- sand beaches with calm and shallow snorkeling.
- Family-sized 4X4 excursion vehicles for half-and full-day expeditions into the lush interior for exploration and a picnic under a waterfall.
- Guided hiking and boating excursions with a naturalist who provides a close up study of the bird, plant, and marine life.
- Tours of the museums and points-of-interest around the island with exhibits of interest for the whole family about geology, art, history, and exploration.
- Regular performances of music, sport, and dance featuring local children.
- Nightly outings to the Papeete waterfront where the roulottes offer a fun way to enjoy food and dessert along with local families and their children.
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