An island of stunning natural beauty, Tahiti is a gateway to cruises of French Polynesia and the rest of the South Pacific. Tahiti is often the starting point for cruises that call on island destinations like Bora Bora, Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands and more.
The island is formed by two volcanic peaks connected by a slender isthmus. The northern portion is Tahiti Nui (“big Tahiti”) and the southern is Tahiti Iti (“small Tahiti”). Tahiti Nui includes the port of Papeete, which feels like a bit of Paris transported to the South Pacific. You’ll find charming sidewalk cafés along the main boulevard, a bustling market, and chic boutiques selling wines, crafts and the famous Tahitian black pearls. Before you buy, you may want to educate yourself by visiting the Robert Wan Pearl museum, dedicated to one jewel – the pearl, of course.
Tahiti is more sparsely populated, and a drive along the coastal road offers views of waterfalls, caves and archeological sites where you can see petroglyphs and the remains of sacred temples.
Everywhere you go on Tahiti, you’ll see the gorgeous views that inspired artists and writers like Paul Gaugin and James Norman Hall, author of Mutiny on the Bounty. There are a variety of beaches to enjoy, some covered with soft black volcanic sand.
Dining in Tahiti is a delight, with fresh seafood often prepared with French flair. Choose a romantic fine-dining restaurant beside the water, or visit one of Papeete’s food carts for a serving of the Tahitian specialty poisson
cru – raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk. Papeete has a lively nightlife scene, and you may be lucky enough to see the famous otea, the classic Tahitian dance that features fast hip-shaking to the rhythm of pounding drums.
The most popular cruise line in Tahiti is Paul Gauguin Cruises. They do year-round sailings of 7-days to 14 days.
Best Time to Go
July, August and September
The temperature is in the mid-80s and there’s little rain. It is comfortable weather for wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts. The evenings are a little cooler, but long pants or a light sweater will keep you comfortable.
For a stay of up to three months, citizens of Canada and the U.S. need a valid passport and proof of onward passage. Passports should be valid for at least six months after the date of entry.
The unit of currency in French Polynesia is the Cour de Franc Pacifique (CFP), referred to simply as ‘the franc’.
Do’s & Don’ts
Do expect most stores and businesses to close for an hour or two at midday and all day Sunday. Only a few larger grocery stores stay open through the day and on Sunday morning.
Don’t expect lots of gorgeous white-sand beaches. The coral reef that surrounds many of the popular islands prevents waves from crashing onto the shore—few waves mean few natural beaches but beautiful turquoise lagoons. Some resorts have trucked in their own sand to compensate. A trip to a sandy motu (isl et) offshore is another solution.
Do stop by the Club Bali Hai on Moorea for its weekly dance performances. The hotel and time-share development is owned by the remaining “Bali Hai Boys,” who helped pioneer the tourism industry in French Polynesia in the 1960s. There is no bar, but one of the boys shares colorful tales about the old days during happy hours daily except Wednesday from 5 pm.
Don’t be surprised to see some people in Papeete wearing the latest Parisian fashions while others sport the informal attire that’s the norm on most of the other islands—simple dresses and “aloha” shirts in tropical patterns. Flip-flops are by far the favorite footwear, often inexpensive models made of plastic.
Do ask about the operator’s policy on shark feeding if you plan to scuba dive or snorkel. Shark feeding is a common practice in French Polynesia, though some experts feel it’s unwise to make the animals dependent on handouts and to make them associate people with food. If you agree, or if you just don’t like the idea of being near hungry sharks, seek out an operator who doesn’t engage in feeding, though they can be hard to find on some islands.
Do be careful if you’re swimming near an offshore motu. At certain times, strong currents can be created that have the potential to sweep you out into the open sea.
Don’t be frightened if you find a gecko in your room (usually you’ll find more than one). They’re harmless unless you’re an insect, though their high-pitched “barking” can be a strange sound to wake up to.
Do invest in a pareu and experiment with a few of the many ways to wear it.
Don’t be afraid to try out a few words in Tahitian or brush up your rusty high school French. Tahitians are proud of their language, will appreciate any effort you make and won’t be critical of your mistakes.