Tahiti - a quick guide to a dream destination

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If simply the idea of Tahiti hasn’t already seduced you, the volcanic island peaks standing watch over tranquil lagoons and coral seas busy with tropical fish should certainly convince you when you arrive. 

Whether you want to explore everything the tropical island paradise offers or simply relax in picture-perfect surroundings, a trip to Tahiti really is a trip of a lifetime.

If you’re a lover of island life, French Polynesia ticks a lot of boxes. In fact it was probably the place that inspired said boxes. Mystical and lively Polynesian culture, the friendly and welcoming people, warm, sparkling and perfectly clear water, coral reefs teeming with fish, and fresh and French-influenced cuisine, all in a stunningly beautiful and peaceful setting takes some beating. Factor-in being a French Overseas Territory, and French Polynesia also offers decent infrastructure, a strong cultural scene and some amazing bread. What’s not to love?

Getting there
Getting to the 118-island nation of French Polynesia, which covers an area of the south Pacific the size of Europe, is a commitment, with flights from Auckland and Los Angeles taking 5 hours and 8.5 hours respectively. While that might seem too long a journey for some, it can be seen as the price you pay for a visit to paradise. Certainly, the excitement and anticipation among passengers on Air Tahiti is palpable. Being off the beaten path is part of French Polynesia’s charm, and what makes it the tropical paradise it is.

The islands
Tahiti
Tahiti is the main island of the Society Islands archipelago, and of the 118 island nation of French Polynesia, which covers an area of the south Pacific the size of Europe. As the gateway travellers commonly spend a night on Tahiti around arrival or departure. While travellers are often recommended to avoid dedicating too much time to the gateway of island nations, it is interesting to have a quick look at the heart of a place. Papeete’s market makes a great morning excursion before heading off to the outer islands.

Moorea
Nearby Moorea is only a short ferry-ride away, but it is amazing how far the ferry really seems to take you. Far from the administrative bustle of Tahiti, Moorea is the palm-fringed destination you see in the photos.

Bora Bora
Synonymous with island paradise, volcanic Mount Otemanu rises majestically from Bora Bora, which is surrounded by a fringing reef, creating a pristine blue lagoon. If you are looking for tranquil turquoise waters to explore snorkelling, and a little bit of island luxury, Bora Bora is the place.

Tuamotus
Enjoying a castaway vibe and what might be the most pristine marine environment available to divers, the 77 Tuamotu atolls are French Polynesia’s worst-kept secret among scuba divers. Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass puts divers face to face with an abundance of marine life including sharks and manta rays. Fakarava is a UNESCO-classified nature reserve, and when encounters with dolphins, rays and turtles are common, it is no wonder divers return. The Tuamotus are also home to black pearl farms, ancient temples and even a 19th century coral church in the main village of Rotoava.

Marquesas Islands
Beyond the Tuamotus, and one of the most remote group of islands in the world, the 15 mountainous Marquesas Islands are an untouched wilderness where huge cliffs drop away into the sea. Visitors can really get back to nature in the mist-laden mountains and valleys of Nuku Hiva, see the dramatic landscape that inspired artist Gauguin on Hiva Oa, the island where he spent his final years and is buried, and explore Tahuata’s history.


Snorkelling with reef fish, Tahiti, French Polynesia


What to experience

  • Scuba diving and snorkelling
The reefs of French Polynesia offer world-class diving and snorkeling. Whether diving in Bora Bora lagoon or off the reefs of Fakarava, divers are greeted by sharks, rays, turtles, fish, and a plethora of smaller critters. Between July and November it is also possible to see whales.

  • Indulge yourself in a Polynesian Spa
Polynesian spas, while not inexpensive, are also a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most hotels have an on-site spa, often in a spectacular setting either over the water or with incredible views. The local coconut oil based ‘monoi’ oil used will forever be a scent that transports you to relaxation. You can buy some to keep that memory alive back home too.

  • Gourmet French-influenced tropical cuisine
Local ingredients fuse with French culinary inspiration to produce delicate flavours and tasty meals. Try the poisson cru (lime-marinated tuna served in coconut milk, and often with different flavours such as pineapple) and the simply-named ‘Tahitian Rum’, which is delicately infused with vanilla, and has Gauguin figures on the labels. It comes as no surprise that French pastries, baguettes and cheese are also very good.

  • Treat yourself
Black pearls are the ultimate luxury Tahitian souvenir. Visit a reputable dealer if you plan to spend a significant amount, but also to learn about the pearls. Cheaper pearls can be purchased at the markets, but tend to have significant imperfections. CDs of lilting Polynesian melodies make great souvenirs. The tiare-scented coconut oil-based monoi oil can be purchased in supermarkets as well as souvenir shops. It solidifies in cool climates, but gentle warming will return it to liquid. Locally produced dried vanilla beans travel well. They have a very delicate flavour and keep well in an airtight container.