A name synonymous with tropical relaxation, Tahiti is the busy hub of French Polynesia, located 160 mi southeast of Bora Bora. Most of the activity is centered around the city of Papeete (pronounced pah-pay-EH-tay). It's the part of the island most visitors see, if only in passing. I recommend you stick around in Papeete for at least a two-night stay. This exciting city has many flashy boutiques, a colorful local market, a black pearl museum and active nightlife. As the only real city in French Polynesia, Papeete can teach you a lot about life in the South Pacific. And although you will experience some traffic jams and noise, it's relatively clean, safe and efficient for a tropical city.
The capital of French Polynesia, Papeete, is located on the island of Tahiti and is the only busy city on the island chain. Traffic can be bad because of the small roads, and while the city itself has a sprinkling of charm, it is not a tropical paradise or a major tourism center. Most visitors to the island of Tahiti arrive via cruise ship or airline into Faa'a International Airport in Papeete.
If you have the time to venture out of Papeete, we suggest you head out along the north shore of the island. Make a stop at Point Venus, on the outskirts of Papeete. Matavai Bay, which is enclosed by the point, was used as an anchorage by many of the early European ships to reach Tahiti. The black-sand beach near the point is a popular seaside destination.
Farther east is the Arahoho Blowhole, where water from incoming waves explode through a hole in the rocks. A little past the blowhole is the turnoff for the Trois Cascade (three waterfalls), which is a short walk from the parking area.
If you continue along the 75-mi coastal road, you'll reach the town of Taravao, where the two portions of the island meet.
There, you can choose to head along the north coast of Tahiti Iti toward Tautira or along the south coast to the surfing town of Teahupoo. Both these roads end in a dead end, and the eastern portion of Tahiti Iti can be reached only by boat or on foot.
Turning west along the south coast of Tahiti Nui, you'll soon reach the Gauguin Museum, which details the artist's life and has some reproductions of his work. The wonderful Harrison Smith Botanical Garden is right next door to the museum.
From there, the road circles back toward Papeete. About 9 mi from the city, you'll reach the Museum of Tahiti and its Islands, which has good historical and cultural displays.
Most Papeete restaurants can be classified as either Asian, French or Italian, while the city's pubs and cafes serve mostly French dishes. To sample traditional Polynesian cuisine, you should attend an island night at a large resort where a buffet dominated by seafood, pork and local vegetables comes with Tahitian dancing. Similar fare on a more modest scale is obtained by ordering maa'a Tahiti at the restaurant upstairs in the market or on a nearby street.
Sights—Papeete Municipal Market.
Museums—The Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands in Punaauia on Tahiti; the Gauguin Museum on the south coast of Tahiti; the James Norman Hall Home in the Papeete suburb of Arue; lessons in pearling at the Robert Wan Pearl Museum in Papeete.
Late Night—Cut loose with the locals on a dance floor on Papeete's waterfront.
Walks—A tour of the Harrison W. Smith Botanical Gardens; a guided hike through the mountains and valleys of Tahiti.
Start with a walk along the harbor. Just a few blocks inland is the Papeete Market, which is a must-see. Catering to both tourists and residents, it includes handicrafts, flowers and fresh-food items. There's lots of local color—people sitting on the floor making flower leis, tables full of brilliantly colored fish, and locals drinking Hinano beer in the upstairs bar and restaurant. The crafts are largely souvenir grade, but it's a good place to pick up small knickknacks and woven-pandanus items.
For pricier fare, you'll find galleries, pearl shops and designer-clothing stores on nearby blocks, especially near Vaima Centre.
Tahiti has something of an hourglass shape with a larger portion (Tahiti Nui—where Papeete is located) and a smaller one (Tahiti Iti). Mountains soar to 7,352 ft in central Tahiti Nui and to 4,430 ft on Tahiti Iti.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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