Tahiti! Just the name rings of romance. It conjures up images of palm trees, white sand beaches, voluptuous maidens and tattooed warriors ,and jagged volcanic peaks reaching into the sky. Tahiti is every westerner’s dream destination for the exotic vacation of a lifetime. Too bad the reality is somewhat different.
At one time Tahiti (long ago) was a sparsely inhabited tropical island comprised of little native villages. That was a century ago. Today the capital of Papeete (PAPPY-et-ay) is an urban sprawl, the narrow roads are jam packed with traffic, and few tourists stay long enough to explore the island. Most people head for outlying islands, like Moorea not far away, or the Tuamoto Archipelago further away. You should too. If you want personal directions, ask your Flight Centre representative. Chances are they have inside knowledge. Hey, they might know of some good resorts and beaches on the island of Tahiti too.
Should you wish to actually circumnavigate the island of Tahiti, I’m pleased to be your guide. First off, you land at F’aaa airport, south of Papeete. Save yourself the trouble and don’t bother going into town. There are several nice resorts near the airport. Book one there. Probably they will have a swimming pool, and since you are facing west you can see the beautiful island of Moorea in the distance. There may be some beaches, but I don’t know of any. I stayed at the Manava Suites Resort, which was very nice. Good swimming pool and beach access.
Book a car and driver in advance. Don’t forget to mention that the driver must speak English. French is the dominant language here. The French, being French, don’t like to post English signs or translations. French Polynesia is a French colony, and few people speak English. Drive south, stopping first at Musee de Tahiti et des Isles (Museum of Tahiti and the Islands). Great air conditioning, and an even better history of the islands. Polynesians were headhunters, warriors and killers. The Tahitians were the mellowest of the bunch, but still not so nice. When I went to the museum, there was no one there. People don’t go to Tahiti for museums, but history puts events into perspective. You really need to know and understand the history of Tahiti pre European contact.
My guide really knew her stuff and understood what I wanted to see. So, next stop was Marae Arahurahu, a religious site like a temple, built of stones. Storyboards, some in English, explain the battles, killings, ceremonies and other nasty goings on before European contact and everybody became nice. Few tourists know of this mandatory destination, it seems.
Heading south, the road turns east. If you ask, your guide will take you to Grotte de Maraa, an extensive grotto or cave system in which you can swim, if you know what you are doing. Be aware that traffic everywhere on the island is often bumper-to-bumper, especially during school hours. You’ll pass a golf course, the only one on the island. Then the Paul Gauguin Museum, now closed. It’s too far for tourists from Papeete to drive down here, given the slow traffic. There are unpaved roads or tracks into the interior, steeply uphill, but you would need an expert local guide to explore any. Flight Centre might be able to help you with that.
The road then turns north, passing through the unattractive town of Taravao, a suburban sprawl, and then heads west, back towards Papeete. If you have a good guide, they may point out some beaches, and there are some parks with waterfalls. Overall, the view is great but there are no tourist attractions on this shore. If you know to ask (now you do) there is an unpaved road that leads into the interior of the island. The closer you get to the volcanic mountains, the less attractive they look, and there are lots of flies. Very few tourists ever come this way, but I understand there is a hotel at the top.
Arriving back in Papeete, you are disconcerted by how unattractive the city looks. It’s a jumble. Traffic is always bumper-to-bumper. There are no tourist attractions in Papeete. There is a public market and a bit of park near the waterfront. Now you know why most tourists land at the airport, stay at a resort near there, or take off again to more exotic offshore destinations.
Like nearby Moorea. You can see the island from Papeete, off to the west. What you need to do is take the ferry there. First, select and book your resort. (Probably you did this at home already.) They will come and pick you up at the ferry terminal on Moorea. Or, if you prefer, you can book a rental car and circumnavigate the island counter clockwise. However, like Tahiti, there aren’t that many tourist attractions to see.
It’s a nice drive around the island, but there are no towns or tourist sites. Half way around the island you’ll find Tiki Village, where feasts are held on certain nights. They have a gift shop too and some tourist attracions. It’s not until you finally get to the north shore where you will find nice hotels, especially the thatched over-the-water huts that were invented by American hotel operators and have become synonymous with Polynesia. The Hilton is a lovely resort, and there’s the Moorea Pearl Resort. There are a few others, but basically you will find that the northeastern shores of Moorea are a suburb of Papeete, without the crowds. Best to drive straight from the ferry to your north shore hotel.
For a true Polynesian experience, you may want to fly to Bora Bora or the Tuamoto Archipelago, which has great scuba diving. Tahiti is expensive, little English is spoken, and the attractions are limited. If you go, enjoy the beach and the great views. The scenery is terrific. For a better list of activities, check with your Flight Centre representative. I was only there a few days and it’s hard to get a grasp on a destination in such a short time. Bring a significant other! Love is in the air! A great destination for a honeymoon.