The beauty of the islands is in a class of it’s own; high mountain peaks raising out of crystal clear waters, lagoons of a thousand shades of blues, fiery sunsets, lush foliage, delightful smells emanating from exotic flowers, and the enthralling beat of Tahiti’s dance the Tamure all contribute to making this one of the most romantic places in the world!
At sundown, we could hear the blow of the conch shell, as in a way to salute the end of a glorious day and to welcome the evening and as darkness sets in, the sounds of rhythmic drums starts and the show begins. Our evenings were spent watching traditional Polynesian dances including the Tamure and Warrior Fire Dance, which are sure to captivate all who are presents.
French Polynesia is an overseas territory of France with 118 islands and atolls scattered over an area of 4,167 km2 (1609 sq mi) divided into 5 archipelagos: the Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Society and Tuamotu. It’s located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean about halfway in between Australia and America, and 4500km (2800 miles) south of Hawaii. More than half of French Polynesia’s population lives on the largest island, Tahiti in the Society Islands.
Papeete, the capital, has a French flair with excellent restaurants, cafés and pastry shops selling delicious croissants. It’s also a good place to do some shopping. Our favorite was the crafts market next to the cruise port but many stores sell fashionable apparel too.
Many visit the capital before sailing away onto new horizons but Tahiti has a lot more to offer and spending a few days before or after a cruise is a great idea. Perhaps, splurging and staying in an overwater bungalow might make the experience even more special but this isn’t a cheap option.
More affordable accommodations are available but keep in mind that visiting this magical place can come with a hefty price tag.
TIP: We found that taking a cruise was much more economical than staying put on one island or visiting multiple islands by air or ferry.
Many of Tahiti’s main attractions are located around the belt road and easy to get to. Taking an island tour would be fun but renting a car will give you more freedom, just be sure to take car insurance in case of car troubles. Some highlights include black sand beaches, blowholes, waterfalls and breathtaking views.
Day trip around Tahiti Nui starting in Papeete driving clockwise
- The Tomb of King Pomare V was originally built for Queen Pomare IV but her son had her remains removed when he decided he wanted it for himself. He was the last of Tahiti’s monarchy, after abdicating the throne in 1880 making Tahiti a French colony.
- Stopping at One Tree Hill will reward you with an amazing view of Matavai Bay and Lafayette black sand beach down below. Many early explorers (among them Cook, Blight and Wallis) hankered in this bay.
- The Point Venus Lighthouse is located on the most northern peninsula of Tahiti, which is also the site of Captain Cook’s observation of Venus’ transit over the sun.
- The north coast offers excellent surfing conditions that are probably best reserved for the experts. The coastline is favorable for the natural creation of blowholes from which the strong surf pushes water up through a hole in a Geyser-like way. The Arahoho Blowhole is within easy access with parking and a viewing platform.
- Nearby there is a small road that leads to the picturesque Cascades de Faarumai and at the end of the road there is the Vamahutu Falls.
- Further out the Faatautia Valley and the mountains of Tahiti Iti reward its onlookers with picturesque scenery. (Our time did not permit exploring Tahiti Iti, perhaps next time…)
- Next stop, the Gaugin Museum where the famous artist’s life on the islands is depicted and some of his art displayed, although most are reproductions. The museum is located on the grounds of the Harrison W. Smith Botanical Garden, which is worth a visit.
- Along the western coast, the surf is more gentle; some stop at the Maraa Grotto (also known as the Paroa Cave) for a swim.
- The Arahurahu Marae is an ancient temple complete with sacrificial platforms where offerings, including human sacrifices, where placed. To get to this holy site, one must drive inland and our time didn’t permit a visit. Luckily we had visited other similar temples on others islands during our cruise.
- Unfortunately, we started to have trouble with our rental car and wanted to make it back to the rental place in Papeete, so we missed out on the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands. This museum depicts the story of islands of Tahiti; it also offers an excellent view of her sister island, Moorea.
- On the way back to Papeete, we drove by the Lagoonarium where visitors can admire rays, sharks and a variety of fish.
We were staying at the Intercontinental located on Tataa Point, which is a sacred place to Polynesians. They believed that the souls of the dead would return to the land where their ancestors first arrived.
Some cruises are round trip from Papeete and adding a few days before or after to this heavenly island will not disappoint. We hope one day to be lucky enough to return to this enchanting place!