This is the largest of the Windward Islands in French Polynesia, some 45 km (28 mi) long with an area of 1.050 sq km (405 sq mi). Tahiti’s inhabitants are French citizens but enjoy considerable autonomy. The island consists of two oval portions, one large (Tahiti Nui) and one small (Tahiti Iti), connected by an isthmus. The capital, Papeete, is on heavily populated Tahiti Nui, which has quite good infrastructure, with Le Truk public buses offering an excellent and affordable way of getting around. But Tahiti Iti is less well developed, with its remote southeastern half accessible only by boat or on jungle-booted feet. Much of the island is covered in lush rainforest and the heavy scent of tropical flowers is everywhere. The national flower is the Tiare, a gardenia that forms the basis of traditional lei necklaces.
Although many visitors stop only long enough to catch onward flights to the popular islands of Bora Bora and Moorea, Tahiti itself has a lot to offer. The very name is enough to conjure up thoughts of an earthly paradise with a delightful climate, where palm-fringed beaches are lapped by aquamarine sea and handsome islanders extend the warmest of welcomes. It’s all true!
Start at Papeete, a fascinating metropolis with a colourful morning market and bustling waterfront. But Tahiti is really an outdoor destination. It offers a wide choice of places to stay, from high-end beachfront resorts to hotels, motels, backpacker hostels and campsites. For those who want more from a holiday than sun, sea and sand, Tahiti offers endless possibilities – diving, snorkelling, wind surfing, sailing, game fishing, reef watching in glass-bottomed boats, horse riding, trekking, 4×4 expeditions into the interior… whatever takes your fancy, this magical ‘Island of Love’ will surely oblige.
Population: 170.000 (2002)
When to go: It’s warm all year round, but very wet, humid and stormy between November and April. If that doesn’t appeal, be prepared to pay premium prices from May to October.
How to get there: Fly in to Faa’a Airport, served by several international carriers.
Highlights: Papeete’s two-week Heiva Festival in July, celebrating the rather odd combination of Polynesian culture and Bastille Day (book your trip early if you want to be there).
For those with time and money to spare – a cruise to the distant Marquesas islands on the passenger-carrying freighter Aranui.
The three Faarumai waterfalls – one of them is among the highest in French Polynesia.
Tahiti’s longest bridge, crossing its longest river, at the end of its largest valley, by one if its largest rural villages – all called Papenoo.
You should know:
The great but penniless Post-Impressionist French painter Paul Gauguin relocated to Tahiti in the 1890s and painted many Polynesian subjects. There is a small Gauguin museum on the island.