Imagine an island paradise and you picture Tahiti.
The largest of French Polynesia’s 118 islands and atolls, Tahiti is the stuff of guidebook dreams: lush jungles, sparkling lagoons, jagged volcanic peaks, powder-soft sand, technicolor reefs, 5-star resorts, laid-back locals, world-class surfing, and all the rejuvenating ocean breeze your harried soul can handle.
Yet despite its considerable charms, travellers often pass over the island in favour of its flashier neighbour, Bora Bora, a favourite for celebrities and honeymooners hankering for luxe overwater bungalow life.
Those who buck the trend and opt for Tahiti holidays experience a different kind of magic: a not-so hidden gem that is somehow still sort of hidden.
Ready to start packing and planning? Here’s the one thing you have to do on your Tahiti holiday if…
You Want An Adventure
Hit the trails. Tahiti is more than beachy island life. Inland, its rugged landscape of mountains, valleys, and waterfalls beckons to explored. 4WD tours ferry visitors through the majestic Papenoo Valley, with stops at viewpoints, swimming holes, archeological sites, and Lake Vaihiria. Those who prefer to explore on foot can hike the Fautaua Valley trail or hire a guide to lead them through the mysterious Hitiaa lava tubes. Canyoneering, horseback riding, and quad bike tours are also available.
You’re Into Culture
Attend Heiva I Tahiti. Music and dance are deeply entwined with life on the island. Traditional Tahitian dance can be experienced at many schools in the capital of Papeete or hotel dinner shows, but the best way to immerse yourself in this vibrant culture is Heiva I Tahiti. The annual festival of traditional Polynesian culture takes place for a week each July and includes music, dancing, singing, and sports. Think of it as Tahiti’s answer to Rio’s Carnival or Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
You’re A Beach Bum
Hang ten. Surfing in Tahiti isn’t just good – it’s some of the best (and most treacherous) in the world. The island offers surf schools for beginners, but Tahiti is really an expert’s playground. The ultimate place to test your mettle is Teahupoʻo, a break so vicious it’s often called “the most dangerous wave in the world.” The swells often hit 2 to 3 m (6.6 to 9.8 ft), and sometimes stretch up to 7 m (23 ft), and are the site of the annual Billabong Pro Tahiti surf competition.
You Want To Live Like A Local
Get a tattoo. Tattooing has been practised in the Polynesian islands for centuries. In fact, the indigenous languages of the islands are the origin of the English word “tattoo.” Tattoos carried deep significance to ancient Polynesian peoples, often delineating social status, marking rites of passage, and honouring heroic acts. The art form was forced into decline when Western missionaries landed in the islands in the 19th century, but Polynesian tattoo artists reclaimed their status in the 20th century and today maintain their vital link to their culture’s history.
You Live For Luxury
Book at The Brando. If it was good enough for Marlon, it’s damn sure good enough for you. The Hollywood legend bought Tetiaroa, once a favoured retreat for Tahitian royalty, after falling in love with it while working on Mutiny on the Bounty in 1960. It’s now home to a fancy-pants resort of eco-friendly villas accessible only by private plane. Technically it’s not on the island of Tahiti itself, but we’ll give it a pass for overwhelming wow factor.
You’re A Foodie
Try poisson cru. Poisson cru (literally, “raw fish”) is the dish of the French Polynesian islands. Similar to Latin ceviche, it consists of raw fish marinated in citrus juice and coconut milk, then mixed with diced vegetables. Tahiti has also succumbed to the food truck craze. Here they are known as roulottes and serve up everything from Chinese cuisine to French fare. You’ll find them lining the docks and luring locals in Papeete.
You’re A Sightseer
Hit the exhibits. Tahiti is home to several museums for visitors who prefer traditional tourist pastimes. The Musée de Tahiti et des Îles is divided into four sections – geography and natural history, pre-European culture, the European era, outdoor exhibits – and is an ideal spot to educate yourself on Polynesian artifacts and cultural practices. Other options are the Robert Wan Pearl Museum, the Paul Gauguin Museum, and Le Lagoonarium.
You Want A Souvenir
Explore Le Marche. Papeete’s bustling local marketplace is in many ways the heart of the city. The ground floor is occupied by vendors hawking produce, scented soaps, monoi oil, baked goods, traditional costumes, fresh fish, flowers, and shell necklaces. Upstairs is dedicated to artisans who sell handicrafts like quilts, carvings, and woven baskets. If you’re willing to shell out, Tahiti’s most coveted souvenir is a unique and rare black pearl.
You’re Into History Lessons
Visit Point Venus. When James Cook arrived in Tahiti in 1769 to conduct astronomical observations, he promptly founded Fort Venus. The crew of the infamous Bounty also landed here in 1788, as did the first members of the London Missionary Society, who arrived in 1797. Today Point Venus is home to a picturesque Victorian-era lighthouse (the only one on the island) and a picnic-ready park with spectacular coastal views. The nearby beach is popular with low-key surfers who aren’t looking to defy death on Teahupoʻo.