The Best of Tahiti
Tahiti, which refers to the largest island in French Polynesia and her 118 sister islands,
draws visitors from around the globe attracted to her natural beauty, rich culture and sensory delights. Think silken sand beaches, swaying palms, turquoise lagoons, tropical foliage, coconuts, pineapples and friendly people.
The rhythm of life is slow and relaxed in this land of smiles and song. You can take the time to just “be.” I received my first taste of Polynesian hospitality as islanders welcomed me with leis of tiare flowers, Tahiti’s signature gardenia. The locals, both men and women, love to wear floral adornments in their hair, around their necks or on top of their heads as a wreath.
My breakfast tray of tropical fruit was decorated with orchids. After a lunch of the famous poisson cru, fresh fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk, I headed to the spa where a delicious soak with frangipanis was followed by a Tahitian vanilla massage. Evenings, I fell asleep amid rose petals sprinkled on my bed. Welcome to Tahiti.
Although some consider Tahiti to be a stopover for heading to the outer islands, its many worthwhile attractions could easily entice a longer stay. Take a leisurely car ride around the island and experience the magic. An untamed landscape of black sand beaches, cascading waterfalls, soaring mountains, deep valleys and even archaeological sites with sacred petroglyphs await. Perhaps stop for some quiet time by the beach at Tahiti Iti. Aqua enthusiasts can surf, snorkel, dive, whale and dolphin watch, swim in grottos, canoe and kayak.
In The Capital City, Papeete
Papeete, the small, lively capital, with its bustling streets and harbor is best explored on foot. Colorful Marché de Papeete, the market where the locals shop, features Tahitian collectibles such as monoi oil, vanilla beans and vivid pareos. Stop at The Robert Wan Pearl Museum for some fascinating history and a peek at the world’s largest Tahitian pearl. The waterfront promenade comes alive at night with popular food trucks known as Les Roulottese and musicians strumming ukuleles and crooning Polynesian songs at Vai’ete Square.
If you visit in July, you’ll catch French Polynesia’s most exciting event, ‘Heiva.’ This month long festival features lavish dance competitions with singing and live music that culminates in eye popping shows with up to 100 dancers. The extravaganza also features traditional sporting events based on ancient athletic activities including thrilling competitions in stone lifting, outrigger canoe races, palm tree climbing and javelin throwing. In 2022, the festival will be held from July 4-22.
Performances have always been integral to Polynesian culture. At Heiva, the remarkable dancers who are telling stories with their body movements are the main attraction. In olden times, the dance was considered a high art form and was an integral part of religious and political ceremonies. Heiva celebrations take place at To’ata Square on Papeete’s waterfront as well as in Bora Bora and Raiatea. This festival is great for the whole family. It’s exciting, rich in culture, tradition and makes for great photo ops.
As to the resorts, the luxe Intercontinental Tahiti Resort & Spa houses the largest water sports center in Tahiti and offers a buffet dinner of Polynesian specialties along with Les Grand Ballet’s outstanding Tahitian dances at Tiare. The latest addition to the island is the 5-Star Hilton Tahiti that debuted last November.
Bora Bora, just a short flight away, spellbinds. Many including James Michener who wrote Tales of the South Pacific, called it “the most beautiful island in the world.” Pristine beaches rim a lagoon of opalescent blues and greens, with coral gardens, brilliant tropical fish and palm-crowned inlets. Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu soar over the verdant landscape.
Ultra luxurious hotels such as The Four Seasons and St. Regis create a cushy, tropical oasis with swanky over water bungalows, pampering spas and tantalizing cuisine. Visitors can explore Vaitape (Bora Bora’s quaint town), hike and more. Many, however, choose to lounge in the privacy of their idyllic hideaway, gazing at the vast expanse of the blue Pacific.
Thirty miles north of the island of Tahiti, the private atoll ‘Tetiaroa’ enchants with talcum powder beaches, pristine nature and gorgeous water brimming with marine life. Marlon Brando was so captivated with this former favorite retreat of Tahitian royalty, he bought it along with its 12 motus (islets). The Brando, the namesake 5-star lush eco resort the famed actor envisioned, opened July 2014, exactly 10 years after his death. Guests enjoy nature’s splendor in this exotic sanctuary with its jewel-like lagoon, bird sanctuary, primitive rainforest and secluded villas with their own private beach.