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PAPEETE & THE ISLAND OF TAHITI

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InterContinental Tahiti, French Polynesia
© Can Stock Photo / Konstik

Tahiti is sometimes referred to as the Queen of the Pacific.  With over 125,000 inhabitants, it is the largest and most populated island of the Society Islands and French Polynesia.  The island of Tahiti is less than 30 mi (50 km) at its widest point.  Polynesians make up the majority of the population and though French is the official language, Tahitian is also commonly spoken.  Papeete is the capital of Tahiti and has the largest concentration of inhabitants on the island.  Some might suspect that the name Papeete is French because of the "ete" ending, but it is Tahitian and all three "e's" in the name are pronounced.  Famous visitors in the past include Captain Cook in 1769, Captain Bligh aboard the Bounty in 1778 and Charles Darwin aboard the HMS Beagle in 1835.  Today most visitors are usually celebrating a honeymoon or anniversary.  Tahiti's larger size makes is a center for tourism and resorts, but the smaller islands have basically the same features and attractions in a setting that has fewer tourists and fewer permanent inhabitants.  

Weather:

Expect very little variation in temperatures throughout the year.  Average highs will be about 85 F (30 C) and lows will average 75 F (23 C).  The rainy season extends from November to April.  Temperatures can be slightly higher during this period, because this area of French Polynesia is south of the equator.  June through October are the popular tourists months, because they are drier.  It can rain any time of year though and global warming influences of El Nino bring inconsistency to weather forecasting.  We think September is a good bet for the best month to visit Tahiti.

   

Transportation:

With the only major airport among the French Polynesian islands located a few miles from Papeete, Tahiti is the gateway for tourism in French Polynesia.  Flights from Faa'a Airport (PPT) connect on a regular basis to Los Angeles, Paris, Honolulu, Auckland, Tokyo, Easter Island and Noumea.  Air Tahiti Nui is the major international carrier and often affiliates with other airlines.  It's a 10-minute flight or a 30-minute ride by high-speed catamaran to MooreaBora Bora can be reached on a one hour flight.   Faa'a Airport (PPT) offers luggage storage on the main concourse, which is an excellent option for those waiting all day for the standard midnight flight to Los Angeles.  Store your baggage after leaving the hotel or cruise ship and spend the day in Papeete.  Take an airport / Papeete shuttle or a local bus, called Le Truck, since you won't have bags to bother with.  Le Truck fares are extremely low, but be prepared for irregular service schedules and no service after 5 pm.  Our favorite thing to do while waiting for a late night flight is to take a cab to the InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa for dinner.  This hotel is the best one on the island.  The ambience and views are fabulous.

InterContinental Tahiti, French Polynesia

Lagoon at the InterContinental Tahiti

For those with luggage, a taxi cab or an airport / Papeete shuttle are the best alternatives to reach downtown Papeete and the cruise terminal from the airport.  Cabs are fairly expensive.  In 2015 the entry price was $10 US before the mileage charge even started.  Car rentals are easy to obtain.  Tahiti is a large circular shaped land mass joined to a smaller one by a narrow section of land.  Tahiti Nui forms the larger circle.  Tahiti Iti is the smaller circular shaped land mass.  Tahiti Nui has a coastal paved road completely around it.  It includes Papeete.  The road is 72 miles (114 km) around Tahiti Nui and the trip is referred to as the Circle Island Tour when booking excursions.  Tahiti Iti has two coastal roads that are unable to meet to complete the full circuit.  If you rent a car, pay attention to your odometer, as all distances on the island are measured from Papeete in km that are labelled PK.  This can be confusing, as the circular nature of the road means there are two PK readings to consider at the far end of the island depending on whether you want to return clockwise or counter-clockwise.

InterContinental Tahiti, French Polynesia

InterContinental Tahiti

Attractions in Papeete and the Island of Tahiti:

Nearly all the things to see and do in Tahiti are located along the paved road that circles the island.  Many tour companies offer a Circle Island Tour or 4x4 adventures over the center of the island and up Mount Maru, where you can visit Polynesian temples and World War I sites.

  • Boulevard de la Reine Pomare IV rings the Papeete Harbour and provides a myriad of interesting sites, all within easy walking distance.  The Pearl Museum (Muse de la Perle), the Paofai Gardens, the Church of Paofai, Bougainville Park, the Stuart Hotel where Matisse painted the harbor, the Papeete Town Hall and the Papeete Market are located on the boulevard. The Bougainville Park area includes a statue of the Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a cannon from the gunboat Zealous from 1914, a cannon of the German privateer Seeadler, Queen Marau's bungalow, Gauguin's banyan tree, the Public square of Tarahoi with the bust of Pouvanaa a Opaa, General de Gaulle's monument, Pouvanaa Avenue, Pomare Queen's Bath, the Assembly of French Polynesia, the Tahitian Academy and the High Commissioner's Residence.  Vaima Center is located on the boulevard too, with its upscale shops, restaurants and cafes.  The Notre Dame Cathedral of Papeete (Cathedrale de l'Immaculee Conception) is located just behind the center, as is a fresco of the HMS Bounty honoring the author of Mutiny on the Bounty.

Outriggers with Moorea as a backdrop, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Outriggers with Moorea in the background

  • Take to the water.  Snorkel in a blue lagoon.  Look for turtles and numerous varieties of tropical fish.  Spend time at a white sand beach like Plage de Toaroto, which is great for snorkeling too.  Teahupoo is famous for surfing.  Locations not protected by lagoons sport black sand beaches, including the Tahiti Iti area and Venus Beach on the north coast.  Take a guided excursion to interact with sting rays and sharks - yes, participants get in the water with them.  Go sailing or ride in an outrigger canoe.  Look for dolphins and whales.  Enjoy a sunset cruise.  You can find tours at hotels or online options such as Tahiti Excursions or City Discovery.

Monument to the Bounty, Captain Bligh, Point Venus French Polynesia

Monument to the Bounty and Captain Bligh, Point Venus

  • Visit Point Venus off Matavai Bay.  It's the most northerly point of Tahiti.  In 1769 Captain Cook observed the transit of Venus here.  The point is not protected by the barrier reef that encircles much of the island, so it has a black sand beach.  The only lighthouse in Tahiti is located on the point.  Nearby there is a monument to the 1788 visit of the Bounty, including a plaque with the names of every crew member on it.  There is also a display commemorating the efforts of the London Missionary Society in the islands of the South Pacific.

Venus Point lawn bowling, Tahiti

Venus Point lawn bowling

  • The James Norman Hall Museum, where the author of Mutiny on the Bounty lived, is a few minutes from Papeete by vehicle, in Arue.

  • The Gauguin Museum - (Closed for reconstruction in 2015 with no projected reopening date) located in Papeari, where the painter's final years in Tahiti are documented, though with very few originals.  The museum is located beside the Harrison W. Smith Botanical Gardens.

  • Museum of Tahiti and her Islands (Muse de Tahiti et des iles) - located in Punaauia, with waterfront grounds and views to Moorea.

Papeete Market, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Papeete Market

  • Tiarei Arahoho Blow Hole (Trou du Souffleur) and Fa'aurumai Valley Waterfalls (Les Trois Cascades or Cascades de Faarumai).  It's about a 5 minute walk in to Vaimahutu and then another half hour to Haamaremare Iti and Haamaremare Rahi waterfalls.  In 2015 the blow hole was closed for tourist oriented construction and the waterfalls were closed to address dangerous road conditions.

  • Marae Arahurahu - a fully restored Polynesian ruin, plus the Tahiti'a Mai native dance performances and handicrafts.

  • Maraa Fern Grottoes - on the circle island road about 27 km (16 mi) from Papeete.  Grottoes include Vaipoiri, Mata Vaa, Paroa and Te Ana Tetea.

  • Get a Polynesian tattoo.

La Routlotte, Papeete, French Polynesia

La Routlotte, Papeete

Savor the Tastes of Tahiti:

  • Enjoy the food truck stalls serving meals nightly at La Routlotte on Place Vai'ete at the port.  The prices are a refreshing relief from the cost of dining at the waterfront resorts.  During the day, head a couple blocks inland to the vendors in the Papeete Market.

  • Have dinner at the fabulous setting of the InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa.  Enjoy poisson cru -  raw tuna in coconut milk.

  • Visit the Belvedere Restaurant high above Papeete.  The view of Tahiti and Moorea at sunset gets much better ratings than the dinner.  Transportation is available from several locations, tour companies and hotels in Papeete.  See also the Papeete restaurant list.

InterContinental Tahiti, French Polynesia

InterContinental Tahiti from the restaurant

Tahiti Tours:

Hotels in Tahiti:

Take That Vacation Recommendation:

InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa - Our recommendation is that if you only make one stop in Tahiti, it should be here.  

The InterContinental Tahiti's reputation as the best hotel on the island of Tahiti is warranted.  What makes it great is the setting and the way they building captializes on the view.  The restaurant is open air in a arch overlooking the infinity pool, the man-made lagoon and the waterfront bungalows.  This is all framed against an impressive backdrop of the island of Moorea.  Two floors above the restaurant is the reception area with a bar and extensive seating.  The view here is even more impressive than at the restaurant.

The pool and the lagoon are open 24 hours for swimming.  This is a refreshing change from Mexico, where the pools are closed in the evenings so they can host wedding receptions.  The man-made lagoon is stocked with numerous tropical fish. I've never seen such a great variety of fish that are so easy to access.  The lagoon isn't small and operates on real seawater.  Most of the fish like to congregate near and under the walkway to the lagoon's island.  There were picasso triggers, numerous butterfly fish, beautiful parrot fish, needle fish, chromis, many varities of tangs and many more. This is the best snorkel experience you will ever find in a five minute snorkel.

The overwater bungalow experience at the InterContinental Tahiti isn't as good as that provided by other islands such as Bora Bora or Moorea.  Save that experience for those islands and simply enjoy the pool, the lagoon, the restaurant and the views at the InterContinental Tahiti.  It's a stop you shouldn't miss in Tahiti.

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