The Insider’s Guide to Tahiti Island

13 August 2018

It’s the biggest island in French Polynesia, and many visitors’ first port of call on their way to more remote destinations. But what makes Tahiti shine and how should you make the most of your time there? Whether you need to take a moment to catch your breath on a beach with a fruity drink or are ready to hit the ground running, this figure-eight shaped island has it all – and you don’t have to look far for a wonderful time.

Municipal Market, Papeete. Photo: Johannes Zielcke / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Where to Go

Papeete is the capital city of French Polynesia, and Tahiti’s largest town. Most resorts are located a little way out of town, although it’s worth stopping by to buy pearls, people-watch or for a night on the tiles. The Municipal Market, housed in a bustling indoor hall, is a good option for buying souvenirs and snacks, or simply marveling at the many different sorts of flowers and fruit on offer.

As far as beaches go, you’re spoiled for choice. If it’s instagram-worthy white sand you’re in search of, you could do far worse than Plage de Toaroto, which is right next to a public park and on local bus routes. It’s great for swimming, snorkelling, and the snap-happy. La Plage de Maui is perhaps more beautiful still, but requires a bit more of an effort to get out to, although the pictures say it all. Surfers may be more drawn to thrillseekers’ Teahupo’o, or Plage de Taharuu, a black sand beach with great waves and child-friendly shallows.

A black sand beach, Tahiti. Photo: Tahiti Tourisme

What to Eat

Many of the island’s best restaurants can be found in its resorts, where international chefs prepare a dazzling variety of French and local food alike. Particular dishes to look out for include the country’s national dish, poisson cru. A little like ceviche, cubes of raw tuna are marinated in tangy lime and gentle coconut. In general, it’s hard to go wrong with fish and seafood — all of which comes from the island’s very own backyard. Tahiti has some of the sweetest mahi mahi and grouper you’ll ever eat, often pulled from the sea just hours before.

Poisson cru. Photo: Eric Chan / CC BY 2.0

On the sweeter side, Tahiti has succulent fruit choices, particularly pineapples and coconuts. Bananas of all different shades and sizes hang pendulously from trees, while ginger is often used to spice up desserts – and cocktails.

Locals tend to favor ‘roulottes’, or food trucks. These have good options for the young or picky, like pizza or burgers, as well as more sophisticated snacks. Once again, you don’t have to look far for a French influence: crêpes are a particularly popular choice.

Les Roulottes, Papeete. Photo: Johannes Zielcke / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you can, try to wrangle an invite to a hima’a feast. Like a hangi, this is an underground oven used to cook everything from suckling pig to lobster. Chicken fafa, made with coconut milk and spinach, is especially worth seeking out, as is meltingly tender white fish gently steamed between banana leaves and hot rocks. They’re often held at resorts on Sunday nights, so keep your eyes peeled when you check in.

What to Do

Tahiti is surrounded by miles of warm, crystal water — hold your breath and jump in. More adventurous types may choose to limber up for kite-surfing. But don’t worry if snorkelling is more your speed. Most resorts will have kits that they’re happy to lend out for free, helping you get to know some of the 800 different species of fish that live off the shore.

A young boy jumps into the water off the coast of Tahiti. Photo: Getty Images

Further inland, there are a wealth of options to help you explore the jaw-dropping scenery. In the Vaipahi Spring Gardens, you’ll find a beautifully landscaped garden with a magnificent natural waterfall, and a selection of gentle and not-so-gentle hikes of up to a few hours. These wind through tropical pine and Tahitian chestnut forests, with astonishing views out over the lagoon and Tahiti Iti to reward you at the top. A more relaxed, but no less lovely, stroll can be found in the Jardins Botaniques through 137 hectares of pomelo trees, ponds, and palms.

Tahiti Island also has one golf course, located about 40 kilometers outside of Papeete. Golf International Olivier Bréaud is on the site of a former cotton plantation, and has 18 holes of spectacular landscape and high-quality golf. Suitable for whether you’re a seasoned professional or brand new to a set of clubs.

 

Natasha Frost

Natasha Frost is a British Kiwi writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She's eaten her way around the world, from crickets in Cambodia to pastries in Paris, but saves a special place in her heart for a mince and cheese pie.