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Tahiti Cruises

About Tahiti, French Polynesia

One of the world’s most visually stunning and romantic destinations and the cultural hub of French Polynesia, Tahiti is perhaps the archipelago’s most famous island. Here, swaying palms skirt dramatic mountains, striking a breathtaking pose in shimmering Pacific waters. Polynesians first arrived via double-hulled canoes about 4,000 years ago. They then set out to explore and settle other South Pacific islands, from Hawai’i to the Cook Islands and even New Zealand. Much later, in 1767, the English captain Samuel Wallis came upon Tahiti, the first European to do so. The island remained independent as the Kingdom of Tahiti, unifying surrounding islands under its rule with assistance from England. The island and its dependencies became a French protectorate in 1842. It has been so ever since, though islanders are now French citizens. Today, Tahiti’s monarchy is merely symbolic, though many islanders take it very seriously.

The name “Tahiti” denotes both the island and the island group that comprises French Polynesia. From the air, the island’s shape resembles a turtle, with its larger “shell” called Tahiti Nui and the small peninsular “head” known as Tahiti Iti.

Tahiti Lifestyle and Culture

Like in much of the South Pacific, islanders’ approach to life can be summed up by their mantra, “aita pea pea,” or “not to worry.” The warmth of the sun and the slow-moving tides set the pace here; embracing this carefree island life enhances any visitor’s experience. As does the endless supply of pleasantries and greetings you’ll receive from most every Tahitian you’ll meet.

Tahiti boasts a rich and colorful blend of Polynesian and French culture. Baguettes are as likely to appear in markets as breadfruit and mangoes. But one festival is wholly Tahitian: Heiva i Tahiti. Originally planned by the French to celebrate their Bastille Day, it has been usurped by islanders to celebrate Polynesian culture instead. This seven-week party consists of sporting games, music, fire walking, outrigger canoe races and the island’s sultry tamure dancing, which was suppressed by French missionaries centuries ago.

Tahiti Sights and Landmarks

Le Marché is the central landmark of Papeete, the major port city and capital of French Polynesia. This large two-story marketplace takes up an entire city block and is brimming with all manner of goods. Nearby, the Cathedral of Notre Dame with its yellow facade and intricate stained-glass windows shimmers in the South Pacific sun. To view the former residence and palace of Queen Pomare IV, who ruled the kingdom for 50 years from 1827 to 1877, stop by the Territorial Assembly, the hub of today’s government.

Outside the city in Tahiti Nui, the tomb of King Pomare V contains the remains of Tahiti’s one true king, who ruled when the island was an independent monarchy. The Pointe Venus Lighthouse overlooks black-sand beaches and the clear blue waters of a popular fishing reef. Gain insight into the island’s gods at Arahurahu Marae, where stone blocks dedicated to deities were part of important ceremonies.

Tahiti Entertainment and Activities

Papeete is home to a host of museums that chronicle the history and culture of Tahiti and French Polynesia. The Musée de la Perle, or Pearl Museum, provides insight into pearl cultivation with plenty of samples to admire. Outside the city, at the excellent Museum of Tahiti and the Islands, peruse a fascinating collection of ancient artifacts and glimpse the past through reconstructed historic scenes. You may also browse the fascinating Paul Gauguin Museum, a rich collection of work the renowned Impressionist artist created while living on the islands. Its adjacent botanical garden is a pleasure to stroll.

More opportunities for strolling and exploring include the Jardins de Paofai. This waterfront park is a paved walkway along Nanuu Bay with views of outrigger racing canoes lining the pebbled shore.

Tahiti Restaurants and Shopping

Papeete is the cultural and economic hub of Tahiti. Sidewalk cafés line the streets and small shops sell French fashions, jewelry and handicrafts. Restaurants serve Tahitian, French and Asian cuisine, but the national dish is poisson cru, or raw fish, a ceviche-style dish with coconut and vegetables.

The food truck trend has found a place in Tahiti. At the bayside Place Vaiete, stop by one of the roulottes (“caravans” in French) for dinner as the sun goes down. A gastronomic pleasure, their cuisine ranges from crepes to pizzas. A more romantic night out awaits at O Belvedere, set atop a 2,000-foot hillside with sweeping views of the city and the bay. The chef creates imaginative fusion dishes. Another upscale dining option is in the commune of Paea, south of Papeete. Here, Chez Remy at Le Meridien offers many French selections and a stellar wine list.

The shopping mecca of Papeete is the two-story Le Marché. Whether a quick snack, a small bottle of monoi, the local Tahitian oil, vanilla beans, or a colorful pāreu, the ubiquitous and versatile sarong, the items here are sold in one of the island’s most authentic atmospheres. The shops around Notre Dame Cathedral offer more keepsakes and wares: Visit the Winkler Gallery, for instance, to browse paintings and pottery by local artists. The Tahiti Vanilla Market offers various items made from the local orchid, from honey to soaps and incense.