Tahiti is a place that is synonymous with desktop backgrounds and bucket lists. When my partner and I were deciding where to take a trip last fall, we settled on Tahiti and its islands for its exotic nature and proximity to Hawaii. Plus, who WOULDN’T want to travel to a remote island chain in the South Pacific? We were ready to go!
Our trip spanned 7 days, and we split our time between Tahiti (the largest island in French Polynesia), and Moorea, a less-inhabited, more unspoiled island just a ferry ride away from Tahiti.
French Polynesia is breathtakingly beautiful and worthy of all those desktop backgrounds you’ve ever lusted over. When you first land in this far-away island chain, you’ll certainly feel like you’ve landed in another world. The air is warm and dank. The smell is sweet and fragrant. And upon landing at Papeete airport, you’ll be greeted by a live Tahitian band playing island music in a foreign tongue, dressed vibrantly, welcoming you to the vacation you’ve always dreamed about and certainly deserve.
Papeete is the capital of French Polynesia and the main business district. It’s worth mentioning that Tahiti is just one island, and French Polynesia is made up of 118 islands and atolls. Some of the most famous islands in French Polynesia include Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa.
Since the first leg of our trip was spent on Tahiti, let me recount the best things to do in Tahiti:
Rent a car
Renting a car is essential during your trip to Tahiti. It’s the preferred way to get around if you want to explore. Rental cars are much cheaper if you rent a manual transmission. If you do rent an automatic, be sure to get one ahead of time and double and triple check your reservation. We witnessed one poor couple ordering an automatic car at the car rental agency at the airport and they had to pay hundreds more for their last minute rental.
Stock up on some local island goodies
The night we landed, we went straight to our Airbnb in Papeete. We worried about not having an exact address to follow, and most directions in Tahiti are given by landmark or cross street. Luckily, we found our apartment and our host was gracious enough to put some local beer in the fridge. Score!
The next morning, Sunday, famished, we headed into town looking for a bite to eat. It’s critical to understand that in Tahiti things close sometimes all day or for several hours during the afternoon. Trying to find somewhere to eat on a Sunday morning was difficult. We resigned to McDonald’s, which was reliable and filled us up before embarking on our road trip. The staff spoke English and the price was right! After that, we stopped at the gas station for some famous baguette, cheese and charcuterie for the road.
Visit Point Venus
There’s a lot of speculation about whether or not it’s beast to traverse the island going east or west from Papeete. We opted to head east, and one of our first stops was Point Venus, a beach park where Captain Cook landed in 1769 and established an observatory.
Today, Venus Point is a black sand beach park home to picnic tables, concessions and an overall chill vibe. We enjoyed sprawling out on the black sand beach and watching beach-goers swim and soak up the sun.
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Explore side-of-the-road waterfalls
Living in Hawaii, we see our fair share of waterfalls, but getting to them involves a forest hike of a mile or two. The best thing about Tahiti is that many of the waterfalls are either at or just near the side of the road. There’s no arduous hike, just payoff views all the way.
Rounding our way around Tahiti Iti (the upper portion of Tahiti island), we were spoiled with gorgeous twin falls. We saw a local family there praying, and after they left, we had the area to ourselves!
Enjoy the most famous surf break in Tahiti
One of the most famous surf breaks in the world is called Teahupo’o located in Tahiti Nui on Tahiti’s southeastern shore. Unlike Hawaii, the wave breaks far off-shore, around a 15 minute paddle out, or a boat ride away for spectators.
Surfers have been flocking to Tahiti to surf this giant wave, which can reach upwards of 25 feet, and call it the “heaviest wave in the world.” In fact, Teahupo’o translates to “to sever the head” or “place of skulls” in English. It’s one of the world’s most dangerous waves, and it’s certainly on every surfer’s to do list!
Ehren and I enjoyed spectating from the shore. The beach park has a lazy, chill vibe, and there’s plenty of gorgeous foliage to enjoy in between watching the waves break.
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Dine water side
One of our guidebooks recommended we eat at a restaurant called La Plage de Maui (Maui’s Beach). This was one of the highlights of our stay in Tahiti! It’s about 40 minutes south of Papeete, but dining next to a crystal clear Lagoon makes this worth the trip!
Enter a French-speaking, true toes-in-the-sand experience. Our table was right next to the water where we observed coral reef, fish and even some snorkelers! Our table was decked out with tropical flowers and handmade table numbers on rocks. The thatched roof rustled above our head as we took in the sights and smells of our oceanside table.
In Tahiti, it’s common to feed food scraps to the sea life. In fact, we observed the chef coming out from the kitchen to throw diners’ leftovers to the fish more than once! I suppose it keeps the fish coming around and the diners happy. We even saw a giant eel swim up to our table during our stay, which we took as a good omen, as Ehren’s aumakua (Hawaiian family god) is an eel.
Visit ancient Marae
A marae is an ancient Polynesian temple or meeting place, and Marae Arahurahu on Tahiti is the only one that has been completely restored in all of Polynesia.
Stone pens near the entrance used to house pigs that would later be sacrificed to the gods. The celebrated tiki statue is apparent, as well as a rectangular marae with various stones and a raised altar. This site was host to many gatherings, ceremonies, weddings and other special occasions. According to legend, the Marae even changed names after a battle between warriors!
Go pearl shopping at Papeete Market
Walk into Papeete Market and your senses go wild with the sprawling bazaar offering everything from fresh fruits and veggies, to woven baskets, sarongs and made-to-order food. During our visit, we were treated to live Tahitian dancing.
Papeete Market is a place you can literally run your fingers through a dish of black pearls to take home. Prices range from a few bucks for the ugly/nicked pearls to several thousands for the gorgeous, perfect pearls, mostly found in the shops upstairs. I scored my first pair of real black pearl Tahitian earrings and a gorgeous Tahitian Pearl ring! (The ring was a steal at $20…I wish I had bought more!)
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Grab lunch from one of the stalls or from somewhere else downtown. If you go on Sunday, be sure to get there between 3 a.m.-9 a.m., otherwise it will be closed.
Tahiti is worthy of any vacationer’s bucket list. Treat yourself to a true taste of the exotic life with a trip to French Polynesia!