Dreaming of exotic and magical islands? Then the word Tahiti will surly come to mind. No other vacation destination has such appeal.
If you mention that you are traveling to Europe or the Mediterranean, most people will say, “have a good time”…Mention that your traveling to Tahiti and people stop in their tracks, sigh and get this dreamy look in their eyes. The usual response is, “Really! Wow! Your so lucky!” or “Wow, I always wanted to go there!” It is at the top of most peoples bucket lists. Why?
Tahiti is an isolated island, almost cut a drift, and thousands of miles away from any other major land mass. It is part of a chain of islands known as the French Polynesia. Long sunken volcanos with rims of reefs left as the only reminder of their powerful existence. Among these islands are also the famed Bora Bora and Moorea, which have their own status quo on those top dream destinations.
One factor is the amazing aqua blue ocean hues on all the magazine photos that sticks in everyones head. Who doesn’t want to sit on those soft white sandy beaches looking into the expanse of endless turquoise hues? Just being located in the warm blue Pacific ocean waters seems wonderful enough, but the appeal goes far beyond that , as these islands are mystically exotic and rich in deep history.
Sleep with the ocean waves lapping under your pillow in the famous over the water bungalows. (Picture courtesy: Lisa Sim)
Colorful Pareo’s dance in the breezes. (Picture courtesy: Lisa Sim)
Interesting enough the local peoples ancestors are said to have come from Taiwan and South Asia. These ancestors first made the long, dangerous and perilous journey to Fiji and Samoan, then finally, a several hundred meter ocean crossing to the islands of the French Polynesia. It is said that the leaders or chiefs who sailed these vast distances had supernormal gifts that could help them predict where land was several hundreds miles away just by looking at the action of waves, cloud formations and the sun light refractions. One can easily believe this theory when they look at a map and see the small specks of islands located in the middle of no where. How could they possibly know there was land out there?
Marae (places of worship) temples dating back to 850 AD, dot some of the near by islands of Huahine and Raiatea. Marae Arahurahu is the best preserved temple on Tahiti and displays several Tiki’s (sacred statues) that are still worshiped by locals. Pape’ete, the capital means “a bucket of flowing water” in native speech. Many springs of fresh water used to flow from where the capital sits now.
Tiki God at Marae Arahurahu temple. (Picture courtesy: Lisa Sim)
The first explorers were the Dutch and Spanish, but supposably they did not stop. It was in 1767 that an English Captain named Samuel Wallis approached the islands for the first time. He was not given leis of flowers and smiles like you will receive today, but instead huge rocks were thrown and his ship and injured his men. After many years of struggle between the British and the local Pomare dynasty, in 1880 the islands were abandoned by the English royalty and finally became a French colony.
Flights to Tahiti fly out of LA airport on a regular basis and usually at around 11pm. Depending on how rusty your French is, make sure you blow the dust off your old high school French books and pack them along for your trip just in case. The flight time is about 8 hours.
Once you arrive in Tahiti the greeting will be as warm as the salty breezes that gently kiss your face as you step off the plane. The sound of music plays across the Pape’ete airport in the form of singing, drums and ukulele (a small version of the guitar). Glowing eyes and bright smiles surround everyone, and visitors will receive, one by one, the traditional necklace lei of flowers given by the Tahitian welcoming reception. The air is filled with the perfume fragrances of Ylang Ylang and vanilla. Everyone is wearing colorful skirts decorated with flower patterns and necklaces of sea shells. Even the men wear flowers behind their ears and the traditional skirt, called a Pareo. Everyone feels beautiful in Tahiti.
Locals are always singing happily and making lively music. (Picture courtesy: Lisa Sim)
Tahiti is famous for items like vanilla, iridescent black pearls, flowing flower skirts, excellent cuisine and natural exotically scented coconut oils called”Monoi”. Only in Tahiti and the French Polynesia is there such a place with rare and unique gifts as these.
Once you’re in the city of Pape’te you will find a vibrant city that is busy, somewhat crowded, but a joy to walk around and explore. Locals still practice meditation in the morning and it was not until 2005 that people had to start locking their doors around town.
Food is usually the first order on everyone’s mind and Tahiti is famous for gastronomy. French influence is of course strong and dominates the culinary scene, but so does the Chinese, who landed here in the 1900’s to work the coconuts fields, and of course the local dishes of taro root, fish, banana, fruits and coconuts that are always being infused into everything.
Some top places to dine are “Le Coco’s”, which offers the most romantic atmosphere and top gourmet choices. “Le Lotus” is tucked away in the Intercontinental Resort and offers fusion influenced French and local choices, plus a great view of the lagoon and neighboring island of Mo’orea. For a fun night out seek the “Les Roulettes”, an area of mobile food vans or street food carts that carry everything from Chinese, French, Italian, and of course local treats. Seating is plastic chairs and communal tables, but this just adds to the fun of eating under the stars with locals and tourists. “Le Manarin” restaurant has some of the best Chinese dishes around and is famous for it’s Peking Duck.
Once your tummy is full, head to the “Musee De La Perle” Museum of black pearls. Learn about black pearl history, farming and the owner Robert Wan, a native Tahitian with family roots in China who forever changed the way Tahiti cultivated the elusive black pearls. With interesting displays, and of course a shopping area, they have some of the finest black pearl jewelry available. Tahitians say to pick a black pearl is easy…just look for the one that your drawn to, no matter the cost or grade, then they say it is meant to be and that is the pearl for you!
Also Read: La Jolla – California’s Southernmost Gem
Famous Tahitian black pearls. (Picture courtesy: Lisa Sim)
Another museum not to miss is “Museum of Tahiti & It’s Islands”. This is a natural history museum about Tahiti that is sure to please with wonderful displays and gardens that surround the building. One of the best ways to see all the historical and interesting sites is to take a “circle island tour.” One of the best tour operators for this is Marama Tours. They will stop at the many famous sites like Point Venus, Grotto Caves, Valphai Waterfalls and the Arahoho blowhole, plus so much more. The lunch buffet is delicious and is included.
One of the best places to head for overall shopping, Monday – Saturday, is the huge outdoor/ indoor market called “Marche De Pape’ete.” Here you can gain a good understanding of goods, (think handmade exotically crafted soaps, spices, natural perfumes and colorful Pareos). It is a great place to people watch and see the every day life of the island play out. Become familiar with some of the local foods, like honeys, ginger drinks, French bread sandwiches, coconut desserts. Then stroll over to ogle the amazing flower arrangements and traditional head leis all being made before your eyes by the local women and men.
Show stopping flowers arrangements in the local markets are everywhere. (Picture courtesy: Lisa Sim)
Now that you have shed your foreign cloths, have been properly wrapped up in the most rainbow hued Pareo, and made sure you placed your ring of flowers lei on your head correctly, then just anoint yourself with the finest Ylang Ylang oils, and you are ready for an evening out on the beach.
Yes, an evening out on the beach watching one of the finest Tahitian culture shows at the “Intercontinental Resort Tahiti”, “Sofitel Tahiti Maeva Beach Resort” or “Radisson Plaza Resort”. All of these fine resorts have some of the best local dancers, drummers and fire breathers sure to excite and amaze you. These local shows usually come with a fine dinner buffet of local foods so bring your appetite and be ready for an education on hip swinging!
After the excitement of the show take a moment to stroll down to the beach and gaze at the moon over the ocean before retiring to one of the infamous over the water beach bungalows. Listen closely to soft sounds of the night time insects singing in the evening breezes. Maybe a ukulele can be heard in the distance and the laughter of the light hearted locals. As the perfume rises up from your local Monoi oil of gardenia, and the wrapped cloth of your Pareo flutters in the moon light, you now can understand why everyone wants to come here and why everyone feels beautiful in Tahiti.