Tahiti. The word evokes visions of an island paradise. With 118 islands boasting high, rugged mountain peaks, coral reefs, turquoise-blue lagoons, white sand, palm-fringed beaches, and luxuriously intimate resorts, each island paradise has something for everyone.
The Tahitians of the modern era have inherited a rich culture from their Maohi ancestors. Oral history recounts the adventures of gods and warriors in colorful legends where javelin throwing was the sport of the gods, surf riding was favored by the kings, and strong men competed in canoe races and stone lifting as a show of pure strength.
Heiva I Tahiti
This celebration of ancient traditions and competition has been the most important event in Tahiti for over 125 years. Visitors are encouraged to join in the celebrations from late June to late July every year and discover daily and nightly events and displays. Tahitians gather in Papeete from many of the islands to exhibit crafts, and compete in traditional sporting, dance and musical events.
The skills of the ancestors’ artistry are kept sacred and passed on by both the “mamas”—guardians of tradition and matriarchs of Tahitian society—and by the skilled craftsmen. Items include weaving, quilting, wooden and stone sculptures and bowls, drums, tapa, carvings, and hand-dyed pareu.
The open-air sanctuaries called marae were the center of power in ancient Polynesia. These stone religious sites, akin to temples, hosted the important events of the times such as the worship of the gods, peace treaties, celebrations of war, and the launch of voyages to colonize distant lands.
Music and Dance
The beauty of today’s Tahitian dance testifies to its resilience in Polynesian culture. In ancient times, dances were linked with all aspects of life. One would dance to welcome a visitor, to pray, to challenge an enemy, and to seduce a mate. Today’s dance is still powerful, colorful, and sensual while accompanied by the harmonic voices of the Tahitians, thunderous traditional drums, and conch shells.
DESTINATION WEDDINGS & HONEYMOONS
Make your client’s wedding as romantic as their honeymoon. By French Polynesian law, American and Canadian citizens can be legally wed throughout all of the Islands of Tahiti.
Unique Civil Wedding Ceremony
Each island features unique venues for small or large ceremonies. Wedding planners offer creative options at resorts, beaches, private islands, chapels, and churches. A network of service providers handles every detail for couples by themselves or couples traveling with a large entourage.
Traditional Tahitian Wedding Ceremony
Adorned in flower crowns and leis, wearing traditional white pareu or sarongs, couples feel like royalty in ceremonies that can include musicians, dancers, and a flower-bedecked outrigger canoe. Ceremonies include a priest who bestows couples with their new Tahitian names and wraps them in a tifaifai or Tahitian quilt. A wedding dinner or feast can be prepared and guests can be served beachside or on a motu.
Famously known as one of the world’s leading dream honeymoon destinations, here, couples are far away from everything, except each other. The seclusion and beauty of each island and the dramatic bungalows on the beach and over the water seem to embrace each couple with a passionate ambiance. Honeymooners can choose from dozens of water activities and island exploration, shopping for pearls, picnics on a private island, fine dining, and Polynesian spa treatments.
All the natural ingredients for the world’s perfect spa are here: Soothing lagoon waters; a rich botanical environment; air scented of vanilla and tiare flowers; tranquility of the quiet islands; and the scenic wonders that surround each of these world-famous spas. Some call it a “spa within a spa” experience, one found nowhere else on earth. Each of the spas is uniquely situated within private gardens, in thatched-roof open-air bungalows on the beach, in overwater bungalows with tropical fish parading below, or atop hills overlooking the lagoons.
Featuring the bounty of oils, flowers, and plants found only in Tahiti, each spa has a full menu of treatments for women, men, and couples including: fresh-flower bath for two; body wrap in fresh banana tree leaves; body scrub with sand and rice, grated coconuts or sea salt; body wash with vanilla; mask with fresh fruit and plants; flower remedies & aromatherapy, among others.
DIVING, SNORKELING & WATER SPORTS
Dramatic views continue under the seas and lagoons as beginning and advanced divers and snorkelers are amazed by the density of large marine life. Regular encounters include: gigantic manta rays gliding just a few feet below the surface; reef sharks “showing off” during the tourist shark feeding; dolphins dancing along the surf; the graceful Napoleon wrasse floating among the coral; infinite schools of marine life riding the current through the reef passes; and humpback whales in their annual parade.
This is a water playground for all ages! Activities to choose from include independent or guided options for: powerboating; sailing; sunset cruising; outrigger canoeing; kayaking; jet sking; surfing; windsurfing; parasailing; kite surfing, stand-up paddle boarding; glass-bottom boat tours; sportfishing; helmet diving; and more. Your clients can also learn to dive, sail, paddle an outrigger, or surf at schools and camps.
As unique as the islands themselves, smaller accommodations dot each of the islands in tucked away places surrounded by the warmth of their local owners. These smaller lodgings, family hotels, and guest rooms, referred to as “pensions,” range widely in presentation and appearance yet all offer simplicity, authenticity, and a deeply experiential means of connecting to the lives of the Tahitians. Properties usually offer from one to 12 rooms or bungalows on the beaches, in the mountains or valleys, or within a village neighborhood, and can range from rooms in a family home to an all-inclusive small resort on a private islet or motu.
Over 200 of these smaller lodging and family hotels now welcome couples, families, or traveling groups from around the world. Many of these guests might consider themselves as adventuresome, independent, or seasoned travelers, or as a repeat visitor to Tahiti.
Similar to Small Hotels, Lodges, Bed & Breakfast Inns
Range of homes, separate houses or bungalows off a family home, small lodges with multiple rooms, thatched-hut bungalows, etc. Usually with some meals and optional activities, often with owners and family.
Family homes offering a room or rooms, often with shared facilities and usually living with the family as their guest. Share meals with family members who may also offer guided tours or provide information on independent activities.
Small properties that can also be considered to be small resorts with beach and overwater bungalows, sometimes with dedicated staff, all-inclusive water and land activities, and meals.
Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, is appropriately crowned by a circle of majestic peaks. The mountainous interior is adorned with deep valleys, clear streams, and high waterfalls, all bathed in the green iridescence of Mother Nature’s light. The coastal lands, edged with a rugged coastline, are home to fields of tropical flowers and most of the island’s population. Papeete, meaning “water basket,” was once a gathering place where Tahitians came to fill their calabashes with fresh water. Now, Papeete, the invigorating capital city and gateway of the country, boasts world-class resorts, spas, fine dining and unique restaurants, nightclubs, vibrant markets, museums, pearl shops, and boutiques.
Family Time On Tahiti
Tahiti offers a world of adventure for families and for children of all ages. Whether here for a day or a week, the urban and island environment provides a unique blend of accommodations and activities for families including:
• Large resort swimming pools; some with waterfalls and sand bottoms.
• White- and black-sand beaches with calm and shallow snorkeling.
• Family-sized 4×4 excursion vehicles for half- and full-day expeditions into the lush interior exploration with a picnic under a waterfall.
• Guided hiking and boating excursions with a naturalist who provides a close up study of the bird, plant, and marine life.
• Tours of the museums and points of interest around the island with exhibits of interest for the whole family about geology, art, history, and exploration.
• Regular performances of music, sport, and dance featuring local children.
• Nightly outings to the waterfront where the roulottes offer a fun way to enjoy food and dessert along with local families and their children.
Shopping at the Public Market
Le Marche is the bustling public market founded more than 170 years ago where visitors can shop at hundreds of stands filled with Tahitian-made crafts, oils, vanilla, fruits, and flowers. Open everyday except holidays, the market is especially colorful and lively on Sunday mornings when locals stock up for a day of family gatherings. Located two blocks from the waterfront and easily reached by taxi from any resort.
This route takes in more than 71 miles of dramatic coastline scenery with wave-pounded cliffs, peaceful beaches, and brightly colored churches. Popular stops include many overlooks, waterfalls, and ancient sites. An extended tour takes travelers to the peninsula of Tahiti Iti.
The Monoï Road
Tahiti is the worldwide source of monoï oil, the famous beauty and skin oil used in cosmetics, creams, and lotions. Visitors can now experience all facets of the monoï oil industry with a newly organized collective of experiences concentrated along the circle-island road. Choose from any of the 22 botanic workshops, coconut groves, Tiare Tahiti flower growers, traditional and modern manufacturers, and spas that specialize in using monoï oil in their treatments.
The island of Tahiti is perfect for both beginning and advanced divers. Highlights include shallow waters, oceanic drop-offs, sunken ships and planes, bright coral walls, and schools of smaller species.
The Atoll of Tetiaroa
Historically, a private getaway reserved for Tahitian royalty, this 4.5-mile-wide atoll comprised of 13 motus (small coral islands), is now accessible by private charter from Papeete or Moorea. In addition to its former designation as a royal vacation spot, it was also once used by the King to hide treasures during times of trouble.
A haven for birds, sea turtles and all kinds of marine life, Tetiaroa is treasured among Tahitians who know it as a sacred place. This virtually uninhabited atoll charms with its coconut-dotted white-sand beaches and crystalline lagoon.
Among the islets, Tahuna Iti, the birds’ island, rests far from any human population, and is a national reserve for sea birds, frigates, sterns, phaetons (straw tails), brown gannets and other petrels.
Just a 10-minute flight from the island of Tahiti or a 30-minute ride on a high-speed catamaran, Moorea soars magically out of the ocean in an explosion of green velvet. What you would imagine a South Seas island to be, Moorea’s wide, bright-blue lagoon surrounds the island’s vertical mountains where poetic threads of waterfalls tumble down fern-softened cliffs. Peaceful meadows flanked by pinnacles of emerald green fill one’s senses and renew one’s belief in the majesty of nature. Pastel-painted houses, surrounded by gardens of hibiscus and birds of paradise, circle the island in a fantasy of happy, yet simple villages.
Moorea Offers Drama and Adventure:
• Discovery of the peaceful circle-island road dotted with fruit-tasting stops, pineapple fields, quiet beaches, and unique shopping experiences.
• Warm lagoon waters ideal for snorkeling, jet skiing, kayaking, and diving.
• Discovery of the many shops featuring famous “made in Moorea” products.
• Golfing at the Jack Nicklaus-designed championship course.
• Fine dining restaurants within resorts and in the small villages that line the shores.
• Historic sites hidden under a canopy of lush forests.
Because of the lack of strong currents and the abundant marine life, the shallow waters around Moorea are ideal for year-round snorkeling. All ages can enjoy dozens of perfect snorkeling spots close to the resorts and around the island.
The excitement of outdoor Polynesian shows heats up the night all around Moorea with a ballet of dancing flames. These beachside performances of grace, bravery, and mystery were first performed in Samoa and later perfected by the Tahitians.
The drama of Moorea’s landscape continues below the sea with an infinite range of canyons, chasms, and promontories. Fish feeding is common here and divers are often surrounded by schools of small and large marine life.
Moorea is home to a beautiful 18-hole championship course designed by Jack Nicklaus. Named for the emerald green fairways, the Moorea Green Pearl Golf Course is built into the lush valleys and hillsides with overlooks of the ocean and beaches. The island of Tahiti features the 6,900-yard-long Olivier Breaud International Course.
The fertile valleys are home to plantations of sugarcane and pineapple. Considered by many to be the sweetest tasting pineapple on earth, Moorea’s harvest can be enjoyed at village stores, roadside stands, or the tasting counter of the delightful fruit juice factory.
Swimming With The Dolphins
On Moorea, adults can swim side-by-side with dolphins, while children wade in the waters with them. For an educational excursion, expert guides lead dolphin- and whale-watching boat tours into the ocean to observe them in their native habitat as well.
The majestic mountains are fully accessible to everyone. By air, helicopter tours fly into canyons and along ridgetops. By road, a 4×4 ventures past plantations, across streams, into deep valleys, and up to waterfalls. By foot, guided hikes of all levels follow winding rainforest trails and up to high mountain overlooks.
BORA BORA (PORA PORA)
Under a 1-hour flight from the islands of Tahiti or Moorea, the island of Bora Bora, with a lagoon resembling an artist’s palette of bright blues and greens, is love at first sight. Romantics from around the world have laid claim to this island where the castle-like Mount Otemanu pierces the sky. Lush tropical slopes and valleys blossom with hibiscus, while palm-covered motu circle the illuminated lagoon like a delicate necklace. Perfect white-sand beaches give way to emerald waters where colored fish animate the coral gardens as they greet the giant manta rays. This could easily be described as the center of the romantic universe, where luxury resorts and spas dot the island with overwater bungalows, thatched-roof villas, and fabled ambiance.
The Majesty of Bora Bora Offers:
• Enchantment from the neon-lit turquoise lagoon waters with unending days of exploration through snorkeling and diving.
• Excitement above the lagoon by outrigger canoe, powerboat, wave runner, jet ski, stand-up paddle, and dramatic sunset cruises aboard a catamaran sailboat.
• Exploration of the panoramic mountain overlooks by hiking or 4×4 accompanied by entertaining local guides.
• Unique shopping for local and international original art, Tahitian pearls, perfumes and oils, and precious wood handcrafts.
Breakfast Delivered by Outrigger Canoe
Visitors can start each day with an unforgettable breakfast brought to the private balcony of their overwater bungalow or villa by an outrigger canoe. Often bedecked in flowers, the canoe carries Polynesian staff serving fresh fruits, pastries, and juices, while the surrounding waters begin welcoming the rising South Pacific sun.
There are so many activities in the world’s most famous lagoon that some visitors never leave the water! The shallow and crystal clear waters allow for snorkeling from one’s bungalow or off beaches anywhere around the island. Another way to see the vivid coral and schools of tropical fish is on a glass-bottom boat. For a faster pace, they explore the entire lagoon by rented motorboat or jet ski where clients and a guide can skim around the island, hopping off at beaches or a tiny motu along the way for a picnic.
Made In French Polynesia
Bora Bora is the perfect island to shop for locally made products at shops and galleries in the resorts, villages, and artisan studios dotting the island.
• Pareu: Happily colored, hand-dyed cloth (akin to Polynesian sarong).
• Monoï oils: Natural skin products created with the blending of coconut oils with macerated tiare flowers and other botanical essences.
• Handcrafts & Art: Intricate carvings, woven baskets, tapa cloth, and original art.
Bora Bora Diving
Because of the abundance of large marine life, diving within the waters of the most beautiful lagoon in the world is on many divers’ “must do” lists. During the dives, it is common to be joined by legions of gigantic manta rays gliding gracefully within arm’s reach while schools of reef sharks parade through the sunlit waters.
Some of the World-Famous Dive Sites Around Bora Bora Are:
• Anau Lagoon dive 15-100 ft. Known as “Manta Ray Channel” or “Manta Ballroom” for its regular encounters with these gentle giants.
• Tapu Ocean dive 30-100 ft. A classic shark dive also joined by giant wrasse, jack fish, and eel.
• Muri Muri Ocean dive 60-120 ft. Rich marine life welcomes divers, such as reef sharks, turtles, and dolphins. Also called the “White Valley.”
• Teavanui Pass dive 15-130 ft. The entrance to the lagoon is framed with purple coral walls, sharks, eels, and giant wrasses.
• Toopui/Toopua Iti Lagoon dive 15- 100 ft. Coral walls with giant clams, swim throughs, and eagle rays.
• Tupitipiti Ocean dive 20-150 ft. A steep drop-off with walls of blue and red coral plus orange and green sponges, caves, tunnels, corridors, and dramatic swim throughs.
Ray feeding is one of the most fun and popular adventures in the islands. Your client’s guide sweeps them away from their resort or cruise ship on a motorized outrigger canoe to a shallow part of Bora Bora’s turquoise-blue lagoon. There, they’ll get out of the boat with their guide, and he begins feeding anywhere from 10 to 20 graceful, friendly rays that have appeared. These beautiful, affectionate creatures brush up against your clients and the group as they glide through the lagoon.
Even though Bora Bora is small, the adventures along the interior roads are huge. These overgrown forest roads wind high above the lagoon to panoramic stops that can only be described as breathtaking. The island’s role during World War II is expertly told as travelers visit large U.S. Naval guns left behind in 1945.
Bora Bora’s lagoon is a very popular anchorage for both round-the-world cruises and avid vacation sailors. If chartering one’s own sailboat in Raiatea, Tahiti, or Moorea, the deep, wide pass and calm lagoon is a natural stop. One can also rent a Hobie Cat in Bora Bora or take a half-day or sunset cruise around the lagoon on a giant catamaran, complete with Tahitian music.
The Preserved Island
About 25 miles from Bora Bora, Maupiti is a small, isolated island in the Society archipelago. This sleepy community offers serenity and warm, island hospitality that many island-hoppers seek, combined with unprecedented natural beauty. Here, majestic cliffs soar high above a crystal-like jade lagoon.
Visitors in search of authenticity will enjoy leaving behind the resort scene for Maupiti’s handful of family-run guesthouses and pensions, the only accommodations on the island. Explorers will want to visit the caves of Vai’ea as well as Maupiti’s motu Pae’ao, which holds an archaeological site that dates from the ninth century, one of Polynesia’s most ancient.
Maupiti is home to several species of marine-life: hammerhead sharks, leopard manta rays, butterflyfish and parrotfish.
About 40 minutes by plane from the island of Tahiti, Huahine, with its lush forests, untamed landscape, and quaint villages, is one of Tahiti’s best-kept secrets. A deep, crystal-clear lagoon surrounds the two islands while magnificent bays and white-sand beaches add drama and solitude to their virtues. Relatively unchanged by the modern world, Huahine offers the slower and tranquil pace of old Polynesia. With only eight small villages scattered across the island, the few residents welcome visitors with great kindness. Not surprisingly, this fertile world offers a rich soil providing the local farmers a bountiful harvest of vanilla, melons, and bananas.
An Open-Air Museum
Although “crowded” seldom comes to mind in describing the islands of Tahiti, the word perfectly describes the density of Huahine’s historical sites. In fact, the famous archaeological site near the village of Maeva has the largest concentration of pre-European marae (stone temples) in Polynesia. Now, almost fully restored, over 200 archaeological stone structures have survived centuries of natural destruction. These structures lie within yards of one another along the shore of Lake Fauna Nui and on the sacred and scenic Matairea Hill and include marae of island chieftains, dwellings, horticultural developments, and religious and ceremonial monuments.
Here, overlooking the ancient stone fish traps and the ocean beyond, visitors follow a footpath among royal marae and immense fortification walls as well as stone foundations for homes of island chiefs and priests. Other important historic finds have shown that Huahine has the oldest recorded date of human occupation among the Society Islands. Discoveries at the recently uncovered sites date from A.D. 850 to 1200 and include workshops for the construction of canoes and assembly of fish hooks. These legends of Huahine can come to life with one of the famous local expert guides who will share ancient tales and stories about their unique island life.
No Parking Tickets Here
There is no need for a parking lot at the Huahine Te Tiare Beach Resort, because you can only reach the resort by water. Arriving guests are transferred from the airport to the dock in the village of Fare for a short boat ride through the lagoon to the resort.
The Unspoiled Environment can be Experienced in Many Ways:
• Exploration of the restored ancient royal sites with an archaeological tour among the hills and shores on foot, by bus or by horseback.
• Enchantment from the charming villages and vanilla farms with a relaxing self-guided trip around the islands by car, tour, or even bicycle.
• Enjoyment of the clear lagoon waters by an array of watersports.
• Discovery of the underwater world by diving the less discovered sites and reef passes.
• Expert surfers can share a wave with globe-trotting surfers.
Circle Island Tour
The quiet roads and waters around Huahine are perfect for leisurely exploration. By boat, outrigger, or jetski, the lagoon and bays greet visitors as they glide over the bright waters with stops anywhere along the way for snorkeling. By car or bus tour, the scenic roads wind through verdant forests and up to breathtaking vistas. It’s easy to fill the day with visits to the villages, walks among the historical sites, a stop to feed the gentle, blue-eyed sacred eels, and stops at scenic beaches, vanilla farms, and fruit stands.
Huahine’s lagoon is famous for exploration by jet ski. The shallow waters, large secluded bays, and quiet shores give couples and small groups the feeling of true freedom and adventure. There are several companies that offer half- and full-day programs that circle both islands. Guided tours are complete with frequent stops to picnic on one’s own private beaches and islands.
Your clients can discover Huahine’s backcountry on horseback with La Petite Ferme. Guided riding treks take them along the beach, make an exhilarating crossing of Lake Fauna Nui, ride past lakeside marae, ancient fish traps, and up Matairea Hill through archaeological sites.
TAHA’A & RAIATEA
The islands of Taha’a and Raiatea are encircled by the same reef and share the same immense lagoon. From the island of Tahiti, it’s a 35-minute flight to the airport on Raiatea with connecting service to Taha’a on a 30-minute boat ride across the lagoon.
The Vanilla Island
Taha’a, with its vanilla-scented air, offers a glimpse of the traditional, tranquil life of the Tahitians. The flower-shaped island’s simple beauty is charmed by soft mountain shapes and surrounded by tiny motu with bright, white-sand beaches. Local farmers grow vanilla and copra in the fertile valleys throughout the island.
Sailing Capital of the South Pacific
The waters within the lagoons and around the islands of Tahiti are among the greatest in the world for sailing because of the temperate climate, steady trade winds, proximity of the islands, central South Pacific location, and abundance of dramatic anchorages. Among all of the islands, Raiatea and Taha’a are a favorite for sailors.
Taha’a: the Heartbeat Cadence of Life Creates Activities with a More Relaxing Pace:
• Exploration of the tiny villages and simple island living along the shores.
• Discovery of the family-owned pearl farms and vanilla plantations.
• Enjoyment of a day on one’s own tiny private island.
Raiatea: the Legends of this Ancient Land Add Fascination to Every Activity:
• Discovery of the sacred Mt. Temehani Plateau.
• Exploration by canoe of the Faaroa River and to the ancient and sacred complex of Taputapuatea.
• Freedom of chartering a yacht in some of the most famous sailing waters in the world.
• Adventure into the clear waters with day- or night-time dives.
The most sacred, best-preserved and most famous historical site in all of Polynesia is Raiatea’s Taputapuatea. Now considered a national monument, this immense archaeological area is easily explored by foot and includes dozens of marae and shrines.
The scented air of Taha’a comes from the fragrance of vanilla pods curing in the sun. Over 80 percent of Tahiti’s harvest of this world-famous spice is grown here. Tours include strolling among the rows of climbing orchids and a demonstration of the pollination and curing process.
Both Raiatea and Taha’a are enjoyable islands to explore. By car or bus tour, visitors can drive along the quiet circle-island roads and stop at the villages and peaceful shores. By boat, they can cruise within deep bays dotted with pearl farms or come ashore on a tiny motu. By foot, they can follow a guide along ancient footpaths high into the mountains.
Winding through a lush rainforest, the Faaroa River is the only navigable river in Tahiti and can be enjoyed by a chartered river cruise.
Tahiti’s Strand of Pearls
From the air, these atolls—about a1-hour flight from Tahiti or Bora Bora—look like hundreds of pearls that were gracefully tossed upon the ocean. Each atoll is a delicate band of palm-laden coral beaches and motu surrounding a lagoon with water so clear it seems infinite. Only a few feet in elevation, these seemingly lost atolls are dotted with tiny villages where simple Polynesian life welcomes romantics and divers alike.
Rangiroa is simply beyond imagination with an endless horizon above the world’s second largest atoll. Surrounding one of the world’s greatest dive destinations, 240 islets lay upon the ocean for more than 110 miles completely encircling an infinitely deep lagoon.
The beautiful oasis of land making up the most populated part of Rangiroa is surrounded by two legendary bodies of water, Moana-tea (Peaceful Ocean) and Moana-uri (Wild Ocean). Here, the main villages of Avatoru and Tiputa offer the visitor a unique look at the South Pacific. Along the few roads that exist, coral churches, craft centers, local restaurants, and tiny shops provide enjoyable experiences to complement the many activities in the lagoon. Visitors can also enjoy wine tasting at the Dominique Auroy Estate nestled within a coconut grove and producing three grape varieties.
Fakarava is an untouched world where life along the shores is equally unique with quaint villages, old coral churches, and welcoming people.
Fakarava was once the ancient capital of the region and the site of the first Catholic mission in the atolls, which was built from coral in the 1870s. The lagoon is the second largest in French Polynesia after Rangiroa and is rich with life below and above the surface. So pure is the environment here that Fakarava and five surrounding atolls are one of the protected areas in the world network of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. As a reserve, local communities are actively involved in governance, management, research, education, training and monitoring, which promotes both socio-economic development and biodiversity conservation.
Between Rangiroa and Manihi, located in the northern Tuamotu Archipelago, lies Ahe, an almost entirely enclosed coral atoll. The 2,350-ft.-deep lagoon opens up to the ocean at only one pass, Tiareroa.
Because of its limited accessibility, Ahe has remained relatively unpopulated, with only 561 inhabitants. Here, wildlife abounds, and all around the atoll live diverse species of sharks, rays, turtles, napoleon fish, groupers and barracudas. Over 68 pearl farms are scattered across the lagoon of Ahe. Ahe’s farms produce some of the most exceptional pearls in Tahiti, and they are open for guided visits and demonstrations.
There are no resorts on Ahe—lodging is available at a few family-run guesthouses, and the atoll is accessible by small inner-island flights and private boat charter.
Tikehau, a graceful oval crown of white- and pink-sand beaches, can only be described as a picture-perfect postcard. It’s considered one of the most beautiful atolls in the South Pacific, and its friendly people invite you to explore their tranquil world.
In Tikehau, fish seem to outnumber people one-billion to one. In fact, the density of the fish in the lagoon is so high that Jacques Cousteau’s research group declared it to contain the highest concentration of fish among any other Tuamotu Atoll.
Fishing is among the primary industries here for the 500 residents. Families share fish parks (underwater fenced areas) where they trap parrotfish and other lagoon species as a primary source of food and income. Visitors enjoy endless hours of exploring the perfection of the lagoon through snorkeling, diving, and boating, and exploring the village of Tuherahera.
Manihi conjures up castaway dreams of a tropical isle. Far from the modern world, the crystal-clear lagoon was once filled with mother-of-pearl and is the site of Tahiti’s first black pearl farm.
Visitors enjoy pearl farm visits, as well as exploring the lagoon and the main village of Turipaoa. There are few cars here, so walking around the town square and along the coral paths is as peaceful and romantic as the lagoon itself.
Just over a 3-hour flight from Papeete, the Marquesas are seemingly lost at the end of the earth. Even now some of the islands are virtually untouched since the era of European exploration. Known as Henua Enana (“Land of Men”), the isolation of the Marquesas has created a race of strong and talented people of immense pride and a fascinating culture. Natural wonders abound as 1,000-ft. waterfalls cascade down volcanic cliffs, and towering mountains disappear into the clouds.
This mountainous land is the largest island in the Marquesas and known for towering spire-like peaks; secluded, lush valleys; ancient sites; fjord-like bays; and waterfalls so high that most of the falling water evaporates as it descends.
Known by many as “Paul Gauguin’s Island,” this majestic, historic island offers an untamed landscape; giant stone tiki; and is the final resting place of master poet Jacques Brel and famed artist Paul Gauguin.
AUSTRAL ISLANDS & GAMBIER ISLANDS
Far beyond the distant horizon of the South Pacific are wild and rugged lands still virtually undiscovered by North Americans. The Austral Islands and the Gambier Islands, two distinctly different archipelagos, are the last of the islands to be inhabited in French Polynesia. On the island of Rurutu in the Australs, humpback whales can outnumber people. The remoteness of both island groups has fostered a world with ancient history and traditions unique among the Tahitian isles. For the adventurous traveler, sailor, or diver seeking a true “off-the-beaten-path” experience, these lost worlds await.
One-and-a-half hours from the island of Tahiti are the high volcanic islands of the Australs. The southernmost islands of French Polynesia are both mysterious and beautiful and are known for their traditional arts and culture, whale watching, and sheer remoteness. The main islands that offer small hotels and family pensions, and are reached by direct air service are Rurutu, Tubuai, and Raivavae.
Towering out of the ocean are the steep coral cliffs of Rurutu, a raised coral atoll, riddled with both caves and legends. The colorful coral block homes dot the three main villages where few changes have been seen in the last century. Exploring the mountains, sea cliff caves, and the many ancient marae religious sites are the most popular activities on land. The arrivals of the migratory humpback whales are the highlight of the ocean activities. Between July and October, visitors can snorkel and dive among the pods of these marine giants who stop in these waters to reproduce within sight of the beaches.
A gently-shaped oval landmass, Tubuai is a land rich in soil and panoramic overlooks. The large agricultural plateaus grow traditionally farmed fruits and taro, potatoes, and coffee sent to the markets of Papeete. The circle-island road offers access to the island beaches and network of hiking, biking, and 4×4 trails and the newly reconstructed Fort George, originally built over 200 years ago by the mutineers of the HMS Bounty.
This tiny remote oasis is truly a paradise of nature. Many visitors feel that this island is reminiscent of a smaller, untouched Bora Bora. The high mountainous island hosts a lush mountain rainforest while countless sea birds nest among the dozens of tiny motu, most of which are uninhabited. Hikes can be arranged to the top of Mt. Hiro, 1,300 ft. above the small village of Anatonu, offering gorgeous views of Raivavae’s turquoise lagoon.
Gambier Islands & Mangareva
Over 1,000 miles southeast of Tahiti are the Gambier Islands with mountainous Mangareva standing over the surrounding islands and the luminous lagoon like a great cathedral in a small village. Once the center for Catholicism in Polynesia and a bustling seaport during the missionary era, Mangareva and the waters around the Gambier Islands are now an important supply source for the black pearl industry. Besides the pearl farms and tour of the island by road or boat, visitors can also explore the surprising number of surviving churches, convents, watchtowers, and schools from the 1800s. Some structures are still in use such as St. Michel of Rikitea Church where the altar is inlaid with iridescent mother-of-pearl shell.
HISTORY ON DISPLAY
The Museum of Tahiti & Her Islands: Considered to be one of the best and most beautiful museums in the South Pacific, here Polynesian history is carefully recorded and presented. Highlights include rare collections of art carvings and historical artifacts. Nine miles Southwest of Papeete, adjacent to Le Meridien Tahiti Resort.
The James Norman Hall Home: James Norman Hall, one of Tahiti’s most famous resident authors, co-authored Mutiny on the Bounty and wrote many other fables of the South Seas. The home is carefully maintained, as it was when Hall lived in Tahiti from 1920 to 1951. Three miles East of Papeete in Arue, near the Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti.
The Gauguin Museum: This museum is dedicated to Paul Gauguin’s life during his years on Tahiti and in the Marquesas. The museum sits within the beautiful Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens; 32 miles from Papeete in Papeari.
The Robert Wan Pearl Museum: This is the only museum in the world devoted entirely to cultured Tahitian black pearls. Boulevard Pomare near Downtown Papeete in the Paofai Temple.
DIVING IN THE ATOLLS
To “shoot the pass” is to experience what many have called “the world’s greatest adrenaline rush!” Divers, snorkelers, and even those aboard a glass-bottom boat are carried in a rush of water between the ocean and lagoon surrounded by seemingly millions of fish. Outside the reef is a breathtaking array of large species along the walls of the drop-offs, including squadrons of eagle rays and schools of sharks and tuna.
SOME POPULAR DIVE SITES INCLUDE:
Avatoru Pass: Pass dive 50-70 ft.
Tiputa Pass: Pass dive 40-150 ft.
Aquarium: Lagoon dive 10-30 ft.
The Pass: Ocean dive 60 ft.
Canyons: Ocean dive 40 ft.
Shark Hole: Ocean dive 130 ft.
Tumakohua Pass: Pass dive 40-140 ft.
Garuae Pass: Pass dive 40-140 ft.
Central Park: Ocean dive 10-30 ft.
Tairapa Pass: Pass dive 20-70 ft.
The Break: Ocean dive 30-80 ft.
The Circus: Lagoon dive 50-80 ft.
Dive operators are located near the resorts and primary villages on each atoll.
TAHITI IS THE BEST PLACE ON EARTH TO SHOP FOR TAHITIAN CULTURED PEARLS
The warm lagoon waters of the islands and atolls are Mother Nature’s choice for the cultivation of her pure living gem: the Tahitian cultured pearl. With this first-hand expertise and infinite selection of dozens of major pearl retailers on all the islands, visitors quickly discover that this is the best place in the world to learn about and shop for pearls. Commonly known as “black pearls,” Tahitian cultured pearls range widely in pricing, size, shape, and colors. Visitors are encouraged to visit several merchants during their vacation to learn about judging quality and style, which will help them determine their preference.
CRUISING AND YACHT CHARTER
Cruising is reinvented in Tahitian waters where visitors embark on a voyage to explore these romantic and unspoiled South Pacific isles. Here, the ports-of-call are uncrowded and charming, the ships are smaller and luxurious, the neon-blue waters within the lagoons are calm, and the ocean journey between the islands is short. On these voyages, each island becomes one’s home for the day with an unending variety of water and land activities to enjoy.
Floating atop the lagoon playgrounds around most of the islands, each ship offers activities for all ages and abilities. Each island anchorage offers a new range of activities including jetskiing, windsurfing, waterskiing, parasailing, canoeing, diving, shark feeding, stand-up paddle boarding and snorkeling. Hop on a glass-bottom boat, charter one’s own catamaran or powerboat, or anchor on one’s own private island for the day.
Surrounded by lush green peaks, land activities offer exploration deep into each island. One’s days can be spent by 4×4 safari to dramatic overlooks and into the rich forests, circle-island trips along the coast and inner island roads stopping off at fruit-tasting shops and historic sites, independent trips for shopping or walking through the villages and among artisan studios, or guided hiking trips into the mountains for an overview of the land and ocean.