The beauty of French Polynesia, a South Pacific archipelago made up of 118 islands and atolls, has beckoned artists and writers including Paul Gauguin, Robert Louis Stevenson and James Michener across the centuries. Poet Rupert Brooke, another luminary captivated by the islands, observed, “In the South Seas, the Creator seems to have wanted to show us what He could do.” And the islands’ appeal still lures modern travelers. No matter how much you have wandered in the world, when you get to Tahiti and other Society Islands (so called by Capt. James Cook as they are contiguous to one another), you can ascertain that their beauty is of such magnitude that it is both captivating and surprising. You’ve only to see a green atoll surrounded by spectacularly white sands and crystalline blue waters to realize that you are in an earthly Eden…a place of mountains, cascades, forests, white- and black-sand beaches and other idyllic panoramas.
Here are 5 tips for making the most of your Tahiti Cruise Vacation!
An Island Tour
With the shape of a number 8 that seems to be reclining and floating in the sea, Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia (651 square miles), has two main round sections: the bigger one is Tahiti Nui, where the capital of Papeete is located, and the smaller one, Tahiti Iti, a more rural area. The Taravao Isthmus connects both parts of the island. Two of Tahiti’s highest peaks, Mt. Orohena (7,334 feet high) and Mt. Aorai (6,738 feet) can be seen from the center of Papeete. Another beautiful mountain, Diademe (4,291 feet), can best be viewed from the eastern city of Pirae.
A stroll on the seaside promenade in Papeete that recalls those of the French Riviera. Other French touches: the open-air cafes on Pomare Boulevard, where visitors also find boutiques and stores that sell French wines, perfumes and fashions. Another French must-see is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Papeete, on the Place Notre Dame and the streets rue General de Gaulle and Jeanne D’Arc. It dates from 1875 and is in Gothic style – a nice spot to rest during walks in the city.
The Municipal Market
A block from Pomare Boulevard, the market is a great place to enjoy Polynesian ambience and local color. It offers a wide variety of merchandise including pearls, flowers, arts and crafts, coffee, fruits, vegetables and other products.
Many cruise passengers, including us, take advantage of overnights or extended visits to Tahiti to enjoy an overwater bungalow at one of the island’s resorts. We did so at the InterContinental Resort Tahiti, recently renovated, with beautiful gardens, beach, pools, rooms and bungalows over aquamarine waters. The resort is a short taxi ride from the cruise pier.
Tahiti Cultural Activities
In addition to French-accented culinary delights and Polynesian dance performances, cultural points of interest include the Musée de Tahiti Et Ses Isles in Punaauia, nine miles west of Papeete, next to a lagoon with lovely views of Moorea, with exhibits about the history of the island; the Arahurahu Marae, a restored Polynesian temple in Paea, 14 miles west of Papeete, and the tomb of King Pomare V on Point Outuaiai in Arue (Pomare V was the last king of Tahiti who ceded power to the French in 1880).
This is the first of a 3-part series exploring the beauty and culture of French Polynesia.