Tahiti Island is the main centre of French Polynesia with a population of 170,000, mostly living along the west coast corridor and working in the capital town of Papeete. The island is located in the eastern (Windward) side of the Society Islands and is just over 1000 sq-km in size. Tahiti takes around 7-hours to travel around with sightseeing stops along the way.
Tahiti Island Holidays Overview
Although holidaying on Tahiti Island offers excellent sightseeing, with few beaches the island has become more of a transit destination or destination for visiting the chic town of Papeete. Never-the-less, Tahiti is a picturesque island with high rugged mountains with jagged escarpments and covered in dense tropical rainforest. There are exceptional walking trails around Tahiti Iti making it a good spot for adventurers although accommodation outside of Papeete is scarce, and the only beaches are of black sand. Surfing is world class in several locations, most famously at Teahupoo in Tahiti Iti.
Tahiti is the main island and population centre of French Polynesia. Tahiti Island is almost 1000 sq. km in size and is larger than all of its neighbouring Society Islands put together. The island takes about 6 hours to travel around by car with lovely coastal scenery along the way, high mountains with tropical rain forests, and some of the best hiking and surfing in the South Pacific. However, lacking decent beaches, it is mostly neglected by overseas tourists with the large airport hotels catering mostly for transit passengers before heading out to the other islands. The capital Papeete Town, and the international airport are located on the north west tip of the island facing Moorea.
Papeete Town & Tahiti Airport - The West Coast
The most accessible beach on Tahiti is along the south west coast at Punaauia where the fine white sand makes a picturesque setting looking down the coast and over to Moorea Island. At the northern end of the beach is the grand Le Meridien Hotel where some of the most consistent surfing breaks can be found.
Papeete Town lies on the north-west coast of Tahiti on a small harbour backed by rolling hills. Papeete is a rather congested town with a population of over 100,000 people. The town has a distinct French flavour, there are exciting nightclubs, lovely cafes and the delightful nightly Les Roulettes takes over the waterfront car park overlooking the harbour where all types are food are cooked and served at make shift plastic tables.
There is little tourist interest in Papeete Town except for the huge market which has a good selection of handicrafts from around the islands, perfumes, oils, flowers, island style clothes as well a few small restaurants upstairs serving fresh raw tuna. It does however make a good base for exploring with good transport, several excellent tours into the mountains and the wharf for day trips to Moorea.
The Airport Hotels
The large beach resorts are found 8km south of Papeete Town just beyond the airport where there are several small beaches, but nothing resembling the tourist brochures.
There are however excellent views overlooking Moorea Island in the distance which is perfectly silhouetted by the setting sun. The most beautiful of these is the imposing Intercontinental Hotel set in large landscaped grounds. The hotel puts on the best Tahitian dance show and feast twice a week. On the adjacent bay is the rather less impressive but more affordable Sofitel which has a small beach with good swimming although at times the bay can become clogged with seaweed.
Further along the coast there's a pleasant long stretch of sandy beach
On the South Coast, just beyond the bustle of Paea Village, is a beautifully reconstructed marae at Arahurahu which makes for the spectacular setting for several cultural performances. The south coast of Tahiti is rather featureless, with few attractions except the popular Gauguin Museum, The Fern Grotto and the scenic golf course at Atimaono. Nearby, an inland 4WD track that winds up the mountain through a tunnel to Lake Vaihira.
The north coast of Tahiti has the islands' best mountain scenery and a few noteworthy scenic attractions. Here too are several picturesque black sand beaches with excellent surfing. At Arahoho Blowhole a road leads a few km inland to the three waterfalls of Faarumai. Twenty kilometres before reaching Papeete, the inland road from Papenoo offers lovely mountain scenery and is the venue for several 4WD day tours, walking tours and horse back excursions. The closest attraction to Papeete is Point Venus, a stunning lookout over tranquil Matavai Bay which has excellent swimming - you can sometimes spot dolphins in the water.
Tahiti-Iti, the isolated land mass at the eastern end of Tahiti is very rural with some attractive Polynesian style villages and a few small beaches on its south coast. Hiking trails are excellent on both the south and north coast and the coastal road passes some of the country's most outstanding scenery making this a must for those who like exploring. The south coast road on Tahiti Iti runs for 17-km to Teahupoo before it too is halted by the rugged mountains. There's a nice beach at Toouo where locals catch fish with spears in the bay. The surfing at Teahupoo offers some of the largest waves in the South Pacific.
The road around Tahiti Iti's north coast winds along the coastline with nice views. The road ends at the tranquil Tautira Village which has spectacular mountain views and a nice beach where village kids spend their days splashing around in the water. From Tautira you can take the 15-km walking track along the stunning Pari Coast where you can see petroglyphs and sacred marae along the way. Another road from the north coast heads inland climbing the gentle cattle grazing hills. From the summit of Vaifaufa are stunning views of both Tahiti Iti and Tahiti Nui, seen at its best for sunrise and sunset.
Tahiti Island Travel Information
The international and domestic airport are located side by side about 10-minutes by road south of Papeete Town and about the same travelling time north of the large resorts. Public transport between Papeete and the airport is reliable and cheap, with more expensive taxis plying the roads. Traffic congestion around Papeete is as bad as is in some French cities with travel at rush hour best avoided. There are public buses travelling around the island, especially along the southern coast, but to visit the stunning mountains of Tahiti Iti or to take in sightseeing, car hire is highly recommended above coach tours which usually travel in convoy dumping crowds on the same sights at one time. Back to the Tahiti Islands Travel Guide