Top 10 things to do on The Big Island of Tahiti

You've promised yourself a long-overdue break.

Imagine somewhere close (under 5 hours direct from Auckland), warm (28 to 30 degrees), exotic (you won’t run into your neighbours), a little bit sexy (they speak French), where you can chill out or explore a unique lagoon lifestyle, people and culture. Somewhere you can swim in clear ocean waters, you won’t be overrun with tourists, where it’s hard to find bad food and where the people exude a quiet graciousness. If you are an adventurer at heart but want a holiday that is guaranteed relaxing, rewarding and fun, then this is the place for you!

 


1. James Norman Hall House

 

We love this hidden Pacific gem, which celebrates the life of the colourful character, James Norman Hall.  A famous American writer, adventurer, soldier, pilot and poet, he is best known for co-penning “The Mutiny on the Bounty”.  James Michener described Hall as the ‘most beloved American that ever came to the tropics. Hall lived in the colonial homestead situated near the edge of Matavai Bay (not far from where Bligh anchored the Bounty) from 1920 until his death in 1951.
Inside, it is a treasure trove of original artefacts.  Highlights include Hall’s typewriter, desk and hundreds of photos and mementos. The home is set in a delightful tropical garden, resplendent with a breadfruit tree – the initiator of the bounty saga!

Getting There
Located on the coastal highway at Arue, 5.5KM East of Papeete town (keep the sea on your left heading from town) – and a short distance before you get to the Tahiti Pearl Hotel. Parking is a little tricky – best park in the back of the bus stop in front of the house, leaving space for tour buses.

More Info
Phone : (689) 40 50 01 61. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is 800 XPF (approx NZ$11). Enquire about pre-booking a Tuna Carpaccio lunch in the main dining room. It is an exquisite experience! 
 


2. La Plage Vaiava - Beach at PK18, West of Papeete

 

Champagne clear lagoon waters great for snorkelling, picnics, paddle boarding, or relaxing white sand await at this beach which is extremely popular with locals. If you enjoy snorkelling, bring your gear from home (Air Tahiti Nui will fly an additional sport bag with ‘dive or surf’ gear for free). If you head out directly off the beach towards the reef you will encounter a wide array of tropical fish and possible even a stingray. On weekends and public holidays, paddle boards and kayaks are available for rental along the beach from XPF 1500 (approx NZ$20) for an hour.

The beach has a small picnic area with tables, and also fresh water showers and changing rooms. A refreshment kiosk is available but its opening hours are haphazard. We recommend bring a picnic!

Getting There
Located in the town of Punaauia, 18 KM’S from Papeete. Drive West from Papeete to Punaauia (with the sea on your right). Once past the Meridien Hotel continue approximately 2 km’s and you will see a sign saying VAIAVA Plage, at PK18.
 


3. The Papeete Market

 

This is a must see.  The lively and colourful market opens early and is filled with a wide range of local produce  and seafood. Visitors enjoy the local flavour, and it is a good place for crafts and souvenirs. The Maeva Café, just up the escalator, is a great spot for a casual lunch or coffee.

TIP – early on Sundays (before church) the market expands into a farmers market, and the streets adjacent are teeming with the locals procuring supplies from the array of delicious and colourful fresh produce. Be there early (6am) to see it at its busiest. Join the throngs of Tahitians queueing for the Chinese style BBQ Pork delicacy and grab a baguette for a picnic lunch at the beach.


4. Museum of Tahiti

 

Le nouveau film de présentation du Musée de Tahiti et des ÎlesRéalisé par Emotion

Posted by Musée de Tahiti et des Iles - Te Fare Manaha on Tuesday, December 2, 2014

 

Located in Punaauia, west of Papeete,  the Museum of Tahiti is set in a 3 hectare park on a bay-side premonitory. The Museum features an interesting array of geological and anthropological exhibits  showcasing the volcanic origins of the Islands of Tahiti, and the evolution of its peoples. Included are historical artefacts and displays tracing the pre-European lifestyle of the Tahitians, and the contrasts with colonial history. Opening hours are 9.00am to 5.00pm Tuesday to Sunday, and admission is around XPF600 (NZ$8.50)

It is also worth a drive-by to view the bay, which is open to the sea near a reef pass. (A nice picnic spot also) You will see locals’ body boarding and occasionally in the mornings  resident spinner dolphins can be seen jumping and frolicking in the bay. From July to November it is common to see Humpback Whales further out – they commute from the Antarctic to give birth in local waters.

 


5. Matavai Bay Lookout

 

At the top of the hill just over 7kms from town (a 20 minute walk up the hill from the Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort) will bring you to the impressive lookout over Matavai Bay. Moorea is also in view. This historic bay is rich in Tahitian and European history. Visitors who dropped anchor here include James Cook, Bligh, Wallis , Vancouver ,Bougainville and Charles Darwin.

Note: The lookout car park is on the uphill side of the hill crest when heading towards Papeete. If you are heading away from Papeete towards Mahina, continue through the roundabout at the crest of the hill on to the roundabout halfway down the hill, where you can loop back upwards and enter the car park.


6. Venus Point

 

Venus Point is a black sand spit jutting into Matavai Bay.  It is a favoured picnic spot for locals as the water is clear and warm, and the beach usually sheltered and calm. Occasionally it will offer small long breaking waves which are great for body boarding.  (A small tip – Air Tahiti Nui will allow one extra ‘surf’ bag per person on flights to Tahiti without fee - so it is worth packing your body boards).

On weekends the beach is packed with families enjoying the surrounds. It is patrolled by lifeguards on weekends. While the waters are generally safe – as always in water watch for currents and changes of depth, and keep an eye on little ones.
A working lighthouse on the point is a local landmark. There is also an artisan sales fare (hut) on the grounds of the beach park. On weekends enjoy stopping in the shadow of the lighthouse to watch the locals playing Petanque – a fun aspect of local french flavour!

Tips – There might not be refreshments available at the beach – so take bottled water or organise a picnic to take with you.

Location
Located in Mahina, 20 minutes East of Papeete. From the Tahiti Pearl Resort head East over the hill. 5 minutes to Mahina and a few minutes on to Venus Point. When you arrive at the roundabout in Mahina take the 3rd exit (you will see “Champion” supermarket on the corner) and continue until you reach the lighthouse and parking lot at Venus Point Beach.


7. Self guided walking tour of Papeete


A free shuttle from the Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort will drop you in town next to the Tahiti Tourisme office where you can visit to pick up a map that has all the landmarks outlined.

Worth a walk by is the gothic style Notre Dame Cathedral which is also the point zero marker for the milestone markers scattered around the island, representing the road distance from the centre of Papeete. The cathedral survived shelling by German destroyers in September 1914.

The Presidential Palace, opened in 2000, is a beautiful building inspired by 19th century colonial military style architecture. The gates are open mid-week and it is worth sneaking into the picturesque courtyard for a photo stop.
Along the waterfront you will pass the Stuart Hotel where celebrated French artist Henri Matisse stayed in 1930.

The Papeete Town Hall also another relatively recent addition to the city, with its impressive architecture harking back to the town’s colonial past. During weekdays the grounds are open for a photo stop.

You can visit Gaugin’s Banyan Tree where it is said the celebrated artist sort solitude on a daily basis on a platform built on its branches.

The ‘Seedler Cannon’ is a relic from the German raiding ship Seedler, captained by the celebrated nobleman, author and sailor - Count Felix Von Luckner. In World War 1 the Count earned kudos for the daring and chivalrous manner in which he captured and dispatched 14 allied ships to the bottom of the Pacific, without any casualties on either side. His own ship met an inglorious end when it wrecked on a tiny atoll in the Leeward islands of Tahiti. In between numerous escape atempts he spent the remainder of the war as a ‘guest’ of the New Zealand Government in prisoner of war camps in the Hauraki Gulf (Motuihe Is.) and Lyttelton Harbour.

Paofai Park on the Downtown Waterfront
This picturesque park runs alongside the port, wedged between the main esplanade and the sea. A pretty Marina sits at one end with the cruise wharf adjacent to it. The other end features a beach football venue (built for the FIFA World Cup Event), and an outdoor auditorium/stadium (Place Totoa) which is home to live music and cultural events like the Heiva Dance festival in July.  In between, the park meanders for a kilometre, dotted with pathways, a fitness circuit, shaded areas, trees,  ponds, bench seats, kids play areas, and several restrooms.

Kiwis travelling with a young family will have a lot of fun rubbing shoulders with the locals in the extensive array of kids play area's. It’s a great spot to see cruise ships docking.  The park also houses a fleet of Va’a Outriggers, often in action at lunch time or after work. Good value casual snack restaurants sit at the far end of the park, near the beach football venue.

Shopping
Tahiti boasts an interesting array of shops displaying, art, crafts as well a stylish boutiques with French and Polynesian flair and accents.  A wide selection of talented jewelers and artisans showcase the alluring Tahitian 'Black Pearl'. Tahitian Pearls are sought after the world over for the quality and shimmering array of colours from black to shades of green, blue, bronze, aubergine and pink. You will find all the high-end surf brands in the downtown area.


8. Daily Excursions

 

Tetiaroa Atoll
This beautiful and unspoilt atoll was owned by Marlin Brando. It is the only atoll in the Society Island group. Highlights are the magnificent sanctuary for marine birds, and a stunning lagoon.

Three Yacht/Launch charter operators make the 50 kilometre sailing from Papeete, which takes two and a half to three hours each way. Trips include lunch, a swim or snorkel in the pristine lagoon, and a guided walk to the ‘bird island’ which is home to Booby and Frigate birds. The vessels depart Papeete downtown Marina around 6am returning at 6pm. This day trip is very popular, so check the weather and take our advice to book ahead as far as possible. The cost is starts from 14,000 XPF (approx NZ$193).

Moorea Day Trip
Tahiti’s sister island is just a 45 minute ferry away, and perfect to explore by scooter, car or an organised trip.
Some companies can coordinate the full day or you can plan it yourself.
Click here for the Aremiti Ferry Timetable. Fares are around XPF3000 return (approx NZ$40) and can be purchased at the terminal downtown, or online.

Contact Albert Tours Moorea Excursions & Transfers (Tel: +689 40 55 21 10) for Moorea excursions – they will help you plan your day including a ferry pick up and drop off service on Moorea. Our favorites are the Motu Picnic with Ray Feeding (an absolute iconic Tahiti highlight) which costs around XPF7000 (approx NZ$96) including transfers from the Moorea terminal. An alternative for land lubbers is a quad bike excursion. Albert can also assist with car and scooter hire.
 
Whale Watching
From around August to October Humpback Whales shelter in Tahiti’s warm waters to mate and give birth before returning to Antarctic waters. They can often be viewed close to the islands of Moorea and Tahiti. There are different operators that can assist – Top Dive at the Intercontinental runs morning and afternoon excursions daily in season. If you are lucky you may have a once in a lifetime opportunity to snorkel with some whales and their babies. Booking ahead is recommended. Tel +689 40 53 34 96
 
Scuba Diving
Top Dive Tahiti  dive center is located at the Intercontinental Tahiti Resort. Tahiti offers easy access to 12 dive sites located on the west and east coasts of the island. Tahiti is an ideal location for an introductory dive with some perfect lagoon sites like "the aquarium" or "the wrecks". Or for certified divers there is an oppertuunity to discover French Polynesia's most common species of shark - the Whitetip reef shark, the Blacktip reef shark and the Lemon shark!
 
Surf Lessons
The Polynesians invented surfing and there is no better place to learn. There are several excellent operations that will provide a hands on surfing experience for beginners, intermediate or more experienced surfers. Equipment provided includes Body Boards, surf boards (long and short) and stand up paddle boards. Tahiti offers a vairety of beach and reef breaks. Trips departing in morning or afternoon last around 4 hours with hotel transport included – that allows for 2 ½ hours in the water. TAMA HE'E Ecole de Surf Tel +689 87 79 06 91 .

Four-Wheel Drive Safaris
This excursion offers a great experience covering 130 kilometres including 60 off road in a full or half day in the heart of Tahiti. The visit to the crater will take you back in time.  Sights include several waterfalls where you can swim, archeological sites, tropical flora, river and fords. Their polynesian guides are happy to stop en route to talk about their island and recountTahitian legends.  A breathless experience is guaranteed.

 


 

9. Eating Out


Eating out in Tahiti is a combination of French chic and Polynesian informality. Eating out Tahiti style is fun, and it is certainly no more pricey than Auckland dining on a quality for value basis. Following is a small selection of the favourite ‘go to’ places.

- LA CASA BIANCA
This casual outdoor style eatery is located in the Marina Taina in Punaauia, just past the Carrefour when heading West (with the sea on your right.)

As the name suggests it is a great place for pasta or pizza as well as Tahitian specialties at affordable prices. The drinks menu features beer from a local micro-brewery. The Marina is a great place to walk off a long lunch or dinner and admire the super yachts passing through town!

- BLUE BANANA  
A smart-casual eatery the Blue Banana is in a prime location – right on the edge of the lagoon. At night you might see a stingray swooning around from the restaurant’s jetty. Awesome for lunch or dinner. Great food, excellent menu, friendly service, and a laid back ambience. Book ahead and ask for a table near the water. Tel : 40 41 22 24.

- LOTUS RESTAURANT
For special occasions, you cannot pass this French Gourmet restaurant at the Intercontinental Tahiti Resort (just past the airport heading from Papeete). This hotel restaurant enjoys a spectacular location over the lagoon and facing the island of Moorea.  Prices will vary at the higher end of the scale, but it is worth every cent. Food and service is top notch and it is recognised for its informal elegance and style.

- L’API’ZZERIA
This pizza restaurant, which is popular with the locals, is located on Papeete’s main esplanade, Boulevard Pomare, between rue du Chef Teriirooterai and rue l'Arthemise. It is just across the road from the harbour side park (near the church), so it is a handy place for a casual dinner after a stroll.

- L’O A’ LA BOUCHE
This fine dining, French gastronomic restaurant is in the heart of town located in a small lane (Passage Cardella) just past the Cathedral heading West on the one-way Avenue General de Gaulle. Parking is limited in the lane, so stop in the road by the cathedral for parking.

Prices are at the upper end as you would expect but again worth every cent for an intimate dining experience.    

- O'3 FILOUS
From the outside, this hidden dining treasure appears innocuous, but once inside you are greeted with an experience in the best tradition of a charming French Bistro. Freshly laundered red and white check table linen, a generous blackboard menu, excellent wine list (by the glass or bottle), and staff that are only too happy to have a chat and steer you through the menu choices and help match with wines. It is located on Rue du Marechal in the centre of town. Open for lunch, Tuesday - Saturday & dinner, Friday - Saturday. Booking recommended. Tel :40 82 29 88

- THE ROULOTTES
We saved the best for last. The Roulottes are Tahiti’s famous food trucks found open for dinner at many locations around the island. The Roulottes located on the waterfront beside the main cruise ship piers are a major hangout for locals and visitors alike.

Open 7 days, the vendors start preparing for dinner from around 6pm. By 7.30pm most nights it is in full flight.   The Roulottes offer a delightful casualness and a wide selection of food. There are plenty of grills (fish/meat/poultry), selections of Chinese food, BBQ’s, crepes, plus the full range of popular Tahitian specialities.

Note the Roulottes only take cash, and are not licensed. If you feel like a pre-dinner drink head to “Les 3 Brasseurs” a busy bar and microbrewery across the esplanade towards the ferry terminal, or La Retro at the Vaima centre which is 5 minutes along the esplanade to the West. Both are great spots to soak up the local flavour.


10. Pack a Picnic - Head to Carrefour


Since every day is picnic weather, a trip to the Carrefour ‘Super Marché’ is a must. There is a Carrefour some 3kms from the Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort (toward Papeete).  The largest Carrefour is at Punaauia is just before the Marina, on the right side of the road heading west away from Papeete.

The supermarket delis are well stocked with an array of terrines, pates, and fresh produce. The wine is not as cheap as you will find in France due to import taxes. Nevertheless, it is fun to pick through the massive array of Bordeaux and Burgundies which are still reasonably priced.  

Opening hours are 8am to 8pm Mon-Sat. The Punaauia Marche is open Sundays also. In the same complex you will find a good casual restaurant (air-conditioned upstairs), a beach wear/sports shop and a pharmacy.



 

We hope you enjoy meeting the locals. Here are a selection of Tahitian phrases you can practise prior to your departure.

Hello Ia Ora na (yo-rah-nah)

Goodbye Nana (nah-nah)

Big Nui (new-ee)

Small Iti (ee-tee)

Island Motu (mo-too)

Welcome Maeva (mah-ay-vah)

Thank you Mauru’ uru (mah-roo-roo)

Cheers! Manuia! (mah-new-yah)

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