Tahiti and her islands are a once in a lifetime trip to paradise. Discover and be embraced by the mana, or the lifeforce and spirit of Polynesians, that is so prevalent in this wonderful islands. Visit and be entranced
French Polynesia is an island nation of contrasts and constant surprises; there is so much more than tropical beaches. The centre of the islands are filled with high volcanic peaks covered with lush rain forests, and full of the spirit or mana of the islands. Luxury or adventure, resorts or wild mountains, exploring or sitting relaxing, swimming or hiking there is something for everyone. It is this variety and contrast that make Tahiti stand out from other tropical destinations.
Tahiti is the main island of French Polynesia, and where you will start and finish your holiday as it is where the international airport is. It is the largest and busiest island, having beaches, resorts, bustling towns, nightlife and wild mountains.
We stayed at Le Meridien, a comfortable, large modern tourist hotel with 150 rooms only a 10 minute drive from the airport. My room was quiet and had a blissfully comfortable bed, where I slept until 7am on the first morning (impressive with the 10 hour time difference). The hotel is known for its sand bottomed pool, views over to Mo’orea, and is surrounded by lush tropical gardens, which the dining room looks over. It is the ideal base to get over your jet-lag for the first couple of nights.
Le Meridian is the ideal base for some excursions, we travelled into the mountainous jungle in the centre of the island with Iaorana Tahiti Expeditions, where we hiked to a hidden waterfall fed pool, wondered at the lush mountains and ate poisson cru. Tip – bug repellent is a must.
If you are a surfer then take a boat trip to Teahupoo, the second biggest surfing wave in the world. The boat tours will also take you to hidden waterfalls, lagoons, cliffs and all manner of adventures. Tahiti is also the place to learn to paddle an outrigger canoe at Punaauia.
If you are staying for a few days make sure you go into town to buy mother of pearl jewellery and other crafts at the market next to the tourist office and also dine from the roulottes or local food trucks in Vaiete Square and soak up the atmosphere with the locals on evening.
Flights to the other islands including Bora Bora are with Air Tahiti, who fly from the domestic terminal of the main airport. It takes about 50 minutes to get there. On the domestic flights there is free seating, when you fly into Bora Bora you want to sit on the left hand side of the plane for the best views so you need to be standing in that queue ready to board.
Having arrived, it is immediately obvious why in ancient times the island was known as Pora pora mai te pora; Tahitian for Created by the Gods. You step off the plane, walk into arrivals at the airport and are greeted by a representative from your resort who puts a sweetly smelling floral lui around your neck to welcome you (you are gifted a shell necklace when you leave), collects your luggage and takes you to the boat for the transfer to your hotel across that idyllic azure blue lagoon. The airport and most of the major resorts are on the islands, or motu, which surround the main island with the extinct volcanos of Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu. (Once in the resort you are then on their timetable for boat transfers to the main island and other resorts, so allow plenty of time).
Bora Bora is the place to stop, relax and just be, letting the resorts look after your every whim. This is the best place spend your budget on a luxurious over-water bungalow, to be in the water, snorkelling, swimming, paddle boarding or jet skiing. This is the island where you can snorkel with baby sharks and sting rays in that clear blue water.
(When choosing your resorts you absolutely have to stay in an overwater bungalow for a few nights, but they are far more expensive so I’d recommend not doing it for the entire trip. Make sure your bungalow has direct access to the water for swimming and snorkelling. It is lovely to be at the end of the pontoon away from everyone, but the furthest bungalows have an appreciable walk to and from the main hotel. Order a room service breakfast at least once to eat on your balcony too.)
We started in the overwater bungalows at the Pearl Beach Spa and Resort, and unfortunately witnessed the worse tropical storm for months, I’d never seen rain like it (unfortunately press trips are nearly always in the low season – but we were spectacularly unlucky). Even with the clouds and rain it was still warm, and the view was still stunning. The resort has an enviable position looking across the lagoon to Bora Bora’s two mountains. The resort is well maintained with spread out spacious bungalows. We felt that some of the accommodation has become a little dated, but there is a new General Manager and programme of refurbishment in place over the next couple of years. The resort’s spa is fabulously atmospheric, offering large treatment rooms which look out across tropical pools filled with lilies to the forest beyond. Be sure to have a Polynesian massage, where as well as their hands the therapists use their forearms to make it both an intense and supremely relaxing treatment that will iron out any kinks in your muscles before you go back to the water.
We ate at the Lagoon Restaurant in the St Regis, Bora Bora – Polynesian gastronomy with a French twist, in a glass floored restaurant over the lagoon, then the second night at the Villa Mahana, a small intimate French Polynesian restaurant on the main island and well worth a visit.
Mo’orea is visible from Tahiti and is a short 10 minute hop by air, or a 40 minute ferry ride. The island has a very different feel, wilder, rugged, raw and less manicured, with the jungle covered mountains tumbling down right to the edge of the beach. In complete contrast to the luxury of Bora Bora or welcome of Tahiti this is the place to have an adventure, meet some locals and embrace Polynesian culture. Of course the resorts are still luxurious; we stayed at the Sofitel Ia Ora Beach Resort, its palm roofed bungalows surrounded by gardens had the real feel of a Polynesian village and being in the middle of nature. It is the island to get out and do something different and have an adventure.
This is the island to go riding to see the Ophunoha Valley, eat lunch cooked in a traditional Polynesian clay oven on the beach, take a cultural workshop, or drive through fast flowing rivers and pineapple fields to the top of the Magic Mountain in an ATV, before returning to your resort for a world class dinner of fusion French Tahitian food whist being serenaded by live Tahitian music.
Our ATV tour with Albert Transport was amazing fun, fast, furious and high on adrenaline. We sped along the roads, zoomed through forests, splashed through rivers and tore around quite terrifying hairpin bends on the way up and down the magic mountain. Remember the action camera and the selfie stick for photos at the top of the Magic Mountain. Top tip – take bug spray!
After all that excitement and adrenaline relax and learn more about the islands and Polynesian culture at Pineapple Beach. After a traditional greeting from tattooed drummers, sample bread fruit baked in a Tahitian underground oven, we were thrown into a virtual tour of Tahiti’s islands, learning about the origins of tattoos, therapeutic massage, and the uses of the coconut.
Hands on sessions included dancing, making a coconut palm bag and weaving garlands of flowers for our hair.
The Islands of Tahiti Information
Getting there – see below. It is a 22 hour flight from Paris. The islands are 10 hours behind UK time.
The islands have a year round tropical climate and warm seas. The weather varies throughout the year. Research before you book. I was very unlucky for January.
Because of the transfer in LA you must get an ESTA as you need to enter the United States (check requirements for other nationalities). Apply online, the $14 fee can be paid via PalPal. It takes 10 minutes and there is not need to use the expensive services that apply for you.
UK citizens don’t need a visa for Tahiti.
Take standard continental plug adaptors with you (and a US one for a quick recharge of LA airport).
Everyone speaks French, English is widely spoken.
Mobile calls and data is expensive, hotel wifi is generally slow, but will support audio calls and audio FaceTime.
Visit Tahiti Tourism for more information.
Getting there – Air Tahiti Nui
There are not that many ways to get to Tahiti from Europe – we flew from Paris via LA with Air Tahiti Nui (the national carrier – internal flights are with Air Tahiti). If travelling from London you can catch an early flight from Heathrow to Paris, but given delays, and the vast sprawling of Charles de Gaulle Airport safer, and certainly better for your peace of mind to travel to Paris the day before and stay at a inexpensive airport hotel.
On board service is extemporary and served with a French Polynesian beaming smile. Seating is in a 2-4-2 configuration and the colour scheme reflects the azure blues of the lagoons of Tahiti. I really liked that the cabin crew changed from the usual suit into tropical print dresses and shirts once we were airborne, which got everyone into the holiday mood.
Meals were on the good side of standard airline, drinks are served generously and on the trans-Atlantic leg there ware snacks – cakes, sandwiches and ice creams available all the time in the galley.
There was a reasonable selection of films to watch (in both English and French) and the usual music channels and games in the seat back screens. My plane did not have in seat power so make sure you take a portable power bank with you.
At LA you need to get off the plane, go though immigration and then security and then back on, so you need to get a ESTA prior to travelling. In theory your transit card should give you priority through security but we found that the staff were not excellent at directing us through the proper channels. Happily your checked baggage stays on board so it is one less thing to worry about. If you have them take a few dollars as there is time to buy coffee and snacks, and also a charger to top up your phone. There is free wi-fi in LA airport.
Most delays to the flights are caused by the need to go through security at LA, we had to sit and wait for about 40 minutes for the last stragglers to board. The plane fills up at LA, and if you have been fortunate to have an empty seat next to you on the trans-atlantic leg you are likely to be sitting next to someone for the second flight. Similarly on the way home (two back to back night flights the plane empties at LA – I had 4 seats and a very good sleep between LA and Paris.
Mindful of jetjag I’d had a nap for a few hours on the first flight, but the second leg, mainly in darkness, from LA to Tahiti seemed interminably long whilst I was trying to stay awake, I’d recommend saving two films you really want to see for the second leg.
Fuss Free Flavours was the guest of the Tahitian Tourist board. All opinions our own.