Tahiti is a paradise on earth and the island of love. Its wild and varied beauty and picture postcard blue skies and transparent lagoons led the original European travellers to believe this was a paradise on earth.
Tahiti is the economic, cultural and political centre of French Polynesia and the largest and most well known in the Windward group of French Polynesia but is only part of the picture. The island is located in the archipelago of the Society Islands in the central Southern Pacific Ocean, and is divided into two parts: The bigger, northwestern part Tahiti Nui and the smaller, southeastern part Tahiti Iti. Tahiti was originally settled by Polynesians between 300 and 800 CE. They represent about 70 percent of the island’s population with the rest made up of Europeans, Chinese and those of mixed heritage.
The islands team with exotic temples, chieftains, rituals, erotic dancing, beautiful beaches and beauty contest and they are ripe for diving and underwater adventures. Polynesia is a lagoon paradise, and Tahiti.s famous black sand beaches plus luxury hotels with artificial beaches.
19th century missionaries tried to destroy the Polynesian culture on the island, but the largely Maohi culture survives and is shown in a laid back attitude and lifestyle. Gospel and churchgoing is popular amongst the Christian fraternity.
The people are famous for body tatoos (taken from the Tahiti word “tatau” meaning open wound!), and expressive and vibrant form of body decorations. The culture is liberal in certain areas, in the region of Mahu and Rae Rae Transvestisism is utterly acceptable; it is usual for the first born son in the family to be brought up as a girl.
Each of the islands have their own characters and different experiences – the main island of Tahiti is home to tourism, clubbing, the Faaruumai waterfalls, the Gauguin Museum , black sand beaches and unexplored dive sites; Moorea is a natural panorama of volcanic peaks, crystalline waters and lush moutain slopes.
And Bora Bora is the home of lazy lagoons, famous hotels and Huahine island is the spot for the most consistent surf in the region. If archeology or searching for the rare Tiare Apetahi flower is your taste, than Raiatea is the place to explore.
The islands have two distinct seasons, November – April spells the wet season and June – August is the driest season. However, May – October is the season for diving, with clear visibility in the waters. Avoid the hottest spells in February and March when the air is humid and temperatures soar.
Dress for the sun and surf, the climate is mild and there are no dress restrictions. It’s a relaxed culture, so swimsuits, shorts, and skirts are acceptable, but remember to pack the sun cream and mosquito repellant.
Tahitian and French are the official languages of the 1,200 tribal languages used. English is spoken in the tourist areas, but its useful to know some French, however limited when heading to remote parts.
Fresh sea food and fruits are always on the Polynesian menu like Poisson cru (raw fish like Sushi), dolphin fish, lobster and poe (plantain bananas).
Currency is the franc cours Pacifique (Pacific franc)
US $1 = c120 CFP.
UK £1 = c.190 CFP.
For up to date currency information, check the Currency Converter.
Tahiti is the most expensive of the islands to visit, a bed and breakfast will set you back around $50 US a night and a sushi snack around $7 US. You will incur big charges for changing money other than French Francs and travellers cheques so come prepared.
French citizens are exempt from passport and visa, and the rules on visa are the same as for those entering France. EU citizens can stay for up to 3 months without visa.
Get around the islands in a goelette – a small cargo ship. Truck is the favoured mode travelling on dry land and very cheap, or small planes offering fixed price island hops.
By Susi O’Neill
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