Tahiti: Jewel of French Polynesia
This scenic tropical island is a treasure trove of natural attractions and a significant hot-spot in the history of post-Impressionist art
Tahiti is the largest island in the South Pacific archipelago of French Polynesia, comprising Tahiti Nui (the larger, western section) and Tahiti Iti (the eastern peninsula). The islands’ geography reads like a storybook paradise, and its natural attractions are the reason why Tahiti is such a popular vacation destination; black-sand beaches, shimmering lagoons, majestic waterfalls and even a pair of extinct volcanoes.
One of the very few white sand beaches on the island, La Plage de Maui, (‘Maui Beach’ — no relation to Hawaii) is on the southern coast of Tahiti Nui. Here the laidback French Polynesia vibe was born amid the palette of brilliant natural colours that so inspired Gauguin, while a nearby lagoon is great for snorkelling and swimming. The Three Waterfalls, a.k.a Faarumai Waterfalls, are a trio of stunningly beautiful cascades located on Tahiti Nui, which are accessible only by trekking through an enchantingly serene rainforest.
Tahitian themes are ubiquitous in oeuvre of Paul Gauguin, the French painter for whom the island’s natural beauty – not to mention a number of its women – famously served as muses, and no visit to Tahiti would be complete without a visit to the Paul Gauguin Museum. In a nod to French post-impressionist’s signature Japanese-influence painting style, the exhibit of original works and prints is housed in a Japanese-style building. Another curation most definitely worth visiting, the Black Pearl Museum offers a look into the rich mythology, cultural impact and timeless beauty of these uniquely Tahitian sea-gems.
As the name implies, The Huahine Natural Aquarium lets visitors mingle with Pacific Ocean sea life in the shallows of a natural lagoon. Visitors can stand on platforms and watch from above, or dive right in and make friends with the docile aquatic creatures.
If surfing is your thing then Tahiti’s Teahupo’o should be way up there on your bucket list. Known for one of the world’s most treacherous surf lines, the beach’s famously humungous waves break directly onto the razor sharp reef. Peak cowabunga season is May to October, and there is a sightseeing boat for those not willing to test their health insurance coverage.
Rich in tranquil beauty, Mara’a Grotto is a natural cave-like feature with a crystal clear lake, surrounded by thick strands of ferns and other exotic flora. Legend has it the Paul Gauguin and Tahitian Queen Pomare IV both swam in the refreshing, luxuriantly isolated spring. Another must-see coastal attraction is the Arohoho Blowhole, a surf powered geyser-like natural feature that causes a large, powerful jet of water to shoot dramatically from the rocks as large ocean swells hit the shore.
History and astronomy buffs will want to make a pilgrimage to Point Venus. This is the spot where Captain James Cook first recorded the planet Venus transiting the face of the sun after arriving in Tahiti in 1769 aboard his ship, the HMS Endeavour.
Though accommodation options include plenty of modern, brand-name luxury properties, visitors seeking a more nature-centric experience might consider a stay in the above-water stilt bungalows at Bora Bora. The tiny islet lies just a stone’s throw from the main island, and offers pristine beaches and crystalline waters teeming with colourful fish.