Discover Tahiti on a budget
Tahiti is a luxury destination that many people view as a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon paradise or a playground for the rich and famous. But that's definitely not the case. While you can certainly spend up large in the Islands of Tahiti, you can also have a seriously fabulous holiday that won't put too much stress on your credit card. Here are our ideas for a Tahitian holiday that's both affordable and wonderful.
Formed by volcanic activity, the landscape is exciting - there are soaring mountains covered in verdant rainforest, fringing coral reefs and a scenic road that traces the entire island's outline.
Arrival and accommodation
Arrival time for our Tahiti flights depends on when you choose to fly. It's quite possible you'll arrive later in the day, so this itinerary begins on the west coast of Tahiti Nui - near the airport and Tahiti's capital city, Pape'ete.
You'll find lower-cost hotels, traditional guesthouses, private villas, Airbnbs and resorts along the western coast of Tahiti Nui, which is handy to the airport. A room in a private home costs around NZD$50 a night or you can rent an entire bungalow for as little as NZD$150 a night. A motel-style pension with kitchenette is around NZD$180 a night, while an ocean view one-bedroom apartment with kitchen, queen bed, two extra beds and access to a pool costs around NZD$235 a night (great for a family). Check out some of the accommodation options at Air New Zealand hotels.
Day 1 – Exploring Tahiti Nui
Tahiti's main island is divided into two parts - Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti. Formed by volcanic activity, the landscape is exciting - there are soaring mountains covered in verdant rainforest, fringing coral reefs and a scenic road that traces the entire island's outline. The city of Pape'ete fizzes with Frenchness and the colourful day-to-day bustle of life in a tropical paradise.
How to holiday cost-effectively in Tahiti Nui:
- Roam around Marché de Pape'ete (Pape'ete Municipal Market), a gotta-do experience that's open every day. Established in the 19th century, it's a fun way to discover real Tahitian culture and cuisine while you shop for self-catering essentials. As well as a floor devoted to fruit, vegetables and other local produce, there's a multitude of small restaurants and cafés.
- You can also pick up supplies at supermarkets and grocery stores along the northwest coast of Tahiti Nui, where most of the locals live. As well as island products, they sell delicious delicatessen and grocery items imported from France. Price subsidies ensure that baguettes, butter, rice and certain vegetables are always cheap.
- Discover the roulottes (food trucks) that park in downtown Pape'ete from late afternoon every day. You'll find crepes and galettes, poisson cru (the Tahitian version of citrus-marinated raw fish), chow mein, meltingly tender sashimi with homemade brown sauce (a must-try) and much more. Two can eat at the roulottes for about NZD$24. A band plays in the nearby rotunda every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
- Find a west-facing bar with a sea view and sip a divine glass of French rosé (about NZD$10) or local Hinano lager (approx NZD$6) while you savour a stunning Tahitian sunset.
Day 2 – Exploring Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti
To explore Tahiti's main island, you can rent a car or scooter for the day or catch public buses. The buses are called 'le trucks', which harks back to the quaint buses with wooden seats that used to roam the island. Today, le trucks are air-conditioned and much more comfortable. They start early in the morning and run until around 5pm. Waiting time between each bus is about 15 minutes. Make sure you have coins for the fare (about NZD$3.50).
- Pretty Puna'auia Beach, south of the airport, is known for calm water and good snorkelling (bring your own mask and snorkel, to save on hire costs). It's like wading in an aquarium, because there are so many colourful fish.
- Pick up a baguette and cheese from a supermarket, then head for Papenu Valley along the eastbound road from Pape'ete. Here you'll find rainforest walks to waterfalls and other beautiful sights.
- See the Arahoho trou du souffleur (blowhole). It's in a little park by the road just after the tunnel coming from Pape'ete. When ocean swells are big, it's spectacular.
- Hike to Faarumai waterfalls near the village of Tiarei. The three impressive chutes of water are surrounded by greenery and dramatic cliffs. Walking to the falls through the tropical jungle is part of the fun.
- If you make it as far as Tahiti Iti, have lunch at La Plage de Maui – it's the ultimate setting for a Tahitian meal. Mains cost from NZD$23 and you'll literally have your feet in the sand.
- Teahupoo is a legendary surfing spot on Tahiti Iti. Described as a 'seriously heavy left hander that breaks on dry reef', it's a massive challenge for advanced surfers. If you're not in that category, you can catch a taxi boat to watch the waves for about NZD$40 per person.
Day 3 – Ferry to Moorea
Ferries to the nearby island of Moorea leave from downtown Pape'ete. A one-way fare is about NZD$23 and there are several sailings a day. Moorea's accommodation options range from guesthouses and Airbnbs that cost as little as NZD$100 a night to garden rooms at world-class resort hotels from $400. Consider a traditional guesthouse for an authentic Tahitian stay – prices are around NZD$120 a night.
The lush, heart-shaped island of Moorea is extraordinarily beautiful. The landscape is a profusion of volcanic mountain peaks rising from a clear turquoise lagoon, so there's hiking as well as beach fun to enjoy here. The island has a relaxed but profoundly French feeling - people greeting each other with kisses on both cheeks; baguettes, croissants and delicious pastries; and fantastic French wines and cheeses in the grocery stores.
Affordable things to do on Moorea:
- Catch a public bus around the island – one travels clockwise, the other travels anti-clockwise. It's great way to see the whole island for about NZD$4 a ride.
- If you'd rather see the island on wheels, hire a scooter or ebike to discover Belvedere Point, Cooks Bay, Oponuhu Bay, the pineapple growing area and Tiki Village. Per day, scooters are around NZD$70 and ebikes are about NZD$65.
- Go snorkelling at Lagoonarium de Moorea, a natural aquarium where you can see sea creatures going happily about their business. The range of species living here is immense, from tiny demoiselles and a rainbow of coral fish to turtles, sharks and rays.
- Catch the shuttle boat to Motu Tiahura, a beautiful little island off the north-east corner of Moorea. There's great snorkelling here, as well as a charming beachside restaurant. If you eat at the restaurant, the return fare is NZD$7. A meal at the restaurant costs around NZD$50 per person.
- Even if you're not staying at the Hilton, you can buy a day pass for about NZD$125 per person. It includes access to the beach, pool, loungers, kayaks and snorkelling gear. It also includes a generous two-course lunch with beer. The snorkelling here gets rave reviews.
- Exploring in a transparent kayak is a fun way to see what's under the water - guided tours leave from the InterContinental Resort and cost around NZD$58 per person.
- Dine at your hotel or check out a local restaurant, like Pizzeria Manoarii (pizza from NZD$18), Carameline (fixed-priced meals from about NZD$22) or the hip Le Lézard Jaune Café (around $NZD34 for a main).
Day 4 – Exploring Moorea – freebie day!
Your second day on Moorea will be as epic as the first. There are still so many things to do on this enchanted island – and some of them are free! Here's a choice of Moorea attractions and activities that won't cost a franc.
Free things to do on Moorea:
- Moorea is a hiker's paradise, so you can easily work off the breakfast croissants with a trek to a waterfall or panoramic view. One of the best all-day expeditions is the hike up Mt Rotui, which rises to 899 metres above sea level. It's six hours there and back, so pack cheese and baguette for an epic picnic lunch at the summit.
- A shorter option is the walk to Belvedere Lookout, an iconic viewpoint on Moorea. Be sure to check out Marae Titiroa, an ancient stone temple (marae), on the way up. Toatea Lookout is another high point that you can hike or drive to for an incredible view.
- Visiting during the wet season, November to March, is a smart idea if you love waterfalls. Afareaitu Waterfalls is an easy walk near Tupauru'uru.
- Locals say that Temae Beach is Moorea's best patch of publically-accessible sand. The water is deliciously clear and there are things to see if you want to snorkel.
- Another gorgeous public beach for swimming and snorkelling is Ta'ahiamanu. Arrive early if you want a shady spot under the palms.
Day 5 – More Moorea, then au revoir Tahiti
There's still more Moorea to discover, so rent a pushbike or ebike (from NZD$20 a day) and travel at a pace that lets you absorb all the tropical sights, sounds and scents. Villages are sprinkled around the coast road, however you'll find many of the best attractions in the north-west of the island.
- Take yourself shopping at Le Petit Village - lots of little shops and food stalls in a neo-colonial kind of mall. Look for a pareu (sarong) or find an item of black pearl jewellery.
- Eat at Snack Mahana, one of Moorea's most popular local restaurants. Rustic and truly Tahitian, it's the place to enjoy grilled mahi mahi with coconut sauce, tuna sashimi, poisson cru and garlic shrimp. Servings are famously large and the average price of a main is NZD$20.
- Visit the Moorea Juice Factory and enjoy a tasting session of fresh tropical juices. This factory also produces distilled spirits and liqueurs, including ‘Rhum Maohi Rhum Brun' (Tahitian brown rum) for about NZD$24 a bottle.
- Celebrate your final night in Moorea with dinner at Rudy's bistro (average main about $NZD35). If your funds are running low, opt for A L'Heure du Sud - a food truck that's famous for its fish kebabs and filled baguettes.
Depending on the flight you've booked, you can either ferry back from Moorea in time for your flight or spend a final night close to the airport.