Top 10 things to do in the Islands of Tahiti
Two cultures collide in the most wonderful way on The Islands of Tahiti (also known as French Polynesia). Turquoise waters and Polynesian culture blend effortlessly with mouth-watering French cuisine to make the 118 islands a haven for water babies, foodies, explorers and anyone who just wants to chill.
To help you plan what to do in The Islands of Tahiti, here are some of our favourite activities and attractions.
1. Eat your heart out at the roulottes
These food trucks, found in downtown Papeete every evening, are the perfect introduction to Tahiti's delicious fusion of cuisines. 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. A band plays in the nearby rotunda every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Papeete's daily market is another place to pick up foodie bargains, crafts and presents.
2. Visit a stone temple
Before missionaries suppressed large parts of Tahitian culture, locals prayed to their gods at sacred sites called marae. These open-air temples - marked by shaped stones and stepped altars - had no walls or roofs, so people could maintain a close connection with the gods. Some sites have been restored: check out the complex in Moorea's Opunohu Valley and Taputapuatea marae on Raiatea Island, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.
3. Marvel at the lagoon life
The lagoons you'll discover in the Islands of Tahiti are a paradise of calm waters and colourful tropical fish nibbling at beds of coral. Skim along the surface in an outrigger canoe, don a mask and snorkel, or find a tour company with a Subwing, a board towed behind a boat that lets you dive underwater without effort. While all lagoons are full of life, those at the outer islands of Taha'a and Huahine are especially wonderful.
4. Delight in French-influenced food
British and French settlers jostled for control of Tahiti (as they did with New Zealand) in the 1800s. The French won out, which is why you'll see crusty baguettes, buttery croissants, pains au chocolat and other baked delights everywhere. Steak frites, crepes and galettes are also staple dishes, and heavenly cakes feature tropical fruits. Upmarket restaurants combine the best of old-world cuisine with top-quality local produce, making fine dining one of the many Tahiti attractions.
5. Shop for authentic Tahitian pearls
The archipelagos of Tuamotu and Gambier are the only places in the world where cultured black pearls are created naturally, so it's no wonder pearls are popular souvenirs. Growing these beautiful gems takes six years, and colours can range from deep grey to green, rose and silver. Look for a seller who provides an authenticity certificate, proving the pearls were grown naturally and to minimum standards set by the French government.
6. Get up close with whales, sharks and stingrays
Quell those nerves and get ready to be awestruck. Some lagoon tours in Moorea and Bora Bora offer the opportunity to swim with stingrays and reef sharks, and it's well worth conquering your fears to watch these fascinating creatures in their element. From July to November, humpback whales stay in Polynesia's warm waters to raise their young. Boat tours give you a close-up view and perhaps a chance to hear their haunting song.
7. Discover Tahiti Iti
Drive over a narrow isthmus from the main land mass of Tahiti and you're on Tahiti Iti (meaning Little Tahiti), a more untouched corner of the island where you can hike, swim, stay in traditional villages and eat lunch on a motu (small island). Some areas of the wild coastline are only accessible by boat, giving you rare access to mangroves, sea caves and waterfalls just begging to be jumped off.
8. Surf the world-famous Teahupoo break (or one near it)
There's a very good reason why Teahupoo hosts the annual Billabong Pro Tahiti competition. When water from the extremely deep ocean breaks onto an extremely shallow reef, the force of the waves is quite something. On calmer days, it's a thrill for experienced surfers. Talk to a local to suss out the conditions before you paddle out, or try one of Tahiti's many other excellent surf spots. No wonder Kelly Slater has a house here.
9. Explore mountainous inland areas
Though a large part of a tropical island's charm lies around its coast, many Tahiti tours venture into the rugged interiors of the larger mountainous islands. As well as archaeological sites, you can explore lava tubes, hiking trails that lead to lookouts with sweeping views, river slides, volcanic valleys and swimmable rock pools. On the remote Marquesas Islands, you can ride on horseback across the plateaus and valleys that feel untouched by human contact.
10. Dive into a marine wonderland
Have your waterproof camera at the ready to capture some of the earth's most incredible sea creatures. When the entire region of French Polynesia was classified as an Exclusive Economic Zone in 2000, it created a wildlife sanctuary where drift-net fishing is banned. This huge step forward for sustainability makes The Islands of Tahiti a prime spot for divers to see manta rays, dolphins, sharks, turtles, whales and much more.