Picture Paradise. Now Times it by a Thousand. That’s what you get when you visit Tahiti.
Most people in the Western world spend late November to early December prepping for Christmas. Not I. Instead, I was delighted, no, ecstatic, to be invited on the trip of a lifetime to the islands of Tahiti.
Yes, you read that right. Tahiti: perhaps the most remote, if not the most exclusive, destination in the world. The heaven of honeymooners, a pearl paradise and so much more, as we were to find out. A stereotypical view would be that Tahiti and its islands (there are 118 in total, including the infamous Bora Bora) is purely a couple’s playground. Well, it is an idyllic getaway, and certainly offers the most romantic sunsets I’ve ever seen. Yet Tahiti is also the ultimate destination for adventurers and thrill seekers alike, and I’m a little bit of both.
Our journey began with a quick trip to Paris. It’s the nearest stepping stone to Tahiti, via LA, offered by national carrier Air Tahiti Nui (‘Nui’ means ‘big’ in Tahitian. It has the big planes that travel long distance – and we mean looong distance. Air Tahiti without the ‘Nui’ is the little local airline that helps you hop from island to island).
I’ll be honest: It’s a long journey. A good 36 hours when you account for the layover in LA. But it’s worth every second and it really drives home how far away you are from everything. You’re bang smack in the middle of the South Pacific. The term ‘getaway’ has never been so true.
We chased the sunset all the way from LA and were relieved to finally reach our destination on Tahiti mainland and head straight to Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort. The best thing about arriving in the dark was that, even though I couldn’t see anything from my balcony, I COULD HEAR THE SEA.
The hotel itself, aside from its amazing location right on the edge of the water, has historical significance. Overlooking Matavai Bay, it’s located on the same site where Captain James Cook first landed in the 1760s. It’s ideally located for the nation’s capital, Pape’ete, and the gift shop contains a pearl boutique that offers very competitive prices.
You can do yoga with a sea view or visit the spa for the most luxurious massages. I went for one using frangipani oil and could’ve died and gone to heaven, were I not already in Paradise.
Most people don’t spend a lot of time on Tahiti mainland, except to do a bit of shopping (Pape’ete is the place to buy pearls and visit the municipal market for souvenirs).
However, we found that there is plenty to do on the island, especially if you travel in-land.
We were very fortunate to have an amazing guide – Teuai Lenoir from Iaorana Tahiti Expeditions – who strictly adheres to many of Tahiti’s native traditions, including its ancient religion. He drove us up in a 4×4 right into the heart of the waterfall valleys to the sacred site of Fare Hape, where we witnessed him enact a powerful spiritual ritual.
Afterwards, we watched him scale a palm tree hanging over the ocean like Tarzan.
He’s also a professional dancer who has won the “Ori Tahiti” – a dance contest held as part of the Heiva, a national, inter-island festival. So believe me when I say, if you pick any guide for the mainland, make sure it’s him!
From Tahiti, we hopped on a flight, then hopped on a boat, then caught another boat to our most remote location yet (yes, it is possible to find a more remote spot, even after travelling 36 hours from the UK!). The boat brought us to my favourite hotel of the whole trip: Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa, situated on the tiny Motu Tautau islet. Why was it my favourite? Two words: Overwater Bungalows.
This was by far the most stunning accommodation of the whole trip. Our perfect oversized beds were set upon glass flooring that enabled you to peer at the fish swimming in the ocean beneath. The sheer genius of the design is not to be outdone by the wide angle windows that dissect a whole wall, giving you 180 degree views of blue, blue ocean.
We arrived in a haze of rain. You tend to get a lot of that in Tahiti, although it’s never cold rain and, truth be told, the rain really adds to the atmosphere, as you can see below.
But imagine my delight, as a bona fide sun-worshipper, when those twilight showers were transformed into a fairy-tale rainbow flanked by a stunning multi-coloured sunset only a few hours later!
Believe it or not, these photos are completely unedited, because nature needs no filter. I was literally lounging in a hammock over the sea while this took place. It was truly one of the most magical moments I’ve ever experienced.
Le Taha’a also puts on regular live entertainment, with traditional folk songs and dancing – including fire dancing! If you’re feeling brave, it’s also a good spot to learn some moves in a bit of audience participation.
During our two night stay, we took advantage of the resort’s proximity to Taha’a itself, booking onto an ATV Quad tour with Ranipoe Tours. The couple who led the tour were major survivalists – the kind of people you’d want to be shipwrecked on a deserted island with.
We learned all about the medicinal properties of various flora and fauna, as well as how locals use bamboo to make rope. My favourite part was holding the gorgeous, fragrant ylang yang flowers, which are used to make Chanel no.5!
We also visited a traditional family pearl farm where we learned that it can take three years for oysters to produce their first harvest.
Following the educational part of the tour, we then commandeered a couple of shiny red jeeps and shot off to the top of a mountain.
It was then, during the off-road leg of the trip, that the tropical heavens decided to open. We may as well have slid back down that mountain like that natural waterslide it became. I have never felt so ‘off-road’ in my life! To say it was an experience would be an understatement. More than a little bit soaked, we rounded the tour off with a much-welcome lunch stop, joining a local family for a meal on the cusp of civilisation, right by the waterside under a canopy of shell-studded netting.
High Seas – Dream Yacht Charter
From Taha’a we made our way to Raiatea, where we boarded a private catamaran yacht from Dream Yacht Charters for an overnight cruise through the Windward Islands. We took advantage of some major photo ops while on board and caught some pretty spectacular sunsets too.
I have to say, this was peak luxury for me. Basking with a book in the sun on a suspended trampoline, feeling the rush of water beneath you, catching sight of dolphins in the distance and snorkeling out in the open ocean. Need I say more?
I was amazed at how well-designed the yacht was. The use of space is absolutely ingenious, with our large catamaran providing enough room for 12 double cabins!
The female Captain (AKA Chef, AKA bartender) was incredible and I found her ‘Poisson Cru’ (a popular traditional dish prepared with raw fish, coconut and citrus) to be the best we had on the trip.
The next day, we took a break from paddle boarding and snorkeling to take a spin around the Windward Islands. Among these, we had a really quick stop at Moorea, where the main town is a good place to go for souvenirs. It’s where I picked up my Tahitian Rum and a few jars of yummy guava jam!
Our final island was Huahine, which means the ‘Pregnant Woman’. But don’t ask a local what it means, because the literal translation is little rude! (Read: how she got pregnant in the first place). With a little imagination, it’s easy to see how the contours of this beautiful island could be seen to trace the curves of a sleeping pregnant woman. This island, more than any other we visited, conveyed the spirit of Moana that Disney has ignited all over the world.
Firstly, it’s startling beautiful, with so many gorgeous lagoons and shallow waters for miles on end. Secondly, it’s a far less developed island, meaning less of a tourist trap. Even our hotel, the Relais Mahana, was more low-key, offering basic 3/4 star accommodation. However, the view – especially if you’re able to nab one of the more upmarket beach front bungalows – was simply stunning.
There’s even a floating house on the water! You wake up every morning wondering where in the lagoon it will be. And, what’s more, the snorkeling here is on fleek. You don’t have to go far either; a very active, highly populated coral reef lies right at the end of the hotel’s pier. You need only to borrow a snorkel (offered free to guests) and jump off the pier. Getting out of the water does require a bit of navigation around the sea slugs though.
Relais Mahana also offers a generous happy hour for sipping cocktails of the beach. So, while it’s more simplistic in terms of amenities, it turned out to be one of my favourite spots for enjoying Huahine. It’s the only place where I’ve ever seen orchids springing right out of a tree!
During our stay here, we also hitched a ride on a boat with an outrigger that took us on a splendid tour of the lagoons.
Organised by Huahine Nautique, it was one of our most memorable tours, which included a generous flask of rum punch for passengers en route to a “Motu Picnic” where we watched traditional Tahitian cuisine being prepared fresh on the beach and I had a Katy Perry moment up in a tree.
After the picnic we had a spell at the natural aquarium where we – I kid you not – swam with sharks. Definitely one for the bucket list. And all along our superb host Armando kept us all in a jolly mood by strumming along on his ukulele the whole way through.
We also took the opportunity to do a land tour with local anthropologist Paul Attalah, who took us to see some ingenious fish traps, the famous ‘blue-eyed eels’ and another sacred religious site.
We were also lucky enough to catch a rehearsal for the upcoming Heiva – it looked like the whole town had turned up to join the dance!
One of the nice things about Huahine is that you really get to know the local people and their traditions. Being lower down the typical tourist agenda, it’s one of the best islands to witness Tahitians just doing life and keeping it real.
Family is the most important thing to Tahitians. Every weekend, families gather together and Sunday mornings are often filled with large neighbourhood gatherings, with lots of singing and dancing. Many Tahitians are church-goers, which also means joyful, musical congregations that ring throughout the community. It’s a real sight to behold if you’re there over the weekend.
You can never be ready to leave Tahiti. It’s the furthest flung corner of the world. So, so worth going the distance for, but not so much fun when you’re looking at a two-day journey back to the hustle and bustle of (cold, rainy) Britain.
We left Tahiti having taken no fewer than six flights and nine boats to our various destinations in the space of just 7 days! It was, without doubt, the trip of a lifetime, but I truly hope to be back one day. After all, Tahiti has 118 islands…and I’ve only seen three!
- Make sure you have a valid ESTA for the USA. You’ll need it for your transit through LA.
- Bug spray! I can’t stress how important this is.
- Visit the Tahiti Tourism Office when you’re in Papeete – it has a wealth of information.
- Look into doing a yacht tour – they offer extremely good value for money and enable you to do plenty of island hopping, all in the lap of luxury.
- Carry cash. Although most places accept card, some of the more remote excursions will only have cash facilities. Euros are sometimes accepted, but check in advance. Dream Yacht Charter boats only accept cash on board.
- Take plenty of swim gear and plenty of sun tan lotion! You’re guaranteed to spend lots of time swimming in the sea, and this is where you’re likely to catch the most sun, so make sure you’re well protected!
- Keep a bottle with you that can be refilled. Tahiti is expensive and even buying little things like water can set you back a few quid!
- Be mindful of the local culture; Tahiti is not only multicultural and multilingual, it’s also multisexual, so be mindful when using gender identifiers in conversation. It’s part of what makes the culture so interesting!
- Consider investing in First Class, or at least spending those air miles to upgrade! Tahiti is a long, long way away and you’ll definitely be glad of the comfort on the way and back!