By Lysa Allman-Baldwin
Crystal clear teal-hued water. Palm fronds swaying in the breeze. Powder-fine sand that melts between your toes.
These descriptions no doubt evoke images and emotions of a tropical island paradise where only pure pleasure abounds. And there are thousands of them, dotted all over the world, inspiring this flavor of awe, beauty and contentment.
Among them is Tahiti.
Many travellers are familiar with Bora Bora, where many an A-List celebrity flocks to escape the trappings of their fortune and fame. The Marquesas are where Herman Melville, the famous American novelist, is said to have stayed and used as the backdrop for his Polynesian adventure book series. It is also where legendary French post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin worked and spent his final days. (Season 4 of the reality TV show Survivor: Marquesas was filmed here too!).
But what most people might not know, is that there are a total of 118 islands and atolls dispersed amongst five island groups here called Archipelagoes. Together, they are officially known as French Polynesia.
So, grab your passport and come along for an island escape to one of the most spectacular destinations on earth.
The Islands of Tahiti
The Islands of Tahiti are located in the South Pacific, south of the equator, with travel times approximately 5-1/2 hours from Hawaii, eight hours from Los Angeles, 8-1/2 hours from Sydney, and 11 hours from Tokyo. The capital city, Papeete, sits on the northwest side of the main island, which is named Tahiti.
Although the population hovers just over 245,000 people, the size of the island archipelago is much more extensive. Together the islands themselves encompass 1,544 square miles, while the entire area extends an astounding 1.5 million square miles – roughly the size of Western Europe! Yet each island offers its own boutique flavor and flair that makes it feel like it is one of a kind.
The topography is equally distinctive, ranging from dramatic volcanic peaks to spectacular coral atolls, lush flora and fauna, pristine white-sand beaches, bath temperature water and jaw dropping sea green lagoons.
Due to the islands’ diversity, visitors and locals can enjoy a wide array of activities, including hiking, surfing, snorkeling, Jet Skiing , gastronomic adventures, safari tours, bird watching, Stone fishing, golf, and of course, sunbathing.
Tahiti, the main island, and the largest and most populated, is made up of two parts—Tahiti Nui (“Big Tahiti”) and Tahiti Iti (“Little Tahiti”), a smaller peninsula—all told encompassing about 70 miles, and its mountain range reaches over 7,300 feet. To help you grasp the history and culture here be sure to visit the aptly named Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands, and the Le Marché market in Papeete. And be prepared – the amazing black- and white-sand beaches here will take your breath away!
Flair of the Islands
Overall, the islands are divided among The Society Islands, The Marquesas Island, The Tuamotu, Islands, The Austral Islands, and The Gambier Islands—many only accessible by boat or ferry.
Among them are Huahine, beloved for its magnificent bays and leisurely Polynesian vibe, Rangiroa, the world’s second largest atoll and a scuba diving haven, and Moorea, with its stunning mountain peaks and cliffs and copious pineapple harvests.
Taha’a is beloved for its white sand beaches and aromatic vanilla farms, while Raiatea is honored as the most sacred island in the region and considered the homeland of the ancient Polynesians.
This is only the beginning of the breathtaking islands you will find here.
Tahiti offers a wide variety of accommodation options, including international and locally-owned hotels, resorts and lodges. But visitors also love lodging at the numerous family-operated Tahitian Guesthouses, or pensions. These offer intimate experiences of authentic Tahitian culture and its people.
Overwater bungalows are another big draw to Tahiti. These popular thatched-roof hideaways offer anywhere from the bare necessities to every luxury amenity and feature you can think of hovering above the most spectacular seas in the world. According to Tahitian lore, overwater bungalows were first invented here in the late 1960s, and since that time have become the quintessential representation of paradise.
Come to Tahiti!
Perhaps the most captivating and enduring aspects of the Tahiti Islands is their multifarious culture. You’ll find beautiful expressions of it everywhere you look, from their dance and music traditions, to their religious stone temples and ceremonies. The Polynesian descent and French influences, celestial navigation history and practices, and arts and crafts scenes are other big draws.
All of it makes Tahiti not only a fantastic wanderlust travel destination, but an experience that will last in memory for years to follow.