By Cynthia Blair
Are you considering a Tahiti honeymoon? Tahiti and the surrounding French Polynesian islands have long been synonymous with paradise.
The crew of the H.M.S. Bounty mutinied to remain on Tahiti’s sandy shores. Artist Paul Gauguin abandoned his family to paint paradise there. Actor Marlon Brando was so entranced by Tahiti’s beauty and mystery that he bought his own private French Polynesian island.
Tahiti and her islands, especially Moorea and Bora Bora, truly are a magical tropical place for a honeymoon or romantic getaway. Nowhere in the world are the colors more vibrant, the waters of the Pacific warmer, or the people friendlier. Just mentioning the names of those faraway islands conjures images of breathtaking blue-green lagoons, tropical flowers in brilliant colors, and graceful palm trees. And if you wish to stay in an overwater bungalow, you'll have several to choose from.
Where is Tahiti?
Located in the South Pacific Ocean, halfway between the continents of Australia and South America, Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora are part of the Society Islands, one of the island groups that constitute French Polynesia.
The islands are located below Hawaii and south of the Equator. Tahiti, the best-known island and home of French Polynesia’s capital city, Papeete, is about 4,000 miles southeast of Los Angeles and 3,800 miles northeast of Sydney.
Honeymoon couples discover that Tahiti combines two very different cultures. While it is famous for its distinctive Polynesian culture, it is also very French.
Residents speak French, restaurants serve French cuisine along with Polynesian specialties, and hotels incorporate the refinements of European hotels.
This intriguing mixture of tropical island culture and French sophistication makes a honeymoon in Tahiti unique.
Another unforgettable aspect of a Tahiti honeymoon is the warmth of the people. French Polynesians are proud of their islands and eager to share them with visitors. Expect to be greeted with a smile and a warm “Ia orana” (hello). Residents speak French and Tahitian, and most people in hospitality speak English as well.
Upon arriving at most resort hotels, couples on a Tahiti honeymoon are presented with a refreshing glass of juice, a fragrant tiare (gardenia) or flower garland, and a cool towel. Tipping, while appreciated, is never required.
Which Islands Should Be Included on a Tahiti Honeymoon?
Tahiti, the largest island, is usually the point of entry for visitors arriving by plane. Papeete is a charming mixture of tropical island informality and French savoire faire. While sipping French wine at an outdoor café, visitors will see people as chic as style-conscious Parisians strolling alongside exotic-looking Polynesians in brightly-colored pareos (sarongs).
Moorea, 11 miles northwest, is a half-hour ferry ride on the high-speed Aremiti Catamaran or another ferry line.
The 53-square-mile island is breathtakingly beautiful, with dramatic green mountain peaks jutting up in the middle of the lush island. Less developed than Tahiti, it is home to several luxurious resort hotels and more modest pensions.
- Bora Bora
Author James Michener pronounced Bora Bora the most beautiful place in the world. It is even quieter than the other two islands, with a few elegant resorts overlooking the lagoon's clear turquoise waters.
- Other French Polynesian Islands
While Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora are the most popular destinations for honeymooners, the other Society Islands, including Raiatea and Tahaa, Huahine, and Rangiroa also offer visitors beauty, adventure, and romance. Smaller and less developed, they provide an even greater chance to “get away from it all” while enjoying the comforts of modern resorts.
Traveling to Tahiti
Air Tahiti Nui flies direct from Los Angeles to Papeete. While the flight is long, Air Tahiti Nui makes the journey pleasant. Travelers receive a gardenia, a cool towel, ear plugs and other items before takeoff. Each seat has a personal video screen with movies, and wine and alcoholic drinks are complimentary.
Air France and Hawaiian Airlines also offer direct service to Tahiti from the United States.
Getting Around in French Polynesia
Ferries travel regularly between Tahiti and Moorea. The half-hour trip on the Aremiti Catamaran is surprisingly luxurious. In addition to comfortable seats, the ferry has a café that serves French specialties such as café au lait and croissants.
The water surrounding Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora is a breathtaking blue-green color, so clear that the bottom is often visible even at fairly great depths.
The coral reef that encircles each island holds back the waves of the Pacific, creating the beautiful lagoons that make enjoying water sports on Tahiti a must.
Skimming the Surface
The only thing better than gazing at the seemingly endless blue lagoons is getting out on them. A popular water sport on Tahiti is traveling to a small, secluded island — called a motu — by outrigger canoe, kayak, or some other type of boat.
Jet skis provide the perfect way to see the spectacular landscape. In addition to being treated to an unparalleled view of the green mountains jutting up beyond the coast, riders can enjoy the exhilaration that comes from skimming across the clear turquoise water.
Other water sports on Tahiti include dolphin watches, stingray feedings, and shark feedings. Some hotels, like the Intercontinental Resort and Spa Moorea, have their own catamaran for daytime excursions or sunset cruises.
Under the Sea
The tranquil waters of the lagoon are home to a wide variety of tropical fish, making Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora a fabulous spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. Even visitors who have never snorkeled before should consider donning fins and a mask to glide along the water’s surface. Large hotels supply snorkeling equipment to guests at no charge.
The list of water sports also includes kayaking, canoeing, sunset catamaran cruises, water skiing, jet skiing, parasailing, fishing, and of course, swimming.
Scuba diving is also a popular option, and diving excursions are readily available through hotels or private tours. Once you’re underwater, you’ll be rewarded by the sight of a mind-boggling array of tropical fish: colorful parrot fish and Picasso trigger fish, zebra unicorn fish, butterfly fish, wrasse, puffer fish, Javanese moray eels, trumpet fish, tang, snapper, goatfish, grouper, and long-horned cow fish.
Even those who prefer to stay dry can view the awesome underwater activity. At the Intercontinental Resort and Spa on Moorea, visitors can walk along the ocean floor by wearing helmets that enable them to breathe underwater. Tour companies offer trips on the aquascope, a glass-bottomed boat with a panoramic room situated under the bridge.
The best way to enjoy the waters of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora is by taking a lagoon excursion with a tour guide who knows the top snorkeling or scuba diving spots.
For example, Teremoana Tours on Bora Bora offers an all-day outing that begins with a stingray feeding, with the guide summoning the large, graceful fish that are used to interacting with people. They swim among their delighted guests, gliding against their legs and swooping in close enough to touch.
A relaxing picnic on a motu follows. Guests can stroll on the beach of the secluded island or snorkel on their own while the guides prepare a Polynesian feast.
The meal, served on “plates” made of woven leaves, includes grilled tuna, poisson cru (raw fish in coconut milk), uru (breadfruit), cake-like coconut bread dipped in coconut milk, and fresh pineapple and watermelon. Guests also learn how to open a coconut and receive a lesson in the art of Tahitian dance — much harder than it looks!
At a second snorkeling stop, guests explore a “coral garden,” filled with beautiful coral and a multitude of colorful tropical fish. The third stop is a thrilling shark feeding, with the guide tossing fish to swarms of hungry blacktip sharks as visitors watch while under the water just a few feet away.
While lagoon excursions are the best way to ensure that you’ll see a wide assortment of fish, snorkeling right outside the hotels can also be enjoyable.
The easiest way to explore Tahitian culture is on a circle island bus tour. Tour companies on each island offer excursions with friendly, knowledgeable guides.
The Culture of Tahiti and Her Islands
Tahiti, the center of French Polynesia, has three outstanding cultural sites. The Tahiti and Her Islands Museum features exhibits on every aspect of Tahitian culture from fishing to tattoos to thatched roofs.
The Paul Gauguin Museum focuses on the French artist’s stay in Tahiti, capturing the beauty of the land and the people on his colorful canvases. It includes a model of the house he once lived in.
The James Norman Hall Home replicates the home of the author of Mutiny on the Bounty. The house provides a peek into the life of an American who spent his days in this tropical paradise.
Explore Tahitian Culture at Moorea’s Tiki Village
To immerse yourself in Tahitian culture, visit Tiki Village on Moorea. Polynesians artisans live on the premises, producing woodcarvings, flower crowns, appliqué quilts, shell necklaces, and baskets. Visitors can also take an outrigger canoe to a black pearl farm offshore.
The highlight of the Tiki Village is the Polynesian dinner show, with dances performed by a professional company that tours worldwide. Energetic native dancers in colorful costumes made at Tiki Village are accompanied by pounding drums and melodious songs played on guitar and ukulele. The evening includes a Polynesian buffet featuring fish dishes, fei (cooked banana), uru (breadfruit), and poe (a fruit and tapioca dessert served with coconut milk).
Marae: A Peek at Past Tahitian Culture
Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora are all dotted with marae, ancient stone constructions once used for prayer or sacrifice. The finest example is Tahiti’s fully restored Arahurahu Marae, with a temple.
Titiroa Marae on Moorea, another outstanding marae, is on the road that leads to scenic Belvedere Point. Bora Bora has several outstanding marae: Aehautai Marae, with a restored temple; Taharuu Marae, overlooking the lagoon; and Marotetini Marae, which has also been restored.
One of the best parts of any culture is its food. In Papeete, an inexpensive way of sampling local specialities is Les Roulottes. These restaurants-on-wheels serve dinner on the wharf every evening. Inside the trucks or on grills, restaurateurs prepare delicious food at reasonable prices.
Fish dishes are plentiful, including the Tahitian specialty poisson cru, raw fish marinated in coconut milk and lime juice. There are also steak frites, pizzas, crepes, and waffles (gaufres).
Most restaurants on Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora are informal snack bars, dubbed “Le Snack.” Visitors will find favorites like sandwiches on baguettes, pizzas, and inexpensive beer and wine.
While in Tahiti, try Hinano, “La Biere de Tahiti” — the beer of Tahiti. Tahiti also produces local liqueurs in tropical flavors including Vanille Crème and Coconut.
Go Native at Bloody Mary’s Bar and Restaurant
Bloody Mary’s Bar and Restaurant on Bora Bora is as much fun as its namesake, the plump Polynesian “mama” in South Pacific. Established in 1976, the huge thatched hut with its sand floor has become an institution on the island.
Locals, tourists, and an impressive roster of celebrities have made Bloody Mary’s a part of their Bora Bora experience, as should anyone interested in enjoying Tahitian culture in a light-hearted way.
Perched on wooden log-style stools, diners can begin with a tropical drink such as Vanilla Rum Punch, the house specialty. Appetizers and main courses are chosen from a display of the freshly-caught fish, with the host describing each preparation in seven different languages. Creatively prepared meals are served on a wooden platter. Delectable desserts include a coconut tart and a very French crème brulée.
The natural wonders of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora will inspire photographers to shoot one postcard-quality image after another.
On each island, high jagged peaks rise dramatically from the center, dissolving into lush greenery. Just beyond is a clear turquoise lagoon.
Exploring the verdant valleys, dramatic waterfalls, and sensuous flowers of the French Polynesian islands up close is a true adventure. And the view from the islands’ highest points is well worth the trip up the rocky roads that lead to them.
Around the perimeter of each island is a two-lane road, with a few smaller roads meandering toward the center.
The best way to explore each island’s interior is by taking an excursion in a 4X4 with a knowledgeable guide. Visitors can also enjoy the French Polynesian islands’ natural beauty by hiking, horseback riding, helicopter, or rented scooter or car.
Taking a day trip is the best way to see the natural wonders of Tahiti. In scenic Papenoo Valley, Tahiti’s largest valley, a dramatic bridge spans the island’s longest river. Faatautia Valley is so lovely and so unspoiled that it has been served as a dramatic backdrop in many feature films. At the Arahoho Blowholes along the coast, powerful ocean waves dash against the jagged coast, bursting out like geysers.
The natural wonders of Tahiti also include the Faarumai Waterfalls (Cascades de Faarumai), reached via a paved mile-long road. While the Vaimahuta Falls are the most accessible, a hike up a rugged trail brings visitors to the magnificent Haamaremare Iti and Haamaremareahi Falls. The nearly 1,000-foot Fautaua Waterfall in the spectacular Fautaua Valley is another breathtaking sight.
On Tahiti’s south coast, the Maraa Grotto below a dramatic cliff offers another outstanding view. At the base of the mountains are the lava tubes of Hitiaa. Visitors can walk or swim through a maze of lava tubes filled with grottoes, waterfalls, streams and caves.
Some natural beauty of Tahiti is man-made — like the Harrison W. Smith Botanical Gardens, created by an American nearly one hundred years ago. Today, the Gauguin Museum is nestled amidst the lush foliage.
Moorea’s Natural Beauty
Moorea is less developed than Tahiti, making it a more desirable destination for visitors seeking an untouched paradise. No visit to Moorea is complete without making the climb to Belvedere Point in the center of the island.
The spectacular view to the north includes Moorea’s two bays, Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. In between towers Mont Rotui, a rugged mountain nearly 2,700 feet high. The breathtaking view makes Belvedere Point a highlight of every 4x4 excursion, as well as a popular spot with hikers robust enough to make the long, arduous uphill climb.
The tropical climate of French Polynesia makes its islands ideal for growing fruits and vegetables, especially pineapples. Pineapple fields sprawl across the fertile Opunohu Valley, and this sweet variety is widely available in shops and at roadside stands.
Moorea’s Fruit Juice Factory, near Cook’s Bay, offers tastings as well as a large stock of unusual locally-produced liqueurs in vanilla crème, coconut, and pineapple flavors.
Another natural wonder of Moorea are the dolphins who frolic in its waters. At the Moorea Dolphin Center visitors can swim and interact with the playful aquatic mammals.
Exploring Nature on Bora Bora
Bora Bora could well be French Polynesia’s most beautiful island. The mountains rise up more steeply than on the other islands, providing an imposing backdrop to the dense growth of brilliantly colored flowers, bushes, and palm trees encircling its perimeter.
There are outstanding views from several spots on Bora Bora, all reachable only by treacherously rutted dirt roads. They include the TV Tower Vistapoint, which really has a tower perched on top; Fitiiu Point, which still has rusted cannons from World War II, and scenic Taihi Point, a spectacular spot with an abandoned hotel far in the distance.