Tahiti is famous for black sand beaches.
|Highest point||Mont Orohena (2,241 m)|
|Overseas collectivity||French Polynesia|
|Largest city||Papeete (pop. 131,695 urban)|
|Population||178,133 (as of August 2007 census)|
|Density||170 /km2 (440 /sq mi)|
Tahiti is the largest island in the Windward group of French Polynesia, located in the archipelago of Society Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. The island has a population of 178,133 according to an August 2007 census. This makes it the most populous island of French Polynesia, accounting for 68.6% of the total population. The capital, Papeete, is located on the northwest coast. Tahiti has also been known as O'tahiti.
Tahiti measures 45 km across at its widest point and covers an area of 1,045 km2 , with a maximum elevation of 2,241 m (Mount Orohena). Mont Roonui in the southeast rises to 1,332 m. The island consists of two roughly round portions centered on volcanic mountains, connected by a short isthmus named after the small town of Taravao located there. The northwestern portion is known as Tahiti Nui ("big Tahiti"), while the much smaller southeastern portion is known as Tahiti Iti ("small Tahiti") or Taiarapu. Tahiti Nui is heavily populated along the coast (especially around Papeete) and benefits from roads and highways. The interior of Tahiti Nui is almost entirely uninhabited. Tahiti Iti has remained isolated, as its southeastern half (Te Pari) is accessible only to those traveling by boat or on foot. The rest of the island is encircled by a main road which cuts between the mountains and the sea. An interior road climbs past dairy farms and citrus groves with panoramic views. Tahiti's landscape features lush rain forests and many swift streams, including the Papenoo in the north.
November to April is the wet season, the wettest month of which is January with 13.2 inches (335 mm) of rain in Papeete. August is the driest with 1.9 inches (48 mm). The average temperature ranges between 70 °F (21 °C) and 88 °F (31 °C) with little seasonal variation. The lowest and highest temperatures recorded in Bibys are 61 °F (16 °C) and 93 °F (34 °C), respectively.
Although the first European sighting of the islands was by a Spanish ship in 1606, Spain made no effort to trade with or colonise the island. Samuel Wallis, an English sea captain, sighted Tahiti on 18 June 1767, and is considered the first European visitor. The relaxed and contented nature of the people and the characterisation of the island as a paradise impressed early Europeans, planting the seed for a romanticisation by the West that endures to this day.
Wallis was followed in April 1768 by the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, completing the first French circumnavigation. Bougainville made Tahiti famous in Europe when he published Voyage autour du monde. He described the island as an earthly paradise where men and women live happily in innocence, away from the corruption of civilization. His account illustrated the concept of the noble savage, and influenced utopian thoughts of philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau before the French Revolution.
In April 1769 Captain James Cook visited the island on secret orders from the Lords of the Admiralty to view the Transit of Venus on 2 June. He set up camp at Matavai Bay and stayed on until 9 August. The population was estimated to be 50,000 including all the nearby islands in the chain. After Cook, European ships landed with greater frequency. The best-known was HMS Bounty, whose crew mutinied after leaving Tahiti in 1789. The European influence disrupted traditional society, bringing prostitution, venereal disease, alcohol, and Christianity. The London Missionary Society, founded in 1795, instructed its Tahitian missionaries to intervene in what they saw as wretched conditions and demonic influence. Introduced diseases including typhus, influenza and smallpox killed so many Tahitians that by 1797, the population was only 16,000. Later it was to drop as low as 6,000.
Viceroy of Peru Manuel de Amat y Juniet, following the rules of the Spanish Crown, decided to take possession of the island in 1772, largely to control the expansion of other countries and also to evangelize. So, he sent four expeditions within the period 1772-1775, but Charles III of Spain finally cancelled the mission as a consequence of his secular policy. Most notable of these expeditions was the drafting of a Diary by a soldier of the Marine named Maximo Rodriguez, covering a period of 12 months, revealing many ethnological details about the Tahitians of the eighteenth century.
In November 1835 Charles Darwin visited Tahiti aboard the HMS Beagle on her circumnavigation, captained by Robert FitzRoy. He was impressed by the positive influence the missionaries had had on the sobriety and moral character of the government heads he met. Darwin praised the scenery, but was not flattering towards Tahiti's Queen Pomare IV. Captain Fitzroy negotiated payment of compensation for an attack on an English ship by Tahitians, which had taken place in 1833.
In 1839 the island was visited by the United States Exploring Expedition; one of its members, Alfred Thomas Agate, produced a number of sketches of Tahitian life, some of which were later published in the United States.
In 1842, a European crisis involving Morocco escalated between France and Great Britain when Admiral Dupetit Thouars, acting independently of the French government, convinced Tahiti's Queen Pomare IV to accept a French protectorate. George Pritchard, a Birmingham-born missionary and acting British Consul, had been away at the time. However he returned to work towards indoctrinating the locals against the Roman Catholic French. In November 1843, Dupetit-Thouars (again on his own initiative) landed sailors on the island, annexing it to France. He then threw Pritchard into prison, subsequently sending him back to Britain.
News of Tahiti reached Europe in early 1844. The French statesman François Guizot, supported by King Louis-Philippe of France, had denounced annexation of the island. However, war between the French and the Tahitians continued until 1847. The island remained a French protectorate until June 29, 1880, when King Pomare V (1842–1891) was forced to cede the sovereignty of Tahiti and its dependencies to France. He was given the titular position of Officer of the Orders of the Legion of Honour and Agricultural Merit of France. In 1946, Tahiti and the whole of French Polynesia became a Territoire d'outre-mer (French overseas territory). Tahitians were granted French citizenship, a right that had been campaigned for by nationalist leader Marcel Pouvana'a A Oopa for many years. In 2003, French Polynesia's status was changed to that of Collectivité d'outre-mer (French overseas community).
During the First World War, the Papeete region of the island was attacked by two German warships. A French gunboat as well as a captured German freighter were sunk in the harbor and the two German warships bombarded the colony. Between 1966 and 1996 the French Government conducted 193 nuclear bomb tests above and below the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa. The last test was conducted on 27 January 1996. 
Tahiti is part of French Polynesia. French Polynesia is a semi-autonomous territory of France with its own assembly, president, budget and laws. France's influence is limited to subsidies, education and security. The former President of French Polynesia, Oscar Temaru, advocates full independence from France. However, only about 20% of the population is in favour.
During a press conference on June 26, 2006 during the second France-Oceania Summit, French President Jacques Chirac said he did not think the majority of Tahitians wanted independence. He would keep an open door to a possible referendum in the future.
Elections for the Assembly of French Polynesia, the Territorial Assembly of French Polynesia, were held on May 23, 2004 (see French Polynesian legislative election, 2004). In a surprise result, Oscar Temaru's pro-independence progressive coalition formed a Government with a one-seat majority in the 57-seat parliament, defeating the conservative party led by Gaston Flosse (see also List of political parties in French Polynesia). On October 8, 2004, Flosse succeeded in passing a censure motion against the Government, provoking a crisis. A controversy is whether the national government of France should use its power to call for new elections in a local government in case of a political crisis.
The people are of Polynesian (Pacific Islander) ancestry, so-called Demis, as well as of European ancestry and the people of East Asian (essentially Chinese) ancestry are concentrated in Tahiti, making up a larger share of the population in Tahiti than in French Polynesia overall (see Demographics section at French Polynesia). Most people from metropolitan France live in Papeete and its suburbs, notably Punaauia where they make up almost 20% of the population.
|Official figures from past censuses.|
Tourism is a significant industry, mostly to the islands of Bora Bora and Moorea. In July, the Heiva festival in Papeete celebrates Polynesian culture and the commemoration of the storming of the Bastille in Paris.
After the establishment of the CEP (Centre d'Experimentation du Pacifique) in 1963, the standard of living in French Polynesia increased considerably and many Polynesians abandoned traditional activities and many emigrated to the centre at Papeete. Even though the standard of living is elevated (due mainly to France's FDI investment), the economy is reliant on imports. At the cessation of CEP activities, France signed the Progress Pact with Tahiti to compensate the loss of financial resources and assist in education and tourism with an investment of about US$150 million a year from the beginning of 2006. The main trading partners are France for about 40% of imports and about 25% of exports, the other ports that are traded with are in USA, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Black pearl farming is also a substantial source of revenues, most of the pearls being exported to Japan, Europe and the US. Tahiti also exports vanilla, fruits, flowers, monoi, fish, copra oil, and noni.
Unemployment affects about 13% of the active population, especially women and unqualified young people.
Tahiti’s currency, the French Pacific Franc (CFP, also known as XPF), is pegged to the Euro at 1 CFP = EUR .00838 (approx. 81 CFP to the US Dollar in January 2008). Hotels and financial institutions offer exchange services.
There is no sales tax in Tahiti. However, a 2% reduced rate Value Added Tax (VAT) applies to rented accommodation (hotel rooms, pensions and family stays), and room and meal packages for tourists. A 4% rate applies to purchases in shops, stores and boutiques. A 6% rate applies to bars, excursions, car rentals, snacks and restaurants.
Tahiti hosts a French university, the University of French Polynesia. It is a growing university, with 2,000 students and 60 researchers. Many courses are available such as law, commerce, science and literature.
One of the most widely recognised images of the islands is the world famous Tahitian dance. The ʻōteʻa, sometimes written as otea, is a traditional dance from Tahiti, where the dancers, standing in several rows, execute different figures. This dance, easily recognized by its "fast hip-shaking," and "grass skirts" is often confused with the Hawaiian hula, a generally slower more graceful dance which focuses more on the hands and story telling than the hips.
The ʻōteʻa is one of the few dances which already existed in pre-European times as a male dance. On the other hand, the hura (Tahitian vernacular for hula), a dance for women, has disappeared, and the couple's dance ʻupaʻupa is likewise gone but may have reemerged as the tāmūrē. Nowadays, however, the ʻōteʻa can be danced by men (ʻōteʻa tāne), by women (ʻōteʻa vahine), or by both genders (ʻōteʻa ʻāmui = united ʻō.). The dance is with music only, drums, but no singing. The drum can be one of the different types of the tōʻere, a laying log of wood with a longitudinal slit, which is struck by one or two sticks. Or it can be the pahu, the ancient Tahitian standing drum covered with a shark skin and struck by the hands or with sticks. The rhythm from the tōʻere is fast, from the pahu it is slower. A smaller drum, the faʻatētē, can also be used.
The dancers make gestures, reenacting daily occupations of life. For the men the themes can be chosen from warfare or sailing, and then they may use spears or paddles. For women the themes are closer to home or from nature, combing their hair, or the flight of a butterfly for example. But also more elaborate themes can be chosen, for example one where the dancers end up in a map of Tahiti, highlighting important places. In a proper ʻōteʻa the story of the theme should pervade the whole dance.
Rugby union is a popular sport in Tahiti.
Faa'a International Airport is the international airport of Tahiti with Air Tahiti Nui being the national airline while Air Tahiti is the main airline for inter-island flights. The Moorea Ferry is also a notable ferry that operates from Papeete. There are also several ferries that transport people and goods throughout the islands.
Tahiti lies in the South Pacific. It is the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that comprise French Polynesia. Tahiti is in the Society Islands, an archipelago which includes the islands of Bora Bora, Raiatea, Taha'a, Huahine and Moorea, and has a population of 127,000 people, about 83% of whom are of Polynesian ancestry. The legendary name 'Tahiti' not only identifies this island but also the group of islands that make up French Polynesia.
Tahiti is composed of two volcanic mountain ranges. In the shape of a 'turtle', it is made of Tahiti Nui (the larger part) and Tahiti Iti (the peninsula). The two islands are linked by the isthmus of Taravao and skirted by black beaches.
Tahiti and her islands are some of the most beautiful in all the south Pacific. Tahitians are very respectful and generous and kind. To hear random people say 'hello' on the street to strangers or even passersby is not uncommon. Many of the Tahitian kids are well into rap and hiphop, performing or practicing in the streets or in public squares.
The philosophy of the people, 'aita pea pea' (not to worry), truly is the Tahitian way of life. Be patient and polite to them and you will get anything you ask for, including a large smile. They are very warm and welcoming people.
Be aware that your trip to Tahiti may be a one-time but unique experience due to its high price. Though not legally binding, more and more couples are renewing their marriage vows and will be bedecked in pareus, flowers, shells and feathers. The groom approaches the beach in an outrigger canoe. His bride, carried on a rattan throne, awaits him on the white-sand beach. A spectacular sunset, Tahitian music and dancers add to the ambiance. A Tahitian priest "marries" the couple and gives them their Tahitian name and the Tahitian name of their first-born.
The generally accepted theory states that Polynesians first settled in the Pacific around 4,000 years ago. Using wooden double-hulled sailing canoes lashed together with natural fibers and applying their knowledge of the wind, currents and stars, the first intrepid navigators sailed eastward, settling the central island groups of the Cook Islands and French Polynesia between 500 BC and 500 AD.
Other great expeditions undertaken around 1000 AD established the Polynesian triangle consisting of Hawaii (to the north), Easter Island (to the east), Tahiti and her islands (to the west) and New Zealand (to the south-west.) The various languages derived from the ma'ohi that are spoken in theses islands testify to the common origin of their peoples.
In the 16th century, Magellan reached the Tuamotu Islands and the Marquesas. However, the name of Englishman Samuel Wallis is the one most often associated with the European discovery of Tahiti in 1767. The following year, the French navigator Antoine de Bougainville named it 'New Cythera'. A year later, it was the English Captain James Cook's turn to land and take possession of the Society Islands.
At that time, Tahiti and her islands were divided into several chiefdoms and kingdoms. and an increase in the standard of living.
The weather is ideal! The climate is tropical. The average ambient temperature is 80°F (27°C) and the waters of the lagoons average 79°F (26°C) in the winter and 84°F in the summer. But do not worry, most resorts and hotel rooms are air conditioned or cooled by ceiling fans.
Summer is from November through April, with a warmer and more humid climate and winter is from May to October, when the climate is slightly cooler and drier. When you step out of the airplane, you'll immediately notice that the air is warm and humid. Consequently, besides your camera and your extra memory cards, do not forget to pack lightweight cotton clothes, sunscreen lotion and a baseball cap or a wide brimmed hat. Synthetic fabrics can get hot and sticky in the tropics.
Tahiti is served by Faa'a International Airport, which is close to the main city of Papeete (Papy - et - tay). All international flights will land in Tahiti. The national airline carrier then operates flights to all of the other islands.
Just a little over 8 hours non-stop flying time from Los Angeles and 12 hours from New York, Tahiti is located halfway between California and Australia.
Tahiti is regularly served by three schedule air carriers: Air Tahiti Nui , Air France , and Air New Zealand . Expect to be greeted by a small band, ladies handing out flowers any time of the day or the night.
In case of a late arrival time, you will probably need to book accommodation that night unless you are part of a package group, as hotels typically don't permit a 3 AM check-in time.
Holders of a passport from the EU, and most countries of North or South America don't need to apply for a visa for a stay of up to one month. French Nationals only require a National Identity Card. However, the Delphine passport is necessary in case of transit via the USA. Except for nationals of the European Union and aliens holding a 10 year residence card for metropolitan France, all foreigners entering French Polynesia must have a return ticket.
The most common form of transportation around Tahiti is "le Truck". It is a rickety public open-air bus with wooden passenger cabins that will stop on the side of the street and serve different cities. Prices are very inexpensive, normally set around 100 to 200 CFP (about US$2) per person and most will end up in the centre of downtown close to the market. Other means of transportation include scooters or private cars. Most rental cars will be stickshift and end up being around 9,000 CFP per day (about US$90). There is a multitude of bikes to rent cheaply. This is especially a good idea on Sundays as everything is closed and you can end up discovering the islands.
The ferry or catamaran will take you to Moorea and other adjacent islands. It now takes about half an hour by catamaran to go from Tahiti to Moorea.
Ferries (sometimes combined cargo and pax boats like the Aranui) travel between most islands. Catamarans and ferry boats cross between Tahiti and Moorea several times a day. Schooners and cargo boats serve all the inhabited islands from Papeete. Rotations vary according to the destinations: from three times a week to the Society Islands to once monthly to the Island of Mangareva.
Two cruise ships/luxury liners currently ply the islands: the Paul Gauguin, which does a regular 7-day trip around the Societies, with occasional trips out to the Tuamotus, Marquesas and Cook Islands; and the Tahitian Princess which does similar itineraries. A great way to see the islands, unless you're on a tight budget. The Bora Bora Cruises is a more intimate vessel based in the Leeward Islands. Or for more adventure, embark on the Aranui III. Coming up December 2007: the Star Clippers will have the capacity of 170 passengers.
Air Tahiti  operates regular flights between 46 islands out of Tahiti. It will take you about 10 minutes to go to the sister island of Tahiti, Moorea.
Air Moorea makes the short hop to Moorea several times daily. Charters flights such as Air Archipel are available on request. Helicopters are one other option.
French and Tahitian are the most spoken languages, but English is widely understood in the tourist areas, but not in less frequently visited areas (such as the remote islands of the Tuamotus). Most signs are in French, very few of them in Tahitian.
Here's to brush up on your Tahitian and French:
Many Tahitians end up mixing up words in French and Tahitian. An example would be a Tahitian asking where his "vini" is instead of using the French word for cellphone. "Ou est mon vini?" "Where is my cellphone?" This is a common thing.
There are MANY things to do in Tahiti and a lot to see and take pictures of. Should you embark on a circle island trip (of around 70 miles), some of the must see things would include:
All nautical activities: surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling (most resorts will provide you with the equipment for free), canyoning, stingray and shark feedings, water sports, deep sea fishing, kitesurfing...you name it.
You also have the possibility of hiking, 4WD safari, golf...
Deep sea fishing has been curtailed on Tahiti and is difficult to find.
Diving: get a reputable dive company, our experience was that those with the far out websites were a bit low on ethics and safety, not well prepared, and did not go far past the marina.
Many of the shops around the centre of town near "Notre Dame" have great buys.
If you are dreaming of a tattoo, do make sure that you get it in Tahiti since the patterns are so special and reflect the spirit of the island. There are lots of places to get tattooed around Papeete including the market. You may also want to buy a black pearl to take it back with you. You will get some at very affordable prices on the market too.
Currency Exchange/Buy rates: As of 09/18/2009
Do note that tipping is not a custom in Tahiti. It is beginning to be seen in some of the restaurants and hotels on the larger islands, but in general Tahitians do not expect your tip as it is included in the final price.
"Roulottes" (snack shops on wheels) are especially popular on Friday nights to get some great Chinese food, crepes, and French-style dishes. You won't miss it since it is located along Papeete's waterfront. Unbelievably delicious meals at bargain prices in a fun and local atmosphere. When possible eat here as a meal for two can be had for 30 FPF, which is much less than a hotel meal (plus you get plenty of food).
The main island dish to try is the "poisson cru" ("raw fish" in French.) It is a fresh fish marinated with lime juice and coconut mixed with vegetables. Many varieties can be found all over including Poisson Cru Chinois (Chinese style), Poisson Cru Ananas (pineapple style). Parrotfish, ahi, mahi mahi, and other fresh fish are divine in a light sauce made from Tahitian vanilla and coconut milk. Do not miss the exotic tropical fruits.
Baguettes are found all over the island at a very reasonable price. As well as baguettes, Tahitians have created the "baguette sandwich" where everything from fish to french fries are stuffed into.
Make sure you also try the very popular Chinese ma'a tinito (which is a mixture of pork, kidney beans, chinese cabbage and macaroni.)
Family occasions and celebrations are the time for a huge tamara'a Tahiti (Tahitian-style feasts) where a meal consisting of suckling pig, fish, breadfruit, yams and fe'i bananas is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed in an earth-dug oven over layers of hot rocks.
If you are looking for fine dining, definitely head to Paea south of Papeete to Chez Remy or Le Carre at Le Meridien. Pricey, but fantastic meals. Chez Remy definitely hits a 5 star at both meals with a large French menu and best wine and drinks selection, and very friendly, relaxed staff who also spoke perfect English. The Papaya desert is beyond delicious. Plan $28-$45 pp USD. The Italian restaurant near the Le Meridien entrance is also divine; perfect stone oven baked pizza, devine Anchovie-Caper-Olive Spaghetti.
Tips: get French creamed cheese at breakfast on your crepes. Also, plan for your meals. Many restaurants don't open until 7PM. Some of the hotels have multiple restaurants that serve different menus at different times of the day, and changes by day, which made for limited selections and inability to order something you saw the day before. Some restaurants and businesses on the island close from 12-1:30PM, some until 3PM, which can make shopping and eating on a whim difficult. (Can't blame them, it's hottest then.)
Bottles of water are readily available. Being a French territory, wine is common and easy to find. As this is a tropical island, a multitude of fruit juices from pineapple juice to coconut milk are to be found everywhere. It is sometimes better to crack open your own coconut yourself and drain it for lunch. If you're a fan of beer, the Hinano Beer will definitely be one you will like to taste and bring a few cans home.
Music and dancing tell the story of the Tahitian people. Most hotels feature evening entertainment. Club dancing is also available in downtown Papeete but close at 3AM. You will probably not even get out that late, so tired that you will be from spending so much time in the sun discovering the island. Have fun!
Accommodation in Tahiti can run from the most luxurious 5-star hotels like Tahiti Intercontinental  with overwater bungalows, security, a bar, a pool, to small family pensions. If you're staying in one of the pensions, do try to bring bug repellent. Many of the accommodations in Tahiti are of the older style from the early 70's to today.
Several international groups are established: InterContinental, Sofitel, Novotel, Le Meridien, Starwood-Sheraton, Orient Express, Club Med and Radisson. Two local chains, Maitai and South Pacific Management, complete the hotel scene. Although complying with international standards, Polynesian style has been totally respected in the overwater bungalows with the use of pandanus, bamboo and shell light fixtures. Some bungalows are fitted with glass-bottomed tables for watching the fishes without ever getting your feet wet. Be advised that the Radisson is quite a ways from the airport and is perfect if you want to relax, but makes getting into town difficult (either a limited hotel shuttle or an expensive taxi ride).
For travelers who prefer the simplicity and authenticity of the local experience, family hotels are the ideal type of accommodation. The welcome is warm and friendly. Family hotels are divided into four categories: Bed and Breakfast, Holiday Family Homes, Family-run guest houses, Family hotels.
Bed and Breakfast: furnished bungalows limited to four dwelling units per home and able to accommodate twelve persons, equipped with bathrooms either private or shared. Holiday family homes: furnished bungalows limited to nine dwelling units and able to accommodate twenty-seven persons, equipped with bathrooms and kitchenette. Family-run guest houses: same as the above + breakfast and dinner service. Family hotels: offers full board meal service and 'a la carte' food menu.
Tip: stay outside of Papeete if you want a quieter, more pleasant smelling experience. Traffic is heavy in Papeete and so is the smell of it.
More and more resorts have business centres from where you can have high-speed Internet access. Papeete's Central Post Office is open weekdays from 7.30AM to 11.30AM and from 1.30PM to 5PM/6PM. Saturdays from 7.30AM to 11.30AM.
People often know about Tahiti and Bora Bora but the following are other wonderful islands that should absolutely be visited:
Tahiti has one of the lowest crime rates within France and its territories. However, petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching occurs.
Medical treatment is generally good. Two major hospitals as well as several private clinics provide 24-hour medical service.
As an overseas territory of France, defence and law enforcement are provided by the French Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) and Gendarmerie.
Be sure to bring jelly-type sandals for walking amidst coral in the water and along the beaches or either old sneakers so you don't cut your feet on the coral or don't step on a stonefish.
Encounters with sharks in the lagoon will be most likely when scuba diving or even snorkeling but they are totally inoffensive. So are stingrays. However, be aware of moray eels which hide deep in the corals and whose bite can cause serious injury.
No vaccines are required.
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Tahiti is an island in the southern Pacific Ocean. It is part of the French Polynesia. The largest city of Tahiti is Papeete. About 169 674 people live there (2002). The languages that are spoken in Tahiti are French and Tahitian which are both official. In Tahiti (in the Society group) – was claimed by the French in 1768.