A trip to Tahiti doesn't have to break the bank by Craig Tansley
It has enchanted travellers since the days of captains Cook and Bligh (and his lusty, love-torn mutineers).
The island of Tahiti is the archetypal tropical paradise, where mountains that soar more than 2000m drop straight into the bluest lagoon on the planet. But French Polynesia’s notoriously high prices have stopped many Australians from visiting, and so most Australian visitors are those stopping off for a night before flying to Bora Bora on a honeymoon.
But you don’t have to break the bank visiting Tahiti. We show you what to see on this romantic island, and how you can visit for not much more than you’d pay in South-East Asia.
Roulottes In Vai’ete Square, Papeete
A main course in a resort in Bora Bora will cost you upwards of $50, but you can eat fish just as fresh for a fraction of that in Tahiti. Forget splurging, fresh fish is delivered to roulottes – fresh food caravans or wagons – across the island every day. You’ll eat on plastic seats in the open air with locals. Order prize wahoo, tuna and mahi mahi for as little as $15.
Inside tip: The best roulottes can be found in the capital, Papeete. Check out Vai’ete Square from 6pm for everything from Tahitian pizza and French crepes to poisson cru (raw fish marinated in lime and coconut milk). There’s also free live music.
See Tahitian recipes.
Tahiti offers many hiking experiences from the hills to easy coastal meanders.
Blue Banana, Puna’auia
Watch the sun set over the island of Moorea – 17km to the west – from Tahiti’s best and most popular restaurant. This is where the hip folk go, so dress up and enjoy the sexy south-seas ambience. The food is some of the best you’ll find in French Polynesia, with everything from French staples to Polynesian delicacies.
Inside tip: Book a table on the pontoon that sits on top of the lagoon. The views out there are to die for, so make sure you book at least two days in advance to ensure you don’t miss the vistas.
Ute Ute, Papeete
Tahiti actually has a relatively hip entertainment scene, though nothing goes on here outside Friday and Saturday nights. Besides resort bars, you’ll generally have to venture to Papeete for late-night action. And the best Papeete bar is Ute Ute – meaning “red hot” in Tahitian – a sexy city lounge bar with live bands.
Phone +689 53 46 46
Inside tip: The people-watching is out of this world on Fridays and Saturdays.
Venture into Tahiti's interior by four-wheel drive.
Piano Bar, Papeete
The archetypal port bar frequented by visiting sailors, the Piano Bar is where Tahiti’s most interesting locals go to unwind (including its mahu, or rae rae population – men raised as women in Polynesian families). Address: Rue des Escoles, Papeete.
Inside tip: Things don’t get interesting at the Piano Bar until midnight.
Fare Mokalei, Paea (and other private homes)
There’s only one way to stay in Tahiti: hire your own private home. It costs a fraction of what you’d pay at a resort. Stay at Fare Mokalei and ride stand-up paddleboards (provided free of charge) inside the world’s prettiest lagoon, or paddle over to one of the world’s best surf breaks 300m away.
Inside tip: Hire a house right on the lagoon to save battling crowds for the few public beaches available.
Vanira Lodge, Teahupoo
Vanira Lodge offers private cabins high up a jungle-clad mountain overlooking Tahiti in sleepy Tahiti Iti. You’re close to the surf mecca of Teahupoo, but it’s quiet. At Vanira Lodge no two cabins are the same: think Salvador Dali meets the tropics.
Inside tip: For a romantic stay, you can’t go past the Vai Ora bungalow with its jacuzzi and hammocks set out on a private deck.
Roulottes, Tahiti’s version of food trucks, are a lower cost alternative to resort restaurants. Picture: Supplied
Tahiti’s interior is the most mountainous in the South Pacific – take a four-wheel-drive tour up to 2000m above sea level, where the temperature drops five degrees, then watch locals hang glide off sheer drops. Or hike a few kilometres from Papeete to waterfalls that plummet 130m.
Inside tip: Venture through lava tubes on Tahiti’s east coast, entering tunnels, set under waterfalls, deep into the island’s crust. Few places on Earth allow you to do this.
Museum of Tahiti, Puna’auia
Polynesian culture is one of the planet’s most fascinating – its origins are still under question. (Where did Polynesians really come from?) The Museum of Tahiti, in Puna’auia, 15km west of Papeete, costs just $6.50 to enter but there are more than 12,000 archaeological finds. See www.museetahiti.pf/musee.php
Inside tip: The museum’s gardens are one of Tahiti’s prettiest locations.
Tahiti Surf School, Papenoo
While Tahiti’s tendency to drag surfers along razor-sharp coral reefs is legendary, few know that Tahiti is actually a perfect place to learn to surf. No, not at deadly reef breaks like Teahupoo. Tahiti also has a coast of gentle waves perfect for beginners.
Inside tip: When you move on to famed reef breaks, show respect to local surfers.
The writer travelled courtesy of Tahiti Tourism and Tahiti Homes
You can get straight to Tahiti's lagoon from your own Tahiti home at Fare Mokalei.
Air Tahiti Nui offers three weekly one-stop flights from Australia to Papeete, to book visit airtahitinui.com.au
Hire a car at the airport with Avis, see www.avis-tahiti.com/en/. Remember you must drive on the right side of the road, and be sure to avoid any areas around Papeete at peak hour times (which vary to ours — avoid 5am to 7am and 3pm to 4pm). Roads are narrow so slow down...
Familiarise yourself by taking a drive along Tahiti’s west coast and into the quieter, more scenic roads on Tahiti Iti (where there’s very few cars). You’ll never get lost on Tahiti, there’s one main road that follows Tahiti’s coastline — and road signs indicate how far you are from Papeete.