France · Tahiti
Tahiti lies in the South Pacific. It is the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that comprise French Polynesia. It 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 127000 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.
What Tahiti lacks in wide white-sand beaches, it makes up for in waterfall-laden, shadowy mountains, unpretentiously beautiful black-sand beaches, sheltered blue lagoons and a distinctly Polynesian, modern buzz. This is the heart of the islands, where the cultures from all the archipelagos are mixed in the cacophonous, dusty, yet smiling and energetic capital of Pape’ete.
In Tahiti you can explore the majestic, mountainous interior on a 4WD tour, learn to dive in the translucent lagoon, or wander amid mystical archaeological sites. From July to October you can go whale-watching. In July, you catch the country’s most spectacular festival; the percussion and dance-heavy Heiva. Stay at a resort or head to Tahiti Iti to experience a more traditional pace of life – all international air travel goes through Tahiti, and it would be a shame to miss such an essential part of this region’s cultural puzzle.
One of the most widely recognized images of the islands is the world-famous Tahitian dance. The ‘ote’a (sometimes written as otea) is a traditional dance from Tahiti, where the dancers, standing in several rows, execute 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 storytelling than the hips.
Tahiti is the economic, cultural and political centre of French Polynesia.