Tahiti encompasses the world's view of a place worth a mutiny. All the beautiful islands that make up French Polynesia have the capacity to inspire even the hardest heart to romantic yearning with wafts of frangipani on every soft breeze; with a thousand shades of electric blue in every lagoon; with coconut palms placed perfectly on every soft sand beach; and with soaring clouds piercing sharp mountains. Underwater, Tahiti continues to inspire, especially if you like to spend your time in the water with the men in grey. You will see sharks on almost every dive, and see them for a long way in water that averages 45 metres/150 feet of visibility. Manta rays, sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, dolphin and humpback whales in season all share these waters with the sharks. And, off the islands that make up the nation of Tahiti, that's a lot of water because French Polynesia is not one place, but more than 100 islands spread across the South Pacific. The Society Islands — Bora Bora, Moorea, Huahine, Tahiti — are the most well known, and are high, mountainous and surrounded by the lagoons that make them so famous. North of the Society Islands, the Tuamotus, are the opposite, low-lying coral atolls that barely rise a metre/yard above the surface of the ocean. Divers come to the Tuamotus to dive the shark filled passes and indulge in the dreamy lagoons. For out of water time, there are loads of adventures, from hiking to kayaking, to pearl farm excursions to cultural experiences. And, if you're going to get a tattoo anywhere in the world, Polynesia is where the term started.
When to go:
The best time to visit is in the dry season of May through October, however from November to April can also offer up some great diving.
Marine Life Seasons:
Humpback whales migrate past here between August and November. Hammerhead sharks and manta rays between December and March. Marbled groupers mate in July.
When to Get the Best Deals:
February and March.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit in summer; 5 mm in winter, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, comfortable shoes that can get wet for hiking, DAN card, long sleeved lightweight shirts, long trousers for cool nights, a light jacket for cool evenings, small medical kit.
Seasonal averages: 25°C/76°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 22°C/72°F in winter and 33°C/93°F in summer.
French Pacific Franc (XPF); Credit cards are widely accepted.
Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.
Included in your airfare.
What to Eat:
Being French, even traditional Polynesian foods are now known by their French names, such as poisson cru (raw fish salad marinated in lime and coconut milk), instead of the Tahitian name - e'ia ota. No matter what it's called, fish figures prominently in the food of the islands, often accompanied by tropical fruits and native breadfruit. For true variety, experience the Roulottes, which are food trucks that gather on the harbor in Papeete and in various places around the islands.
What to Drink:
Hinano is now a world-famous beer from these islands, but you'll find many other beers available. You'll also find lots of French wine and champagne. Of course, fruity cocktails are a mainstay at most resorts.
Once you get away from the overwater bungalows, Tahiti is a world of adventure. Hike the Papenoo Valley on the main island of Tahiti; there are waterfalls and long trails through the forests of most of the high islands; surfing is world-class in many places; there are sacred Marae, ancient temples, everywhere, especially on Huahine, Raiatea and Moorea in the Society Islands and Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa in the Marquesas; most islands with lagoons have stand up paddle-boarding, sea kayaking, outriggers, and jet skis; there are lots of cultural shows with traditional dancing, especially in the larger hotels. Also, Polynesia is where the term tattoo came from, so if you're going to get one, this is the place.
Customs and Culture:
Tahiti is very French and laid-back. Meals will be lingered over and you'll find wine available at almost every meal.
Tahiti Toa Va'a outrigger race, June; Heiva I Bora Bora, a countrywide dance, crafts and song festival that culminates in Viatape, Bora Bora, June/July; 129th Heiva I Tahiti, the largest annual celebration of Tahitian culture which takes place in To'ata Square, Papeete, Haeiva Va'a I Tahiti outrigger canoe race, July; Heiva Tu'auro Ma'oahi traditional sports competition, July.
Electricity and Internet:
220 volts and 60 HZ. Internet is available in cafe, hotels and resorts.
Drink the water?
Bottled water is recommended
French is the official language, but Tahitian (and other Polynesia dialects) is spoken in villages, and English is spoken mainly in the hotels and resorts.
Amazing Marine Life
Black-tip and grey reef sharks will accompany you on most dives. Lemon sharks show up for feedings off Moorea and Bora Bora. Silvertips can be seen in deep water outside the passes in the Tuamotus.
Typically found in the reef passes of the Tuamotus.
Part of almost every reef scenic, these amusing fish are always a favorite.
Usually these schooling fish gather outside of the passes in tight, circular groups.
Also known as the Maori wrasse, this enormous and vividly colored fish can grow to lengths of up to two metres/six feet.
These giants are seen throughout French Polynesia.
These predatory fish are often seen on the reefs.
Spotted Eagle Rays:
Seen throughout the islands, especially in the passes.
Hawksbill and green turtles can be found swimming in leisurely fashion or napping under ledges on most reefs.
This enormous baleen whale, growing up to 15 metres/50 feet in length, feeds on small plankton, and migrates annually to breed in the warm waters, and are especially prevalent in Rurutu.
Top Dive Spots
Catalina Seaplane, Tahiti:
Catalina seaplane wreck just off the Faa'a airport in Tahiti. It's right next to the Geolette wreck.
Muri-Muri, Bora Bora:
Spectacular corals visited by gray reef sharks, turtles, schooling barracuda, tuna, jacks, dolphins and the occasional whale.
Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa:
This high-speed drift dive is available twice a day on the incoming tides. Noted for sightings of sharks year-round and manta rays between December and March, this dive also features colorful corals, turtles, barracuda, napoleon wrasse, triggerfish and occasionally dolphins.
Garden of Roses, Moorea:
This deep site (36 metres/120 feet) features spectacular "roses" of coral heads, attended by large sharks.
Opunohu Canyons, Moorea:
Swimming along the bottom of this small canyon, look for small marine fauna, anemones sheltering clownfish, black-tip reef sharks and huge lemon sharks.
Teavapiti Pass, Raiatea:
This drift dive features white tip lagoon sharks, black tip, grey sharks, schools of jacks fish, barracudas, napoleons and sometimes tuna fish.
The Nordby, Raiatea:
This is a splendid wreck - a three-mast ship, measuring 60 metres/195 feet long which was sunk on August 22, 1990. Divers can spot surgeon fish, lionfish, reef stone fish, giant jacks, angel fish and black coral.
St. Etienne Drop-Off, Tahiti:
This succession of vertical walls lead to a sheer drop and an overhanging cliff. Look for dog-toothed tuna, jackfish and unicorn fish in the open water. A night dive reveals nocturnal cowries, spiny lobsters, and squirellfish.
This site features a spectacular array of corals, as well as roaming turtles, groupers, tuna, snappers, triggerfish, black-tip and white-tip sharks, barracuda, and moray eels.
Classified by UNESCO as one of the world's seven "biosphere-reserve atolls," this lagoon is the second-largest in French Polynesia, and home to a profusion of reef species. Look for napoleon wrasse, sea pike, damselfish, bigeyes, marbled groupers, manta rays, barracudas, groupers, eagle rays, grey reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, dolphins and turtles, and, of course, the luxuriant hard corals.