You should take at least a day to explore Tahiti, the main island of French Polynesia. The most authentic way to do so is on a truck, the traditional Tahitian bus. The Tere Fa’a’ati is a festive tour of the island by truck that is organized each year in January.

Tahiti is the biggest and most populated island in French Polynesia, and is home to its capital, Papeete. It is a high island, which means that it was originally a volcano (the low islands and atolls were formed by coral), with many tall mountains, of which Mount Orohena, at 2,241m, is the highest. Lush green hills and valleys, rivers and waterfalls, make Tahiti a superb destination for hiking enthusiasts. It is the cultural center of The Islands of Tahiti, and is home to the annual Heiva i Tahiti traditional dance and music festival, as well as the Tū’aro Mā’ohi traditional sports competition. You can learn more about the history and culture of French Polynesia at the Musée des îles de Tahiti in Punaauia. The island has both black and white sand beaches and is the number one surfing destination in The Islands of Tahiti. The white sandy beaches are on the west coast of Tahiti, which is sheltered by a lagoon. The east coast is far more rugged, and mountainous and the beaches have black volcanic sand.

Visit the island by truck

The Tere Fa’a’ati, a round-island tour in a traditional Tahitian truck, has been organized each January, for several years by Tahiti Tourisme. The tour includes both the main island, Tahiti Nui and the peninsula, Tahiti Iti. The trucks are brightly decorated with flowers for the occasion and the passengers bring their ukulele, making the tour a colorful, festive, and noisy procession, greeted with cheers and waving as it goes from district to district. The truck was the traditional bus of French Polynesia, and the atmosphere on board was always convivial and very Tahitian. Today, the trucks have mostly been replaced by more efficient modern buses.

The tour leaves from Papeete at about 7 o’clock in the morning, after a convivial breakfast for all the passengers. The first stop after leaving the capital is at Tiarei on the east coast. A short walk takes you to the waterfalls where you watch a traditional dance spectacle. Next comes another waterfall, Vaihi, in Faaone, where you can enjoy some fresh fruit in truly magical surroundings. After lunch, the truck continues on to the caves at Mara’a, before heading into Paea, where you’ll watch another traditional spectacle. The last stop of the day, before returning to Papeete, is Vairai beach, where you’ll be able to enjoy the sunset over the island of Moorea and taste a few local delicacies.

Mara'a cave © Tahiti Tourisme
Mara’a cave © Tahiti Tourisme

Papeete, the capital

Take the time to visit Papeete during your stay. The capital, whose name means ‘water basket’, is a lively city, with a warm and welcoming atmosphere and plenty of interesting places to see.

Gardens of the Assembly of French Polynesia © Assembly of French Polynesia
Gardens of the Assembly of French Polynesia © Assembly of French Polynesia

The main sites to visit in the capital are Notre Dame Cathedral, the gardens of the French Polynesian Assembly, the Robert Wan Pearl Museum, Paofai park, and the most colorful and lively place of all, Papeete market. Take a stroll along the busy waterfront and then explore the bustling town center, where you can admire some inspired Street Art. Visit the art galleries and exhibitions and generally soak up the warm and friendly atmosphere of this surprising city.

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