- Coastline Black-sand beaches, true-blue sea
- Coast life Big-wave surfing, food-truck feasting
Surfing was born in French Polynesia, and you'll find the biggest waves at Tahiti, backdropped by volcanic black-sand beaches, aqua lagoons, verdant mountains and buzzy capital Pape'ete.
The economic and social heart of the country, the town may be pint-sized and rough around the edges, but it's home to vibrant food and handicrafts market the Marché de Pape'ete, top-notch pearl shops, happening bars and restaurants, and the rocking roulottes, or food-trucks, assembled nightly on Place Vaiete. Actually two co-joined circular islands, Tahiti Nui (Big Tahiti) and Tahiti Iti (Little Tahiti), with high peaks at their cores, this dreamy destination in the Society Islands' Windward Islands is best known for its stellar surf scene, including mega-wave Teahupoo, location of the Billabong Pro. While romantic nearby islands Moorea and Bora Bora may be bigger draws, all international flights touch down on Tahiti, so it's a shame not to explore its natural charms. Hiking, waterfalls, lava caves and >marae (archeological sites) await on land, while snorkelling, diving, whale-watching and sailing beckon offshore. And given this is part of France, expect Gallic language and cuisine mixed in with laid-back Polynesian culture and spectacular local seafood.
Do go/Don’t go
You'll usually get the best weather in the dry, cooler winter period from May to October. November to April sees hotter summer temperatures, rising humidity, cloudier skies and heavier rains, although storms are usually brief. Peak season falls in line with the northern school holidays, especially July and August, and Christmas; the island also books up for the July Heiva festival, so get in early or look for off-season bargains. Surfing and diving are good year-round.
Planes All international flights to French Polynesia touch down at Tahiti's Faa'a Airport (www.tahiti-aeroport.pf), five kilometres west of compact capital Pape'ete. National carrier Air Tahiti Nui (www.airtahitinui.com) covers the key routes, taking around five hours from Auckland, linked by Qantas code-share from Sydney (three hours 10 minutes), Melbourne (three hours 45 minutes) or Brisbane (three hours 20 minutes); eight and a half hours from Los Angeles (with 12-hour connections from Paris) and 11 hours 35 minutes from Tokyo (with links from other Japanese cities with Japan Airlines). Also look out for flights to Tahiti with Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com), Air France (www.airfrance.com), Hawaiian Airlines (www.hawaiianair.com), Lan Airlines (www.lan.com), Japan Airlines (www.jal.com) and Air Calédonie International (www.aircalin.com). Inter-island travel is normally by plane, with Tahiti the main hub. Book via domestic carrier Air Tahiti (www.airtahiti.pf), which offers money-saving AirPasses if you plan on visiting several islands. Planes are small and sometimes stop at several islands en route. Watch out for weight restrictions (usually 20kg, but you can get discount deals on excess baggage), and aim for window seats for stunning views (ask the air crew which side to bag).
Boats French Polynesia is a popular yachting destination, with a marina in Pape'ete, Tahiti. Ferries or catamarans are the most popular way to reach Tahiti's sister-island Moorea (30 to 50 minutes away), but domestic flights are the quickest way to access the majority of the more distant islands. Various mixed cargo/passenger and cruise boats ply their way between Tahiti and the other Society Islands, as well as the more distant Tuamotus and Marquesas, but flying is Smith's tip for speed, cost and comfort.
Automobiles Tahiti, like most of the other islands in the Society group, has one main, paved road running around the perimeter of the island. Hire a car at the airport or through your hotel if you fancy circumnavigating the isle.