Today, Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of Sketchandtravel.com is excited to have as our guest, Jonathan Reap, Director of Communications for Tahiti Tourisme and an expert on Tahiti. Jonathan is here today to tell us about Tahiti.
Good day Jonathan and thank you for participating in our interview.
Please tell use where Tahiti is located and how did you become involved with tourism to Tahiti?
The islands of Tahiti are as far south of the equator as Hawaii is north, basically halfway between California and Australia, on the same side of the International Date Line as North America, and in the same time zone as Hawaii.
The Faa'a Airport (PPT) is about 8 hours from Los Angeles (LAX), which is much closer than many think! Daily departures are offered by Air Tahiti Nui, Tahiti's national carrier, with 12 nonstop flights per week. The destination is also served by Air France, offering four flights per week, and Hawaiian Airlines with one flight from Honolulu (HNL) weekly.
I've personally been working with the destination in some capacity for the past 15 years. I moved there as a fils au pair (French for nanny) in 1991. I fell madly in love with the islands and the people. I learned how to work with wood, build bungalows (called fare), and speak French fluently. I eventually moved back to the states, but was very interested in keeping my ties and relations with Tahiti. About six years ago I started working with Tahiti Tourisme, which I thoroughly enjoy as I get to share my love with these amazing islands on a daily basis.
Please tell our readers something about Tahiti, its climate, its terrain and the best time to visit.
The islands of Tahiti, officially French Polynesia, are comprised of 118 islands and atolls spread over five great archipelagos. The total area of the destination covers over two million square miles of the South Pacific Ocean.
Many islands are crowned with jagged peaks while others appear to barely float above the breaking waves. Spread over an area as large as Western Europe, the total land mass of all the islands adds up to an area only slightly larger than the tiny state of Rhode Island.
The three archipelagos most sought by visitors are the Society Islands to the west, comprised of Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Maupiti, Raiatea, Tetiaroa and Taha'a; the Tuamotu Atolls to the northeast, or Tahiti's Stand of Pearls, which include Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, and Fakarava; and the Marquesas islands to the far north.
The two other archipelagos, the Austral Islands and the Gambier Islands, lie to the south and the southeast, respectively, of the Society Islands. While very few travelers venture to these remote islands, those that do are not disappointed by the pristine environment.
Tahiti's climate is ideal year-round! Being topical but moderate, the climate features sunny, pleasant days and an average yearly air and water temperature of 80F. Summer is from November through April, when the climate is slightly warmer and more humid. Winter is from May through October, when the climate is slightly cooler and dryer.
Interesting fact: Hawaii gets as many visitors in 12 days as Tahiti does in one year!
Would you recommend Tahiti as a wedding or honeymoon destination and if yes, why?
Tahiti is the perfect honeymoon destination. There is no better place to celebrate your new life together or to celebrate a milestone of your relationship.
Each of the many islands of Tahiti is a tiny paradise in itself. Some isles are crowned with jagged peaks soaring magically out of the ocean in an explosion of green velvet while others appear as if gracefully tossed upon the ocean barely floating above the breaking waves. There are many intimate resorts, small peaceful villages, and miles of quiet pristine beaches, which may explain why Tahiti is ranked #1 in the world for alone time.
Tahiti is home to the overwater bungalow, which are the world's most perfect hotel room. Guests sleep above the turquoise lagoon waters in their thatched-roof hideaway with all the amenities and service of a first class hotel room. Couples can experience true relaxation and rejuvenation at one of the many luxurious Polynesian spas while being nurtured by the tropical ambience.
Although weddings in Tahiti are not legally binding, many honeymooners and those celebrating their anniversaries take part in a traditional Tahitian Wedding Ceremony. These elaborate ceremonies are offered at most of the resorts, as well as Tiki Village a great place in Moorea where they demonstrate traditional Tahitian activities and specialize in Tahitian Wedding Ceremonies.
If you were to choose 10 of the most romantic venues in Tahiti, which ones would you choose and why?
Overwater Bungalows: Unlike any other hotel room you've stayed in before, these traditional thatched-roof bungalows are perched above the turquoise lagoon waters. In many of the rooms, tropical fish swim below as you look through the glass floor or coffee table. With all the amenities of a first-class hotel room, here on your private balcony surrounded only by water and sky, you can enjoy both breakfast (often delivered by canoe) and the sunset (seemingly delivered by the heavens). Photo: Bora Bora sunset as seen from the InterContinental Beachcomber Resort Bora Bora.
Tahitian Wedding Ceremony: A traditional Tahitian wedding is a meaningful yet legally non-binding ceremony for couples wishing to wed or renew their vows. Couples are bedecked in bright pareu, flowers, and shells. The groom is brought to the beachside location in a canoe while the bride is carried on a rattan throne. Music and dancers enhance the ceremony while a Tahitian priest performs the rites and gives the couple their Tahitian names.
Motu Picnic: Enjoy a private or group picnic on your own motu (tiny islets in the lagoon.) Your resort or cruise ship can provide an unforgettable experience where gourmet meals are prepared and enjoyed on a table set either under a coconut tree or in the warm, shallow waters along the beach as shown here with Bora Bora Cruises.
Polynesian Spas: Tahiti is now a world-class spa destination with many of the resorts offering new luxurious spas. Surrounded by a backdrop of natural beauty and floral fragrances, there is no better setting for relaxation. Enjoy fresh-flower baths, herbal rain showers, or even a body wrap in banana tree leaves at Hélène Spa as shown in the photo. You can also rejuvenate your romance at the spas aboard the cruise ships including the Parisian-influenced private Spa Villa for two on the m/s Paul Gauguin.
Snorkeling & Diving: World-class snorkeling and diving in Tahiti is one of the South Pacific's best-kept secrets. Both experienced and beginner divers and snorkelers are amazed by how clear the waters are and how close they can swim to the marine life, such as the gigantic manta rays. With hundreds of dive sites throughout the islands, divers can choose from the amazing drift dives, oceanic drop-offs, sunken ships, and lagoon dives with infinite marine life.
Island Tours: There is no better way to gain a sense of everyday Tahitian life than passing through the small villages on a circle-island tour. As nearly every island has a coastal road following the lagoon shores, you can either drive around the island by rental car or take a guided bus tour. Explore the island interiors on a 4x4 safari, guided nature hike, or horseback ride. Skim across the lagoons on a motorized canoe, sailboat, or powerboat. For dramatic views above the islands, take a helicopter tour.
Shark Feeding: This excursion is one of the most thrilling and popular and can be enjoyed on most of the main islands. After a short trip into the lagoon by powered outrigger canoe or powerboat, you'll float or stand in four to seven feet of clear water behind a secure rope as the docile sharks are hand-fed by an experienced guide. Even non-swimmers can enjoy this exciting scene from the boat.
Tahitian Cultured Pearls: The world-renowned iridescent luster of Mother Nature's most perfect gem can only be created in Tahiti's warm lagoon waters. Commonly known around the world as Black Pearls, each Tahitian Cultured Pearl ranges in size and shape and the colors range from the darkest black to shimmering shades of green, blue, bronze, aubergine, or even pink. Tour a pearl farm on Manihi, Rangiroa, Raiatea, Huahine, Taha'a, Tikehau, and Fakarava or visit one of the many pearl shops.
Unique Cruise Ships: A wide variety of cruise products set sail in these romantic isles. Each week, luxurious cruise ships offer first-class meals and balcony cabins, Tahitian-owned "super yachts" sail deep within the smooth-water lagoons, a passenger freighter voyages between 17 ports, sailing catamarans offer small groups or families a vacation at sea, and barefoot cruising creates an environment for the independent and adventurous. Something for everyone on cruises found nowhere else on earth.
How does one go about arranging to be married in Tahiti?
Marriage vows in Tahiti are only legal for local residents. Couples need to tie the knot before coming down or after they are home. But the islands of Tahiti are perfect for a Tahitian wedding celebration and vow renewal celebration. Many hotels, tour operators, and cruise lines can arrange a romantic and festive traditional Tahitian wedding ceremony or vow renewal ceremony. Not legally biding, the traditional ceremonies are popular for people on their honeymoons and those celebrating anniversaries.
Although there are many different variations, the ceremony traditionally begins with the bride being treated to a soothing monoi-oil massage by her Tahitian bridesmaid, while being sung to and adorned with fragrant flowers. Meanwhile, the groom is taken to a motu (small islet) by outrigger canoe, painted with tattoos, and given a crown of tropical leaves. The bride wears a traditional Tahitian wedding pareu and a glowered headpiece.
A priest conducts the wedding vow renewal ceremony in Tahitian and each couple is given a Tahitian name and a name for their first-born child.
A Tahitian marriage certificate made of tapa parchment is presented to the couple while village women sing hymns. The ceremony is often followed by a romantic sunset cruise where the bride and groom continue to be serenaded by soft Tahitian music. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can only be found in the islands of Tahiti.
How safe is travel in and around Tahiti?
The islands of Tahiti are very safe and serene. If visiting Papeete, our capital city on the island of Tahiti, since it is our biggest city, we ask visitors to be vigilant and watch their personal belongings, just as they would in any other large city.
What kind of accommodations can one expect in Tahiti?
Interesting fact, there are more than 4,000 rooms in more than 40 hotels throughout Tahiti, catering to a wide range of budgets and personal preferences. There are more hotel rooms in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas than there are in all of the islands of Tahiti!
The resorts throughout the islands of Tahiti offer the perfect combination of amenities, experiences, service, dramatic views, cuisine, ambience, and accommodations. Lodging types range from rooms and suites with ocean views to thatched roof bungalows on stilts perched above the water with glass floors or glass coffee tables where guests can watch colorful fish swim by and a private deck with a ladder to the lagoon. Each resort offers a wide range of activities from cultural visits and water sports to traditional massages and spas.
Another option is the family hotel. Family hotels, which are called pensions in French, offer visitors the option to experience a warm Polynesian welcome as well as a glimpse into traditional daily life. These accommodations range from bed and breakfasts, holiday family homes, family run guest houses and family operated hotels. They each offer family style cooking and the chance to appreciate the spirit of sharing and generosity that remains a core value in Polynesian culture.
How about Tahiti's cuisine?
The food is amazing! It tends to be a Polynesian-French-Asian fusion which combines a delectable array these distinctly different cultures. Fresh fish, exotic tropical fruits and vegetables are obviously very popular and included in many dishes.
Poisson cru (ia ota) is the national dish of Tahiti, and can be found in most restaurants. This melt-in-your-mouth entrée consists of raw fish and diced vegetables soaked in coconut milk and marinated with lime juice. Many of the restaurants throughout the islands have their own signature ingredient added into this traditional dish. Cheverettes, another popular Tahitian dish, is a tasty freshwater shrimp that can be found throughout the beautiful native islands.
No amura'a (meal) is complete without a rich dessert inspired by the islands. The ultimate Tahitian dessert indulgence is poe, a sweet pudding made of taro root flavored with banana, vanilla, papaya or pumpkin and topped with a rich coconut-milk sauce. Or try the mouth-watering French croissants or the tasty biscuit-like treats, kato, which are made with coconut milk. A cup of the local coffee flavored with vanilla and served with sugar and coconut cream complements any of these delicious Tahitian treats.
Fish of all kinds, whether tuna, bonito or the many varieties of lagoon fish, is prepared in many different ways toasted, broiled and raw, often forming the centerpiece of typical Tahitian meals. Meat dishes are also highly flavored due to the abundance of high quality cuts from New Zealand.
Les Roulottes, located near the wharf, are a great way to experience Tahiti's local cuisine and culture. These roulettes, or rolling restaurants, are colorful, electrically lit vans that offer the best inexpensive dining in Papeete. Both locals and visitors alike can be found dining on a variety of dishes, from roast port and pizzas to chow mein and flaming crepes.
Another way to sample authentic Tahitian cuisine is to attend a Tahitian feast, called a tamaaraa. At the feast, visitors will be greeted by traditional Polynesian singing, dancing, and celebration. Native Tahitian local dishes of fish, roasted pork and chicken are cooked and served from an underground oven called an ahimaa. Visitors to Tahiti will receive a final touch of Tahitian tradition as the tamaaraa concludes with a full Polynesian show complete with exotic costumes and dancing.
The larger hotels organize big buffets that offer a vast panorama of local culinary delights accompanied by traditional dance performances.
Restaurants throughout the islands offer French, Tahitian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Italian dishes for the discerning palate. Tahitians are known for their delicate sauces, which often incorporate home-grown vanilla and freshly squeezed coconut milk.
What is there to do in Tahiti?
Tahiti is the perfect place to do everything or nothing at all. Popular activities include ray and shark feeding, 4x4 safaris, nature hikes, scuba diving, snorkeling, canoeing, sailing, jet skiing, wind-surfing, bike riding, tennis, golf on the islands of Tahiti and Moorea, horseback riding, deep-sea fishing, shopping, circle-island tours, helicopter tours, museum stops and archaeological tours.
How do we find out more about Tahiti?
The Tahiti Tourisme website is the best and most comprehensive source of information. It provides everything from great deals from our partners, links to travel agents and in-depth information on the islands of Tahiti. http://www.tahititourism.com/
Tahiti Tourisme North America
300 Continental Blvd., Suite 160
El Segundo, CA 90245
To order a brochure:
Tel: 1-800-365-4949 (US)
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
I just wanted to highlight these totally Tahitian experiences that I haven't mentioned yet:
Baguettes anyone? Check out those little boxes outside homes that look like mailboxes& they're for residents twice-daily delivery of warm French baguettes. Visitors can pick up a baguette at the market for about 35 cents. Grab a new things to go with it (such as a good French Bordeaux!) and have a marvelous picnic on a secluded beach.
The Hawaiki Nui Va'a could best be described as the Super Bowl of outrigger canoe races. It's the world's largest, longest, and most exhilarating international open ocean outrigger canoe event, and is the ultimate test of strength and endurance for both men and women. Six-person crews race 72 miles from the island of Huahine to Raiatea, then to Taha'a and finally to Bora Bora. An entourage of avid fans follows by canoes and boats, creating a colorful regatta throughout the week in mid-October.
Celestial naviation is tied to the ancient Polynesians who settled to the South Pacific islands. These early settlers were adept at quiding their way using only the stars, waves, currents, bird flights, the sun and wind. A visit to the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands on the island of Tahiti is a good way to explore this amazing bit of history.
Rangiroa, also known as The Endless Lagoon, is home to one of the world's greatest shark dives. In Tiputa pass, literally hundreds of these creatures create a shark wall. Travelers are often intrigued by the sharks in Tahiti, which are non-aggressive. Divers who swim with a variety of species are amazed that they can get so close without being harmed.
Tattoo is one of the few Polynesian words that has worked its way into our language (taboo is another.) This ancient Polynesian custom dates back to the days of wars between neighboring tribes. Full of symbolism, often done without anesthetic and often done with traditional instruments, tattoos this remains an important part of Tahitian traditional culture.
The rare tiare apetahi flower can only be found in one place in the entire world, on a mountain peak on the sacred island of Raiatea. Botanists have tried to grow it elsewhere without luck. It has a wonderful Tahitian legend tied to it and is prized by all Tahitians. Legend says the delicate petals of the tiare apetahi represent the five fingers of a lovely girl who fell in love with the son of a king and died of a broken heart because she could not hope to marry him. The petals close at night, and at daybreak they open with a slight crackling sound thought to be the sound of her heart breaking. Reaching the peak is a couple hours hike up the mountain, but worth every minute.
In the spirit of their ancient ancestors, Tahitian sporting events include stone lifting, fruit carrying (running through the streets with hundreds of pounds of fruit carried on a pole,) grueling canoe races between the islands, and javelin throwing, where contestants aim at a single coconut, 60 feet away, on top of a ring suspended from a 40-foot high pole. Visitors can see these events during the seven-week long Heiva I Tahiti celebration in June and July.
Marae, or religious stone temples, are found throughout the Society Islands. These sites were sacred and very important places of political and social gatherings in ancient Polynesia. Experts are learning more and more about the early Polynesians as they restore and uncover the marae.
Tamure means dance in Tahitian, and it's done with an energy and passion that is unsurpassed. From slow, graceful dances to fast, rhythmic movement, visitors must see the demonstration of native culture. Even years after visiting, travelers find that the mere sound of Tahitian music evokes powerful memories of the fervent tamure.
Pareus are seen just about everywhere. These colorful pieces of fabric are worn as a cover-up, a dress, shorts, a shawl, or can be spread out as a picnic cloth or beach towel. Created with traditional designs and bright tropical colors, pareus are inexpensive and make the perfect souvenir. Visitors can find pareus throughout the islands, but the largest selection is at Le Marche, the downtown market in Papeete. Many are hand-painted by local artists. Men and women alike consider cool and colorful pareus to be the ultimate island garb.
How are the Tahitians keeping their culture alive? Although 75 percent of the population is of Polynesian decent, the French influence is profound. In the past few years, Tahitians have made a dedicated effort to keep their culture alive by teaching the Tahitian language in school, encouraging traditional sports, arts and crafts, and keeping Tahitian dance and music alive.
Hospitality is a Tahitian way of life. Tahitians are proud of their islands and want to share the beauty with visitors. Even tipping is contrary to their beliefs its simply not expected. Every visitor to Tahiti should take the time to chat with locals and learn about their culture and lifestyle. It can make the experience of this beautiful paradise even richer.
Some additional facts:
All visitors to Tahiti must have a return airline ticket and a passport that is valid for six months beyond their date of return.
French and Tahitian are the official languages. As English is spoken in hotels and shops throughout the islands, communication for North American travelers is rarely a problem.
The local currency is the French Pacific Franc (XPF or CFP.) International banks and ATM machines can be found at Faa'a Int'l Airport as well as throughout the main islands. On the primary tourist islands, VISA and MasterCard are commonly accepted in most hotels, restaurants and boutiques while American Express is accepted in some.
The climate and lifestyle of the islands call for casual and comfortable clothing. Pack loose-fitting, natural fabrics and plenty of shorts. Pareus and swimsuits can be worn during the daytime at resorts, while casual shirts, shorts and walking shoes prove the most comfort during island exploration. For dinner, casual slacks and sport shirts are the best choice for men; cool sundresses for women.
Thank you so much for letting me share some of the wonderful secrets of Tahiti. We look forward to welcoming your readers in our islands!
Jonathan, thanks for participating in our interview.
***All photo images Courtsey of www.TahitiToursime.com