Tahiti is regarded as an ultra-pricey Pacific destination. Is the perception well-founded?
Well, if you’re looking for the bargain basement bolt hole of the South Pacific, you’ve come to the wrong place. In fact, on the cost of living index, Tahiti is the third most expensive place on the planet, after Japan and Switzerland. The primary reason for that, is the fact that being a French territory, most goods are freighted in from France. Go to a supermarket here, and you could be forgiven for thinking you are grocery shopping in Marseille. And I went to McDonalds Papeete to do my Golden Arches test. A Big Mac is nearly double the cost of one in New Zealand.
Before exploring, you recommend a night or two in Papeete. Is it a clean city?
French Polynesia spans an area the size of Europe with over one hundred islands, including Moorea and Bora Bora which we will look at next week. But yes, you’d be silly not to spend a few nights in Tahiti’s beating heart of Papeete. It is so much cleaner and smarter than many South Pacific cities like Suva or Nuku’alofa. The waterfront area has been given a recent facelift, and although Papeete is snarled up with ridiculous volumes of traffic, there’s plenty of fantastic sights to check out.
What about the Central Market and the food stalls?
I absolutely love the Papeete market, which roars into life every morning at 6am. It really is the social meeting place of the city. The arts and crafts stalls are choc-a-bloc with a colourful variety of quality handmade souvenirs. The fabulous fruit and veg section is fresh, succulent and super cheap. So, stock up on the local produce. Similarly, all around Papeete, the local food vans or roulettes, sell really cheap-eats, like crepes. So they are two great ways to take the sting out of your Tahitian food bill.
Much French colonial heritage?
Viva la France is stamped all over Papeete. The legacy of Bougainville, the famous French explorer, is ever-present, with statues and tropical gardens in his honour. The Notre Dame cathedral is a grand old gothic style church. Built in basalt and coral rock, it has survived tsunamis, cyclones and the German bombings. In fact there’s a host of graceful old colonial buildings to check out, that have been well-preserved like the Navy Command, the colonial hospital, and the Stuart Hotel.
Tell us about Pouvanaa Avenue.
If there is one street you should see in Papeete, this is it. It was one of the city’s first avenues, flanked by really old maru maru trees, which have formed a vast canopy, overhanging the road. All of the colonial-style government buildings are located along this avenue, including the presidential palace. A very scenic stroll.
What about the Pearl Museum?
Tahitian pearls, which span an amazing spectrum of colours, have become quite the bling-statement. For everything you need to know about pearls, or want to know but were too afraid to ask, the Robert Wan Pearl Museum is the go-to temple in Papeete.
Beyond the city, you must see the Tomb of the Last King, right?
Just outside the city, check out one of the more unusual mausoleums around. Pomare the 5th was Tahiti’s last king. And when he died in 1879, he was interred in this massive tomb, which is a giant replica of a bottle of Benedictine, which was his favourite drink.
The Heiva Festival is a huge drawer, right?
Heiva is a monster annual bash that gobbles up all of July. This month long festival features a non-stop schedule of events, parades and contests, showcasing French Polynesia’s traditional sports, music and dance.The Americans in particular love all the hoopla, and pack out the place for Heiva.
When’s the best time to go?
It has become a year round destination, although June to September is best. Low humidity, cooler temps and lots of sunshine.
Mike Yardley’s travel notes from Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Show.
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