The Windward Islands
Tahiti is the most populated of French Polynesia's 118 islands and it's probably the most well known. French Polynesia's capital city, Pape'ete, is found there. Because Tahiti and its sister island, Moorea, are so well known they are often the most visited and seem a bit 'touristy'. While that may sound unappealing, I assure you that everyone can overlook the tourism and enjoy the beauty and culture of these islands. Like the Marquesas, there are beautiful, lush mountains to explore and like the Tuamotus there’s a lagoon providing a calm anchorage and protection for coral reefs. It’s the best of both worlds and therefore draws a crowd.
Tourism in these islands was booming in the late 70s and 80s. As we traveled around the islands it was hard not to notice hotels and resorts that didn’t survive and were deteriorating or completely abandoned. There are still plenty of hotels, resorts, and restaurants that are thriving and perhaps on the upswing again though.
Tahiti has a population of 200,000 people, but despite urbanization, a strong sense of culture remains. Every June Tahiti hosts the month-long Heiva festival celebrating the dance, music, and games of French Polynesia. People from all over the islands come to participate and watch. Unfortunately, we were a month too late.
We didn’t spend much time in Tahiti; long enough to take care of our visa paperwork, do some much needed grocery shopping, and pick up our family at the airport. We did spend a few nights anchored at Point Venus, a nice park on the northeast side of the island. The naming of Point Venus is due to the fact that Captain Cook spent several months and set up an observatory to record the transit of Venus.The park has a black sand beach and is abuzz with activity every day. We saw a large canoe race, families playing on the beach, and a senior citizen group enjoying water aerobics in the shallows. There’s an impressive lighthouse built in 1867 that still stands.
Just 20 kilometers from Tahiti lies Moorea. A ferry runs between the islands multiple times daily. Pineapples are king in Moorea. You can buy the small, and sweet, pineapples at roadside stands throughout the island and take a tour of the juice factory which wouldn’t be complete without trying 'Tahiti Drink', a fruity vanilla rum drink.
We spent almost 2 weeks exploring the island and enjoyed a multitude of activities: surfing on the westside at Haapiti, hiking in the Opunohu Valley, and snorkeling at places called “Sting Ray City” and the “Coral Gardens”. Throughout the island, there are numerous marae, traditional temples dating to the 17th century. Today they may look like simple stone platforms but they still hold a spiritual significance to the people of these islands.