Tahiti & Moorea, French Polynesia

Live for the Moment in a South Pacific Paradise


Live for the Moment in a South Pacific Paradise

It’s late afternoon, 5pm or thereabouts, you kind of lose track of time in Tahiti. But this is the hour that islanders head into the sea, mounting surfboards, foil boards, outrigger canoes, or just laughing and splashing together. It’s the perfect end to another hot low season day. Friends and families bonding in seas as warm as bathwater, giving thanks once more to the ocean for all the gifts it gives – energy, refreshment, food, protection, life.

This is French Polynesia, a country of 118 isles and atolls, a protectorate of France comprising five distinct archipelagos, otherwise known as the Islands of Tahiti.  Spread over 2000km, and lying roughly between Australia and the Americas, it’s just about as far away from anywhere as you can get. But boy is it worth the trip.  Peak time for visitors is the dry season May to October, when long months of endless sunshine are cooled by a Pacific trade breeze and temperatures stay around a pleasant mid 20s Celsius. It’s also the period that coincides with traditional vacationing for Americans, Antipodeans, and Europeans, not least the French, for whom the islands remain a favourite haunt for summers in paradise. On the flip side, the rainy season which comes from November to March and marks Tahiti’s low season. This is when peak prices tumble and we can grab the opportunity to escape a dreary northern winter. The perception of wet weather may be off-putting, but think again. Days of up to 35°C are punctuated by dramatic downpours, usually lasting 30 minutes or so. Moody storm clouds against a dark green ocean, a photographer’s dream, give way to startling blue skies. It’s a truly magical and exciting period to be in Tahiti, celebrated as a heady season of renewal and abundance, fruits ripen, crops can flourish, rivers and waterfalls are in full flow, and the life force mana is at its most powerful.

You could spend months island hopping over an area the size of Europe and connecting with the land. But for a decent break of 10 to 14 days we’d recommend basing yourself in the Society Archipelago, on the main island of Tahiti, home to more than 60% of the nation’s people, and its sister Moorea some 30 minutes away. These are isles of lush towering peaks, lagoons, waterfalls, rivers, and surf’s most dangerous wave. It’s a kaleidoscope of blues and greens. Here the air is filled with the rich sweet scent of tiare flowers, of tropical fruits, coconut and vanilla. It’s here that you’ll discover a wonderfully balanced mix of Polynesian culture and well established infrastructure from luxury resorts to Tahitian guesthouses. Everything here is geared up for positive experiences from fresh seafood picnics on a motu islet, to 4WDs around mountainous interiors, to outrigger canoeing, making it super easy to slip straight into holiday mode from your arrival at the international airport, close to the small capital Papeete.

Above and Below the Waves

Explore Tahitian shores, beautiful beaches of gold, pink and black, relatively crowd free in low season, taking dips in azure lagoons to relieve the day’s humidity. Try kayaking, stand up paddling boarding, or travel with a local in an outrigger canoe, va’a, the traditional vessel which has travelled the Pacific for more than 4000 years. Surfing is a way of life, with low season seeing swells from the north, around the popular breaks of Papenoo and Taapuna. The real majesty though lies under the surface. Marine life is truly abundant and some of the world’s best dive sites lie around these shores. Encounters with sharks, manta rays, whales, dolphins and turtles are usual. Unlike some areas where low season weather affects visibility, the calm shallow lagoons around Tahiti and Moorea allow excellent conditions for year-round snorkelling. In fact, it is normal in low season to find yourself snorkelling from the sole boat around, in an area packed out at peak times. You’ll have crystal clear waters to yourself, waters that teem with rainbow coral, brightly coloured fish, turtles, and three metre wide stingrays that swim right up just wanting to be stroked.

Cultural Heritage

Polynesia is rich in ancestral traditions and ancient legends that pervade all aspects of life. Try fire walking; take lessons in basket weaving; and see Polynesian sports like coconut tree climbing, javelin throwing or stone lifting. Learn about the work that goes into designing an intricate Tahitian tattoo, or fishing for black pearls. You’re likely to see ‘ori tahiti’, the powerful traditional dance shows at any time of year, but in December, catch the Hura Tapairu dance festival, Tahiti’s prestigious annual event which draws competing groups from across the islands.

Hike Lush Island Interiors

November to March is when the jungle clad volcanic centres of Tahiti and Moorea are at their abundant best. Incredible greens appear, waterfalls burst into life, blowholes blow, and flowers regain their colourful blooms. Plus, low season travellers will have many of the trails to themselves. Short popular hikes are well-signposted, such as The Water Gardens of Vaipahi on Tahiti said to flow with sacred springwater. More challenging adventures like exploring the hair-raising lavatubes of Hitia’a need a guide. On Moorea, hike to Belvedere look out point for panoramic vistas of beautiful Cook and Opunohu Bays, where Captain Cook moored in 1777. Be warned that proper hiking shoes are recommended in the rainy season if you want to make the most of the best trails. If you’re feeling really energetic, take part in the Moorea Marathon which comes to the island each February.

We visited Tahiti in December to film the low season experience – You can see for yourself what to expect here.

Low Season Months

Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov

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Top Experiences

Snorkel with Sharks

The waters around Tahiti have been a recognised shark sanctuary since 2006, with 15 species prevalent. A top site is Sharks Sandbank, in the Moorea lagoon, where dozens of elegant blacktip reef sharks, a Tahitian cultural icon, swim with snorkellers in shallows just a few feet deep.

Learn to Surf

Low season is the time to take to the waves on the breaks around Papenoo on the north shore of Tahiti. Choose from many experienced teachers but we are firm fans of the sunset sessions of Taie Fa'ahe'e Surf School run by Julien Miremont, former international bodyboard champion.

Celebrate Matari’i I Nia

Tahitian New Year arrives in November marking the season of renewal and abundance on the exact day that the Pleiades cluster of stars rise over the islands. Rituals take place all over Tahiti and Moorea. Join a spiritual circle and partake in the drinking of kava liqueur, dance and song.

Insider Tips

  • In low season rains, spend an afternoon indulging in a hot stones or tiare flower oil massage. Or try taurumi, a Polynesian treatment handed down through generations. The firm massage works with the rhythm of ocean waves to ease pain, shift energies and balance body and mind.
  • On Tahiti-iti, the itshme connected to the main island, you’ll find the staggering wave of Teahupo’o, known to surfers as the world’s most dangerous ride. As part of the 2024 Paris Olympics, the small village of Teahupo’o, the end of the road, plays host to the surf competition.
  • A must-try is the ‘poisson cru’ raw fish with coconut milk, the Tahitian national dish. Another favourite is ‘ma’a Tahiti’ which is pork, fish, chicken or taro stewed for hours under hot volcanic stones. And don’t miss a mahi mahi fish fillet burger washed down with a maitai rum punch.

Good To Know

  • As tempting as Tahiti’s stunning luxury accommodation is, consider staying in the charming family run guesthouses. You’ll be investing in smaller businesses, engaging more with locals, and able to spend your hard earned cash instead to undertake many more fun activities.
  • For shopping try Marché Municipal in the capital Papeete. Join locals at the 160 year old market early, around 5.30am, for a Tahitian breakfast of firifiri donut and coffee. Everyone is packing up by mid-afternoon. Buy handicrafts, jewellery, vanilla, fruit and flowers.
  • Tahitian tattoos are hugely important cultural symbols guided by strict traditional codes. Tahiti and Moorea are among the best spots in French Polynesia to get inked, with artists becoming open to working with foreigners on a profound level to determine your life’s imagery.

Food & Drink

Roulotte Food Trucks, Vaipopoo, Tahiti

A real cultural experience, you have to have at least one breakfast, lunch or dinner at a roulotte or food truck, and the park at Vaipopoo in Punaauia close to Papeete is one of our favourites. It’s a bustling site especially in the evenings with all kinds of local dishes are served up from bbq to crepes.

Pâtisserie Brasserie L.Moutet, Tahiti

The best French bakery outside Paris, this institution in Papeete serves up all kinds of delicious pastries, cakes, eclairs, baguettes, sandwiches, and French omelettes. Take away or sit in with friends and catch up over a hot chocolate and tart au citron. Open early daily, except Sundays.

Snack Mahana, Moorea

This friendly busy eatery has amazing views over the lagoon and is the perfect place to relax over a lazy lunch. The authentically Tahitian food is delicious especially the poisson cru in coconut, salads and shrimp. Best to make a reservation so you’re not disappointed and remember it is cash only.

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