Tahiti has long been regarded as the ultimate tropical vacation. It is known for its dramatic forested peaks dropping down to perfect black sand beaches. The warm South Pacific waters are inviting year-around, especially with a Tahitian maitai by your side. Experience the beautiful Tahitian culture by attending a Polynesian dance performance or eating traditional food right out of the coals. A Tahitian cruise is the perfect way to explore this island paradise.
The First Tahitians
Adventurous Polynesian explorers from the islands of Samoa and Tonga were the first to discover Tahiti, and they had settled there by as early as 1300 B.C. In double outrigger canoes made of wood and braided fibers, these islanders used Tahiti as a base for exploring and settling the Marquesas and other islands of the South Pacific as well.
Native Tahitians lived free of European influence for quite some time. Magellan is said to have landed on an outlying atoll in the 1500s, but had no contact with the islanders. It was not until English captain Samuel Wells landed on Tahiti in 1767 that native Tahitians experienced their first contact with European explorers. He was searching for a mythical land below the equator that was thought to balance the northern hemisphere on the globe. He named Tahiti “King George Island III” and claimed it for England.
Unbeknownst to the English, French explorer Louise-Antoine de Bougainville landed on the opposite side of the island and claimed it for France soon after Captain Wells left. He published a narrative of his experience on Tahiti that portrayed the island as a tropical utopia, and European interest in Tahiti soared.
The famous captain James Cook visited the island in the late 1700s, and brought back numerous illustrations of the mythical flora and fauna from the island. European ships began to stop on Tahiti with greater and greater frequency after these early expeditions. A South Pacific cruise is a perfect way to view the tropical paradise of European explorers with your own eyes.
Tahiti's Modern History
On his fortuitous visit to Tahiti, James Cook estimated the native population to be at about 200,000 people. European visitors brought with them alcohol, venereal disease, prostitution, and numerous other diseases that decimated the Tahitians. Their population was to hit bottom at only 6,000 people.
The British and French exercised a heated rivalry over Tahiti until Tahitian Queen Pomare accepted French rule in 1880, and the island became a French colony. Tahiti was officially named a French overseas territory in 1957, as part of French Polynesia.
In 1998, Tahiti was granted the autonomous status of overseas community, and rule themselves internally.
Tattoos and Tiki Torches
Despite the population drop brought about by European colonization, native Tahitian culture is still strong and vibrant on the island. This can most readily be seen in the Polynesian dancing that still pervades Tahiti. Tahitian dancing is characterized by long grass skirts, drums, flutes, and conch shells. These dances were an essential element of Tahitian culture, linked to prayer, welcome, challenges, and religion. A culture cruise to Tahiti is the best way to view a performance of this famous style of dancing.
The tattoo is also a large part of Tahitian culture that travelers may encounter. They were ceremoniously applied for different occasions, and are still considered signs of beauty.
Visitors wishing for as complete a view of Tahitian culture as possible should plan on being on the island for Heiva i Tahiti in July. Tahitians converge on Papeete for dancing, ancient sporting events, craft displays, and a celebration of the island culture. Tahitians use this festival to continue their canoe tradition, participating in races and exhibitions with the boats of their ancestors.
Of course, a cruise to Tahiti would not be complete without the famous tropical-flower lei or the occasional flickering tiki torch.
Tahiti’s most abundant wildlife is to be found under water. Its vast coral reefs are home to numerous schools of colorful tropical fish, reef sharks, rays dolphins, and countless other fascinating and beautiful invertebrates. Humpback whales occasionally make appearances off the coast as well. A Tahitian cruise may feature snorkeling or diving opportunities for the best viewing of this diverse underwater world.
The only mammals that remain on Tahiti today were brought over by Europeans, such as livestock animals. There are some feral animals, such as pigs and horses, which are descended from these first intruders, but Tahiti is otherwise devoid of large mammals.
Tahiti is home to large number of tropical bird species. The Tahiti Kingfisher and the Common Myna are some of the most likely birds to be sighted on the island. The Little Heron is attracted to the island’s freshwater rivers, and the Murphy Petrel may be seen nesting on the ground.
Tahitian food is a mouth-watering blend of Polynesian traditions with a French flair. Fresh fish, vegetables, and tropical fruits provide the base of Tahitian meals. Travelers should expect to find yams, breadfruit, roots, bananas, and sweet potatoes in most dishes. Traditional food is still prepared in an ahima’a, an underground oven. Food is generally wrapped in leaves and lowered onto hot coals.
One delicious example of Tahitian dishes is the Poisson cru, which is raw fish marinated in lime-juice and coconut milk. Another great seafood dish is chevreffes, freshwater shrimp cooked to island perfection. Chicken fafa, simmered and sautéed with taro leaves, is another Tahitian favorite.
A great way to complete your Tahitian meal is to try the typical dessert, poe; it is a taro root pudding sweetened with banana, papaya, vanilla, or pumpkin. French croissants can also be found for those travelers with decadent cravings.
Travelers will be excited to find that one of the most famous tropical cocktails, the maitai, originated on Tahiti. This blend of rum and pineapple juice completes a Tahitian cruise.
Crystal Clear Waters
Tahiti is the largest and most famous of the 115 islands that comprise French Polynesia. It is known for its black sand beaches meeting the clear waters of the South Pacific, and the coral reefs that surround it.
Tahiti is made up of two landmasses; Tahiti-Iti (little Tahiti) and Tahiti-Nui (big Tahiti) are connected by a thin isthmus. The capital city of Papeete is located on Tahiti Nui, and is the cosmopolitan hub of the island. Papeete is a great place to enjoy international cuisine, so some shopping, and take in Polynesian shows and performances.
Tahiti’s volcanic origins have left the island with a dramatic landscape of high peaks plunging into the ocean, and deep hidden valleys in between. Tahiti-Nui’s highest peak in an impressive mountain range soars to 7,339 feet. In contrast, Tahiti-Iti is comprised of a lower mountain range that reaches its height at 4,341 feet. Whereas Tahiti’s population is centered on Big Tahiti, Little Tahiti has remained rural, with an abundance of lush natural beauty. In fact, most of its southern half is only accessible through hiking or biking; a Tahitian expedition cruise is the perfect base to explore this wild landscape.
In addition to her breathtaking beaches, Tahiti is covered in tropical rainforest, lending it the distinctly paradise-like feel that gave it the nickname “Island of Love.”
Tahiti is a member island of French Polynesia, which is a semi-autonomous French territory. Tahitians are full French citizens with the civil and political rights of that country.
Tahiti is governed by its own president and assembly, and makes its own budget and laws. French dealings in the region are limited, consisting of education and security. Some recent politicians have called for full independence form France, but there has been limited support for such action. A pro-independence party formed a Government that has a one-seat majority in the Assembly. A censure motion was passed against Government, and political crisis gripped the island. France intervened, and Tahiti has since been tranquil in terms of politics.
One of the great things about Tahiti is that it is always a good time to visit. The island has a tropical climate, which ensure that it is warm year-around. Even during the rainy season from December to April, a Tahitian cruise will yield warm temperatures and sunshine. Ocean temperatures remain high as well. During the dry season, nighttime temperatures can drop to the point of needing a second layer. The only downside of Tahiti’s weather is the constant humidity, but it is well-balanced by plenty of beautiful sun!