Trips to French Polynesia usually involve a lot of wasted time. Not on the islands themselves. Bora Bora, Huahine, Mo’orea, and Taha’a are heavenly. But you have to spend an unbelievable amount of time at Faa’a International Airport to reach them. Very early arrivals and late departures leave hours between connecting flights. There’s a way around that, though. You could spend a few days on Tahiti for once.
Tahiti is a single island in the center of the South Pacific. Many people falsely call the archipelago that it’s in Tahiti. That’s actually called the Society Islands. Tahiti is the largest in the group. It’s home to the capital, the busy international airport, and nearly 70 percent of the islands’ population. The island sounds a bit chaotic. It can be—especially in Pape’ete. But as soon as you leave the busy port, you’ll find a beautiful volcanic island surrounded by coral reefs.
Arue lies east of Pape’ete on Tahiti’s north coast. Chinese, not Polynesian, people first settled the area around Matavai Bay when they made houses out of grass and mud, and fished off the black-sand beaches. They picked a stunning spot. Coral plateaus are interrupted by steep drop-offs. They’re broken by a series of deep fissures. There’s a view of Mount ‘Orohena, the island’s highest point, to the south. Col du Tahara’a (a viewpoint that looks out toward Mo’orea), a traditional mairie (town hall), and the tomb of King Pōmare V (Tahiti’s last monarch) are all hidden in Arue. While the home of James Norman Hall, co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty, is now a popular museum whose grounds are covered with flowering breadfruit trees.
After an afternoon in Arue, most people return to Pape’ete. There’s no need to, though. Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort sits on Lafayette Beach. The half-mile stretch of black sand is lined with almond trees and overlooks Matavai Bay, where dolphins like to play. A meticulously manicured lawn, dotted with colorful flowers, connects the beach to the recently renovated hotel. Its buildings have thatched roofs and Polynesian decor. The rooms are chic and modern. You upgrade to an ocean view whirlpool room. When you open its louvered windows, you’ll find an ocean view from the tub.
You can either watch the sunset from your tub—which sounds amazing after a long flight—or, if you’re feeling social, you can join other guests downstairs. Happy hour at the Bay Bar starts at 5 pm. You’ll truly feel like you’re on vacation with a pineapple cocktail in your hand. Polynesian performances and live music follow most nights of the week. Then there’s dinner at Hiti Mahana. The open-air restaurant has views of the massive infinity pool, Mo’orea, and the setting sun. Add fresh seafood and aromatic herbs for a perfect first night in paradise. That’s right, paradise. You’re enjoying French Polynesia, even if you haven’t reached your final destination yet.