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Introducing Tahiti

This probably isn’t the island whose photograph was on your holiday brochure. No, there aren’t any sweeping white beaches and vistas over a neon blue lagoon are few and far between. Yet this is the heart of French Polynesia and it would be a shame to bypass the waterfall-laden, shadowy mountains, unpretentiously beautiful black-sand beaches and distinctly Polynesian buzz that make Tahiti a gem in its own right. Many people immediately hightail it out of Tahiti for the white-sand bliss of Mo’orea or Bora Bora so that ironically, the most accessible and well-known island of French Polynesia remains more off the beaten track than its far-flung sisters.

The island is very much centralised around Pape’ete, the pint-sized chaotic capital with its traffic jams and smells of flowers, sweat and salt air. To islanders addicted to the city pace of life, this is the only place to be and they lap up the gritty nightlife, cinemas, music and endless array of food on hand.

While visiting Pape’ete is a must, it’s the outdoor action outside the city and cultural offerings that woo visitors to extend their stay. Hike through archaeological sites, up never-ending river valleys and past coastlines dotted with wild passion fruit. In July catch the country’s most spectacular festival, the percussion and dance-heavy Heiva and from July to October go whale-watching with far fewer tourists than you’ll find on Mo’orea. Year-round on Tahiti Iti there’s a chance there will be big waves at Teahupoo and you can hire a boat to watch pro surfers tackle the break’s cavernous tube up close.