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Papeete, Tahiti

Formed by two ancient volcanoes and joined at the isthmus of Taravao, Tahiti is the largest island of the Society Archipelago and economic heart of French Polynesia. Ever since the famous French impressionist painter Paul Gauguin immortalized Tahitian maidens in vibrant colours on his canvasses, Tahiti has embodied a mysterious allure and still summons up the romance of the South Pacific as a tropical paradise.

Rising in the centre, Mount Orohena and Mount Aorai are the island’s highest points; deep valleys radiate in all directions from these central peaks, and steep slopes drop abruptly from the high plateaus to coastal plains. The rugged and rocky Northeast Coast lacks a protective barrier reef, and is thus exposed to intense, pounding surf. Villages lie on a narrow strip between mountains and ocean. The South Coast is broad and gentle, with large gardens and coconut groves sheltered by a barrier reef from the sea.

Papeete, Tahiti's capital, is French Polynesia's only real city and a major South Pacific port of call for freighters, cruise vessels and yachts. With hills rising abruptly behind the town, Papeete stretches along the waterfront for about a mile. Running the entire distance, tree-shaded Boulevard Pomare is lined with new apartment buildings, banks, sidewalk cafés, boutiques, and government offices. Just off the seafront boulevard is Papeete’s public market and centre of activity. The atmosphere of the ‘marché’, as the market is locally known, reflects an earlier Papeete; earthy, vibrant and filled with amiable confusion.

There was no city and the area attracted little attention until 1818, when Reverend Crook of the London Missionary Society settled here. Papeete began to grow in earnest when Queen Pomare made it her capital in the 1820s, and sailing ships took advantage of the protected harbour. By the 1830s, Papeete had become a regular port of call for whalers. When the French made Tahiti a protectorate in 1842, the military arrived on the scene, and French Catholic priests and nuns soon followed. When fire destroyed almost half of Papeete in 1884, a law was passed prohibiting the use of native building materials. In 1906, huge waves resulting from a cyclone wiped out a number of homes and businesses.

Explore this lively town and take in its unique mix of exotic and French ambiance.

Pier Information

The ship is scheduled to dock at the Papeete waterfront, with the town centre within walking distance. Taxis may not always be easy to find for drives inland. Fares should be established before leaving town. Le Truck is Tahiti’s public bus service, which begins and ends its roundtrips at the Municipal Market.


Brightly coloured ‘pareos’ and t-shirts are popular souvenirs. Other mementoes of your visit include Polynesian fashions, shell jewellery, black pearls, French perfume, and handicraft items. Chinese shops are crammed with wares of every variety. Philatelists may want to check out the local postage stamps and first-day covers of all French Pacific territories available at the Post Office. The local currency is the Pacifique Franc (XPF) and the Euro.


There is a good selection of French, Chinese, Vietnamese and typical local restaurants. Snack bars and sidewalk cafés along rue General de Gaulle and tucked away in side streets offer quick, less-expensive fare. Most hotels feature Tahitian feasts, or ‘tamaraa’, along with traditional entertainment.

Other Sites

Papeete is designed for walking; armed with a map, it is easy to find your way around. Take a stroll along the lively waterfront, and see sleek yachts sharing the harbour with international freighters. A myriad of outdoor cafés and sidewalk vendors selling local crafts create a vibrant atmosphere.

Le Marché
The colourful local market is the heart of Papeete, and features flowers, tropical fruits and vegetables. Local crafts include hats, bags and shell necklaces, among many others.

Pearl Museum
Located on rue Jeanne d’Arc, the museum’s exhibits showcase the history of the black pearl.

Archbishop's Palace
This is without a doubt the finest example of Colonial architecture in a territory of fast-disappearing historic buildings. The park grounds and modern, open-air church also merit a look.

Catholic Cathedral
Notice the Polynesian faces, and mélange of Tahitian and Roman dress on the striking murals depicting the crucifixion inside. The cathedral is southeast of the market on rue General de Gaulle.

Exploring Tahiti
Discover remains of ancient temples, and marvel at the waterfalls, black sand beaches and jagged mountains. Little Tahiti, a small peninsula of prairie grass and grazing cattle, is reminiscent of a rural village in France.

Private arrangements for independent sightseeing may be requested through the Tour Office on board the ship.
Papeete, Tahiti Matching Cruises : 5 voyages  
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