Whenever I hear a Canadian or American mention they are planning a trip to Australia / New Zealand I immediately feel the need to throw in my 2 cents. I find it funny and also shocking that most settle on enduring a mind numbing long haul flight when breaking up the trip via dreamy Pacific island layover makes so much more sense.
Back in 2010 when I was scheming my trip home to Toronto from Sydney I endeavoured to break up the journey into smaller segments which made the jaunt more bearable. Once I got home, rather than griping over jet lag, I couldn’t help but rave about my week long stints spent in Fiji and Hawaii.
I recently found myself sitting on the tarmac at LAX airport, staring at the flight map in Air Tahiti Nui magazine. Not surprisingly the couple siting to my left were on their honeymoon, which included a layover in Tahiti en route to Australia and the couple to my right were enjoying a pitstop in Bora Bora before arriving in New Zealand to join their family for Christmas.
Like its cousins Hawaii and Fiji, Tahiti offers a perfect stop for North Americas looking to break up their trip to Australia and New Zealand via a relaxing few days spent in polynesian paradise. Flights from LA arrive into the capital at 10:30pm and most folks spend a day or two on the main island before island hopping to Bora Bora and beyond. Be sure to explore Tahiti on a road trip. You can easily circle around the coastline in a day.
InterContinental Tahiti Resort
My home base in Tahiti would be at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort, just a short five minute drive from the airport in Papeete. The hotel is located alongside a turquoise lagoon which offers pretty views of Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea. Nestled in a sumptuous garden setting covering 12 hectares, the resort boasts two infinity pools and spacious suites.
With only 24 hours in Tahiti there’s lots to see! Your best bet is to rent a car or hire a local guide and zoom along the islands coastal ring road. My first stop on day one was a visit to the Hinano Brewery (who doesn’t like to drink beer at 10am?) French Polynesia’s signature brew. I spent an hour running around the factory with Hinano’s brewmaster (a native of Bordeaux France) wide-eyed as thousands of bottles whizzed through the space. Hinano’s signature lager is a deluxe, bottom-fermented, golden-coloured lager which visitors to French Polynesia will find served ice cold at every island in the archipelago. Hinano has a 100 year history in Tahiti and a refreshing chug from a freshly cracked can offers a quintessential post Pacific swim indulgence.
After finishing up at the brewery we drove out of the city and spent the next few hours coasting along the islands scenic ring road. Our next stop was Arahurahu, the only marae – an ancient temple or meeting place – in all of Polynesia that has been fully restored, and is maintained like a museum. Today, most marae are just piles of stones, but before the arrival of the Europeans in the 18th century, they were the centre for social, political and religious activity-including human sacrifice. Arahurahu is Tahiti’s best example of ancient Polynesian temples and its exhibit boards do a great job at explaining the significance of each zone of the property.
The Water Gardens of Vaipahi
Horticulture enthusiasts rejoice at The Water Gardens of Vaipahi which spread out over more than a hectare on the mountainside of circle island road. The gardens offer pretty ponds, rushing waterfall and quiet walking paths which can be enjoyed on a 30 minute stroll. Nearly 75 different plant species compose the gardens abundant flora, planted close to the basins and waterfalls which flow directly into Lake Vaihiria. According to ancient Tahitian legend, the nearby Vaima river once played an important religious role because the spirits of the former Teva tribe considered the waterway to be “the path of purification of souls” in their quest to reach paradise.
After zipping through small villages and soaring past jaw dropping beaches we finished our tour at Venus Point. It was here that Captain James Cook made his observations of the transit of Venus across the sun in 1769 from a point between the parks black-sand beach and the meandering river that cuts the peninsula in two. Today the park plays home to a picturesque Victorian-era lighthouse which was completed in 1868 and pays tribute to the crew of the Bounty.
I had the opportunity to dine in Papeete twice during my trip, enjoying a dichotomy of creme de la creme French cuisine and finger licking good street food. If you are looking for fancy French be sure to visit the petite dining room at Souffle, located across from City Hall. I couldn’t help but giggle as I read the menu, each dish was so righteously French. You’ll find Duck Margaret served with salted pistachio and foie gras, a salad of garlic sautéed shrimp and filet of beef topped with black truffle. Be sure to order off the extensive souffle menu which offers fluffed egg delights for fans of both savoury and sweet. Start with a puffed ramekin filled with mushrooms and roquefort and finish with a diced pear dotted souffle topped with a drizzle of warm dark chocolate.
Papeete’s famed food night market, Les Roulottes is located by the city’s cruise terminal and features a bustling al fresco dining room dotted with street carts and food trucks. I walked through the market and couldn’t help but smile as local families and tourists chowed down together at picnic tables. The diversity of food here was what impressed me most: French creperie, American burger joint, Italian pizza pie and polynesian roast pig which I found rotating over a spit. Locals will tell you that the most iconic Tahitian street food can be found at the food trucks owned by Chinese immigrants. The night market is open until the wee hours of the morning and apparently the drunk food of choice after dancing yourself silly on a weekend is a sizzling plate of chow mein.