So recently due to routing quirk of LAN Airlines back to NZ through Easter Island I was offered a chance to have 24 hours in Tahiti (Papeete in French Polynesia to be exact). Perfect, I thought – I have been offering clients this option so often through my previous work as a travel agent and now was my chance to put together a Guide for a Layover in Papeete!
I was not in Tahiti anywhere near as much time as I would have liked but no way was I going to miss a chance to see somewhere new! Here you can find my Guide for a Layover in Papeete with 24 hours in Tahiti layover, feel free to use it for inspiration or do your own things, just make sure you stop if flying through! I can never say no to a stopover and Air Tahiti offers them free of charge when flying through its hub in Tahiti (From Auckland to LA or Paris for example!) so don’t miss out – Direct is no fun anyway!
But first before we get into what I did I just have to share my little geeky airline thing that happened: When I arrived in Fa’a’ā International Airport (French Polynesia’s only international airport) we were the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner ever to land there! Apparently it was a big deal as the captain made announcement and there were fire engines either side of the plane spraying a water salute, a traditional band playing and was even greeted with lei’s!! Anyway just another weird experience that I hadn’t planned on but was fun none the less!
After this welcome I was meet (with another lei!) by my AirBNB hosts Melina and Soko who took me to their house – a little haven of Zen in Papeete only 20 mins walk from the downtown! Was perfect for what I was after and they were able to help me with all my questions for the next day, how to catch ferry, dinner etc…While I normally don’t prefer AirBNB for one/two night stays this place was only $70NZD a night; about a quarter of local (basic) hotels! Complete bargain right?! But the highlight had to be waking up to a breakfast of fresh french breads and pastries, Tahitian lime marmalade, fresh mango, yogurt and coffee…Delicious! I was able to have a few silent moment of contemplation next to their koi pond before tackling my plans for 24 hours in Tahiti! If you havn’t checked out AirBNB I highly recommend you check out, here are my “Top Ten Reasons to Try AirBNB” today!
After breakfast Mel was kind enough to drop me at the ferry station as for my 24 hours in Tahiti I had decided to go across to Mo’orea – A quick 40 mins ferry trip from Papeete as I had heard it was the best place to see the real French Polynesia in the time I had! Gorgeous rugged mountains surrounded by turquoise, calm lagoons – Just like the brochure, nothing was over-hyped at all!
I had tee’d up a Lagoon Exploration trip with Albert Transport as the best way to see and experience everything, having been highly recommend by a friend, and boy did they not disappoint..They picked me up from the ferry terminal on time and with a smile and we were off!
We made our way around the windy coastal roads and then boarded our boat for the day where we slowly made our way further around the coast – but with a see breeze and more interesting views as our hilarious guide for the day explained all the local features of the island. We passed the exclusive Hilton and InterContinental resorts with their over water bungalows that French Polynesia is so famous for to our first stop – Swimming with Sting Rays and Sharks!!
I must admit I was a little nervous at first but then I was fine as the guide gave me some fish (yes they are trained to come here over the decades – at-least they are wild though!) and one of the big sting rays came and tried to get it out of my grasp. I kept my hand close and his mouth still managed to pry it open and get to the meat inside. Most others didn’t want to feed them so I got lots more chances to get up close. The sting rays were surprisingly soft to touch, like velvet, and not threatening at all…The sharks are also friendly but keep their distance, apparently from the stingrays?..I did get a little nervous again when I swum out too far and into the middle of a school!! They didn’t seem to notice but I was quick to swim back to the group for safety! We spent a good 40 mins here and it was amazing but we were all getting a bit hungry so was time to go to the next stop…
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From here we continued on through the calm, turquoise lagoon to arrive at our own private Motu or island for the after noon – Just sand and forest, surrounded by a coral reef where we snorkelled, swam, and lay in the sun. Rum punch flowed freely and there was an amazing buffet lunch made fresh in front of our eyes with ceviche! YUM!
After our time was up here we slowly headed back, and I caught the ferry back to Tahiti – slightly sun-kissed, salty hair and feeling ready for a nap. But I had one more thing to do in Papeete and that was to head down to La Place Vai’ete, the town square along Papeete’s harbour, to check out the local roulottes – a.k.a “rolling food trucks” which appear around sunset every-night in the vacated carparks of Papeete. Eating out in French Polynesia is not cheap – A burger is a resort can be over $40 NZD so these are a welcome relief on the wallet for tourists and locals alike. All manner of food is sold from Chinese and pizza to traditional french cuisine, but its not “fast food”. It’s about sitting around a table in a carpark, with a red and white checkered tablecloth, eating French baguettes slathered in herbed butter while enjoying the live music.
I am a bit of a traditionalist when sampling other countries cuisine so I had to go for a variant of a Tahitian specialty, poisson cru (raw fish salad) called Fujiyama red tuna tatar (Japanese style tartar with black soy sauce seasoning and Japanese species). It was absolutely divine and at less than $20 NZD I was a very happy boy!
And with that I wandered home and drifted into a deep sleep, happily feed and watered and still smelling of the salty sea air. I had to catch an early flight so was taken to the airport by my hosts the next morning and boarded a flight back to New Zealand. I wish I had more time, there is so much more to see and do here..But I made the most of what I had, I got to experience a little bit of Tahitian paradise on my 24 hours in Tahiti and can’t wait to come back soon and steal some more island time! If you are luckily enough to have longer here I highly recommend check out this guide to Tahiti Scuba Diving Spots.