Seeing the Most Beautiful Island in the World, Moorea: To my mind, Moorea is the most beautiful island in the world. Nothing I have ever seen compares with its sawtooth ridges and the great dark-green hulk of Mount Rotui separating glorious Cook's and Opunohu bays. The view from Tahiti of Moorea's dinosaur-like skyline is unforgettable.
Experiencing the beauty of Bora Bora: The late James Michener thought Bora Bora was the most beautiful island in the world. Although tourism has turned this gem into a sort of expensive South Seas Disneyland since Michener's day, development hasn't altered the incredible beauty of Bora Bora's basaltic tombstone towering over a lagoon ranging in color from yellow to deep blue.
Baking on a Beach: Because all but a few of the islands are surrounded by coral reefs, there are few surf beaches here. Most of those on Tahiti have heat-absorbing black volcanic sand. Except in the Marquesas, which is almost devoid of coral, most islands (and all but a few resorts) have bathtublike lagoons that lap on white-coral sands draped by coconut palms. A standout beach is La Plage de Maui. Bordering the southern shore of Tahiti Iti, the main island's peninsula, this strip of white sand is far and away the best beach on Tahiti. The lagoon is suitable for swimming, and there's an excellent snack bar beside the beach.
Seeing the Inspiration for Paul Gauguin's Artwork: The great French painter Paul Gauguin lived and worked on Tahiti's south coast from 1891 until moving to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands, where he died. The Musée Gauguin/Gauguin Museum has a few of his original works, but is best at tracing his adventures in French Polynesia.
Swimming with the Sharks: A key attraction in Bora Bora's magnificent lagoon is to snorkel with a guide, who actually feeds a school of sharks as they thrash around in a frenzy. I prefer to leave this one to the Discovery Channel.
Shopping in the Marché Municipal/Municipal Market: Papeete's large, teeming market is a wonderful place to examine tropical foodstuffs as well as to buy handicrafts. It's especially busy before dawn on Sunday.
Learning about Tahitian History: The Musée de Tahiti et Ses Isles/Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands recounts the geology, history, culture, flora, and fauna of French Polynesia. It's worth a stop just for the outstanding view of Moorea from its coconut-grove setting.
Touring through the Tuamotu Archipelago: Whether you choose to visit Rangiroa, Tikehau, Manihi, or Fakarava, you will find modern Polynesian life relatively undisturbed by modern ways, except for the many black-pearl farms in their lagoons.
Riding the Rip: Divers and snorkelers will never forget the flying sensation as they ride the strong currents ripping through passes into the lagoons at Rangiroa and Manihi.
Walking through a Historic Home: James Normal Hall, the co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty and other books set in the South Pacific lived most of his adult life on Tahiti. His family maintains his former home as a fascinating museum: La Maison James Norman Hall/James Norman Hall's Home.
Exploring a Marae: The ancient Tahitians gathered to worship their gods and hold other ceremonies at stone temples known as marae. More than 40 of these structures have been restored near the village of Maeva and are a highlight of any visit to Huahine. French Polynesia's largest and most important marae, Taputapuatea Marae, sits beside the lagoon on Raiatea. Archaeologists have uncovered bones apparently from human sacrifices from beneath its 45m-long (150-ft.) grand altar.
Discovering the Old South Seas: The islands are developing rapidly, with modern, fast-paced cities like Papeete replacing what were once sleepy backwater ports. But there are still remnants of the old South Seas days of coconut planters, beach bums, and missionaries. With no towns and barely a village, Tahaa is still predominately a vanilla-growing island -- as sweet aromas will attest. One of French Polynesia's top resorts is on a small islet off Tahaa, but otherwise this rugged little island takes you back to the way Moorea used to be.
Dining on the Water: With luck, you won't get queasy while dining at Chef Eric Lussiez's charming restaurant, Linareva Floating Restaurant and Bar, which occupies the original ferry that plied the waters between Tahiti and Moorea. His menu highlights fresh seafood excellently prepared in the classic French fashion.
Watching a traditional Tahitian Dance: The Tahitian hip-swinging traditional dances are world famous. They are not as lewd and lascivious today as they were in the days before the missionaries arrived, but they still have plenty of suggestive movements to the primordial beat of drums. Every hotel will have at least one dance show a week. The best are on Tahiti, especially the thrice-weekly performances at the Inter-Continental Resort Tahiti that feature one of the best troupes, the Grande Danse de Tahiti.
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