Start: Tahiti Tourisme's visitor center
Finish: Papeete Town Hall
Time: 2 hours
Best Time: Early morning or late afternoon
Worst Time: Midday, or Sunday when most establishments are closed
Begin at Tahiti Tourisme's visitor center in Tahua Vaiete, the park by the cruise ship dock, at the foot of rue Paul Gauguin. Stroll westward along Boulevard Pomare. Opposite the tuna boat dock stands Centre Vaima.
1. Centre Vaima
The chic shops in Papeete's first shopping mall are a mecca for Papeete's French and European residents (the Municipal Market still attracts mostly Tahitians). The infamous Quinn's Bar stood in the block east of the Centre Vaima, where the Noa Noa boutique is now. The Centre Vaima takes its name from the Vaima Restaurant, everyone's favorite eatery in those days, which it replaced.
Across the four-lane boulevard from the Vaima is the wooden boardwalk along the Quay.
2. The Quay
Cruising yachts from around the world congregate here from April to September, and resident boats are docked here all year. Beyond them, on the other side of the harbor, is Motu Uta, once a small natural island belonging to Queen Pomare but now home of the wharves and warehouses of Papeete's shipping port. The reef on the other side has been filled to make a breakwater and to connect Motu Uta by road to Fare Ute, the industrial area and French naval base to the right. The interisland boats dock alongside the filled-in reef, and their cargoes of copra (dried coconut meat) are taken to a mill at Fare Ute, where coconut oil is extracted and later shipped overseas to be used in cosmetics.
Walk west along the waterfront, past the main post office, next to which is Parc Bougainville.
3. Parc Bougainville
This shady park next to the post office is named for the French explorer who found Tahiti a little too late to get credit for its discovery. Two naval cannons flank the statue of Bougainville: The one nearest the post office was on the Seeadler, Count von Luckner's infamous World War I German raider, which ran aground in the Cook Islands after terrifying the British and French territories of the South Pacific. The other was on the French navy's Zélée. Bougainville's statue stands between the guns. There's a snack bar at the rear of the park.
Walk westward to the traffic circle at the foot of avenue Bruat.
4. Place Jacques Chirac
Few projects exemplify Papeete's vast road improvements more than the big traffic circle, under which pass the four busy lanes of boulevard Pomare, and the adjacent underground parking garage. On the harbor side, the semicircular-shaped park is known as Place Jacques Chirac, whose name created quite a stir because French tradition says not to name a public place after a living president. Underneath is a public parking garage. The park is the beginning of recent landfills, which have replaced a black-sand beach that used to run west of here.
Keep going west along the waterfront, to rue l'Arthémise, where you can't miss the big beige church on the mountain side of the boulevard.
5. Eglise Evangélique
An impressive steeple sits atop Eglise Evangélique, the largest Protestant church in French Polynesia. The local evangelical sect grew out of the early work by the London Missionary Society. Today, the pastors are Tahitian. Outrigger canoe racing is Tahiti's national sport, and the va'a -- those long, sleek vessels seen cutting the harbor during lunchtime and after work -- used to be kept on a black-sand beach across the boulevard from the church. Today, a section of the landfill across the boulevard is reserved for them.
Continue west along boulevard Pomare for 6 more blocks. You'll see a few remaining stately old colonial homes across the boulevard. On the harbor side you will come to Place Toata.
6. Place Toata
Another project funded by the economic restructuring fund, Place Toata is another park built on the landfill, and it is a favorite gathering place for office workers during the day and families at night. They come to stroll, take in the view, and dine at inexpensive snack bars. Place Toata's outdoor amphitheater hosts concerts all year and the national dance competition during the huge Heiva Nui festival in July. Next door, on the banks of Tipaerui River, stands the Office Territorial d'Action Culturelle, Tahiti's cultural center and library.
Take a Break
Comparable to les roulottes but permanently here, Place Toata's open-air snack bars are great for cold drinks, ice-cream cones, or even a complete lunch. There are clean public restrooms here.
Turn around and backtrack east on boulevard Pomare to Parc Bougainville, cut through the park, and proceed through the park to the spacious grounds of Place Tarahoi.
7. Place Tarahoi
Place Tarahoi, Papeete's governmental center, was royal property in the old days and site of Queen Pomare's mansion, which the French used as their headquarters after 1842. Her impressive home is long gone, but is replicated by the Papeete Town Hall. As you face the grounds, the buildings on the right house the French government and include the home of the president of French Polynesia. The modern building on the left is the Territorial Assembly. You can walk around hallways of the Assembly building during business hours. In front stands a monument to Pouvanaa a Oopa (1895-1977), a Tahitian who became a hero fighting for France in World War I and then spent the rest of his life battling for independence for his homeland. During the 1960s and 1970s he spent 15 years in prison in France, but he returned home in time to see more local autonomy granted to the territory. In fact, his fellow Tahitians sent him back to Paris as a member of the French Senate.
Continue 2 more blocks along rue du Général-de-Gaulle, past the rear of Centre Vaima, to Cathédrale de l'Immaculée Conception.
8. Cathédrale de l'Immaculée Conception
Tahiti's oldest Catholic church, Cathédrale de l'Immaculée Conception houses a series of paintings of the Crucifixion. It's a cool, quiet, and comforting place to worship or just to contemplate.
Rue du Général-de-Gaulle becomes rue du Maréchal-Foch past the church. Follow it for a block. Bear left at rue Colette and continue until you come to Marché Municipale.
9. Marché Municipale
Take a stroll under the large tin pavilion of Papeete's Municipal Market and examine the multitude of fruits and vegetables for sale.
After sampling the market and the marvelous handicrafts stalls along its sidewalk and upstairs, walk along rue Colette for 2 more blocks, until you come to Papeete Town Hall.
10. Hotel de Ville (Papeete Town Hall)
This is a magnificent replica of Queen Pomare's mansion, which once stood at Place Tarahoi. This impressive structure, with its wraparound veranda, captures the spirit of the colonial South Pacific. This Hôtel de Ville or Fare Oire (French and Tahitian, respectively, for "town hall") was dedicated in 1990 by French President François Mitterand during an elaborate celebration. Walk up the grand entrance steps to catch a cool breeze from the broad balconies.
From here you can find your way back to Vaima Centre and some much-needed refreshment at its open-air cafes.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.