French Polynesia’s unique culture is a broad spectrum, ranging from ancient islander practices to European contact and colonisation. From head hunting to head chefs, the evolution of the islands is simply fascinating. Get out of the resorts and be rewarded with extraordinary tales from the past.
Circle Island Tour, Tahiti
The half-day nature tour and full-day culture tour are both very good introductions to the wonders of Tahiti and her people. Both tours include many of the destinations covered below. If you drive yourself, avoid the morning and evening traffic jams.
Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands
Discover the stories behind the tattoos, tikis and traditions of Tahiti. This very fine display is divided into four sections: geography and natural history, pre-European culture, the effects of colonisation and natural wonders. A must for anyone with an interest in Polynesian history and culture.
Visit a marae
There are thousands of these Polynesian ruins throughout the islands but the largest archaeological sites are found on Raiatea, Huahine and in the Marquesas. Arahurahu – just outside of Papeete – is a fully restored marae and has interpretive signs to explain the significant components.
Maison de la Culture, Papeete
This is French Polynesia’s cultural centre and boasts a traditional Polynesian architectural design, theatre, cinema, exhibition space and library. The centre hosts regular dance performances, film festivals and other cultural activities.
Exactly what it was like before the missionaries banned it is uncertain but these days there are four styles of dance, some accompanied by traditional musical instruments, and all supremely uplifting. Many resorts host performances as part of their hospitality or will be able to tell you where to find them.
The light pink Catholic cathedral in the centre of Papeete is a must-see. And if you happen to be there on a Sunday morning, it’s a must-hear too. Hymns burst forth from the devout, white-dressed congregation and the sound is heavenly.
The Robert Wan Pearl Museum
Everything you wanted to know about ‘Poe Rava’, the Tahitian cultured pearl. The history of the industry, the legends of pearling and the grafting process are all displayed. You’ll also see the ‘Robert Wan’, the largest AAA-quality Tahitian cultured pearl in existence. Free entry.
Paul Gaugin Museum
More a tribute to the French artist who lived, loved and partied in French Polynesia than his actual artworks, the museum features mostly replicas of Gaugin’s brightly coloured, iconic impressions of the islands and her people. Maintain the theme and have dinner at Restaurant du Musée Gauguin.
Notre Dame Cathedral
More correctly known as Cathédrale de Papeete Notre-Dame de L'Immaculée Conception, this architecturally-impressive nineteenth century church features crossover artwork such as the Madonna and Child holding a breadfruit and other Polynesian adaptations of the Christian story.
Polynesian cooking is an exotic blend of Island, Asian and Western (principally French) flavours and techniques. Many hotels and resorts offer culinary classes with their chefs. Le Meridien Tahiti, Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa and the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort are all renowned for regular workshops.