The sights, sounds and smells of authentic Polynesian life are on offer at Papeete’s main market, also known as the Marche de Papeete. This is the commercial and social hub of Tahiti’s laid-back capital and the oldest surviving institution on the island, now housed in a large, open-sided modern building.
Vendors come from all over the island to sell traditional handicrafts, particularly baskets, hats and other woven goods, as well as brilliantly colored sarongs and other garments. If you can’t find a reasonably-priced souvenir here you’re just not trying. Naturally there is also a large range of tropical fruits and vegetables, with snack bars selling fresh cooked fish and other dishes.
One of Papeete’s few museums, the Musée de la Perle (or Black Pearl Museum) celebrates all aspects of pearl culture. In the days before large-scale cultivation, these ocean jewels were charged with mystical significance, associated with religious rites and coveted as status symbols. The museum, established by local entrepreneur Robert Wan, looks at the pearl in art, history and literature, and shows how they get from the sea to the display case.
The real star here is the black pearl. While a little more abundant than in the days when Mary, Queen of Scots adorned herself with a priceless necklace of the dark sea bounty, this Tahitian specialty is still a sought-after rarity.
There are numerous waterfalls all over Tahiti, but the most popular and accessible are the three waterfalls at Faarumai, known as the Cascades of Faarumai. Turning off the main coastal road, a dirt track cuts through the teeming jungle to a parking spot. From there a 5 minute walk brings you to the first cascade, Vaima Hutu. This is a truly impressive sight, with crystal clear water rushing down a sheer rock face into a cool, inviting pool. The other two waterfalls – Haamaremare and Haamaremare Iti – are close by each other about 30 minutes’ walk away, and are well worth seeking out.