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krisek Papeete - A travel report by Krys
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Papeete,  French Polynesia - flag French Polynesia
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krisek's travel reports

The gateway to the French Polynesia. Papeete.

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Conveniently located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, Tahiti is a perfect gateway to the French Polynesia. Or the Polynesia on the whole. It is the Tahitian language that dominated on the islands cross borders.

Tahiti, one of the beaches
Tahiti, one of the beaches
Once you land at the Tahiti's (or Papeete's for that matter) main airport, you are welcomed by a band playing immediately recognisable Polynesian tune. And a gorgeous girl moves her hips and arms to the holiday rhythm. Now and then, you know that you have just landed in the right place! Well, actually, it depends on your gender and love preference, since the two blokes, who played the ukulele were not so hot.

It was early. The clock was showing 5:45am. It was dawn, but the day has not broken as yet. Citizens of European passports had a dedicated, and much shorter, immigration line. The procedure was painless and lasted about 15 seconds. Maybe less. I did not have to wait for luggage, so I was out at the arrivals hall 5 minutes after the aircraft's engines stopped. Got some cash from an ATM and jumped in a taxi. Le Mèridien Tahiti upgraded me to a Junior Suite with two terraces and great views. I took a few pictures as the day was breaking and went to bed for three hours.

As a gateway to the Polynesia, Papeete had regular air and sea connections with other islands. The Faaa airport, the base of Air Tahiti, was just 7km from the city centre with daily flights to most Society Islands, including Mo'orea, Bora Bora, Huanine and others, and less frequently to islands farther afield. Taxis to the airport charged 2,300 francs, plus 100 francs per large piece of luggage.

The fabulous ferry terminal had regular boats to Mo'orea. Several daily. One of the boats was called Aremiti 5, and the other was Terevau. Both were ferries taking cars. A one way pedestrian adult ticket was 1,500 francs or 1,160 francs, respectively. The crossing took 35 minutes. I was planning to take the Aremiti, but eventually I went on the Terevau. I was early at the terminal and the Aremiti was sailing 25 minutes later.

There were also other Aremiti services, with the boats numbered differently (not 5), to other islands.

Favourite spots:
The Papeete Townhall
The Papeete Townhall
The Place Vaiete was my favourite spot in Papeete. It was greatly animated and it was easy to interact there with the friendly Tahitians. Generally, there was nothing special about it. No particular architectural features and the opening to the ocean was nothing much but a busy harbour. And yet, the access to the locals and relative relaxing nature of the square made it a very attractive spot. It compared so very favourably with the busy oceanfront avenue.

Another place that I liked was the ferry terminal. It sounds strange, but this very large wooden structure, complete with airy terraces and a bar with an opening towards the harbour and Mo'orea's peaks in the distance was a perfect place to hang out. Plus, of course, they were serving Hoegaarden beer. From tap!

What's really great:
Two policemen on their bikes in central Papeete
Two policemen on their bikes in central Papeete
One of Papeete's main qualities was its safety record. It was safe to walk about with giant cameras swaying from one's shoulder (like mine), the people were friendly and helpful. In fact, one of the locals offered to have sex with me. I think it was one of the mahu, otherwise this girl should have waxed her upper lip more often. I was 3:30pm. I was looking for a club to party at night. And here came the offer, right from the underneath of an alcove:

- Mon ami, voulez vous faire sex avec moi?

- You want to have sex with me right now? Here?

- Non, mon ami. A mon appartament.

- Oh, you poor thing, you need sex? You do not have enough sex? Oh, I'm really sorry. Thank you for considering me. But I have to refuse. Good luck.

I was torn. On one hand, I was content that someone this young and wearing bright red dress would want to have sex with me. On the other hand, though, I felt sorry for this person. One had to be seriously desperate to wanting take me to their bed...

The Polynesian Assembly
The Polynesian Assembly
There were not that many sights in Papeete. The city was a very curious combination of fading 1960s French tropical style, modern glass and steel, and something else hard to define. Traffic although considerable for a small place like this, yet courteous, stopping for pedestrians approaching a crossing. Every time.

Yet, there is something, just a bit, to write home about Papeete. There are at least two fascinating churches, one of them being the Cathedral - La Catedrale de Notre Dame. A 19th century structure painted yellow. It stands tall and in the heart of the city centre. A few yards away, there is the Polynesian Assembly, a local parliament. Rather refreshingly, its structure was built in the Polynesian style. And is flanked by a number of smaller buildings to complete the picture. Not too bad for a tourist feature, other than pearls, dancing, snorkelling, diving and surfing. And the last sight that I want to mention is the Presidential Palace.

Suite no.331
Suite no.331
I stayed at Le Mèridien Tahiti, a few miles south of the capital, along the western coast. The structure of the main building followed the traditional style of Polynesian architecture resembling the Long Houses. Along a wooden pier running into the shallow lagoon, there were a dozen of bungalows standing on stilts about 5 feet above the waterline. There was a small beach and a large pool. And a small garden with palm trees and bougainvilleas.

The amenities were all five star with plush snow-white towels, lush bed linen, fluffy slippers, comfy bathrobes. And a selection of reinvigorating toiletries.

The Les 3 Brasseurs Bar
The Les 3 Brasseurs Bar
I discovered two options. One was a low key, pub-like minibrewery called Les 3 Brasseurs, at Boulevard Pomate, corner Avenue Prince Hinoi. It was a fabulous little tropical place frequented mainly by the locals. The most fantastique characteristic of the spot was the house beer. And they had biere blanche! Music was mainstream US or EU rather than tropical Polynesian vibe, yet it did not disturb anyone sip their brews. The venue also served a variety of pub grub, but I did not have any.

The other was the Piano Bar, almost next door, in the next street. Now, the Piano Bar is almost a Tahitian institution. It perhaps the most famous Polynesian bar in the South Pacific. It featured as a title of the incomparable Patricia Kaas's album a few years back. It is a very cosmopolitan place with a high degree of tolerance. It is hard to say whether this is a gay straight-friendly bar or straight gay-friendly bar. Perhaps it is the former, but it does not matter on Tahiti. It is embed

Place Vaiete
Place Vaiete
I spotted locals lounging at the giant trees at the seafront, at the end of the Boulevard Pomate, called Place Vaiete. It was a small square, complete with a small altane stage. I was near the Quai des Ferries, where the Inter island boats docked. They simply hung around, chatted, sipped something from the bottles, or simply stretched on the benches and snoozed.

Central Papeete, seafront avenue
Central Papeete, seafront avenue
On my first day on Tahiti, I was lazy. So, I ate at my hotel. First, it was the beach restaurant - where I had mahi mahi and Tabu draught lager, and then it was the main restaurant - where I had the shrimp tagiatelle, and the shrimp Polynesian curry. All was delicious.

Later, on my two visits to central Papeete, I had lunch at the Les 3 Brasseurs and a snack at the Ferry Terminal. The meals were just fine. The pub-bar run by the brewers was better. They took their cooking very seriously. But the bar at the terminal had great breeze and relaxed atmosphere.

The seafront avenue of Papeete had a numerous choices to sit down and eat, but most were simple with very basic menus. The city had two or three Chinese restaurants with more comprehensive menus, yet they seemed too pretentious to me.

Other recommendations:
La Catedrale de Notre Dame de Papeete
La Catedrale de Notre Dame de Papeete
Taxis can actually be very expensive in Tahiti. The 3.5km trip from the airport to Le Meridien set me back by 2,500 XPF (£17, €21, $27). And in the early hours of the mooring, there seems to be no other option reach town than a taxi. On a positive note, they are safe, the fares are regulated and some of them are driven by very attractive Polynesian women.

There is public transport in Papeete, yet it is not the easiest to follow. One afternoon (and I was told that after 5pm the buses stopped), I stood at a bus stop in the central Papeete wanting to get back to my hotel to regroup. The bus stop was civilised. Complete with a little shelter and a few benches, but there was no route map or timetable. When a bus pulled up, I had to ask the driver whether he'd take me to my hotel. Fortunately, he did. And I think it cost me 250 XPF...

Published on Friday January 11th, 2013

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