If you have the chance one day to visit French Polynesia, the city of Papeete will be the first place you’ll see and visit. If you expect the mythical image of Tahiti, you’ll be disappointed, because it’s not the right place for this! But there are other things to see…
Papeete is the capital city of French Polynesia, located on Tahiti Island. First of all, you should not make a confusion between Tahiti and French Polynesia: the first is the name of the island, the second of the whole territory, but Tahiti is not the most representative of the beauty French Polynesia can offer you. To make a little geographical point, this territory of 4167 km2 is composed by 118 islands and atolls, spread on more than 5 millions km2 of sea and divided in 5 archipels: Society Islands (main archipel with Tahiti, Raiatea-Taha’a, Huahine and Bora-Bora), the Australes, Tuamotu, Gambier and the Marquises islands. And Papeete is certainly not the typical Polynesian place among all these islands.
With 140 000 people (almost the half of the total population of French Polynesia), Papeete is with no doubt THE big city of Polynesia. A crowded place, with a lot of traffic at any hour of the day (specially on working hours… some people need 1 or 2 hours to get to work despite the fact that the city isn’t so big at all…) and of course the noise and pollution going with all the traffic jams… Well, not a postcard place indeed, and many tourists are just judging quickly this city as a very repulsive place. Yes, it’s not the place you’ve imagined after having seen some dreamy postcards of Tahiti (and often, these postcards are not pictures from Tahiti but from other islands…) but the city has it charms; you just need to search them a bit!
The general mood of the city is very sympathetic, because the people are very friendly and generously welcome all the Popa’a (the name given to the white people: in a funny way, the word means “red” in Tahitian, but is for the white people because they’re becoming quickly red when exposed to the strong sun of the pacific…) And there are some interesting places to see, specially for a lomographer who wants to shoot the simple scenes of true life.
First of all, you should walk along the seafront and admire the beauty of the bay and the huge infrastructures of the international seaport of Papeete. This very impressive bay was discovered by captain James Cook in 1769 when he was exploring this unknown island, and he was told that the place was called Pape’ete, that means “the place where you can find water”, as there was a river… And he understood that the place was perfect to for the huge European ships and at the end of the 18th century the city was born as the main port of the island. Today, it’s still the main commercial import/export platform of Polynesia and an important passenger travel place.
You surely all know how a port like this can be inspiring for lomographers; there are a lot of things to shoot.
Then, when you leave the seafront, go inside the town through the streets and you’ll find very quickly the central market. No need to tell you that the market is, of course, a place for your camera. The best time to see the place full of people is early in the morning. Unfortunately, I was there only in the beginning of the afternoon, and the activity is almost finished at this time. But it’s for sure a place to see!
After the market, take one of the local (old) buses called “trrucks” (with a rolled “r” as say the locals) and ask to go to Punaauia, in the west area of the town to visit the museum of Tahiti where you can learn a lot of things about the art and culture of the Polynesian civilization.
Finally, in the evening, you must go back to the seafront and enjoy the mood and food of the “roulottes”. The roulottes are vans that sell all kind of food specialties, mostly of Chinese taste (like a chow-mei with beef heart skewers) as many of these little restaurants are held by Chinese people. Well, its a nice place to finish the day and the visit of Papeete before discovering some magic places on other islands!