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Tahiti History

  • Smiling girl enjoying the sun
  • Overwater bungalow
  • Old fishing boat
  • Tahiti island old view, 1843
  • Papeete bay old view, 1843
  • Tahitian man old engraved portrait, 1860

For a long time, the first European explorers to come to Tahiti believed that early Polynesians had stumbled upon the islands by sheer luck due to their basic canoes and lack of navigational tools. However, it has been proven that early Polynesians were adventurous people whose knowledge of the sea, stars, and wind guided them successfully to the islands of French Polynesia from South East Asia around three thousand years ago. They left their homes not to conquer new territories but instead to help ease the demands of growing populations.

Due to the lack of mineral and gemological resources on Tahiti and her islands, European explorers initially had little interest in Polynesia because there were few economic gains. With French Polynesia expanding over such a large area, it took explorers from different countries many years to chart all the islands.

The first European explorers to venture to the islands were Spanish and Dutch during the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1767, Samuel Wallis from Britain became the first to discover Tahiti. French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville followed a year later and Captain James Cook sailed from Britain and arrived in 1769. During his four-month stint on Tahiti, Captain Cook did something that no others before him had ever tried - he learned the basics of the language and asked how the Polynesians had arrived on the islands. His guide, Tupa’ia explained how his ancestors had sailed canoes and navigated by the stars, the sun, and the moon.

The culture of the early Polynesians changed drastically with the arrival of Europeans. They brought diseases that Polynesians did not have immunity against resulting in a large loss of life. Many natives were sent to South American plantations to help fuel the slave trade there and the arrival of Christian missionaries meant assimilation into the European way of life for many, stifling the natural evolution of Polynesian practices, including language.

Although Tahiti was under the control of the Pomare Dynasty (the reigning family of the Kingdom of Tahiti) since 1788, France began to take a serious interest in the islands during the 19th century. French Catholic missionaries arrived in 1834 but were expelled in 1836. In order to prevent this in the future, France declared Tahiti and Tahuata French protectorates in 1842, the missionaries returned and France regarded the entire Marquesas Islands as French. In 1880, France annexed Tahiti and the islands making them a colony. By 1885, a governor had been appointed providing the proper administration required by a colony.

The colony was originally named Etablissements de l’Oceanie (Settlements in Oceania) but in 1903, the name was changed to Establishments Francais de l’Oceanie (French Settlements in Oceania). In 1946, Polynesians were granted French citizenship thus changing the status of the islands from a colony to an overseas territory and the name was changed for a final time to Polynesie Francaise (French Polynesia) in 1957.

Tahiti has been internally autonomous since 1984 and became a full overseas collectivity of France in 2004.



Tahiti Travel Information

At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to Tahiti. 

Learn about the history and culture of Tahiti, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Tahiti's nature and wildlife, weather, and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information, will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Tahiti for yourself. Start exploring...book one of our Tahiti vacations today!


Extend Your Stay

Consider an additional stopover after or before your Tahiti vacation at one of Goway's other South Pacific destinations. You can choose from our selection of Australian vacationsNew Zealand vacation packages, one of our Fiji resorts or perhaps take a Cook Island vacation.



Book your Tahiti vacation with Goway!

With a wide choice of Tahiti vacations and experiences, Goway’s Downunder wizards can offer you many ways to explore and enjoy the Islands of Tahiti. Relax with a romantic tropical island stay, enjoy a luxury cruise through turquoise blue waters, escape on an air-land getaway, and more. We want to be your first choice when next you go globetrotting to Tahiti.

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