by Scott Laird
Last updated: 7:00 AM ET, Mon December 11, 2017
Tahiti's west coast feels different from the rest of the island.
Papeete, the largest community in French Polynesia, almost feels like a suburb of Paris. The east coast is lush and somewhat more damp, owing to the prevailing trade winds. The west coast is flanked by sunbaked white sand beaches and spectacular views of neighboring Mo'orea.
On this side of the island, the primary resort hotel is the Le Méridien Tahiti, tucked away on a quiet stretch of white sand beach in Puna'auia just before the divided highway turns into a two-lane road. Here is where Tahiti almost feels like Hawai'i several decades ago.
There's plenty of free parking in front of the hotel, there are no long lines for registration or check-out and there's a relaxed, casual attitude towards almost everything. Stray parked cars and chickens alike can take refuge under the cantilevered Porte cochere without worry of being shooed.
The hotel was also remarkably uncrowded, although I'm told it was fully committed with bookings on the night of my visit. Visits to the L'Astrolabe Bar near the lobby and the Le Puna Bar near the pool were almost devoid of other company. At the pool bar, I enjoyed live entertainment almost entirely to myself.
The white sand beach can be very low at low tide and is also rocky and better suited for wading than swimming. The hotel has solved this by creating a massive sandy-bottom lagoon pool surrounded by palm and plumeria trees, with comfy cushions and umbrellas for shade. It was another part of the resort that wasn't well-patronized: I spent my morning sitting on a line of unoccupied beach chairs watching local birds peck through the sand.
Guest rooms are delightfully well air-conditioned and have distinctive local touches in bathrooms, like the vibrantly purple orchids taking up residence beneath the vanity mirror in my bathroom, which was also generously stocked with the Le Méridien standard Malin+Goetz.
Still, like most man-made structures in Tahiti, the hotel manages to wear quickly, and the avant-garde French furnishings in each room could do with a refresh. Also of note is the generously sized tub with plantation shutters and the USB charging ports next to the bed for guests who don't have plug converters. (Tahiti is on the European electrical system.)
Service throughout the resort is utterly Polynesian: Straightforward and without pretense; personable and approachable, but not particularly polished or efficient.
Really, those are minor details when your evening agenda only includes a mai tai and a sunset.
Food in the beach bar and the main Plantation Restaurant is rather forgettable, although I didn't have a chance to try the beachfront Le Carré, about which I heard mixed reviews from fellow guests. (The primary complaint was portion size, but the restaurant is clearly designed as a gastronomic-type experience, so perhaps it's a matter of expectations.)
The breakfast buffet selections also feel rather limited considering the price-around $40 USD for the full buffet; Continental [pastries and fruit] and Parisian [just pastries] options are less-but it appeared as though most guests had it included in their rate.
Art fans can visit the workshop on the top floor, where the work of resident artists is on display. Lucky visitors might even run into the artist at work in the space where they often host workshops open to guest participation.
Those with shopping on their mind can peruse the selections from one of the island's larger pearl boutiques located in the lobby, showing pearls for both men and women suitable for nearly every budget.
Good to Know
-A good restaurant just up the street in Puna'auia is Blue Banana. Reservations are recommended.
-If visiting the buffet, take one plate at a time and don't leave plates of food unattended on tables-the birds are aggressive.
-Happy hour is nightly in Le Puna Pool Bar from 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. with half off drinks.
-Tipping isn't customary in French Polynesia.
-The hotel does a Polynesian show and buffet on Friday nights, which is popular with both visitors and residents. Reservations are definitely a must.
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