Tahiti has gained almost mythical status as a land of exotic beauty. Its lush vegetation and volcanic mountains create a unique and dramatic landscape. It was here that the French painter Gauguin found inspiration, and multiple mistresses, among the islands beautiful young women. Prior to that, Protestant missionaries were scandalized when they witnessed explicit Polynesian nude dancing at the many heivas (festivals) thrown by the exuberant locals. Their disdain did not dampen the Tahitian love of dance. Today the tamure, o'tea, aparima, hivinau, and pata'uta'u are among the traditional dances still performed by locals, dances that tell stories and illustrate customs of their culture.
Of all the French Polynesian islands, Tahiti is the largest, most populated and possesses the most history. The capital city of Papeete is located on the northwest corner of the island, and the streets are clogged with traffic, as the area is rapidly becoming overdeveloped. While the majesty of Mount Orohena, and Mount Aora tower over this metropolitan epicenter, construction crawls ever higher up the mountain slopes, encroaching on the pristine wilderness. Papeete’s shops and restaurants are circled by the remnants of an island wilderness.