Tahiti is the dream of a tropical paradise, and a place in the real world. It offers a view of misty mountain peaks and waterfalls, lush valleys and white beaches, but also has enough people to make it not quite a desert island. The island is situated in the South Pacific in the Windward group of the Society Islands. A party of French Polynesia, it is in fact the largest of its 120 islands. Tahiti is composed of two volcanic peninsulas, Tahiti-Nui and Taiarapu. It has four mountain peaks of which Mt. Orohena is the tallest, at 2,322 m. Its capital is Papeete.
Polynesians settled on the island around the 14th century. They were in turn discovered by Samuel Wallis in 1767. Louis-Antoine de Bougainville,
James Cook and William Bligh also made their visits. European migration to Tahiti continued, and in 1843 Queen Pomare IV had to agree to it becoming a French protectorate. The island was annexed in 1880, following the abdication of King Pomare V. The population is today a mixture of Polynesians, Chinese and Europeans, and the inhabitants are all French citizens.
Tahiti has a population of 180,000, but is visited by about 100,000 tourists each year. Supplementing this major industry, Tahitians also export tropical fruits, copra, vanilla, sugarcane, and pearls. Former names of the island are Otaheite and King George III Island.
Famously depicted in many of Paul Gauguin's colourful paintings, the island has also been touched in a less gentle way by France's 1995 nuclear testing in the nearby Mururoa atoll.