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Tahiti is the largest and most important of the Windward group of the Society Islands. It has a distinctive shape reflecting its volcanic origins. The northwest to southeast axis of Tahiti is about 57 kilometers in length and the island is approximately 1050 square kilometers in area.

The island is made up of the remnants of two volcanic cones, giving Tahiti a distinctive shape that looks rather like a short handled Polynesia war club. The larger part of the island is called Tahiti Nui, and the smaller Tahiti Iti. The two regions are joined together by a narrow isthmus called Taravao.

On both Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti, the land rises gradually to the base of a series of mountainous peaks surrounding most of what were once volcanic craters. On the inner side of the craters, the land falls sharply down to what are now patchworks of hills. The highest peak on Tahiti Nui is called Orohena, which stands just over 2000 meters above sea level. The peaks on Tahiti Iti rise as high as 1300 meters.

Most of Tahiti is marked by radial valleys, which in their upper regions form gorges with rocky sides.

Like many larger volcanic islands, the lower slopes of Tahiti end in weathered cliffs a short distance from the sea that are 20 to 150 meters in height. With exception of the southeast part of the island the ribbon of land between cliff and sea has traditionally been where the majority of islanders live and cultivate a variety of trees and vegetables. The western side of the island has the widest coastal plain.

The island has a plentiful supply of water from streams flowing down the island's radial valleys. The larger of these streams form alluvial fans that over time have become planted with breadfruit, plantains and other food plants central to the diet of Tahitians.

Tahiti is surrounded by a barrier reef that is generally about 2 kilometers off-shore. The waters within the reef have narrow though deep channels providing many natural harbours.

Related Entries for Tahiti
People: Wallis, Samuel (1728 - 1795)

Places: Windward Islands, Îles du Vent

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Created: 21 February 2002
Modified: 21 April 2004

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000138

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