Worth getting out of bed for
The Manava's sinuous, kidney-shaped pool and swim-up bar is a bit of a scene, and is one of the biggest infinity pools on Tahiti. Twice-daily water-aerobics sessions should appeal to fitness fiends, or you can enjoy aquatic activities in the tranquil lagoon off the pontoon, including free snorkelling.
It's worth making a date with Manea Spa, open daily from 9am until 6pm, on the first floor of the lobby. Polynesian rituals and natural products star here, including a Motu massage facing sister isle Moorea so you can soak up sea views. The spa is one of the 22 stops on Tahiti's self-guided tour The Monoi Road, exploring the island's famous Monoi coconut and flower oil, used in treatments here. Ask for a map if you fancy taking in flower fields, coconut groves and botanical work shops.
For exploring further afield, pop to the lobby excursions desk. Water-bound thrills include surfing and body-boarding, scuba diving, dolphin-watching, jet-ski rides and sunset cruises. On land, 18-hole Atimaono golf course is 25 minutes' away, or embark on jungle treks or tours of Tahiti, taking in ancient marae (temples), verdant valleys, waterfalls, blowholes, lava tubes and black-sand beaches. Hiking and horse-riding can be arranged, or for a nature-meets-culture hit stop off at the Jardin Botanique and art gallery Musée Gauguin, which both share a car-park and boast pretty gardens. French Post-Impressionnist Gauguin lived on Hiva Oa island in the far-flung Marquesas, and was known for his seductive paintings of Polynesia.
Harbourside capital Pape'ete may be small and scruffy around the edges, but it passes for the Big Smoke in Polynesia and is as buzzy and urban as the country gets. You can take in most of its parks and plazas on a half-day stroll, but make time to check out the famous Marché du Pape'ete, a humming two-storey covered market that's packed with local life. Fabulous food, veg, fish and flower stalls mix it with local handicrafts, fragrant soaps and oils, art, ukeleles, shell jewellery, straw hats and gorgeous, colourful pareus (sarongs), illustrated with everything from flowers to manta rays and canoes. Snack bars upstairs host bands for lunchtime tunes. Find it a block back from Boulevard Pomaire, between Rue du 22 Septembre and Rue F Cardella.
Polynesia's number-one purchase is black pearls, and a great place to buy certified, quality ones is the Robert Wan Pearl Museum (www.robertwan.com), at 850 Boulevard Pomaire near Paofai temple. This sleek, air-conditioned space teams a quirky exhibition on the history of the pearl industry with a smart shop selling pearls grown on several outer islands, and contemporary jewellery. Considered Tahiti's 'black gold', pearls get more expensive the larger and more perfectly round they are, and are judged on shape, size, colour, lustre and surface quality. Hues actually span a rainbow of black, purple, pink, green, blue, gold and white, and some of the loveliest are actually the less perfect tear-drop or irregular shapes or those with flaws such as grooved rings around the pearl. You can visit pearl farms in the Society Islands and Tuamotus, but you'll get expert advice and guaranteed goods here.
If you're into surfing, you'll find beginner breaks at Papenoo on the island's north coast; for more advanced surfers, local reef breaks Taapuna and Sapinus are just a hop from the hotel. On Tahiti Iti, the smaller of Tahiti's twin isles to the south, you'll find challenging breaks at Vairao, but only big-wave experts should tackle famous monster-wave Teahupoo, home of the Billabong Pro. It's worth swinging by just to scope the action. Although not the most rated Polynesian island for scuba thrills, there are still about 20 lagoon and ocean dive sites to discover here, mainly clustered around the north-west coast. St Etienne Drop-off, La Source and Turtle's Plateau are all near the hotel off Puna'auia. Contact Topdive (www.topdive.com) for qualified instructors.
If you dine out in one place in Pape'ete, make it the popular roulottes ('caravans' in French), or mobile food-trucks, which gather nightly from about 6pm until late on Place Vaiete near the harbour. Like an alfresco hawker market, the balmy square is filled with plastic tables and chairs, and you just order and pay from the truck you fancy. There should be at least 20 to choose from, whipping up steaming treats such as chow mein, grilled fish, steak frites, pizza and waffles, washed down with soft drinks and music at weekends.