Much like the Fiji Moon Handbooks guide, considerable attention is given to the history, culture and people of the area. While this history may appeal to only certain people, let's put it this way... other areas are not spared in exchange for this information, so consider it a bonus over other guidebooks. The real structure of the book, such as the places to stay, places to eat, and activities on each of the islands is as good if not better than I've seen in better-known guidebooks. Furthermore, the maps are unsurpassed starting at entire islands right on down to city centers.
I often take more than one guidebook on a trip to a destination anyway, but if my budget or my backpack only allowed one, this would be the one for Tahiti. Hope my review helps you plan for your trip. Bon voyage!
Anyone familiar with David Stanley's "South Pacific" (one of the Moon Handbooks series) will recognize similarities between its Easter Island coverage and that which is contained in this, the 5th edition of his "Tahiti". And it's apparent that he updates his information regularly (new references to land redistribution and the voyage of the Hokule'a, for example). There are a few errors that I've been told will be addressed in the next edition: Benito Rapahango is listed as proprietor for Mahinatur, for example, despite the fact that Benito died in September of 2002*, plus a few technical errors that probably only archaeologists and anthropologists will notice. He rightly complains about the loudness of the Toroko Disco when staying at the Hotel O'tai (though my solution to this is ear-plugs; I never travel without them). And he properly admonishes people about disturbing bones found at various sites around the island, which includes a new section on how to conduct oneself respectfully on the island (vis-a-vis the archaeological sites). However, a few tourist-oriented corrections are worth mentioning: The ATM outside the bank is open (it accepts Bank of Chile and Mastercard and was operational as of October 2002), and the U.S. airport reciprocity (entry) taxes have gone up to $100 (it was $91 a year ago).
But don't be unduly distracted by this recitation of errors, as they represent a fraction of the coverage that is otherwise clear, concise, and up-to-date. Stanley is refreshingly honest in describing the controversies involving land redistribution and inane development plans (e.g., the 5-star hotel and golf course) -- "one special-interest group clawing against another; the world on a small scale". And he offers extensive details about accommodations that are rarely available elsewhere. His Hanga Roa map is one of the most accurate to date and the two-page spread devoted to Easter Island Internet resources is invaluable.
Although I've focused on the Easter Island portion of the book in this review, I think it's important to note that about 95 percent of David Stanley's Tahiti is not about Easter Island (duh). In fact, of the three main sections of the book, the bulk is contained in the sections on French Polynesia and the Cook Islands. The section on French Polynesia covers Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea & Tahaìa, Bora Bora, Maupiti, Austral Islands, Tuamotu Islands, Gambier Islands, and Marquesas Islands); the section on the Cook Islands covers Rarotonga and the Southern and Northern Groups; and the section on Easter Island covers, well, Easter Island -- but that's what you'd expect unless you are floridly intoxicated after visiting the fruit juice factory on Moorea.
In his very approachable style, Stanley provides loads of information on history, customs, holidays and events, arts and shopping, services, transportation, and lots of little trivia tidbits. His section "Tahiti in Literature" is a rare gem. Two dozen pages at the back of the book are devoted to a rudimentary glossary, a listing of basic Tahitian and French terms, suggested reading, Internet resources, and island facts (which doesn't include Easter Island and indeed any non-"permanently inhabited islands of French Polynesia and the Cook Islands", alas). This makes "Tahiti" one of the best investments for the traveler to and from this region of the world.
One thing that has always impressed me about Stanley's guides is the fact that they're written by him as a traveler and not as a guidebook writer. He travels anonymously when researching his books and thus doesn't receive special treatment at hotels or restaurants. This makes it a lot easier for the reader to trust his opinions. And since Stanley emphasizes mid-priced accommodations and activities, you have a better appreciation of what it's really likely to cost.
Whether you're settled down, heading east, or heading west, with Tahiti at the center and Stanley's very centered information at your disposal, this book will help you find your way.
* Mahinatur is no longer in operation at the intersection of Hotu Matua and Atamu Tekena in the Easter Island village of Hanga Roa but is still in operation. This is the latest contact information from both SERNATUR and Camara de Turismo on the island:
Julio Lagos, proprietor
Residencial O Tama Te Raìa
phone/fax: 100-220 /100-420