Port history

What progress since the 19 century! Papeete was slowly growing around the harbour and now, it became a modern and multi-traffic port! Since 1962, this economic powerhouse, barometer of economic health of the country and in connection with the whole world, is a public establishment in constant development, at the rate of evolution of its different traffics.

« What strikes you when you arrive in the harbour is this small island just above the water looking like an emerald, and on which flies the “O-Taiti” flag. Motu-Uta or the Queen Island, there is the name of this small island. »

(Drawing by Sergeant Sahler of the 1st Marine Infantry Regiment, 1899).

Papeete owes the port its existence and histories of their developments are linked. On the one hand, right from the first half of the 18th century, the port of Papeete extended thanks to its harbour sheltered from winds and ocean currents, and on the other hand thanks to the richness of water. Besides, because of this richness of water, we called the capital city “Papeete” (“pape”: water and “ete”: basket).

At the end of the 18th century, when European sailors arrived in Tahiti, they noticed there were good conditions of anchorage in the harbour, accessible by a natural channel, protected by a barrier reef and offering a wide and deep berth. With development of trade, Papeete became a small town, and then when missionaries and representatives of royalties and the State arrived, it became the religious and political centre. Finally, after annexation by France in 1843, Papeete became the administrative centre of the French protectorate. It was the Admiral BRUAT who advised the Government to choose Papeete as Tahiti’s capital city.


A favoured port of call for commercial purposes

Papeete becoming the economic and political centre of French Polynesia, vessels flew abundantly in the harbour. Quickly the port became an important port of call, receiving numerous whaling ships and schooners trading with islands (mother-of-pearl, copra, vanilla…). Face to the increase of traffic, we built landing stages in wood but then replaced it by a wharf built in masonry. Captain RIMBEAUD was at the origin of the new city plan and constructions around the harbour. Development of the city progressively extended from 1850 to 1900 and in 1860 the first landing stages were built.

At the end of the 19th century, the first wharf built for receiving cargo ships was the Cruise ships wharf, located in the Papeete downtown. A local fleet of about ten ship-owners was doing shipping service between Tahiti and her islands, carrying goods and passengers. Since 1923, the “Messageries Maritimes” established a regular connection with Europe, passing by Panama. In 1928, we extended the Cruise ships wharf in order to make docking for two vessels possible, but in 1938 we replaced it by the present infrastructure. In 1950 it was completed by the Slipway of Fare Ute, built in parallel with the old slipway of 1929 and in 1957 it was completed by an oil wharf.

During the late 1950s, port installations were already useless face to the increase of traffics in the port of Papeete. Lack of space and material resources: the port was stifling. But it was going to take a new take-off…


The turning point with the “Centre d’Expérimentation du Pacifique” arrival

During the sixties, quietness of life in Tahiti brutally disappeared when the Faa’a International Airport opened and when the “Centre d’Expérimentation du Pacifique” (CEP) arrived in 1962.

These events, as well as the construction of a well-equipped naval base in Tahiti, explained the economic growth in French Polynesia and so, the present extension of the port of Papeete. The Port Authority of Papeete public establishment was created on January 5th 1962 in response to deep economic mutations. In 1962, several works started: development of the naval base and port installations, construction of the seawall protection of 2,2km length by 5 meters high on the reef, backfilling of the Motu Uta small island and construction of the Cargo wharf. These developments lasted nearly four years and finished with the opening of the new port of Papeete on July 29th 1966 in General BILLOTTE’s presence, Minister of Overseas departments and territories of France. Overall length of quays passed from 300 to 1.100 metres, platforms area from 4.000 to 50.000 m² and storage areas from 10.000 to 22.500 m². The total cost for works was of 1,086 billion in CFP franc, of which 931 million were taken care of by the State, 55 million by the Territory and 100 million by the Port Authority of Papeete.

Since then, the port is continually expanding and all sites that can be exploited have been used or are in use. The 2000-2009 urban homesteading with 12,4 billion investments for 19 operations permitted the port to build modern cruise infrastructures, in order to respond to needs of yachting, fishing, international and inter-island business activities. This 2000-2009 urban homesteading marks a new phase of development of the port, by modernizing infrastructures to respond to a more and more restricting international regulation in terms of safety and by adapting these infrastructures to big development projects of French Polynesia.


40 years of history and evolutions

In 2002, the Port Authority of Papeete celebrated its 40 years. Forty years of history and evolutions in the service of French Polynesia, playing a crucial role in economy and remaining one of its barometers. The country extraordinarily developed within a half century, as well as the Port Authority of Papeete.

In 2002 in Papeete, 98% of imports passed in transit by port installations able to manage all types of traffic, unlike metropolitan ports often very specialized. Passenger traffic was ranked not far from the port of Bastia (Corse) one, the global volume of goods represented the Nouméa one (not nickel exports) and the whole port activity represented the port La Rochelle one.


Visit of the French President, Jacques CHIRAC

The year 2003 will stay engraved in the port of Papeete’s history. It was marked by the prestigious visit of previous French President Jacques CHIRAC and his wife, on July 26th 2003 for the opening of the North berth of the Cruise ships wharf, in presence of high authorities of the country. This infrastructure, representing an investment of more than 2,5 billion CFP franc was done in order to permit a development on a large scale of cruise tourism in the five Archipelagos of French Polynesia and also towards neighbour countries of South Pacific. This opening took place in a “Tahiti long time ago” atmosphere because the Cruise ships wharf was the first wharf built in the port of Papeete during the 19th century, when vessels coming from Europe were berthing after long trips. It was with a bit of nostalgia that the French President affixed a commemorative plaque on a stone, in memory of this important moment for the port of Papeete and thus for French Polynesia. During his opening speech, the French President wanted to remind the importance of cruise tourism development for economic reconversion of the country, after the period of nuclear weapons tests. He also emphasised the fact he supported development initiatives of the Government of French Polynesia to that effect.



Download HERE the “procès-verbal” of the Territorial Assembly of January 5th 1962 : Examination of report n° 62-2 relating to creation and organisation of the Port Authority of Papeete.


Chief Operating Officers who succeded over the port’s history

  • 1962 – M. Martin DELAHAYE
  • 1963 – M. René LACROIX
  • 1966 – M. Michel JAROUSSEAU
  • 1972 – M. Rodrigue LEGAYIC
  • 1983 – M. Alban ELLACOTT
  • 1984 – M. Boris LEONTIEFF
  • 1988 – M. Jean-Patrick BONNETTE
  • 1997 – Mme Béatrice CHANSIN
  • 2005 – M. Georges LAN AH LOI
  • 2006 – M. Yves de MONTGOLFIER
  • 2007 – M. Terii VALLAUX
  • 2008 – M. Patrick BORDET
  • 2011 – M. Mario BANNER-MARTIN
  • 2015 – M. Boris PEYTERMANN
  • 2016 – M. Georges PUCHON

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