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Want an authentic Tahitian tattoo?

Updated 2020. If you’re an ink fan then you’ll LOVE the real painful deal – a traditional tattoo by one of Tahiti’s last remaining traditional tattooists, James Samuela at Moorea Tattoo on Moorea Island, Tahiti.

He even makes the tools by hand – and you get to keep them.

James Samuela
James working with the machine. The hammer is a whole nother deal!

Head out to Moorea (20km from Papeete and about NZ$45 round trip on the ferry) to Haapiti on the west side of the island where you’ll find James and his American wife Laurel.

Read my post on 6 cool things to do on Moorea >

Their studio is a humble hut and their home even more so, but in the front of the property is a gorgeous villa that they rent out to tourists as a little side business.

Ok, now I’m all distracted by the villa – we’ll get to the tattooing in a minute.

James and his mates made Te Nunoa Bungalow, with the cute thatched roof, themselves and it’s like a magical hideaway across the road from a stunning white sand beach. You get the use of kayaks, bicycles, snorkelling kit, an outrigger canoe and a bbq.

Moorea bungalow
Inside the main room at Te Nunoa bungalow

Inside – while the ceiling is high and made of local timber, they haven’t spared the mod cons with a fully equipped kitchen, TV, DVD, iPod dock, sumptuous king size bed and 2 twin beds that can also be used for a family. The bathroom is the piece de resistance and plush white towels make this spot a little slice of heaven away from the tourist trap.

Ok, back to the Tahitian tattoo… James is one of the only traditional tattooists left in Tahiti. He’s a descendant of the very first tattoo artists from the Marquesas and studied the art extensively, even training in Paris.

He hand makes the tools for each client (which they can keep) and if you know anything about traditional tattoo you’ll know that intricate, curvy little designs are very hard to achieve, but with James’ fancy tools even the tiniest turtle can be hammered onto a naked back.

He’s not as covered in tatts as you’d expect either, and Laurel confessed that James’ hadn’t even done hers. But while I was there a mate of theirs (and member of Tahitian royalty, I overheard) dropped in and he’s definitely got the mark of James on him.

James Samuela tattoo
A James Samuela traditional tattoo

For info on anything and everything Tahiti, check out Tahiti Tourisme.

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!