The first humans to settle Tahiti probably arrived by canoe sometime between A.D. 300 and 800. Its friendly climate, fertile soil, and abundance of fish likely made it a desirable location for those early arrivals.
Europeans did not discover Tahiti for another millennium, with the first sighting of the island from a Spanish ship in 1606. Samuel Wallis, captain of England's HMS Dolphin, was the first white man to set foot on what he dubbed "King George the Third's Island."
Tahiti became a sensation in France when Admiral Louis Antoine de Bougainville published a book portraying it as a paradise of noble savages. After explorer Capt. James Cook visited in 1769, ship traffic increased further. The famous mutiny on the Bounty occurred when the crew left after five months spent living in Tahiti and even acquiring native tattoos (and girlfriends). You just might find yourself equally reluctant to depart.
The worldwide struggle between England and France for overseas colonies eventually left Tahiti in the hands of the French. The last king of Tahiti, Pomare V, stepped down in 1880, and in 1946 Tahitians were declared full French citizens.
The works of painter Paul Gauguin in the 1890s did more than anything to crystallize the romantic image of Tahiti in France and abroad.