We landed in Tahiti at dawn. 11 friends from business school about to sail the South Pacific, explore the legendary Society Islands of French Polynesia: Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Tahaa, Raiatea and Bora Bora. Since we were not embarking until later that evening, some of us decided to rent a car and check out the main island. This is the most common activity in Tahiti, with numerous companies offering the “circle island tour” and a few offering the “inland safari”. The difference being that to explore the interior, you need a 4WD… and that’s what we went with.
Our first stop after leaving the airport was Papeete, the capital, and its market. We ate breakfast and grabbed some sandwiches for later, but didn’t spend much time there because it was so early that most stalls were not open yet. It looked like a cool market, and we decided to come back later that day, or on our last day before flying out. Then we started driving clockwise on the main road, aided by the map provided by the rental car agency. It was pretty easy to do on our own, as the main spots were clearly marked with kilometer points (PK). We shortly stopped at Point Venus (PK 10) for the black sand beach and the safe bay used by Captains Cook and Bligh. Next, in Papenoo (PK 18), we turned right toward the inside of the island. Soon, we were driving very slowly on a dirt road with massive potholes, deep into a lush valley.
We spotted several waterfalls on the way, and stopped numerous times to enjoy the stunning landscape. After about an hour and a half, we reached the Relais de la Maroto, a hotel virtually in the middle of the island. We drove a bit further across a tunnel to get a nice view of some lake and some more waterfalls, and then decided to turn around. The whole area was deserted and it was unclear how far we could drive on that path; we had had enough adventure.
Back on the main road, we continued driving and skipped the other set of famous cascades (Faarumai, PK 22), instead going directly to Tahiti Iti, the smaller of the two islands that conform Tahiti. We drove up to the Taravao Plateau (PK 54), where we enjoyed an absolutely fantastic view of Tahiti Nui, the green mountains we had just walked through, and the blue ocean. It was getting late, so we only made one more sightseeing stop, at the Mara’a Grotto (Pk 28.5), a group of ferny caves with clear pools. We completed the 120 km / 70 mi coastal road (plus the ~40 km / 25 mi inland detour) by later afternoon. Apart from many memorable landscapes and even more memorable conversations, the drive gave us a good idea of what life in the island was like. We passed many villages and farms, and saw lots of huge people 😉
Before heading to our boat, we made a stop at Carrefour to provision, as we wouldn’t be hitting any city for a few days. Then we dropped the food off, picked up the rest of the gang, and went to Papeete for dinner, before returning the car. The best place to eat in Tahiti, especially if you like local experiences, is Place Vaiete, where lots of roulottes (food trucks) set up every night. Tahiti was a nice island, but the magic South Pacific landscapes we all had in mind were yet to come. They’re best seen from a sailing boat… like the one we would spend the night on.
PS: A voice of warning; mobile data roaming is incredibly expensive in French Polynesia. In my first 15 min in the country, as I was passing immigration controls and waiting for my luggage I spent $250 just by my browsing Facebook… oops! It was my work phone, so I wouldn’t be paying for it, but I’d definitely recommend turning your data off for this trip.