Last updated on March 15th, 2022
Time to leave the city behind and head out on a road trip. Rent a car for the day and explore Tahiti Nui’s west and south coasts, before crossing over to the smaller Tahiti Iti. There’s a lot to see on this day so try and get an early start. You might not be able to see everything on this itinerary, especially sections of Tahiti Iti, but if you time things right and skip the short hikes, you should be able to pack everything.
Fancy an early morning swim or snorkel? Just 18 kilometers outside Papeete is Plage Vaiava, also known simply as PK18 beach. The sand is definitely not black and the snorkeling is surprisingly good. There’s lots to see on this day so don’t spend too much time working your tan.
Just a few kilometers down the road you’ll find two ancient Polynesian temples, known as marae. The first one is Marae Maraetaata à Paea, hardly visited by tourists. The second is Marae Arahurahu, complete with its restored ahu (the marae’s altar) and tiki statues.
Fifteen more minutes of driving along the coast will bring you to the Maraa Grotto. Two cave pools are emerging from the moss-covered mountain, and the color of the water is out of this world. It’s a shame you can’t go for a dip here, but it’s still worth the quick stop.
If you’ve been wondering where the heck are those famous black sand beaches of Tahiti – wait no more. Papara Beach, also known as Plage de Taharuu – is one of the prettiest black sand beaches in Tahiti. It’s long, it’s wide, and the black sand is scorching hot under the afternoon sun!
We still have two more stops to make before crossing over to Tahiti Iti. The first is at the Vaipahi Gardens (Bain de Vaima). It’s free to enter these magical gardens, so well kept and even with their own waterfall! Fancy a hike? You have three options here ranging from one to two hours of walking. If you head up the hill, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the lagoon, and on the way back down, you’ll get to see the mape trees – with their incredible roots!
From one garden to the next, you must pay a visit to the Harisson Smith Botanical Gardens (600F per adult). Start by saying hello to the two resident Galapagos Turtles. The oldest one is pushing 200 years and may not be around by the time you visit (so hurry up!). When you’ve had enough with the turtles, get on the walking path and check out the gardens. There’s an even more enchanting mape forest that is straight out of some movie, wild lotus, lily ponds, and endless palm trees! UPDATE: in January 2018, stray dogs entered the turtles’ enclosure, seriously wounding the two and eventually leading to the death of the male turtle.
Time to cross over to Tahiti Iti in the busy town of Taravao. Find the road that heads up the mountain, say hello to the grazing cows, and park the car at the lookout point. If you’re having a lucky day, you’ll see the skyline of Tahiti Nui – formed by its giant volcanic peaks. But even if not – the view is breathtaking!
Depending on how well you’re doing on time, head back down to the coast and drive to Tautira. This part of Tahiti is extremely scenic, especially on the mountainside where you’ll see the openings of massive valleys as you drive. Stop in Tautira’s famous black sand beach for one of the finest views in Tahiti. There is a trail that heads inland but save this for another visit to Tahiti.
The final stop on this Tahiti road trip is at Teahupo’o, one of the most famous surfing sites in the world. The scenery on this leg is of lush mountains meeting the lagoon. Stop at Maui Beach to stretch your legs and if you haven’t had lunch, Le Plage de Maui is one of the best restaurants in Tahiti, especially for fish and seafood (they stop serving food early so time it right).
Teahupo’o is not only the surf capital of French Polynesia, it’s also the end of the coastal road. Park your car, watch the young surfers practicing, and don’t forget to check out the breathtaking view behind you. I also recommend crossing the bridge and walking through the small village to the rocky beach from where the best views can be enjoyed. Every August, this place is packed with the best surfers in the world and their fans. Why? The waves are simply massive, all part of the Billabong Pro championship.
The drive back to Papeete is an attraction on its own as the setting sun paints the lagoon and lush mountains in colors that can only be seen in the South Seas. Take it slow and enjoy the view, especially the leg from Teahupo’o to Papara. Time your drive so you’ll have enough time to enjoy the final minutes of sunset in Punaauia. This is an affluent district in Tahiti that’s perfectly positioned in front of Moorea. Park your car in Parque Vaipoopoo and start thinking about moving here. If dinner is on your mind, Punaauia has a lot of options. The Poke Bar II is next door along with the more upscale Tahiti La Plage. More options can be found in nearby Marina Taina.