Last updated on May 29th, 2022
One of the last places to be discovered by humankind, the exotic islands of French Polynesia perhaps define the meaning of paradise on earth. The French territory’s high volcanic islands have been beautifully eroded over eons to create some of the most striking scenery in the world and there’s no better way to experience their beauty other than by hiking. Busting the myth of solely a luxury beach holiday, here are some of the best hikes in Tahiti and French Polynesia.
Heading off to French Polynesia? In-depth island guides to all five archipelagos await you, including sample itineraries and essential travel tips & tricks.
Wondering which islands to visit? Here’s a video tour of my personal favorites.
The Islands of Tahiti are among the last places to be colonized by mankind, 118 islands, each with their unique personality.
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The sacred island of Raiatea is an excellent stop for those who wish to take a break from white sand beaches in favor of nature. Deep in the island’s lush rainforest, an unmarked trail leads hikers through thick foliage highlighted by mape trees, wild ginger and bamboo to a series of waterfalls known locally as Les Trois Cascades. The hike’s climax is reached, as you would expect, in the third waterfall, a 40-meter gem that splashes into a hidden pool before reaching the base. Since you’ve already made it this far, a dip in the freshwater pool is an absolute must before heading back to civilization.
More info: Raiatea Travel Guide
Dozens of ancient ceremonial sites, known locally as marae, were discovered along the shores of Huahine’s lagoon and up in the mountains overlooking the infinite blue. A pleasant (and quick) DIY hike takes hikers along a marked path to the top of Matairea Hill, where a marae that likely belonged to one of the island’s prominent ancient families overlooks the lagoon and the island’s lush peaks. Before reaching the top, another marae can be visited, with overgrown vegetation and a colossal banyan tree slowly taking charge of what was likely a bustling place in pre-missionary times.
More info: Huahine Travel Guide
Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia and the youngest in geological terms, home to soaring peaks and a mountainous interior that generates large amounts of rainfall that keeps the scenery emerald green. The Fautaua Valley is an accessible hike that can be done on your own or with a guide, and it begins “in the back” of Papeete. The hike through the valley eventually leads to a 130-meter-high waterfall, and along the way, you’ll encounter several archeological sites. On a clear day, you can even spot the peak of Mount Aorai, which rises to the height of 2066m.
More info: Tahiti Travel Guide
In the distant Marquesas Islands, it is no wonder that French painter Paul Gauguin and Belgian singer Jacques Brel chose the island of Hiva Oa as the place to spend the final chapter of their lives. On the north side of the island, the Hanatekuua Bay trail is used by locals to get to this secluded beach where copra plantations meet the golden sand. The hike begins with beautiful vistas over Hanaiapa Bay, and during the rainy season, you can spot a waterfall cascading straight into the ocean in the distance. The hike’s climax is reached as you turn the corner and catch the first glimpse of the bay, hidden from the outside world and just waiting for the rare visitor.
More info: Hiva Oa Travel Guide
At an elevation of 899 meters, Mount Rotui towers between Moorea’s twin bays to give the island its heart shape when viewed from the air. Moorea is an island that has something for everybody, including many hikes. The challenging hike to the summit of Mount Rotui affords breathtaking views of the lagoon and the deep bays. Even if you don’t make it to the top, the hike is still worthwhile as the views get better and better with every slight gain in elevation.
More info: Moorea Travel Guide
Back on the sacred island of Raiatea, the hike to the Temehani Plateau is undertaken by hikers on the hunt to spot one of the rarest flowers in the world. The hand-shaped tiare apetahi only grows on Raiatea and only on this plateau, puzzling botanists who have unsuccessfully attempted to transplant the flower to other habitats. Local legend says that a beautiful woman named Apetahi fell in love with a local prince who had to leave the island on a royal quest a long time ago. Waiting in vain on the plateau’s summit to scout for her lover’s returning boat, she could no longer overcome the burden, eventually cutting her arm off and planting it in the ground before jumping into the abyss. Out sprung the beautiful flower with five petals in the shape of a hand. The hike is filled with panoramic views and lava tubes, apart from spotting the flower.
More info: Top 10 Things to do in Raiatea & Tahaa
At an elevation of 437m, Mount Hiro is the highest peak in the Austral Island’s Raivavae. Ascending its summit is one of the best hikes in French Polynesia. It’s a short but challenging hike to reach the ridgeline, but the views don’t get any better than this once at the top. So carefully make your way to the summit of Mount Hiro, and be sure to bring whatever you need to comfortably spend a few hours up here as you won’t want to head back down.
More info: Austral Islands Travel Guide
Hard-to-reach Ua Pou in the northern Marquesas Islands is a hiker’s paradise. The island’s missile-like basalt pinnacles beckon the visitor to head to its center for a close inspection. With the help of a guide, you’ll begin the hike somewhere in the thick rainforest among wild citrus trees and vanilla. The sharp ascent to the base of Poumaka – one of the tallest pinnacles on the island- then begins. After enjoying the views, it’s back down via a forest of massive pandanus. But that’s not where the adventure ends. To wrap things off before lunch, take a slight detour to the magical Vaiea Waterfall for a refreshing dip.
More info: Ua Pou Travel Guide
From one legend to another, when Hiro and his band of thieves sneaked from Raiatea to steal Mount Rotui, they woke up the Tahitian warrior Pai, who chased them away by lodging his spear from Tahiti. His spear made a hole through the top of Moua Puta, eventually landing in Raiatea. Better known as “the pierced mountain,” Moua Puta rises to a height of 830 meters and is considered the most challenging hike in Moorea. Hiking to its summit with local certified guides is rewarded by some of the finest 360-degree views in the South Pacific.
More info: Top 10 Things to do in Moorea
Anaho Bay has to be one of the prettiest sites in the South Pacific, a horseshoe-shaped bay hidden from the outside world with hints of a coral reef, a rarity in the Marquesas Islands. Reaching the hidden bay is quite the adventure, beginning with a marked trail that rises to a saddle via a forest of wild mango trees. From the saddle, the view is breathtaking, and the silence is only interrupted when wild goats loosen rocks on the cliffs overlooking the bay. A few local families live in seclusion and have the beach all to themselves, happy to greet the rare visitor who ventures into their paradise. From Anaho Bay, follow the trail to neighboring Haatuatua Bay for more sensational views.
More info: Nuku Hiva Travel Guide
A scenic 40-minute boat ride from Taiohae brings you to the start of the Hakaui Valley. Somewhere in this deep valley, sheltered by the signature basaltic peaks of Nuku Hiva cascades the highest waterfall in French Polynesia. You’ll battle mosquitoes, cross rivers, and hike along the ancient royal road. Then, just when you think the dry season is out to get you, the Vaipo Waterfall magically glides down smoothly from one of the sharp peaks. You’ll end your hike at the waterfall’s base, cooling off in a freshwater pool that so few get to dip in!
More info: Top 10 Things to do in Nuku Hiva
The third highest peak in Tahiti (2066m), the hike to the summit of Mount Aorai is an absolute must for fit hikers looking to get a taste of the natural Polynesian paradise. It’s a challenging hike that begins in the lush rainforest away from the hustle and bustle of noisy Papeete, later reaching the legendary “devil’s pass,” where the trail narrows to just a few inches of width. An overnight cabin offers the opportunity to take it slow, as you must reach the summit in the early morning hours before the clouds roll in. However, even if you can’t make it to the top, the views from the first overnight cabin are out of this world, hidden waterfalls, beautifully eroded peaks, and the peculiar diademe – the signature rocky crown of “the queen of the Pacific.”
More info: Top 10 Things to do in Tahiti
Known as the “authentic island,” Maupiti lies at the very edge of the Society Islands, a symbolic position for an island where locals decided to keep things the way they were and reject mass tourism. Challenging to pronounce, the hike to Mount Teurafaatiu (380m) is an excellent excuse for taking a break from the pristine beaches of Maupiti. The steep trail snakes its way along the cliffs overlooking the only village on the island, with incredible views of the lagoon and the extended runway. What you see from the rocky summit will live in your memory for eternity, striking colors of the lagoon on a clear day, Bora Bora in the far distance. There’s a good chance you’ll have the summit all to yourself. Just be sure to bring some snacks as you’ll want to stay here for a good few hours.
More info: Maupiti Travel Guide
Now that we’ve covered the best hikes in French Polynesia, I hope you realize there’s plenty to do than just beaches and cocktails. So don’t forget to pack your hiking gear and take advantage of other resources on this website to plan your vacation in paradise.
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