My Crazy Christmas Miracle In Tahiti

December 26, 2015

Road trip in Tahiti

With three days left in Tahiti, it was time to get out of town. I rented an outrageously expensive ‘economy car’ and hit the road to circle the island. I started out with the west and south coasts that are packed with more attractions. My first stop was at Plage Vaiava, a favorite with locals and surprisingly without black sand. The water was super clear and there were even a few topless bathers, something that was definitely a ‘no no’ in the islands I previously visited.

Plage Vaiava PK 18 in Tahiti French Polynesia

After a quick swim at the beach, I visited a couple of very sacred spots called marae. I’ve seen those before in the Cook Islands but they were never as big as the ones in Tahiti. A marae was the spiritual center of the Polynesians. It is where religious, ceremonial and social activities were carried out. They are still highly spiritual places and in most cases, it is forbidden to walk on the marae’s remains.

Tiki statue Tahiti French Polynesia

Tiki statue in Marae Tahiti French Polynesia

Marae in Tahiti French Polynesia

A few miles down the road and finally, a black sand beach! I’ve been waiting to see one ever since driving on the black sand plains of the Mount Yasur Volcano in Vanuatu. Papara Beach is one of the widest in Tahiti, and the clear blue water splashing against the dark volcanic sand provides a unique contrast that I’ve never seen before.

View of mountains from papara black sand beach Tahiti French Polynesia

Papara Beach black sand and rocks Tahiti French Polynesia

Papara black sand beach Tahiti French Polynesia

From Papara Beach, the coastal road sweeps between sleepy villages, coconut plantations and churches that haven’t changed much since the days of the London missionaries.

Tahiti Mountains and palm trees French Polynesia

Church in Tahiti French Polynesia

Tropical garden hopping

The next stop was at the Vaipahi Gardens, home to beautifully maintained tropical gardens and a fresh waterfall. There are a few hiking trails up the mountains for panoramic views of the coast.

Waterfall in Vaipahi gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Blue tropical lagoon from Vaipahi gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Getting back down involves maneuvering in and out of fresh water streams that surrounded by unique mape trees (Tahitian Chestnut Tree). The exposed wave-like roots of these trees provide a fairy tale setting and it’s just you and the mosquitoes out here.

Mape forest in Vaihapi gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

I was so impressed with the gardens, that I decided to pull over to the Jardins Botaniques. The gardens are the work of American, Harrison Smith, who set up these gorgeous tropical gardens back in 1919. Smith introduced a few successful plant species to Tahiti like the Pomelo, but unfortunately also introduced a few which proved to be disastrous. In any case, we’ll forgive him for his mistakes and check out the gardens.

Before we embark on our botanical journey, let’s pay a visit to the resident Galapagos Turtles. The female is thought to be 150 years old and the male is approaching 200! His signs of aging are showing, as he’s extra slow and blind. Age doesn’t seem to suppress their appetite – these fellas enjoy a constant supply of fresh vegetables, which can be fed by visitors – as you can see. These creatures are simply incredible!

Giant galapgos turtles in botanical gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Giant galapgos turtle eating in botanical gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Galapgos turtles feeding botanical gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Back to the gardens now. We’ll start off with a walk through the mape forest – remember, it’s those trees with incredibly wavy roots. Did I just step onto the set of a Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings sequel?

Tahitian chestnut forest mape trees in botanical gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Tahitian chestnut mape tree roots in botanical gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Aside from the chestnut trees, the gardens are also home to giant lotuses, tranquil lily ponds and of course, endless rows of coconuts. It’s so peaceful here that I could definitely kill a few hours, but it’s time to get moving.

Botanical gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Lotus flower in botanical gardens Tahiti French Polynesia

Crossing over to Tahiti Iti

The coastal road took me over to Tahiti Iti, the little sister of Tahiti Nui. This is the island where the French first landed and it couldn’t be more different than Tahiti Nui. Here, things move at a much slower pace. It reminded me of rural life back on Savaii Island – Samoa’s ‘wild’ island, with the mountains and the sea and not much else.

If you’ve embarked on road trips in France, you’ll probably recall the French love for mountainous roads up to panoramic views. Tahiti is no different in that respect, so I put the car in low gear and drove up to the ‘belvedere point’ of Plateau de Taravao. From here, you can really appreciate the rugged beauty of Tahiti.

Panoramic view of Tahiti from Plateau de Taravao Tahiti French Polynesia

From the belvedere, I descended to the last leg of this journey. In fact, there’s not much choice since the road is about to end. I passed by Maui Beach, a small sliver of white sand that attracted local villagers at a day’s end. How many of you go for a dip in the ocean after a day’s work? Island life has its upsides. 

Maui Beach Tahiti Iti Tahiti French Polynesia

From Maui Beach, the road ends at the famed Teahupoo Beach. There’s no mistaking the reason for this beach’s fame – this is the surf capital of Tahiti! This calm looking beach gets some serious waves (up to 8m!) and attracts top surfers every year for the Billabong Pro. On this particular day, there weren’t any big waves and Kelly Slater was nowhere to be found.

Teahupoo Tahiti French Polynesia

Teahupoo Beach Tahitian kids on surf board Tahiti French Polynesia

Surfer in Teahupoo Beach Tahiti French Polynesia

Nevertheless, the black sand beach is impressive and the lush mountains partially hidden by the towering palm trees provide a very relaxing vibe. I can totally imagine how cool it must be to stay here during the surfing competition.

Black sand beach in Tehaupoo Tahiti French Polynesia

Green mountains in Teahupoo Beach Tahiti French Polynesia

From Captain Cook to waterfalls

The following day, I checked out Tahiti’s north coast – the quietest part of the island, where the mountains really squeeze the coastal road into the ocean. It reminded me of the legendary Pacific Coast Highway in California.

Matavai Bay coastal road Tahiti French Polynesia

The first stop was at Point Venus in Matavai Bay, where a few major historical events took place. Here, Tahitians first made contact with Europeans and where the mutineers of the HMS Bounty made landfall. It’s also where missionaries landed in 1796 and where Captain Cook parked his ship on his unsuccessful voyage to track the movement of Venus. Today, there’s a cute looking lighthouse that’s popular with Tahitian petanque players as well as a beach that’s popular with aspiring surfers and canoers.

Surfers at pointe venus beach Tahiti French Polynesia

Pointe Venus lighthouse Tahiti French Polynesia

Outrigger canoes at Pointe Venus Tahiti French Polynesia

About halfway along the coast, you come across the Arahoho Blowhole. As you exit the car, you hear underground whistles coming out of the giant lava tube right beneath you. As you make it to the coast, gushes of water rush out of the rock!

Arahoho Blowhole Tahiti French Polynesia

A few meters down the road was the last highlight of this Tahiti road trip – The Three Waterfalls. As you can see below, the area suffered major damage from heavy rains a few days ago and it wasn’t really possible to access the waterfalls from up close. Locals sustained a great deal of damage and when I was there, damage assessment was being done by the local government.

Broken bridge at three waterfalls Tahiti French Polynesia

Three waterfalls Vaimahutu Falls Faarumai Tahiti French Polynesia

Saving the best for last!

My last day in Tahiti was the most challenging one. Inspired by the mountains, I decided to attempt the challenging climb to the third highest peak in Tahiti – Mount Aorai. Towering at 2066 m, Mount Aorai is regarded as one of the top hikes in the world. The thing is, that it’s not recommended to summit the mountain in the rainy season, definitely if you’re flying solo. And one more thing, you should leave at the crack of dawn, because by 10 am you’ll be walking in the clouds and that would be a waste of an effort.

I decided to take the advice of a few locals and only attempt to make it to the first refuge hut, leaving the summit for another trip. I felt confident enough since it hadn’t rained in the last few days, at least not in town, but took plenty of supply just in case. The trail starts with gorgeous views down towards Papeete, across the water to Moorea and more of what’s to come in the form of breathtaking mountains that seem to ripple across the horizon.

View of Papeete from La Belvedere Tahiti French Polynesia

Tropical mountains from Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

Tahiti mountains from Mount Aorai hike French Polynesia

After these views, the going gets really tough. You’re pretty much walking on a narrow path carved into the mud, where your next move could be your last. Another challenging aspect which I didn’t take into account is the wetness of everything, in the morning dew. After just a few minutes, I was completely soaked from head to toe. Those waterproof hiking shoes were no match for mother nature – but there’s no turning back now.

Mount Aorai hike selfie Tahiti French Polynesia

Soaked but still progressing nicely, the trail took me beneath the canopy and into the rainforest. With all the water this place gets, it’s no surprise to find fresh water streams gushing out of the mountain side, mossy bushes and tropical flowers. Only the monkeys are missing but the birds certainly make up for the lack of noise.

Tropical rainforest Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

Mushrooms in rainforest Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

Are we there yet?

The hike gets tougher as you continue to ascend and you just need to plow through the waist high vegetation. During a water break, I heard faint sounds getting clearer and clearer and a few minutes later, a party of four greeted me. I was happy to hear they’ve done this before and that we were only 15 minutes away from the refuge hut – our turnaround point. By then, I was so sweaty that even my hat was sweating!

Fifteen minutes turned into 30 but the view from the hut was well worth it. My God! Can you imagine this place on a cloudless day?

Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

Closeup Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

From this point, it was either to attempt the ‘Devil’s Ridge Pass’ or head back down. You pretty much summit the mountain by walking on the narrow (and buttery) ridge line for a good few km’s. Seeing how the moisture in the valley had already condensed into clouds, and I didn’t want to mess with the devil, it was wise to turn around and descend via the clouds. Mom, I’m still alive and it was all worth it! For those of you who want to see what the summit looks like, check out this link.

Devils Ridge Pass Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

Walking in clouds Mount Aorai hike Tahiti French Polynesia

What’s Next?

Tahiti was just lovely and I can’t imagine how most package holiday makers simply skip it. But it’s now time to hop on the ferry for a month’s stay in Moorea! The island of Moorea is just as rugged as Tahiti but is super laid back. I can’t wait to share with you what’s next. See you in a couple of weeks.

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4 comments

  1. Do you have contact information for the Jewish community? I’m going there soon and want to spend Shabbat there if possible!

    1. Hi Mari. I can’t share contact information online but if you go to the synagogue for Friday night service or Saturday morning, one of the families will surely invite you.

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