Maupiti from motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia

Maupiti Travel Guide

Maupiti Travel Guide

Last updated on July 20th, 2022

Picture a dream island perfectly rising out of the blue ocean, protected by a bright blue lagoon and palm fringed beaches with blindingly white sand. Pretty little Maupiti is just so impossibly beautiful. If Google were to return a single result for the search of “classic tropical island”, Maupiti would be it. A heavenly scented flower necklace tossed around your neck is the first sign of the warm hospitality that awaits you in Maupiti. There are no resorts around here and an ATM was only installed in 2022. So prepare yourself for a visit you’ll never forget in one of the most magical islands in the vast South Pacific. This Maupiti Travel Guide will help you plan the trip of a lifetime, to an island that has truly succeeded in slowing down time.

About This Guide

I spent three months in French Polynesia, as part of a six-month backpacking trip across the South Pacific Islands – with a full week in Maupiti. I have since returned to Maupiti on two additional occasions. That’s how special this place is. This Maupiti travel guide was written based on my experiences and is meant to help you make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime destination. The Maupiti Travel Guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful.

Heading off to French Polynesia? In-depth island guides to all 5 archipelagos await you, including sample itineraries and essential travel tips & tricks.

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Why Should You Visit Maupiti?

Maupiti is the kind of island where everyone looks familiar after just a couple of days. That won’t prevent locals from greeting you with a friendly ia orana and a big smile right from the time you arrive. The sheer beauty and laid-back way of life, will make you wonder why on earth all the tourists get off at neighboring Bora Bora? Locals have fought long and hard to prevent Maupiti from following the footsteps of its big sister down the road. In fact, the island is said to resemble the way Bora Bora used to be before it was discovered by the package holidaymakers.

Maupiti aerial view French Polynesia

Maupiti is small enough to be explored on foot. You’ll have a huge smile on your face as you’re walking along its only main road, picking fruit and tropical flowers along the way, climbing its highest peak, and crossing the azure lagoon to your very own Robinson Crusoe beach. Let’s not forget the magic that lies beneath the calm waves, with giant manta rays and pristine coral just waiting to be discovered.

When ranking the islands I enjoyed exploring the most in the South Pacific, Maupiti ranks very high. Do not miss the opportunity to see it for yourself!

Aerial view of Maupiti French Polynesia motu and reef
What’s Included In This Maupiti Travel Guide?

Several sections make up this travel guide:

Maupiti Travel Guide Video

Watch this video to see what’s expecting you in Maupiti (you might need to disable your ad blocker).

Companion Map

This map features all the highlights mentioned in this guide. Click on the image to open in Google Maps.

Maupiti Island Travel Guide - French Polynesia

Facts & Brief History

Maupiti is the most western of the high volcanic islands that make up the Society Islands in French Polynesia. The island measures only 11 square kilometers and has a population of about 1,200 residents living on the main island and the outer motus (small islets) surrounding the lagoon.

Islanders riding bike in Maupiti French Polynesia

It is believed that ancient Polynesians settled Maupiti sometime in the 9th century AD, establishing a traditional way of life with very close ties to neighboring Bora Bora. ‘Discovered’ in 1722 by a Dutchman, European explorers started to frequently arrive a few decades later, followed by the missionaries. France eventually took over Maupiti, but life here has continued to retain a traditional feel.

Locals in boat Maupiti French Polynesia

These days islanders primarily live off farming, growing grapefruit, and noni on the main island and on the surrounding motus. Small-scale tourism is picking up, but islanders are adamant about preserving their laid-back way of life and will not allow the construction of any resorts.

Yachts in Maupiti Lagoon - Mount Teurafaatiu hike - French Polynesia

Maupiti Island Travel Tips

Listed here are specific travel tips for Maupiti Island to help with the planning stages of your visit.

Quick Finds
Lonely Planet Tahiti & French Polynesia

How Many Days Do You Need In Maupiti?

If island-hopping using Air Tahiti flights, fitting in Maupiti will be very tricky so the amount of time you have on the island will be determined by the flight schedule. Usually, flights arrive and depart Maupiti on Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday. I spent a full week in Maupiti on my first visit, more than the average visitor. Maupiti is a very small and very special place. If you plan on sampling multiple islands in French Polynesia, the absolute minimum would be three nights in Maupiti. However, you will really fall in love with this island and leave with a bitter taste in your mouth of wanting more. I would recommend favoring Maupiti over other islands, even at the cost of scratching some out. Five nights should be a solid amount of time and six/seven nights is a maximum. Maupiti was the highlight of my visit to French Polynesia (along with the Marquesas Islands), and I am very happy to have spent a week here. There was never a dull moment.

Tiare gardenia flower in Maupiti French Polynesia

Maupiti or Bora Bora?

Choosing between Maupiti versus Bora Bora is a tough dilemma. The answer really depends on what you are looking for. You might have read in other publications that Maupiti is the Bora Bora of ‘the good old days’. Though I wasn’t around to visit Bora Bora in the 1950s, I can understand this claim. Topographically speaking, Maupiti resembles a miniature version of Bora with its main island centered in an almost completely enclosed shallow lagoon. But that’s where the similarities end. The vibe in Maupiti is completely different, more authentic and laid back. Bora Bora is the most visited island in French Polynesia and decades of development and foreign money have taken their toll on the island’s authenticity. In Maupiti, you can sample the true meaning of a South Pacific paradise. The only caveat is luxury. If you’re looking for a pampering vacation, Bora Bora will help you tick off that box. Maupiti has none of the luxuries that you’ll find in Bora Bora. 

Maupiti French Polynesia

If you have a way to see both islands, go for it. I would recommend starting with Bora Bora and then head to Maupiti. Allow more time for Maupiti as three days in Bora Bora should be more than enough.

If you can’t do both and must choose, go for Maupiti if you’re looking for a laid-back and unspoiled setting, without the resort scene and with a real Polynesian feel. If you’re absolutely looking for luxury, the overwater bungalow experience – Bora Bora is your answer (though you have an excellent substitute in Tahaa Island).

Boat in Tereia Beach Maupiti French Polynesia

To summarize the question of Maupiti vs. Bora Bora:

  • What does Maupiti have over Bora Bora: much cheaper, authentic Polynesian vibe, laid-back, fewer tourists, harder to reach, DIY hike, can walk across the lagoon to a motu (islet), can circle the main island on foot, no resorts, friendlier locals
  • What does Bora Bora have over Maupiti: frequently served by Air Tahiti flights, easier connection to other islands (and archipelagos), a wider selection of excursions, more restaurants, multiple selection of resorts, overwater bungalows, better known (bucket-list island)
Airport in Maupiti French Polynesia locals hanging out

When Is the Best Time To Visit Maupiti?

Like all Society Islands, the ‘best’ time to visit Maupiti is during the dry season (May – October). During this time, the temperature is slightly lower and most importantly – there’s less rain. You wouldn’t want to travel all the way out here and be stuck indoors.

That said, I visited Maupiti during the heart of the wet season (November – April). Over the course of a week, I only had one cloudy day and almost no rain. Locals said it’s good fortune, but it does happen. I also did see lots of manta rays inside the lagoon, even though it wasn’t the official manta ray season.

Bottom line: aim for the dry season but don’t let it stop you from visiting Maupiti. Watch out for local holidays and Christmas, when flights and pensions fill up quickly.

Sunset in Maupiti French Polynesia

How To Get To Maupiti

Due to its small population and relative isolation at the very edge of the Society Islands, Maupiti is a very tricky island to get to so planning is essential. Think of Maupiti as “an anchor” in your itinerary and plan around it if you have your heart set on visiting this gem. 

By air: always subject to change, Air Tahiti usually flies to Maupiti from both Tahiti and Raiatea three times per week (Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday) and once per week on Sunday from Bora Bora. On certain days, there will be two flights per day, a morning flight and a late afternoon departure. Flights to Maupiti are sometimes very much in demand, especially during school holidays. Booking well ahead of time is strongly advised. The small and unreliable Tahiti Air Charter also announced flights to Maupiti but I am not sure if this ever matured into anything. 

By ferry: though lacking much information online, you can get to Maupiti from Bora Bora using the Maupiti Express. Contact them via email ([email protected]) or phone (+689-40676669 or +689-87740240). These might be the current schedule and ticket prices. Note that the passage might be bumpy even in fair sea conditions. From what I hear, departures to Maupiti are scheduled at 8 am every Tuesday from Bora Bora with a return on Thursday.

On a day trip from Bora Bora: you can visit Maupiti on a very expensive day trip from Bora Bora. After the short flight, you’ll spend most of the day exploring Maupiti’s lagoon.

Airport in Maupiti French Polynesia getting off air tahiti flight

Getting Around Maupiti

To/from the airport: the Maupiti airport (if you can call it that) is located on one of the motus on the fringes of the lagoon. It was built during WWII by actually extending out into the lagoon. Landing in Maupiti is quite a special experience that you’ll never forget. As you pick up your bags, a small boat awaits to take you across to Vaiea – the main village. To get back to the airport, inquire with your pension on boat departure times (500F each way). Pension hosts will usually pick up and drop off at the main jetty for free.

Airport in Maupiti French Polynesia boat pickup
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Maupiti’s airport has recently received a major facelift to bring it up to par with some of the more modern airports on other islands. Hopefully, the renovation hasn’t taken too much away from the experience of landing in the “Preserved Island”.

To/from the motus: if you’re staying in the outer motus, pension owners will arrange airport transfers and will help you get to/from the main island for a small fee. Hiring your own ride from Pension Chez Manu (right in the village) will cost 1,500F to motu Tiapaa, 2000F to motu Pitihahei and 2500F to motu Paea – all prices are return fares. The only exception is Motu Auira, which you can walk to on foot from the main island (a few hundred meters through the lagoon).

Around the main island: locals all have 4WD’s but honestly, I don’t understand why. There’s a 10 km coastal road circling the tiny island, and aside from one steep climb, it’s all very flat going. You can easily make a morning out of circling Maupiti on foot but if you do want to rent a bike, there’s a shop in the village that hires bicycles for 1,000F per day.

Maupiti French Polynesia getting around

Where To Stay In Maupiti?

The residents of Maupiti have sat and watched as neighboring Bora Bora transformed into a mega-resort island. The last thing they want is for this to happen to their pristine paradise. In Maupiti, there are no resorts, no hotels, nothing on –  just family-operated pensions, and a few low-key self-catering options. All pensions can arrange lagoon tours. 

It’s now time to decide if you want to stay on the main island or one of the motus, the small islets at the edge of the lagoon. Each has its advantages but I prefer to stay on the main island to have the flexibility of freely exploring the island. 

Now for the most important point, space in Maupiti is very limited. The island is no longer a “top secret” and pensions haven’t really expanded their supply in recent years. Therefore, it might be extremely difficult to find a place to stay in Maupiti exactly on the dates that you can visit. The earlier you plan, the higher the chances. 

Here are my recommendations for where to stay in Maupiti. 

Self-catering: Maupiti Residence is the best option on the island. Two large and well-equipped air-conditioned bungalows occupy prime real estate on Tereia Beach, the prettiest beach on the main island. Another unit is further up the hill. Owners will take you grocery shopping upon arrival and will help make other arrangements should you not wish to cook. Maupiti Residence is often booked up to a year in advance so consider yourself lucky if there’s a vacancy. 

Maupiti Residence - French Polynesia

Main island pensions: I’ve visited Maupiti three times and always stayed with Dawn at Pension Tautiare Village. Located halfway between the main village and Tereia Beach, the pension overlooks a grassy garden facing the lagoon filled with gardenia and fruit trees. Its signature feature is the 131-meter long pontoon extending way out into the lagoon. Though breakfast is very simple, dinners are delicious and plentiful. On the mountainside, Pension Taravanui is a newcomer with an exterior garden bungalow and a private room. Close to Tereia Beach, Pension Tereia offers a true family experience and on Tereia Beach itself, Pension Espace Beach is among the finest on the island. 

Pension Tautiare Village Maupiti French Polynesia
Pension Tautiare Village Maupiti French Polynesia - room
Pension Tautiare Village garden and pontoon Maupiti french polynesia
Pension Tautiare Village dinner 1
Pension tautiare village pontoon a d lagoon Maupiti French Polynesia

Motu-based pensions: there are several very low-key pensions on the motus of Maupiti but the recommended ones are Pension Papahani and the former Pension Maupiti Paradise, now reopened under the name Pension Maupiti Holiday.

Pension Espace Beach Maupiti French Polynesia
Tereia Beach Maupiti French Polynesia

Camping in Maupiti: if you’re looking for camping options in Maupiti, get in touch with Maupiti Camping. They’re located in a quiet section of the island within walking distance of the lookout point, Tereia Beach, and the main village. 

What To Pack?

Maupiti is a tropical destination, and as such – I recommend packing clothes that dry quickly and keep moisture (a.k.a sweat) out. Have a look at the X Days In Y Packing List for recommendations on what to pack for Maupiti based on my experience. If you’re arriving on Sunday, it is best to pack a few snacks with you for lunch. 


Further evidence of Maupiti’s laid-back charm lies in the fact that there are no ATMs on the island (in my recent visit, I heard that an ATM should be installed “soon”, perhaps in 2021). Maupiti runs on a cash economy, no credit cards are accepted anywhere. How do the locals manage? Bank clerks arrive on the island a few times a month to collect cash and deposit in bank accounts upon their return to Tahiti. Bring all the money you need in cash before arriving on the island. For such reason, I always traveled with a few emergency Euros or US Dollars which can always be converted. 

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After years in the making, an ATM has been inaugurated on the island in 2022. That said, it might not be affiliated with a bank but rather the post office, so check with your hosts if cash is still the only option in Maupiti.

Maupiti Average Costs

Here’s a breakdown of my costs from Maupiti during my first visit in 2016. Apart from a couple of days, I ate breakfast and lunch at the pension, along with something small for lunch. I went scuba diving and took a lagoon excursion as well.

Drinking Water In Maupiti

Water in Maupiti is not suitable for drinking out of the taps. You will notice locals filling up at water dispensing stations along the side of the road (currently free). Pensions usually provide filtered water for free, so keep those plastic bottles.

locals getting water in Maupiti French Polynesia

WiFi & Mobile Data In Maupiti

At present, only Vini has mobile coverage in Maupiti. Vodafone sim cards simply will not work here. Free but slow WiFi should be available in all pensions but only in common areas. 


Pensions: if you’re staying at a pension, you’ll be able to stay half board, which includes breakfast and dinner. Food will almost always be exceptional and an integral part of your visit, just like the beach. Usually, half-board options are an extra 1,500F per night. Keeping in mind that meals in restaurants start at 1,300F – it’s a very good option to just go, half board, if you like your pension’s cooking.

dinner in pension tautiare - Maupiti - French Polynesia

Food shopping: I found the opening hours of shops to be incredibly weird in Maupiti. So the rule of thumb when it comes to mini markets is to buy whatever you need when you see one open. Mornings are obviously the best time to try.

Eating out: there are a small handful of snacks and restaurants in Maupiti (see ‘places to eat’ section). Some will even deliver breakfast and dinner to your accommodation on the main island.

Market: there’s a tiny ‘market’ right next to the main jetty and municipal buildings (open weekdays until ~12 pm). You’ll find here a very small selection of fruits & vegetables, greasy snacks, and fresh coconut water.  

small market in Maupiti French Polynesia - coconut milk and water

Safety In Maupiti

For general safety tips in French Polynesia, have a look at the ‘safety’ section of the French Polynesia Travel Guide.

As you would expect, Maupiti is a very safe & super friendly destination. That said: (1) I was advised by my hosts to safeguard valuables at night or when leaving my room. There have been rare cases of local youth taking advantage of the carefree vibe that runs throughout the island.  (2) There are certain motus (small islets in the lagoon) where cannabis is grown. It’s OK to hang around the beach, just don’t venture inland where the crop is grown. (3) If you want to swim or snorkel near the lagoon pass – ask first. Currents can be dangerous and tricky out there.

Tropical Beach Maupiti French Polynesia

What To Buy In Maupiti?

Maupiti is by no means a shopping destination, save that for Tahiti. What you can find here is simple jewelry made from the wide variety of beautiful shells found on local beaches. The exception is the penu – the symbol of Maupiti. This is an ancient tool carved from basalt rock that was used for crushing herbs and fruit. It is a prized possession and can be purchased from the small handful of artists on the island, especially in the more remote southwest section of the tiny island. There’s an artist that lives not too far from Tereia Beach but my pension host helped me by ordering one for me. I paid 4,000 XPF for a medium-sized penu.

Penu Polynesian herb crushing tool in Maupiti French Polynesia

How To Save Money In Maupiti?

  • Traveling to multiple islands in French Polynesia? Get here as part of an Air Tahiti Pass. It will almost always work out much cheaper than point-to-point flights to multiple islands.
  • Book your accommodation as early as possible. There aren’t any large resorts in Maupiti and the option in your budget bracket might get quickly filled up.
  • Most pensions will give you the option of staying half board. This means having breakfast and lunch at the pension, usually for an extra 1,500F. Considering a proper dinner at a restaurant costs at least 1,300F, it’s worth it to eat at the pension. Usually, pension owners are wonderful cooks, making this a no-brainer.
  • Staying on the main island (as opposed to the surrounding motus) means you don’t have to pay someone to take you to the village (and there are lots to do on the main island). Transfers will usually cost 1,500F (return) to and from the motus to the village.

Things To Do & Places To See In Maupiti

Listed in this section are Maupiti’s top highlights to include on your visit to the island.

Pro Tip

Check out this 5 days in Maupiti sample itinerary to see how to divide your days on the island

Flight to Maupiti

If you’re flying to Maupiti from Tahiti, you’re in for a real treat. The 55-minute flight is the most scenic commercial flight in French Polynesia, flying low over all the main islands in the Society Islands group. The flight begins with a short swing around Moorea, followed by Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora (and Tupai Atoll), and Maupiti. The final approach to Maupiti takes you around the entire island. Be sure to sit on the right side of the plane on the incoming flight and on the left when departing. Have your camera ready at all times!

Moorea bays aerial view French Polynesia
Moorea from the air French Polynesia
Huahine aerial view French Polynesia
Bora Bora French Polynesia aerial view
Approach to Maupiti airport from the air French Polynesia

Vaiea Village

The only village in Maupiti is tightly tucked between a vertical cliff and the turquoise lagoon. A picturesque sight as you arrive by boat from the airport, it’s also a good idea to explore on foot (it won’t take very long). Simple homes line the main road, with gardens full of fruit and tropical flowers. Most homes have a small grave in the front yard, a tradition in Polynesian life though not that common in French Polynesia.

The village itself is the center of commercial & social life. During the day, locals drop their kids off at school before heading out to catch some fish. As the sun begins to set, youngsters play some volleyball while the older folks play a round of petanque. It’s a very simple and beautiful life in Vaiea.

Vaiea Village in Maupiti French Polynesia
aerial view of Vaiea Village Maupiti French Polynesia
mahi mahi fish in Maupiti French Polynesia
locals making copra in Maupiti French Polynesia
Flowers and fruits in Maupiti French Polynesia

No matter how simple a house can be in Maupiti, it will always have a very well-kept garden. Residents take great pride in their garden so you’ll almost always see someone working the yard. An interesting thing to look out for is the occasional grave in the front yard. In the absence of a local cemetery, residents often resort to burying their loved ones on the property. This gesture can only be seen these days in very traditional Polynesian islands such as Samoa and Maupiti.

House in Maupiti French Polynesia
grave on property in Maupiti French Polynesia

As you might expect, you’ll find here a bunch of small food shops and snacks selling mostly sandwiches around lunch and dinner. Just in front of the municipal building and the pier, you’ll find a small covered market that’s open on weekdays until about noon. In my experience, I found this opening schedule to only be loosely followed so don’t depend on it. There’s not a huge variety on sale, but you will find some fruits and vegetables, fresh coconut, and baked goods (mostly fried). Note that fruits and vegetables are sold in bulk. If you want to buy small amounts, try the food shops or Chez Manu.

Maupiti market tahitian selling vegetables

Mount Teurafaatiu Hike

Impossible to pronounce, the challenging hike to Mount Teurafaatiu (380 m) will be one of the highlights of your visit! It’s one of the best hikes in French Polynesia. The steep trail snakes its way along the cliffs overlooking Vaiea, with incredible views of the village, lagoon, and the airport from way up above.

Vaiea Village from Mount Teurafaatiu hike - French Polynesia - Maupiti
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The view from the rocky summit will live in your memory for eternity. From up here, you’ll be treated to breathtaking panoramic views of Maupiti. The colors of the lagoon from up here cannot be described in words. It’s a good spot to observe the strange patches within the lagoon that are created by the shifting sand and the coral. On a clear day, you’ll see Bora Bora in the far distance. There’s a very good chance you’ll have the summit all to yourself, so prepare to stay here for a while as you really won’t want to leave!

View of Maupiti lagoon pass from Mount Teurafaatiu hike - French Polynesia
View from summit of Mount Teurafaatiu hike - French Polynesia - Maupiti
Tereia Beach - Maupiti from Mount Teurafaatiu hike - French Polynesia
Motui Auira from Mount Teurafaatiu Hike Maupiti French Polynesia.
lagoon motu from Mount Teurafaatiu Hike Maupiti French Polynesia.
Lagoon from Mount Teurafaatiu Hike Maupiti French Polynesia.
fishermen in lagoon from Mount Teurafaatiu Hike Maupiti French Polynesia.
Lagoon Pass from Mount Teurafaatiu Hike Maupiti French Polynesia.
closeup of lagoon pass Mount Teurafaatiu Hike Maupiti French Polynesia.
Panoramic view of Maupiti from Mount Teurafaatiu hike - French Polynesia

Here’s what it felt like at the summit of Mount Teurafaatiu

Logistics: coming from the village, look for steps heading up the hill just past Tarona Restaurant. Follow the trail that’s impossible to miss unless overgrown with vegetation. Arrows and ribbons will point you in the right direction until a set of ropes lead to the summit. Allow 60-90 minutes to go up and 30 minutes to go down. Wear sturdy hiking shoes, bring more water than you think you’ll need (at least 2L per person), sunscreen, and a hat – as the summit is just bare rock and you’ll want to stay there for hours! If you’re lucky, you can find an open shop once you get back to the main road but don’t count on that. Even if you think you cannot hike to the summit, it’s worth hiking a small section for the views above the village. 

Marae Vaiahu

The only marae (ancient Polynesian temple) on the main island. Compared to the ones you’ll see on other islands (especially Huahine, Raiatea, and the Marquesas), there’s nothing too impressive about this one but the mud crabs who have taken over.

Scenic Lookout

You’ll reach this scenic lookout on the way to Tereia Beach if coming from the main village. It’s the highest point on the main road from where you can enjoy beautiful views of various sections of the island. It’s also my favorite spot for watching sunsets in Maupiti.

scenic lookout Maupiti French Polynesia
View of motu auira from scenic lookout Maupiti French Polynesia

Tereia Beach

Tereia Point splits this part of the Maupiti into a murky beach marked by fishing boats on one side, and the prettiest beach on the main island on the other. Tereia Beach has a “far section” which seems to be reserved for guests of Maupiti Residence and Pension Espace Beach. The “near” section is a public beach where you’ll share the space with locals, especially after school hours, on weekends and holidays. Most sections of the beach are very shallow so they’re great for chilling and for small children. Small sections are quite deep and interesting to explore with a mask and snorkel. As far as dining, Snack Chez Mimi is great for local dishes, sandwiches, and drinks. 

Boats in the air in Maupiti French Polynesia

Tereia Beach Maupiti French Polynesia

Tereia Beach Maupiti French Polynesia
White sand Tereia Beach Maupiti French Polynesia

From Tereia Beach, you can round the corner in low tide and find yourself a hidden cove beneath the shade of tamanu trees. Teriea Beach marks the starting point for the crossing of the lagoon by foot to Motu Auira.

Motu Auira

Visiting Motu Auira is the #1 activity on my list of the top things to do in Maupiti. I often visit this remote part of the island several times during a single visit to Maupiti. Getting to Motu Auira is part of the fun, having to cross the shallow lagoon from Tereia Beach on foot for about 20 minutes. This is what Moses must have felt like, only instead of Pharaoh’s army chasing you, it’ll be a few stingrays and sharks that you’ll see along the way.

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - crossing lagoon on foot

aerial view of motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia
Maupiti barrier reef and lagoon French Polynesia

As you make landfall on the motu, you are faced with the option of heading right and exploring the lagoon side or heading left to round the bend after a few minutes and explore the off-the-grid reef side. If it’s your first time here, venture slightly along the lagoon side just to get a taste for what living in paradise probably feels like but don’t stick for too long because the reef side is where the real magic happens. Wherever you head, don’t venture inland beyond the beach, even if it looks like nobody lives there. Most, if not all the land is privately owned and used for growing fruit and making copra from dried coconuts. However,  there have been cases of marijuana growing on Motu Auira so locals might be suspicious if you don’t stick to the beach or ask for permission.

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - main island
coconut grove - motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia

The Lagoon Side

A few families live along the beach in large plots of land dominated by coconut palms and barking dogs. Beware of aggressive dogs and carry a branch to keep them in check. There is a small stretch of lagoon beach devoid of settlement so if you don’t want to face the dogs, simply head back when you start seeing the houses. Notice the fishing boats raised above the waterline, one of the signatures of Maupiti. This is to minimize salt damage. 

lagoon side - motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia
houses in motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia
Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - pontoon
Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - lagoon side beach
Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - boat
Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - coconuts on beach
Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - boat on beach

The snorkeling in the lagoon side is not amazing because the water is almost always murky. Curious snorkelers will find interesting “coral forests”, with patches of corals that resemble miniature bonsai trees.

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - snorkling lagoon side

The Reef Side

The magic of Motu Auira begins when you “turn the corner” and begin to head in a seemingly straight direction as far as the eye can see. The sand is blindingly white and soft, the lagoon radiates in shades of blue, and it seems like you’re the only one here. As you continue the walk, the main island will disappear behind you and there’s nothing but the sound of breaking waves on the barrier reef to remind you that you’re still on an island in the middle of nowhere. On a clear day, you might be able to see Bora Bora in the far distance.

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - view of bora bora

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - hermit crabs

hermit carb - motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia
Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - beach
white sane beach - motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia

view of Maupiti from white sand beach - motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia

Maupiti from motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia

Don’t try to circle Motu Auira because it is very large but do walk until you think you’ve found the right spot. I personally always like to base myself next to a shallow natural pool from where a row of boulders extends into. the lagoon. 

beach and lagoon - motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia
reef close to beach - motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia
Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - natural pool

The water here is crystal clear, with healthy coral and lots of tropical fish. If you’re extra lucky, you might even see a reef shark or perhaps a sea turtle. What especially amazed me were the colorful shells found throughout the reef. Some of them were radiating with colors of sapphire blue, deep purple and bright green. Locals come here during the day and spend hours catching and cleaning them for dinner.

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - snorkling

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - snorkeling reef side

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - moray eel

coral reef - motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - blue clam

snorkeling - motu auira - Maupiti - French Polynesia

Motu Auira Maupiti French Polynesia - colorful clams

Visiting Motu Auira will be a day you’ll never forget. Be sure to check out both sides of the motu!

Logistics: bring everything you need for the day. This includes snorkeling gear, waterproof bags (for the crossing – just in case), plenty of water, sunscreen, sandals, hat, locks, etc. Food can be bought from Snack Chez Mimi, which is also where you’ll start crossing. The lagoon should be shallow enough to cross there and back at all times, but just double-check at your pension and at the snack. While on the motu, stick to the beach.

Haranae Petroglyphs

Signposted off the main road a few hundred meters north of the village. The petroglyphs themselves were a little tricky to find, at least in my case. Follow the track until you’ll see a large rock with modern-looking carving – this is not it. Continue walking about halfway to the blue pumping station and enter the dry river bed to your left. You should be able to spot this turtle.

Petroglyph on Maupiti French Polynesia

Palais de la Mer

An odd-looking structure made entirely of coral rock and shells. This museum is close to the petroglyphs, along the main road. Open weekdays from 9-10:30 am and then from 3-5:30 pm.

Diving With Manta Rays

Seeing manta rays from up close is one of the top things to do in Maupiti. These magnificent creatures hang around an area known as the ‘cleaning station’ (see map), where small fish feed off the parasites that hang around the wings of the mantas. Think of it as ‘nature’s car wash’.

You can experience this spectacle by snorkeling as part of a lagoon excursion (see next) or from super up close as part of a scuba dive. There’s one dive center in Maupiti (currently), operated by the friendly Yannik. Maupiti Diving take up to four divers to the cleaning station daily, outside the lagoon when sea conditions are right and certify aspiring divers. One tank dives are 7,000F (cash only) and if you’re going for the manta rays – one dive is enough. You’ll soon see why.  

Diving in Maupiti French Polynesia

The dive begins with a very short 8-10 meter descent to the shallow bottom of the Maupiti lagoon. You get into position along the sandy floor in front of a few boulders that make up the ‘cleaning station’. Before you know it, 3-5 meter long manta rays swing right over your head and around the boulders, as small fish give them a good scrub. It’s a surreal experience that you’ll never forget.

Diving with manta rays in maupiti french polynesia closeup
Diving with manta rays in Maupiti French Polynesia
Diving in Maupiti French Polynesia two manta rays
Diving in Maupiti French Polynesia manta rays closeup
Diving in Maupiti French Polynesia manta cleaning station

Since we’re talking about such a shallow dive, you’ll be at the bottom for over an hour – so one dive is really enough. We weren’t lucky with the visibility on this particular day, as there was still lots of sand in the lagoon from a small storm the night before. If the weather is not good on the day you want to dive, I wouldn’t recommend going out. You’ll have another chance to see the manta rays on the lagoon excursion.

Maupiti Lagoon Tour

Along with the hike to the summit of mount Teurafaatiu and the magical day on Motu Auira, the lagoon tour in Maupiti will be the highlight of your vacation. Unlike the lagoon tours on other more visited islands in French Polynesia, the Maupiti lagoon tour is as low-key as the island is – and that’s a very big plus. All pensions offer their own version of the lagoon tour but all full-day versions should include a picnic lunch on a motu. I did the lagoon tour on two occasions with Sammy Maupiti Tours (6,000-7,000 XPF, depart at 9 am, back between 3-4 pm, free pick up/drop off). Whether booking through Sammy or with your pension hosts, a minimum number of passengers is usually required so try to do this activity on your first full day on the island if traveling in a small party.

On the day I went, Sammy was sick, so his father Gabi was running the tour. Though his English wasn’t amazing, he was the best lagoon guide I had in French Polynesia (and I did many lagoon tours). The tour starts with some snorkeling around the manta ray cleaning station. Visibility on this was great, so I was super happy to see these magnificent birds of the ocean after yesterday’s poor visibility dive. Gabi was quick to spot the rays, pointing them out as we were in the water in a game of hide and seek. We swam with the manta rays for a full hour before hopping back on the boat.

Lagoon tour Maupiti French Polynesia manta ray swimming

Lagoon tour in Maupiti French Polynesia swimming with manta ray

Gabi then took us on to the lagoon’s only pass, explaining to us the geology of his island paradise and how boats actually make in and out of this tiny hole in the reef to the outside world. The view of Maupiti and the neighboring Motus from this angle is spectacular. If you haven’t fallen in love with Maupiti up to this point, this will be the clincher.

Lagoon tour in Maupiti French Polynesia view of Maupiti from lagoon

Lagoon tour Maupiti French Polynesia beach on motu

We then sailed to a shallow spot in the lagoon which didn’t look like something out of the ordinary, that is until Gabi told us to get our snorkeling gear on and follow him into the Coral Garden. If I thought the snorkeling on the reef side of Motu Auira was the top choice, I didn’t know what was coming. The coral garden in Maupiti boasts some of the most pristine underwater scenery you’ll ever see. Schools of tropical fish live among the coral in unimaginable shape, color and size.

Coral Garden in Maupiti French Polynesia 12Coral Garden in Maupiti French PolynesiaCoral Garden in Maupiti French Polynesia 10Coral Garden in Maupiti French Polynesia 9Coral Garden in Maupiti French Polynesia 4Coral Garden in Maupiti French Polynesia 2Coral Garden in Maupiti French Polynesia 5

This was simply heaven and I didn’t want to leave. Gabi did not rush us at all and I could take my time doing a few rounds inside the coral garden.

I thought the visit to the Maupiti coral garden was the highlight of the day… that is until Gabi anchored the boat on the beach at Motu Pitihahei for a picnic lunch. The sign said “I love you Maupiti”, and whoever put that totally read my mind. What amazed me on every lagoon excursion in French Polynesia was the picnic lunch (usually referred to as ‘picnic motu’ because you’ll have it on one of the small islets in the lagoon, known as a motu). The locals are just so good at whipping up delicious meals in the middle of nowhere!

As Gabi was slicing up some tuna, curious stingrays came to check us out. They knew what was about to come. The tuna was then tossed on the fire as Gabi fetched a few coconuts and we began to make the poisson cru together. This is the ‘national dish’ of French Polynesia, a delicious mix of raw tuna, vegetables and coconut milk (here’s the recipe). To make the coconut milk, we all took turns cracking one open and scraping its white meat – looks easier said than done!

Lagoon tour Maupiti French Polynesia stingraysLagoon tour in Maupiti French Polynesia gabi cutting tunaLagoon tour in Maupiti French Polynesia coconut openLagoon tour Maupiti French Polynesia opening coconutLagoon tour in Maupiti French Polynesia opening a coconutLagoon tour in Maupiti French Polynesia tuna steaks

Lunch on our very own tropical beach was superb and I’ll never forget it. There was so much food that even the stingrays got their snack!

Lagoon tour sammy Maupiti tour feeding stingray

The tour ended with a round-the-island cruise, just to digest the food and the memorable sights of this beautiful island!

Here’s a look back at this magical day out in the lagoon.

Maupiti Lagoon Tour

If you’re interested to learn more about traditional Polynesian cuisine, some pensions offer a boat outing to a family-owned motu where you’ll prepare a traditional meal in an underground oven known as “umu”. 

Places To Eat In Maupiti

Dining options are very limited in Maupiti so most if not all pensions will be on a half-board basis meaning breakfast and dinner included. There are a few small grocery shops in the main village but they are quite limited in what they have in stock and their opening times are unreliable. As far as restaurants, Maupiti currently has two snacks (simple restaurants).

Snack Chez Mimi

Conveniently located in Tereia Beach, Snack Chez Mimi becomes quite the gathering spot by noon. It offers Polynesian dishes and simple sandwiches. 

Snack Tarona

I guess you could say that Snack Tarona is the fanciest option in Maupiti. The restaurant is lagoon side just outside of town. It’s open for lunch and after an afternoon nap opens again at 6 pm for dinner. They serve huge portions of traditional fish dishes and western favorites (~1,400F), but they also tend to top things off with huge scoops of garlic butter.

What’s Next?

I hope you’ve found this Maupiti Travel Guide useful. For more information about Maupiti and French Polynesia, check out these recommended guides.

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