In Travel

Tahiti Beyond The Bungalows

Tahiti requires little introduction. This beautiful, romantic island paradise in the South Pacific has made all of us swoon over its jungle-clad mountains, blinding white beaches, and ultra-glamorous overwater bungalows at least one time or another.

But, what else does it to have offer? After you’ve lounged on your private deck, enjoyed a few well-earned mai tais by the pool, and maybe snorkelled beneath your overwater bungalow for a bit, what else is there to do? The answer is quite a lot, actually.

Beyond the bungalows and Insta-worthy hammocks, Tahiti is a diverse destination with more than a few surprises in store. Here are three ways to get the most out of your visit:

Head for the hills and valleys

Moorea, Raiatea, Huahine, Bora Bora… each of the 118 islands that make up this stunning overseas collectivity feel as if they were cast from the same mould, with gorgeous stretches of sandy beaches, rocky headlands and crystal-clear waters that urge you to dive right in.

After a while though, you can begin to crave a little more from the trip. If you really want to uncover the unique wonders that each island has to offer, you need to venture inland – lush valleys, majestic mountain peaks, and lookouts with exceptional views await.

The island of Tahiti offers some of the most accessible hiking and cycling opportunities, and of those there are three names you need to know: Faraura Valley, a lush paradise with a well-marked trail leading you to waterfalls and hidden pools; Vaihi, a virgin jungle with 12 cascading waterfalls, each ranging from five to 30 metres; and Faananu, a popular hike on the east coast which is renowned for the beauty and diversity of its endemic vegetation.

Another worthwhile destination on Tahiti is Tahiti-iti, or ‘Little Tahiti’. Connected to the mainland by a small isthmus, this less developed and more adventurous part of the island requires some effort to get to – it’s only accessible by boat or on foot – but once you’re there, rugged landscapes, remote caves, and a taste of authentic Tahitian culture await.

It’s recommended to employ the assistance of an experienced local guide or join a guided tour, as they can bring the islands to life with colourful tales of the past and present.

Explore the depths

The wreck of the Goelette Photo: Supplied

From sheer vertical walls of The Marado to the shark-filled Tiputa Pass, which often sees grey reef sharks congregate en masse on a truly mind-blowing scale, Tahiti is a true diver’s dream come true. Mantas, whales, sharks, turtles… the only thing missing from the abundant waters is you.

Though not as well known, Tahiti actually boasts numerous wreck diving opportunities – including La Zélée, a French WWI gunboat, and the 30-metre Goelette cargo ship.

The Aquarium off Tahiti island is a popular entry level dive site, with a max depth of around 12-14 metres and an abundance of marine life including lionfish, angelfish and triggerfish. It’s also home to two schooners and a plane wreck, each creating a safe habitat for marine life.

Off the airport near Faa’a in Papeete lies a fantastic two-for-one dive site, the wreck of The Goelette cargo ship and a twin-engine Catalina WWII flying boat – scuttled to form an artificial reef in 1962. The ship begins at around 13-metres and descends to 25-metres, with divers able to swim the whole length of the ship through a jungle of wires, pipes and collapsed beams.

Equally impressive is the wreck of the Nordby, a three-masted ship which was sunk in 1900 after running aground west of Raiatea – known as the sacred island. Around 50-metres long and 7-metres wide, the wreck is inhabited by many species, in particular loaches and colourful nudibranchs.

Liveaboard dive trip operators such as Master Liveaboards, who operate the M/V French Polynesia Master, are a great way to experience some of the harder to reach dive sites.

Live your best life on the high seas

The Gauguin 2 Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

More than just marine life, the glittering waters of French Polynesia are also home to some of the most opulent small cruise ships afloat – many of which are based here year-round. If you want to discover the wonders of this island paradise, cruising is a great way to do it.

The all-inclusive MS Paul Gauguin, flagship of award-winning cruise brand Paul Gauguin Cruises, is one of the most lavish options available. In addition to its three five-star dining options, onboard spa, and 1:1.5 guest ratio (which means a more personalised service), it also has access to its own private island and private beach – plus a whole lot more.

Aranui is another upscale luxury offering, yet one with a more adventurous twist. Part freighter, part boutique cruise ship, the hybrid Aranui 5 is a key supply vessel for the region, which allows visitors to experience some of the more remote and less touristed islands including the mysterious Australs, the far-flung Gambiers, and the volcanic Marquesas.

No matter how you choose to spend your days, Tahiti will take your breath away.

Published 21 December, 2018