The Islands of Tahiti may conjure up images of overwater bungalows and honeymoon suites, but they also offer a natural playground that’s rife with adventure for travelers wanting to go it alone. With more than 500 outdoor activities spread over 118 islands, there are no shortage of thrills here for the sporty traveler. Try spelunking through lava tubes in search of hidden pools and waterfalls on Tahiti, or cruising by charter boat along the crystalline waters of Raiatea, which aptly translates as “Faraway Heaven.” The many intrepid ways to get your adrenaline pumping on this trip are equally invigorating whether you’re on your own, linking up with old friends, or joining new ones you’ve yet to meet.
Use this 10-day itinerary to navigate among awe-inspiring activities and outings spread across four fascinating islands. You’ll have your choice of activities, from surfari excursions on the big island of Tahiti and transparent kayaking on what’s thought of as its “little sister” Moorea, to sailing and snorkeling excursions on two spectacular islands protected by the same barrier reef, Raiatea and Tahaa.
Itinerary / 10 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
There are no shortage of excellent options for lodging including places with plenty of local charm that also immerse guests in the island environment. A low-key boutique hotel with five individually decorated suites, each decorated with a lively mix of handicrafts, patterns, and artwork, Hôtel Fenua Mata’i’oa is one of the smaller options on the island. It’s intimate like a guesthouse, but with a restaurant and full bar and lomilomi massages—a welcome reward after what will be days filled with adventurous outings. Alternatively, housed on the wilder south side of Tahiti near Teahupoo, Vanira Lodge is widely considered the island’s best boutique lodging. Its idyllic location—on the mountain side of the road up a steep driveway—offers sweeping views of the lagoon, while bungalows feature a beautiful combination of bamboo, coral, rock, reed, and stained glass. You can’t go wrong at either place.
There are tons of outdoor adventures to be had here on the big island, so pace them out as you like, taking time to luxuriate on the soft black sand beaches in between more active spurts. To start, why not jump right in to the culture with the ultimate traditional Polynesian sport, a Va’a outing? Learn how to paddle like a real Tahitian using a Polynesian outrigger canoe at coaching sites located in the cities of Arue and Vairao.
The island is so vast it provides awe-inspiring hiking opportunities for every experience level, from easy and moderate to more advanced hiking trails. On the entry-level side of things, the Papenoo Valley is home to some of the most popular hiking trails in Tahiti, offering a well-rounded glimpse of the island’s landscape: waterfalls, ancient archaeological sites, tropical vegetation, and picturesque canyons. You’ll also find the only hike in Tahiti with access to the Mount Orohena volcanic crater. (For those who prefer a motorized journey, Marama Tours offers a 4×4 tour of the valley.)
For moderate and advanced hikers, the Hitiaa lava tubes near Taravao are a can’t-miss. Formed hundreds of thousands of years ago when hot lava cooled and rapidly hardened, it makes for an unbelievable spelunking experience; you’ll have to hike in the darkness and swim during this adventure through the cave system. The payoff for the extra effort: lava tubes, hidden pools, waterfalls—and bragging rights. And finally, for the advanced hiker, enjoy fascinating local flora along the lush, well-marked trail up Mount Aorai (the third-highest peak in Tahiti, rising 2,066 meters). It winds along a narrow ridge, so a guide is recommended for safety reasons. When you reach the top, the panoramic views from the summit are some of the best in the world.
While the daredevil waves off Teahupoo village on the southwestern coast are strictly for the most experienced surfers, Fenua Aihere Surfaris will get you up close to the break to safely watch the surfers in action (without actually surfing yourself). It’s a chance to witness what is said to be the most dangerous surf break in the world, where the glassy swells have a rare combination of size, power, and speed, made more perilous because they break over a sharp coral reef lying only meters below the surface.
If land and sea excursions aren’t quite enough, go for some high drama with a sunset skydiving trip over the lagoons or paragliding trip through steep-sided valleys. Want even more high-flying adventure? Aerobatics are for true thrill-seekers. After taking off from Faaa airport with a pilot-instructor, you’ll have the opportunity to improve your flying skills high above the lagoon. Lessons are offered at every level, from beginner to pilot’s license. Or just kick back and enjoy the view with a discovery flight around Tahiti.
Choose among excellent options to fuel up throughout each day. For breakfast and lunch, Café Maeva has strong French coffee, smoothies, pastries, and proper meals up on the second floor of Papeete’s popular Le Marché shopping complex. For lunch or dinner, try Plage de Maui for toes-in-the-sand dining, and feast on fresh caught steamed line fish and local produce. And at least one night, head to O Belvédère for dinner; set on a hill some 2,000 feet above Papeete, with impossible views of the sea and Moorea beyond, O Belvédère is the place locals take visitors for thrilling sunsets and exceptional food.
The bright turquoise waters of the lagoon are Moorea’s crown jewel, and there’s no better way to explore them than to rent a transparent kayak and paddle through the fish-filled lagoon—that’ll give you a view of the underwater realm that’s near impossible to beat. You might also try stand-up paddleboarding here. For an even more relaxing option, opt for a cruise, floating around the lagoon on a catamaran or sailboat.
Diving and snorkeling take the experience one step deeper, as you get an intimate view of some of the hundreds of species of marine life that call the lagoon home. Stingrays, hawksbill turtles, spinner dolphins, and humpback whales all frequent the waters here. Snorkeling excursions often anchor at Opunohu Bay and Cook’s Bay, or at the protected Lagoonarium, where rainbow-colored fish slalom their way around the reef. Divers keep an eye out for sharks, from lemon sharks to blacktip reef sharks, at Tiki Point and the Garden of Roses.
To explore the rugged island by land, go for a 4WD safari tour. Drive by pineapple fields, enjoy stunning views from Magic Mountain, and stop at a local distillery. Many of these same sights can be reached by all-terrain vehicle, which visitors can drive following a guide along a designated route. For adventures on foot, Moorea has a collection of well-signposted hiking trails. Follow Three Coconuts Pass from the Belvedere for views of the green peak of Mount Mouaputa or attempt to summit the 2,951-foot (900-meter) Mount Rotui. The Mount Rotui ascent is steep and strenuous, but the views from the top more than make up for it. Guided half- and full-day hikes are offered through Viator, and full-day hikes for magnificent sea and mountain views are available via Mer et Montagne Excursions.
You have several delicious choices for filling the tank properly every day, from breakfast at Iarona Smoothie, a little shack across from Aimeo Lodge in Cook’s Bay for acai bowls and smoothies, to lunch at Allo Pizza, for surprisingly delicious ‘za. Excellent dinner possibilities include Snack Mahana for Tahitian dishes, such as coconut mahi-mahi or poisson cru as you take in refreshing sea breezes. And there’s more refined dining at the Moorea Beach Club where you can enjoy flavors like chorizo and scallop risotto while savoring picture-postcard sunsets.
Fill at least one of your days with a heavenly sailing experience here; it’s the top yachting location in The Islands of Tahiti, with more charter companies and marinas settled around Raiatea than anywhere else. Charter a yacht and escape to some of the most sought-after sailing waters in the world, surrounding an environment with plentiful volcano craters and waterfalls to behold. A large number of moorings, bays that are deep and calm, and excellent sailing conditions mean you’ll easily cruise to the other peaceful Leeward Islands, all as beautiful inside or outside the lagoon.
For more waterborne activities, divers can discover the wonder that awaits in the clear lagoon waters with day or night-time dives. Raiatea also has the only navigable river in French Polynesia (said to be the departure point for Polynesian migrations to Hawaii and New Zealand), so you’ll want to take an outrigger canoe ride in the heart of this dense tropical forest that’s rich with purau, or yellow Hibiscus, and bamboo.
Another day rise early for a morning hike along Mount Temehani, which shelters some 30 other endemic plants including the tiare ‘apetahi. Found nowhere else in the world and a symbol of Raiatea, the half-circle of this delicate white flower only blooms at dawn. Be sure to also visit Marae Taputapuatea, the most famous landmark on the island and a World Heritage site said to be the cradle of Eastern Polynesia’s traditional religious practice.
For lunch, try Snack Hailing, a walk-up snack bar in the public square opposite the Gare Maritime. And if you want to explore dining options outside of your hotel, Les roulottes, the island’s food trucks, make for a colorful way to sample locally made cuisine. Look for them at Gare Maritime in the middle of Uturoa’s business district, and in the seaside park north of the business district.
One full day should be enough, but if you succumb to the island’s quiet charms and want to spend a night here, try Fare Pea Iti and one of its handful of bungalows on the water. It’s intimate enough to sit with the owner and watch the hotel’s chef prepare the evening’s meal. Then water taxi back to Raiatea airport, and fly home from here, via a connecting flight at Tahiti’s Faaa International Airport.