Ready to begin the adventure of a lifetime? You’ll fly into Faaa International Airport and rent a car for ease of transport. (Taxis are available too, if you prefer not to drive.)
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.