Roam Tahiti like you never imagined

Whilst the mention of Tahiti conjures up images of beyond-blue lagoons, pristine beaches, and overwater bungalows, there’s a little-known side to the islands that make for a very different kind of holiday – the adventurous kind.

Beyond the luxury resorts and well-known holiday hotspots of Bora Bora and Moorea, the more remote islands offer largely unknown experiences – many of which are perfect for adventure travellers. From hiking to camping to cave tours and adrenaline sports, adventure certainly awaits in paradise.

On land, the island itself has a landscape great for hiking that allows more seasoned hikers to traverse majestic peaks and view archeological sites including limestone caves that were originally tombs for islander’s ancestors. If cultural adventure is more your thing, September brings with it a traditional tattoo festival that enables you to leave with permanent memories of the inked variety!

Little Tahiti

Photo Credit: Frédéric Cristol

Regardless of your final destination, your Tahitian adventure will commence on the main island of Tahiti. What many people don’t know about the mainland is that its lesser-known little sister – Tahiti Iti – is part of the island and offers an abundance of adventure. “Little Tahiti” requires some effort to get to and is only accessible by boat or foot, but once there, a truly authentic taste of Tahitian culture and rugged landscapes begging to be explored await those who put in the effort to get there. The smaller loop is where you’ll find traditional Polynesian villages, archaeological sites, pristine beaches, and caves. You’ll likely need a guide to help you make your way into some of the sites and caves that are well known to locals, but which tourists rarely find.

Mystical Nuku Hiva

Photo Credit: Myles McGuinness

Across the pristine waters on the mystical island of Nuku Hiva, a lush rainforest offers adventures of a different kind. Hiking through the dense landscape, you’ll often encounter wild horses, boars and goats roaming, and with the highest waterfall in The Islands of Tahiti, the looming cliffs look out onto the vast ocean, and you’ll likely spot the pod of melon-headed dolphins that live close to the coast. For the thrill-seekers, Nuku Hiva also makes for incredible diving. Dive with the manta rays, jackfish, swordfish and sharks of various species and sizes that are all just off the shores of the black sandy beaches. There are a variety of organised dives and tours that are perfect for solo travellers or groups of adventurers.

Eden of Tubuai

Photo Credit: Frédéric Cristol

Activity-based adventures also abound on the tropical Eden of Tubuai. Boasting truly stunning waters and constant winds, Tubuai makes the perfect destination for water activities. The low-lying mountains also promise plenty of hiking routes which are perfect for those wanting an easier start into their adventure holidays.

Diving Tahiti

Photo Credit: Bernard Beaussier

For the truly adventurous, the option of diving into the open sea to swim with the world’s biggest animals may appeal. Rurutu, the island of whales, offers exquisite views from both land and water and between August and October it becomes home to families of humpback whales. One of few places in the world that swimming with humpback whales is possible, this breathtaking experience is not for the faint-hearted but promises memories to last a lifetime.

Surfing the waves

Photo Credit: Steve Dickinson

Most well-known for being home to the world’s heaviest wave, the famed reef break of Teahupoo, Tahiti offers many surf spots for visitors and locals alike to find the perfect waves. The best time to surf in Tahiti is from May to August during the dry season. The surf breaks along the south and southwest coasts are reef breaks, with large hollow waves similar to those found in Hawaii. Another popular season for surf is October to March when swells from the north and are generally better for less experienced surfers as they are less heavy and more wall-like than the hollow waves that hit in the summer. Powerful waves can be surfed all year round and you’ll find plenty of barrels here. The water stays between 80 degrees year-round.

While Teahupoo is definitely the best spot for the pros, you can find good surfing all over the island of Tahiti and the neighbouring island of Moorea. For beach breaks, you can stay in the northern part of Tahiti and scope out the black sand beaches of Papenoo. Here the locals and visitors ride waves which are about 2-3 feet. For something a little more intense visit Papara where waves are rolling in at 4-6 feet. Another great spot is Passe de Maraa, where the waves are fast, hollow, shallow and towering at 4-7 feet tall.

You can reach the nearby island of Moorea from Tahiti via a short ferry ride. Here you can find more great surfing options. At Haapiti beach, you can find more gentle waves reaching about head high. The water is crystal clear, and you can see the coral breaks. You may want to hire a boat to reach this spot or face a 40-minute paddle from the town.

On the other side of Moorea is Temae, a great spot for barrels that is coveted by the locals. Near the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa on the island of Moorea is a little spot known as Hauru, a narrow cut in the reef on the northern coast. Currents are strong here and you can also search out sharks on the nearby motus.

Localise your stay

Photo Credit: Stéphane Mailion Photography

Regardless of your preferred style of adventure, The Islands of Tahiti also has a range of accommodations often considered better suited to the solo adventure traveller than a luxury resort. Guesthouses provide an authentic island stay experience and are a perfect option for a solo traveller. Usually, traditional Polynesian fare are found in locations that are not yet too well known and therefore are very scenic, so staying in this style of accommodation not only opens the door to authentic Tahitian hospitality but also parts of the islands that you may not otherwise venture to.

Staying in a small family-run guesthouse is an opportunity for total immersion in the daily life of a Polynesian family, and in addition to the home-stay-style accommodation, hosts provide the opportunity to share, see, understand, feel and experience life in the islands as if you were a family member returning home. Examples of shared activities include fishing in the lagoon with your hosts, discovering local products and cuisine, or hiking the mountains with the family’s children in search of waterfalls and pools to swim in.

The welcoming and spontaneous warmth of a Polynesian family synonymous with a guesthouse stay is a unique experience that combines tourism in search of authenticity with friendliness, quiet and intimacy, discovery, and open space. Staying in a guesthouse is also a way to play a role in safeguarding and protecting local heritage and the environment.

For those who want to get even closer to nature, pitching a tent in Tahiti is also an option. It’s not well known that you can camp in locations across the Islands of Tahiti – but it’s a great opportunity to really experience the feeling of being embraced by Mana.

The following campsites are available:

Moorea : Camping Nelson, Mark’s place Moorea

Huahine : Pension Armelle Fare Te Nahe Toe Toa

Raiatea : Pension Te Maeva

Maupiti : Pension Auira

Rangiroa : Chez Nanua, Rangiroa Lodge

Fakarava : Relais Marama

Camping is less developed in French Polynesia than in other tourist destinations, so those wanting to camp should be prepared to bring their own equipment as campgrounds seldom provide them. You can purchase tents and camping equipment in Tahiti at a sports outlet or a department store before heading off on a perfect island adventure – just for one.

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Kate Webster is a world traveller, ocean lover and conservation warrior who is determined to make every moment count for not only herself but the world around her. This has inspired Kate to translate those moments and share them through her storytelling. A dedicated David Attenborough and Jane Goodall fan, Kate has delved into the world of wildlife and conservation travel to bring awareness.