Beyond Beaches & Bungalows: Tahiti's Great Outdoors
Tahiti. That word alone is enough to conjure images of a tropical paradise marked by sugary white beaches, swaying palm trees and impossibly blue waters basking in the heat of the summer sun. Chances are people who plan to travel to Tahiti are lured in by the islands’ world-famous beaches, vivid turquoise waters and wonderfully-rich marine life, and there’s no surprise there. Tahiti is a perfect beach getaway, but if you you're looking for something a little more adventurous, you may be asking: what else does Tahiti have to offer?
The answer is ‘a lot’. True, the Islands of Tahiti are prime beach destinations, but what escapes most people who visit Tahiti is that the same islands are covered with majestic mountains and graceful waterfalls, and an adventure inland is as much a must as a day at the beach. Myths, legends and cultural treasures are everywhere. There’s no telling what interesting story you might hear if you take time to mingle with the locals or what cultural gem you might stumble upon if you go hiking in Tahiti’s verdant forests. For lovers of the great outdoors or people who just like learning about history, cultures and customs, here is a rundown of some places you might want to check out if you find yourself in Tahiti.
The Valley of the Kings (Bora Bora)
Yes, Egypt is not the only one that has a Valley of Kings. Bora Bora’s Valley of the Kings, so named because of the noble and royal burial sites in the area, is where the island’s early history and culture are concentrated. Azdine Oualid, a University of France archaeology professor and a well-known hiking guide, claims to have unearthed 25 village sites, 7 temples and 10 tombs, including a 1,800-year-old burial site belonging to a noble and whose one stone carving is now housed in the national museum. The Valley is the most popular trail for hiking trips up the piercing peaks of Otemanu and Pahia, but is also a tour in itself with most visitors opting to skip the summits to explore the numerous archaeological sites instead.
Walk the Valley of the Kings and you’ll come upon the remains of a papau, or ‘ghost house’, where bodies of important people, nobles and kings were mummified for a year before burial. Don’t miss the enclosure topped off by an altar stone outside — it used to contain the battle-scarred bones of the island’s warriors.
Mounts Otemanu, Pahia & Ohue (Bora Bora)
Nothing in Bora Bora commands attention quite like the towering Mount Otemanu. Rising at a height of 727 metres above the lagoon, the verdant mountain not only creates a dramatic backdrop for vacation photos but also presents a challenge to hikers and adventurers. A full climb to the summit is not allowed because of its precarious rocks, but adventurous travellers can make a partial-summit climb instead with a hiking guide. Do not attempt the trip alone as some portions of the path require ropes and the trail can be confusing with its twists and turns. Other options are Mount Pahia, the second highest point in the island at 658 metres, followed by Mount Ohue at 619 metres. The summits of both mountains can be scaled but only with the help of climbing gears, and the trails are quite steep and rugged so it is strongly advised to hire a guide.
A hike at any of the three mountains is bound to be a rewarding experience with the wide variety of flora and fauna that you’ll get to encounter along the way, not to mention the spectacular views of the white-fringed islets and dazzling lagoons from the top that are enough to floor anyone.
The Three Cascades (Raiatea)
The Three Waterfalls of Raiatea, or Three Cascades, are actually one huge waterfall falling to the other two and creating pools of cold water perfect for cooling down after a hike. Each waterfall gets bigger and more impressive than the previous one, and you’ll totally miss a lot if you decide to call it a day at the first waterfall.
The falls are hidden in the island’s lush vegetation and can only be reached after a moderate-level hike. Note that this trip to the waterfalls is no walk in the park; there are sections in the trail that are quite steep and getting over them means using a rope to climb up. For a worry-free experience, don’t forget to bring a bug repellent, wear long sleeves and hire an experienced guide.
The Hitiaa Lava Tubes (Tahiti)
Hikers, this is one experience you wouldn’t want to miss! Located on Tahiti’s rocky east coast, Hitiaa’s lava tubes are three giant, elongated caves that make for a unique adventure. Darkness and cool air in the mossy caverns add thrill to the excursion, and the Mars-like landscape which was formed by rapidly-cooled hot lava gives the cobalt-black tunnels an otherworldly feel.
The first tunnel meanders at about 100 metres. After you’ve shimmied through it, you’ll emerge at the 300-metre second tunnel hidden behind two waterfalls. The trail proceeds and goes under a stone bridge which is actually the remains of a collapsed lava tube. The third and last tube is more complex, darker and longer. At 100 metres into it, the trail forks to an exit and a large cavern. Choose the cavern and be rewarded with a lake and waterfalls, with the cavern walls covered in tiny golden algae making for a surreal experience!
A great thing about the lava tube excursion is that you do not have to be a hardcore hiker to complete it. With good physical condition, a guide and a headlamp, you’re ready to be on your way swimming through waist-deep waters and capering over rocks.
Let our Tahiti travel specialists help you plan an excursion to any of the destinations above. Alternatively, you can also browse our tours and packages or give us a call at 1300 858 305 for expert advice on what to do or where to go in Tahiti other than its famous beaches.