Discover the Lesser-Known Islands of Tahiti
Tahiti is synonymous with all the islands in the French Polynesian region, particularly Bora Bora with its famously picturesque lagoon and dreamy overwater bungalows. Bora Bora often receives all the glory when it comes to Tahiti, but delightful French Polynesia has so, so much more to offer.
While the islands of French Polynesia are often referred to as Tahiti, the name technically only applies to just one of the French overseas collectivity’s 118 islands dispersed across five archipelagos: the Society Islands which is further divided into the Windward and Leeward island groups, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands, and the Austral Islands. Tahiti is the largest island in the Windward group and is where you’ll find Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia. Beautiful Bora Bora, meanwhile, is part of the Leeward group and located 230 kilometres from Papeete.
With more than a hundred islands all with their own brand of beauty, here are our top picks for incredible lesser-known Tahitian islands you might want to explore when you go island hopping in French Polynesia.
Tahiti (The Queen of the Pacific)
Of course, Tahiti comes first in this list. The island is often overlooked by people who travel to Tahiti, using it only as starting point of their trip and then proceeding to the other French Polynesian Islands. What most visitors just passing by the island don’t realize is they are missing out. Home to around 70% of the population, Tahiti can be an exciting place to explore, particularly if you’d want to see what French Polynesian life is like. Drop by the bustling Papeete market by day for some pearls, local crafts and exotic finds, and mingle with the locals as you grab dinner in the country’s famous roulottes (mobile food vans) that litter Vai'ete Square. For the more adventurous, take on a challenging hike in the island’s interior, or go ride a 4x4 and venture deep into the untamed Papeeno valley.
Moorea (The Magical Island)
If there’s a close rival to Bora Bora, it is definitely Moorea. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about the island that keeps people coming back and sometimes makes visitors forego Bora Bora all together. It might be its heart shape formed by its two deep bays, the lovely not-so-crowded white-sand beaches or the laidback island charm that will definitely lull you into taking it easy. Located mere 20 kilometres across the Sea of the Moon from Tahiti, Moorea is an accessible paradise offering opportunities for kitesurfing, hiking and kayaking. The beaches here are not grand and sweeping, offering instead intimate pockets of serenity ideal for those who crave privacy. Moorea’s warm waters are perfect for morning dips and there are plenty of excellent scuba diving spots. If feeding stingrays and sharks is your thing, you’ll be glad to know that it is pretty much a part of the daily routine in Moorea.
Huahine (The Garden of Eden)
If the nickname ‘Garden of Eden’ does not entice you, consider this: Huahine remains quite unchanged by time that many believe it is the most Polynesian of all Polynesian islands. It is exceptionally green and there’s no better location in all of French Polynesia for a lazy road trip. The real drawing card to Huahine though is the rich culture and history embedded everywhere you go in the island. Huahine is the best island to head to if you’re one for interesting histories, fantastic stories and intriguing myths and legends. The former seat of Tahitian royalty, Huahine has the largest concentration of top-notch archaeological sites and ancient marae (temples) in all of French Polynesia. Do your own version of temple run and explore the ancient temples dotting the coastline of Lake Maeva. You’ll find the biggest stone temple just outside Maeve Village, and while you’re at it, drop by the nearby Lake Fauna Nui where there are ancient stone fish traps considered so sacred only members of the royal family are allowed to remove them. Bring it up a notch and climb Matairea Hill where countless remnants of ceremonial and religious monuments can still be seen today.
Rangiroa (The Endless Lagoon)
Arguably the biggest natural aquarium in the world, Rangiroa is one massive necklace adorning the South Pacific Ocean. It is the second biggest coral atoll in the entire world and with Moana-tea (Peaceful Ocean) and Moana-uwi (Wild Ocean) enclosing it, divers all around the globe just can’t help but have a field day in Rangiroa’s waters. What Rangiroa lacks in beautiful beaches, it more than makes up for with its Tiputa Pass. Go conquer the depths and be upclose and personal with huge manta rays, dolphins and sharks. For a more fun experience, time your dive when the tide is just coming in from the ocean and say yes to an incredible drift dive!
Tikehau (The Eden Island)
For lazy days in the sun, no place is better than Tikehau. With a name that literally translates to “peaceful landing”, the exceptional atoll of Tikehau meets all expectations when it comes to private, low-key island holiday. You’ll find several small white and pink sand islets swathed with coconut palms in Tikahau, and like most Tahitian islands, abundant marine life resides in its clear turquoise waters. It is said to have higher concentration of fish than any other French Polynesian lagoon, so any snorkelling or diving excursion is bound to be full of surprises. Snappers, barracudas, lionfish, parrotfish, and clownfish will swarm you as soon as you wade into the waters on the western shore around the Tuheiava Pass. Watch out for reef sharks and if you’re lucky, you might also chance upon some manta rays.
Raiatea (The Sacred Island)
If myths and legends intrigue you and hidden temples and mysterious ruins make your heart beat faster, Raiatea won’t disappoint. Raiatea, whose name means “faraway heaven”, is believed to be the original birthplace of Polynesia. The island figures in numerous local legends as Hawaiki or “the homeland”, the origin point of all the huge double-hulled sailing canoes that set out to conquer New Zealand and Hawaii. Raiatea is also held as the final resting place for the ancestors’ spirits, keeping Raiatea as a place of pilgrimage until today. Embark on a safari tour and go deep into the wild interior of the island to reach Marae Taputapuatea, the site where navigators and Polynesian priests gathered and offered sacrificed a thousand years ago. Marae Taputapuatea is also the most well-preserved and revered religious site in Polynesia.
Add to that the towering Mount Temehani, the Polynesian counterpart of Mount Olympus, rising in the island’s northern part and you’ll get why Raiatea is considered the most sacred of all the islands in French Polynesia. If you’re the adventurous type, why not climb this legendary mountain? At nearly 2,400 tall, Mount Temehani is a challenging hiking experience! Just imagine the endless spectacular views at the top, and did we mention that the Tiare Apetahi, a splendid and really, really rare flower shaped like a hand, only grows on Mount Temehani’s plateau? It is said to be the true symbol of the South Pacific and be sure to ask about the legends surrounding it! One that you’ll definitely hear from the locals is how the soft sound of its petals opening at dawn is reminiscent of a woman’s heart breaking.
Fakarava (End of the World)
Walls of sharks, hello! Fakarava is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a veritable wonderland for divers. The extensive coral atoll is a wold-class scuba diving destination and home to beautiful remote beaches perfect for lazy afternoons. And yes, there’s a pink sand beach in the island! For divers, the 20-metre Alibaba Canyon or Alibaba’s Cave is a treasure trove of fish. Schools of bigeyes and snappers here can be so dense and if you’re a photographer too, let’s just say it’s going to be like you’ve been handed the cake on your birthday!
Give us a call at 1300 858 305 or enquire for expert advice on the best places to explore in Tahiti. Our team of Tahiti travel specialists is brimming with suggestions and ideas to create a memorable itinerary for your trip to Tahiti.