Worth a Trip: Tetiaroa
Leased by Marlon Brando in 1965 after he filmed Mutiny on the Bounty and fell in love with his Tahitian co-star Tarita Teriipia, the stunning atoll of Tetiaroa, 59km north of Tahiti, is now the home of the country's most luxurious 'eco' resort, the Brando, with its 35 outlandishly plush villas. While Brando was alive, the atoll remained a bird preserve and housed only one small pension where visitors could live like Robinson Crusoe in paradise. Brando, a pioneer of ecotourism, always made it clear that he wished the island to remain preserved and that any development would have to be ecologically sound and conform aesthetically to the atoll. Brando died in 2004, and by 2005 his estate executors had sold the rights to development to a major property developer in Tahiti.
The Brando has made a valiant attempt to be sustainable via renewable energy, a cooling system that uses sea water and use of only solar- or human-powered vehicles (among other things), but its critics (notably The Brando-Apocalypse Now, find them on Facebook) claim that the building of the resort was incredibly destructive to the atoll due to its extraction of sand and coral from the lagoon and cultural sites from the land.
There's an airstrip on the island available only to guests of the resort (flights cost around 53,000 CFP return). The only other way to get to the island is by charter yacht, a few of which line up along the Pape’ete waterfront advertising lovely day trips to the atoll. These trips visit several other spots around the atoll, but not the resort.
Worth a Trip: Inland Thrills
Archaeological remains, mossy, velvet-green mountains and sensational vistas await you in Tahiti Nui’s lush (and uninhabited) interior.
Papenoo to the Relais de la Maroto
The very rough 18km 4WD route from Papenoo on the north coast to the Relais de la Maroto motel follows the wide Papenoo Valley, the only valley to cut right through the volcanic interior of Tahiti. In Papenoo, the turn-off is just past PK17. The Papenoo River is the largest on Tahiti. When Christianity began to spread along the coastal regions, the Papenoo Valley became a last refuge for those faithful to the ancient Polynesian religion, and until 1846 it was also a shelter for the Tahitian rebel forces that opposed the French takeover. There are several waterfalls along the valley, including the Topatari Waterfall, the Vaiharuru Waterfall and, further, the Puraha Waterfall. Between the Vaiharuru Waterfall and the Puraha Waterfall lies the Marae Vaitoare, a well-preserved sacred site. Then the track reaches the Relais de la Maroto.
Around the Relais de la Maroto
The Relais de la Maroto is the only place to stay and eat, smack in the lush heart of the island. It was originally built as accommodation quarters for workers on the hydroelectricity project that began in 1980. Under new ownership, there are plans to completely rebuild it over the next few years. However it turns out, it will be sure to offer sensational mountain views. The restaurant is a great spot to break the journey.
The restored Marae Farehape site is almost directly below the ridge line on which the Relais de la Maroto perches; you can see an archery platform from where arrows were shot up the valley. Another archaeological site, Marae Anapua, has also been beautifully restored and is worth a gander.
From Relais de la Maroto to Mataiea
From Relais de la Maroto, the track makes a very steep and winding climb to a pass and a 200m-long tunnel, at a height of about 800m, before plunging down to Lake Vaihiria (450m). Most tours stop here before returning via the same route; at the time of research the road was closed further down the valley due to a barricade built by the area’s residents. Legal proceedings were under way to ensure that the road would remain accessible both to visitors and Tahiti’s hydroelectric company workers. Check when you’re on Tahiti.
The best way to explore the area is to join a 4WD tour. Specialised 4WD operators do the Papenoo-to-Vaihiria route regularly. Full-day trips cost 6500 CFP; children under 10 are half-price and hotel pick-up is included. You’ll stop at Relais de la Maroto for lunch (not included). The following are a few favourite operators:
Tahiti Safari Expeditions This is the biggest operator, with reliable standards.
Ciao Tahiti Comfy 4WDs and good credentials.