French Polynesia’s once-famous le trucks have now mostly gone to bus heaven. The ‘real’ air-con buses (still often referred to as le trucks) now, in theory, only stop at designated stops (with blue signs) and run to a timetable, but in reality the routes haven’t changed and the drivers will usually stop if you wave them down.
Weekdays, buses around Pape’ete and along the west and north coasts operate roughly every 15 minutes from dawn until about 5.30pm except for the Pape’ete–Faa’a–Outumaoro line, which supposedly operates 24 hours but in reality gets very quiet after 10pm. Buses to Taravao run about every hour from around 5am to 5pm, and buses to/from Teahupoo or Tautira run hourly (and sometimes less frequently) between 5am and 10am, plus one or two services towards Teahupoo and Tautira only in the afternoon. At the weekend, particularly on Sunday, services are far less frequent. Fares for the shortest trips, say from Pape’ete to a little beyond the airport, start from 200 CFP (100 CFP for children and students). Outside this area, the prices are less clear. Out to about 20km from Pape’ete, the fare will go up in stages to around 400 CFP; getting to Tahiti Iti costs 600 CFP.
Tahiti’s buses have their route number and the final destination clearly marked. There are basically three routes: greater Pape’ete, which is handy for the Pape’ete–Faa’a airport trip (catch this along Rue du Général de Gaulle); the east coast (catch this along Blvd Pomare); and the west coast (catch this along Rue du Maréchal Foch and Rue du Général de Gaulle). Both the east- and west-coast buses can be taken to reach Tahiti Iti.
Driving on Tahiti is quite straightforward, and although accident statistics are not encouraging, the traffic is fairly light once you get away from Pape’ete. Apart from on the Route de Dégagement Ouest (RDO) freeway out of Pape’ete to the west, the traffic saunters along at an island pace. As always, beware of children, dogs and chickens wandering on the road, and prepare yourself for a rather casual approach to overtaking. Don’t leave anything in view in your car and always lock up; hire cars all have big orange stickers on them, which can act like a thief magnet.
For the price you’ll be paying, you may be unpleasantly surprised by the standard of hire cars. Rates start at about 4000 CFP per day with local companies, but expect 8000 CFP per day or more from internationally run places. Prices drop after three days.
Most car-hire companies on Tahiti are based at Faa’a airport and stay open until the last departure. They can deliver vehicles to hotels and pensions on the west coast. Some companies also have desks at the bigger hotels.
Hitching in Tahiti is relatively easy and you’ll see both locals and popaa (Westerners) standing on the tarmac with their thumbs in the air. Still, hitching is never entirely safe and while French Polynesia has low crime levels, solo women in particular could still encounter problems and should always use common sense. Avoid hitching on Friday and Saturday nights, when the roads are filled with alarmingly intoxicated drivers.