Trip to the Island of Tahiti (Part 1)

When you close your eyes (after you’re done reading this description, of course),  and you picture a tropics paradise in the middle of the ocean, with palm trees dipping their roots into the the ocean. An ocean that is so clear and blue, that you can see hundreds of fish swimming around pristine, vibrant coral reefs. And on that island, are thousand-foot mountain peaks covered with a dense green, jungle with waterfalls spilling over the edge. Can you picture it? Now, could you imagine a place like that existing, or is it just a figment of your imagination? Well, lucky for you, it’s real, and the located on one of the many island in the Pacific Ocean, and it’s called Tahiti!

Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, sits quite literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in the southern hemisphere. The closest major landmass is Australia, at a meager distance of over 3,000 miles away. But though it’s in the middle of the great blue ocean, it’s surrounded by 120 island all apart of the island collective known as French Polynesia. The most famous of these islands is one called Bora Bora, where you’ve no doubtably seen photos of those cute bungalows that are on stilts over the turquoise water. But we chose Tahiti for our big trip this year, not for the over-the-water bungalows (because we can’t afford them), but because of it’s tropical beauty that we’d seen in so many photos. Not to mention, Tahiti has one of the biggest waves in the world that I’d been seeing on the cover of Surfer Magazine since I was kid, called T’eahupoo. And, the flight to this middle-of-nowhere island was going to be as expensive and long as flying to the Caribbean for us flying out of Utah. Easiest decision ever!

The plan for this trip was to spend a few days on the island of Tahiti, then spend the remaining week of our trip on the sister island of Moorea. So we got off the plane Saturday morning after flying through the night on an 8hour flight from LAX, hopped in our tiny rental car with all our bags, and we were off to explore the island the best way we know how. And that is to simply drive and stop at anything that catches our attention. We quickly realized that we were going to be making a lot of stops. As we headed counter-clockwise around the island, the roads were lined with palm trees that climbed into the sky 20-30 feet. On the right, was a calm, pristine, blue water with waves crashing hundreds of yards away on the coral reef that surrounded the island. To the left, were the steep walls of green jungle that soared into the sky thousands of feet, the obvious remnants of a massive volcano that created this magical island. We stopped at beach after beach just to take in as much as we could, especially after the winter we had in Utah. 

Our first day was filled with road-side attractions that we just pulled over to explore. We witnessed a natural grotto that was filled with fresh water and covered in dangling vines looking like the entrance to a mythical tunnel. Following the grotto, we stumbled upon the Water Gardens Vaipahi which was the home to beautiful tropical flowers of every variety, not to mention dozens of “wild” chickens that roamed the park. There was also a trailhead here to a very steep, rooted hiking trail that lead us up to a waterfall and a panoramic view of the easter portion of Tahiti. Here we saw our first freshwater eel swimming in the pools above the waterfall. But we couldn’t stay for long because we had the rest of the island to explore, with our destination on T’eahupoo (not to surf but to see). 

On our way towards our next stop, we made it to the highly recommended oceanside seafood restaurant, La Plage de Maui. This was our first real experience with the local culture and people, and my wife and I quickly realized we did not know enough French. Very little, if none at all, English was spoken here. But that was no worries, because the view from our table that was right on the ocean, made up for everything. We split a seafood platter of various kinds of raw tuna, prepared simply with lemon, seasonings, or a coconut milk. This was also the first stop on the trip where we had our first local beer, named Hinano. A classic light beer, perfect to drink in a tropical place all day long. After lunch, we made it down to the end of the road, in the town of T’eahupoo, but unfortunately you can’t see the wave from town and need to take a boat out to the break. Disappointing to say the least, but there was plenty more beauty to be seen on this wonderful island.

Our first day of the trip did not end without a serious bit of excitement, at the most unlikely place. We rolled up to the lodging for the night, which was supposed to be a small establishment with a few bungalows on the property. Well, we go to check in with the owner, and he says we don’t have a reservation. I scrambled through my phone’s emails and anything I could find, only to have my stomach sink to the floor as I reached the same conclusion. Even though we picked this place to stay, I never followed through with the booking process. We had nowhere to sleep for the night. Thankfully, the owner, who spoke some of the best English we heard on the trip, was able to make room for us in one of his bungalows and quite literally save us. And it couldn’t have been better, because this property was right on the water with its own dock over the lagoon’s clear blue water. And we ended our long day of travel eating sushi from the grocery store (my favorite kind), drinking rum mixed with some mango and pineapple juice, and going to sleep under our first bug net.

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