Tahiti Iti: The Forgotten Island
Little Tahiti is right next to Big Tahiti
By Celeste Brash
The smaller part of the figure eight that makes up the island of Tahiti, Tahiti Iti literally means "little Tahiti." It is separated by a small isthmus from Tahiti Nui, or "big Tahiti."
Starting from the largest town of Taravao, the south coast road ends at the town of Teahupoo and the north coast road ends at Tautira. There is no road access along the southeast coast, called the Fenua Aihere. The central plateau road heads up the sloping mountains for cooler air and views of Tahiti Nui.
By-passed by the tourist industry, this magnificent region boasts clear waters, waterfalls, archeological sites and caves.
This is not the glamorous Tahiti of tourist brochures, but rather a destination to experience a simple and authentic Polynesia. People here are friendly, natural and still interested in new faces that have come so far to visit. This is one of the only regions left in French Polynesia where you can find wild coastline accessible only by boat or on foot. Here, you’ll also find one of the most dangerous and famous surfing waves in the world.
WHEN TO GO
November to April is the rainiest region of Tahiti, so it is best to come during the dry season: May through October.
Note: During the first two weeks of May, the Tahiti Gotcha Pro Surf Contest brings crowds from Papeete and abroad to Teahupoo. It is extremely difficult to find accommodation at this time, so unless you really want Kelly Slater’s autograph, it’s best to avoid the area.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Fly first to Faa’a International airport on Tahiti Nui. The cheapest flights are with Corsair, a French charter company that runs flights from Paris via either Oakland International or LAX in California. Other companies that serve Faa’a are: Air Tahiti Nui, Air France, AOM, Hawaiian Air, Air New Zealand, Polynesian Air and Lan Chile.
You can get around Tahiti Iti by car, le truck, or hitching.
There are plenty of car rental agencies at the airport and in Papeete. Expect to pay around $40 US per day.
This is the most colorful and local way to travel. Trucks run from Papeete and Faa’a Airport to Tautira and Teahupoo via Taravao about every hour and a half. Scheduled trucks do not always arrive and you might find yourself waiting a few hours for the next one to show up. The cost is 350 CFP, which is about US$3.
Those who don’t want to wait around for the truck can try hitching, which is fairly safe and popular in Tahiti. Women should never hitch alone and no one should ever get in a car where they can see the driver or passengers have been drinking.
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTION
Surfing the internationally renowned wave at Havae Pass in Teahupoo is recommended only for experts. There is a smaller beach break, good for beginners and boogie boarders in the town of Pueu on the road to Tautira
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
The caves, petroglyphs and marae (temples) of the Fenua Aihere are hard to get to, but definitely worth the visit. The Te Pari Cliffs on the southeastern coast, are the wildest and un-visited region of this area.
BEST ACTIVITY OR TOUR
Walking the Fenua Aihere is not to be missed. There are two reliable guides:
- Zena Angelien
Tel: +689 57 22 67
- Mata of Presqu’Ile Loisirs
Tel: + 689 57 00 57
Zena begins his trips from Teahupoo and leads two to three-day treks. Mata starts from Tautira and does day or overnight excursions. Both are highly knowledgeable.
In the town of Teahupoo, many families have constructed small bungalows or extra rooms on their homes to accommodate the large number of surfers that come for the Gotcha Pro Surf Contest. These families are happy to take paying visitors year round. Contact the mayor’s office at +689-57-19-51 to find out who are currently taking guests. This is a rare opportunity to live with Tahitian families who are not in the tourist industry.
- Dance Classes
For people on longer stays, there are a number of Tamure (Tahitian dance) courses, usually run by the month. Women and men are taught together, although the masculine and feminine dances are quite different. The most highly recommended school is Ui Rangi, Tel: +689-57-72-59.
In Taravao you’ll find Fare Nana’o, one of the most original lodgings in French Polynesia. Choices range from a tree house to over the water bungalows. The architecture is naturalistic, yet decidedly Polynesian.
- Fare Nana’o
Tel: +689 57 18 14
Fax: +689 57 76 10
For a lost-on-a-desert island experience, head for Pension Bonjouir, accessible only by boat about ten minutes from the Teahupoo dock.
- Pension Bonjouir
Tel: +689 57 02 15
Fax: +689 43 69 10
On the plateau road, with lovely views and a European feel is Chez Jeannine. The attached Eurasian Restaurant prepares a surprisingly good, if not odd, melange of Vietnamese, Chinese and French cuisines. Equipped bungalows are 7900 CFP (about $70 US) per night and double rooms are 5000 CFP (about US$43) per night.
- Chez Jeannine
Tel: +689 57 07 49
Facing beautiful Motu Nono (a small islet on the outer reef) on the road to Tautira, Fare Maithe, offers simple, pension style accommodation. Double rooms are 6300 CFP (about $US47) per night and singles are 5700 CFP (about US$43).
- Fare Maithe
Tel: +689 57 18 24
Chez Loula and Remy on the corner of the Tautira road in Taravao serves excellent wood-fired pizzas and French cuisine. It’s pricier than other restaurants in the area, but worth a splurge.
Snack Eric at the first left on the road to Teahupoo is unarguably the best "snack" (a takeout restaurant that serves local dishes) in the area. Try their pork and taro or Chinese duck. Prices here are very reasonable.
The surfers’ choice, Snack Hinerava, at the end of the road in Teahupoo is the place to go if you’re really hungry. Their Poisson cru (marinated raw fish in coconut milk) served with rice is excellent and can easily feed two people.
BEST LOCAL HAUNTS
The best food bargains are at roulottes, mini restaurants on wheels that pull into various parking lots at dinnertime. This is where most locals get their take out and there are usually a group of "regulars" hanging out. If you are friendly and speak a little French or Tahitian, you’ll be a big hit and will probably make some new friends. Look for roulottes in front of schools, businesses and in people’s front yards.
If you’re looking for any sort of nightlife, you’ll have to drive an hour and a half to the bars, discos and cultural performances in Papeete. Tahiti Iti is asleep by 9 PM even on Saturday night.
There is not much shopping in Tahiti Iti but there are a few artisans who sell their wares locally. On the roadside near the road’s end in Teahupoo there is a woodcarver who sells to’ere (Tahitian drums) and model outrigger canoes. Drums are priced between 2000 CFP (US$17) and 15000 CFP (US$125) and canoes begin at 5000 CFP (US$40). This is considerably less than what you’d expect to pay at the market in Papeete.
There is a crafts shop in the town center of Vairao that is communally run by a large group of older Tahitian seamstresses. They sell Tifaifai, (Tahitian hand sown quilts) pillow covers, stuffed animals made from Tahitian print fabrics and woven baskets. The selection is often poor, but prices are very low and with some luck you might find a real bargain.
For more standard gifts, Hyper Champion in Taravao sells pareu, vanilla beans packaged for gifts, liquors from Moorea and local jams stocked among its ordinary supermarket products. Prices here are higher than what you’ll find closer to Papeete.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
Australian and EU citizens are given a three-month visa upon entry. Citizens of the US, Canada, Japan and most South and Central American countries are allowed to stay one month, but can apply for three month visas either at French consulates abroad or at the airport in Tahiti with proof of sufficient funds and lodging arrangements. Everyone except French nationals needs a return ticket.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Staph infection is very common, and it is important to clean and dress even the smallest wounds, especially coral scrapes. The only insect-borne disease that visitors will need to worry about is Dengue Fever. The rare outbreaks usually occur during the rainy season. Best to bring DEET insect repellent, although most of the lodgings in the area provide mosquito nets.
Stonefish are the primary ocean danger, so it’s important not to walk barefoot in the water. Most local stores sell plastic "reef walking" sandals for around $5 US.
If you need medical attention, French Dr. Nicolas Salvan (Tel: 57-77-18) in Toahotu went to medical school in the US and speaks flawless English with a Southern drawl.
For real emergencies, there is a hospital in Taravao, but anything serious will be needed to be treated in Papeete.
MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Banque de Tahiti and Socredo both have branches in Taravao that can exchange foreign currency and have ATM machines. Every town in Tahiti Iti has at least one pay phone, usually at the town center, and phone cards can be purchased at all medium to large-sized markets. Long distance calls can be made at pay phones or at the well-equipped post office in Taravao. The only cyber cafes in French Polynesia are in Papeete.
Offers a good overview of French Polynesia with everything from history to weather to airline information.