Driving around the island of Tahiti is a worthwhile activity. It can be done in about 2 hours without stops in a car and can be bicycled in 3 to 4 hours. Either way, you’ll want to stop and see several attractions. Most circle drives begin and end in Pape’ete, French Polynesia’s grimy capital city. Ruth and I have driven both east and west and find no advantage to either. The east coast of Tahiti Nui, the larger of 2 joined tropical circles, has more attractions. The south coast offers few reasons to stop unless you want a cold drink or to surf and/or sun. The west coast is more affluent with a couple of very nice resorts, like the Intercontinental, to explore. There are no cross-island roads. A few attractions like waterfalls are off-road and will not be seen unless you hike. Speaking of hikes, some ambitious souls like to climb Tahiti’s Mount Aorai, its 3rd tallest peak. The path begins at lofty O Belvedere, a restaurant, and it takes 4½ hours to reach the summit walking steadily from there and, of course, requires that amount of time to return. Many wisely hire a guide to do this. Mt. Aorai is almost island center and considered a classic climb. The towns you pass through as you circle Tahiti in a car or on a bike all look about the same as does the landscape.
The 1st attraction of note on the north coast not too far from Pape’ete is the home of James Hall, co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty. In 1792 Navy Captain William Bligh traveled from England to Tahiti in search of breadfruit trees. His plan was to take several of them to the Caribbean for transplanting. This potential food source never happened because Bligh, an odd character given to violent outbursts, experienced mutiny on his ship. Hall’s home has been turned into a museum by his daughter Nancy. Hall’s son became noted Hollywood cinematographer Conrad Hall. The Hall Museum is one of the few on the entire island since the Gauguin Museum on the south shore closed years ago to no great loss. It actually had zero Gauguin works of art to admire. The Hall Museum is in Arue.
A few miles from Arue is Pointe Venus, a must-see stop. Pointe Venus is where Captain James Cook first landed on this island. He came to Matavai Bay to observe the passage of Planet Venus across the Sun to estimate distances. He was here 23 years before Bligh and appears to have really liked it because he returned to Tahiti on 2 subsequent voyages. This Pointe’s black sand beach is often crowded with locals, who are sometimes not welcoming to tourists they perceive as outsiders. Tahiti’s only lighthouse is nearby.
Tourists also kite and windsurf on Tahiti Nui’s east side on their way to Arahoho Blowhole, a lava tube with a perforated ceiling. Spectacular surf surges up through the tube when the sea is rough. The best stop on the west coast after the Intercontinental with its sensational views of Moorea is Mara’a Grotto. Here, lush tropical ferns overhang some inviting, natural pools. Signs warn everyone not to jump into them, but when we were there several visitors were ignoring the signs.
The largest but not unusual town on this circle route is Taravao at the southeastern point of Tahiti Nui where road takers have to decide if they want to see a bit of Tahiti Iti or continue the circle. I vote for taking the road to the right to Teahupoo, Tahiti’s surfing capital that hosts the Billabong Pro every August. Because this appears to be but is not actually Paradise, the wise wear sandals to avoid stepping on stonefish.