There’s something about Maupiti, something captivating, a sense of raw beauty, a feeling of the ultimate paradise. Maupiti, fiercely independent, the most authentic of the Society Islands is a utopia that will forever hold a little bit of anyone who visits but give so much more in return…….
Geologically its part of the same mountain range as Bora Bora & so the same age which explains why so many see the island & its stunning lagoons as the image of Bora Bora (without the big hotels).
Good Reasons To Go:
- Maupiti is magic – the epitome of how one envisages an unspoilt tropical island;
- Stunning tropical island lagoon scenery;
- Action-packed, sensational snorkelling;
- Knock-out panaramas from atop Maupiti’s highest peak, accessible by foot.
Where Is Maupiti & How To Get There:
- 40km west of Bora Bora; just over 1,000 inhabitants; 11km2 land surface.
- Air Tahiti flies from Bora Bora to Maupiti on Fridays & Sundays, return Sunday only;
- Maupiti Express (passenger boat) – Thursdays only. Depart Bora Bora for Maupiti at 10h30, depart Maupiti 16h.00. 2 hour crossing, 3000xpf each way. (Service currently suspended).
- Chartered speedboat or yacht.
On a clear day one can see Maupiti from Matira Beach seen here on the left with the Bora Bora Hilton on the right:
The first European to mention Maupiti was the Dutch explorer Roggeveen when sailing in the area in 1722, well before Samuel Wallis ‘found’ Tahiti. Our arrival on this occasion would also be by yacht – there’s something about sailing with Bora Bora as your backdrop & Maupiti welcoming you from a distance, something about bobbing along just enjoying some of the world’s finest yachting panoramas. We always throw in a line, trawl for the thrill of the catch. We were not disappointed landing a nice yellow-fin tuna ready to BBQ on our arrival!
There’s but a single navigable pass into Maupiti – Onoiau Pass (The Swordfish Which Swims) – lying between Motu Pitiahe & Motu Tiapaa & it can be treacherous. Equally, of course, it can also be a thrilling ride acrest a wave from the ocean to the calm warm waters of this dreamland. Today all was calm:
As the only navigable pass to the island & given its relative narrowness, it is possessed of a very swift & strong current, dangerous for all but the strongest of swimmers, but it offers a sensational outing for the experienced diver. The pass is like a drug to me & in only a short period of time I was back in its relatively shallow waters (8-10m) whose floor has been neatly polished by the efluxion of time & whose narrowness groups together the water’s multitude of inhabitants – it makes for a wonderful spectacle.
It takes little effort to swim out through a spectacular array of fish of every colour, size & variety, past eels & colourful algae to the area sided by the coral reef. On reaching this area there were some 15 sharks below me of various sizes & species just lazing in the depths enjoying the fact that they had no need to swim as the currents ensured water flowed through their gills. Whilst watching these magnificent creatures a single turtle swam by, something I don’t often see, before an inquisitive manta ray at least 2 metres across suddenly & without warning appeared to ‘enter’ my mask – so close was the ray & so sudden its unexpected appearance that I almost walked on water!
By now I had slipped dangerously past the pass markers & required all my skill & power to return despite being close to the reef where the current was least. It’s easy to be so mesmorized by the quantity & variety of ocean life that you can find yourself literally swept away! It seems beyond imagination but should you be diving in the waters just outside the pass the spectacle continues with large schools of tuna & bonito, many dolphins, & in the right season, massive whales circling the island – to swim freely with whales as I have on previous occasions is simply a SENSATIONAL experience; it’s up there with the very best.
For land lovers the pass provides an excellent place to watch these massive creatures as they circle Maupiti so close to shore & for weeks on end. At the same time most days you will see the hundreds of seabirds marking the schools of tuna & bonito swimming in the area – grab a ride with a local fisherman & start reeling them in at your very doorstep! We grabbed a ride in a small aluminium craft with Eddy who lives on the beach alongside the pass & bagged bonito until our arms fell out!
You can even surf the point as these photos of some Australian friends attest:
Maupiti is of a scale that it’s possible – for the very fit – to pass a day in a swim/walk around the island via the atolls which bathe along the coral reef that marks Maupiti’s extremities. There are some great – well sensational – places to kick-back. We were up early to enjoy a swim at the beach on the north-eastern corner of Motu Pitiahe. It’s a simply jaw-droppingly beautiful spot as is the swim with the leopard rays in the waters extending towards the main island. Motu Tiapaa opposite looked just as good (& it was) so we swam across the pass & settled in, seated in the soft white sands, water at shoulder height as we stared back, brunch-time beer in hand, at the beauty that is Maupiti:
And so the swim/walk tour started – we undertook the long haul across the waters separating Motu Tiapaa from Motu Tuanai (where the airport is located) made easy given the nice stretch of lagoon & the fabulous views of Maupiti to one side & Bora Bora to the other.
The snorkelling between Motu Tuanai & Motu Auira in the area of the non-navigable Avaavaoraa Te Avaava O Hiro pass (Fake Pass, the Pass of Hiro as only a foot or so deep) is truly exquisite with good coral, reef sharks, an abundance of tropical fish, & sting rays many of whom swam to seemingly greet us:
From Motu Auira it’s possible & a relatively easy walk in thigh deep water to cross over to the main island of Maupiti arriving at the stunningly beautiful beach of Tereia. It’s a position that been envied by 5 star hotel chains for decades………… enough said! You’ll wonder where you’ve been all your life; you’ll not want to leave!
The island of Maupiti is itself a gem. The island’s population voted to keep it that way in a referendum banning the construction of any major hotel & permitting only locally operated pension de famille (guesthouses) to operate. Cyclone Osea in 1997 destroyed much of the more traditional housing but there are still glimpses to be had of days gone by. Apart from tourism, watermelons & coprah are the island’s main resources.
It’s not difficult to underestimate the distance from Motu Auira back to Motu Pitiahe & we were lucky to stumble across a fisherman friend in his run-about out searching for varos (crayfish) – an absolutely delectable crustacean, white & like a small lobster. Catching it is an art in itself & well worth experiencing as one lures them from their holes in the sand. Eating them is even better – varos is a very expensive delicacy if ever you happen to find it on the menu! What a delight to end the day, varos,a chardonnay & the sun setting on Maupiti!
The next morning saw us lured by the captivating beauty of Mt Hotu Parata (165m), the second tallest mountain on Maupiti but spectacularly beautiful given its sheer drop from top to bottom at water’s edge alongside Maupiti’s wharf:
It takes a leisurely three hours to walk the 9.5km road around Maupiti but most prefer to take an easy bicycle ride (there’s only 1 hill) – bikes can be hired down near the wharf. There are several archaeological sites on the island including Marae Vaihau on the waterfront just east of the wharf, the more difficult to find petroglyphs a little further on & some even more difficult to find grave sites dating back to 850AD, the oldest in the Society Islands – ask for directions from locals or take a guide if you are interested in the later. Be sure too to enquire of locals where you can purchase a Maupiti penu, a symbol of the island, a special stone in a unique design used to crush food stuff & an invaluable gift for someone or a great momento of your visit.
Snack Tarona is a good place to grab a healthy sized meal. Set along the edge of the lagoon not far from the Town Hall it’s a great meeting place. You’ll find the track to climb Mt Teurafaatiu – Maupiti’s highest mountain at 380m – almost directly opposite the snack. Check with the Town Hall or the restaurant for directions & to determine what markers are in use to guide you skywards. This is one of the best climbs in French Polynesia. It’s not that difficult but the rewards in terms of views are immeasurable. So is the beer or ten you’ll inevitably consume at Tarona’s on your descent!
In the above photo taken at the summit you can see Mt Hotu Parata in the foreground with Onoiau Pass in the background. You can climb Mt Hotu Parata but it is more difficult than Mt Teurafaatiu & it’s suggested for the inexperienced that you consider taking a guide as the climb can be unstable in the higher, steeper parts. Another great view is that of a distant Bora Bora & an even more distant Raiatea. I lie not, you can sit up here taking it all in atop the world for ages.
If you have the equipment & the necessary experience then a base jump off Mt Hotu Parata is the ultimate. Accomplished for the first time in August this year, check it out for yourself here:
Maupiti is pure magic, a reflection of a Bora Bora on a smaller scale where all the good has been retained & little of the bad entered. Stunning tropical island lagoon scenery, action-packed dives, incredible mountain top scenery & the pace of another era make for a great get-away adventure.
- There is no bank on Maupiti, so take the money you need with you;
- No gendarmerie in case of emergency;
- An infirmary only (near the Maire (Town Hall)) in case you need medical attention.
- Take a map with you – there is no tourist information bureau;
- Drink bottled (not tap) water – readily available at various small shops sprinkled throughout the township.
- Take a boat to tour the motus giving you more time to spend in the places that really grab you, & there are many.