Maupiti, French Polynesia

Photo: Tahiti Tourisme

From the top of Mount Te’urafa’atiu, you feel like the king of the world. Or at least the South Pacific. From the highest peak on Maupiti, you have a panoramic view of what you’re convinced are the most beautiful islands in the world. Rocky outcrops, dense coconut palms, and candy-colored flowers tumble down the hillside that you just struggled to climb. Mount Hotu Paraoa and the villages of Vai’ea, Petei, and Farauru ring the island below. The island is surrounded by a lagoon, which seems to hold every shade of blue possible. A barrier reef, topped with motus, sits at the edge of the lagoon. While the Leeward Islands—Bora Bora, Ra’iātea, and Taha’a—are in the distance.

Maupiti is absolutely breathtaking. The coral atoll, with a volcanic island in its midst, is also undeveloped and not very well-known. Flights arrive from Bora Bora (25 miles to the east) and Tahiti (185 miles to the southeast), but not every day. Accommodations are limited to pensions (guesthouses) instead of luxury resorts. There’s a single road, which rings the island, though, with few cars, it’s usually used by bikes. Its beaches have white and pink sand. While houses in Vai’ea, the main town, have family tombs sitting in front of them. This is what Bora Bora used to look like.

Surprisingly, Maupiti is one of the oldest settlements in French Polynesia’s Society Islands. Polynesian artifacts, including stone axes and fish hooks, have been found from as far back as 850 AD. Then the Dutch arrived in the 1720s. Captain James Cook followed in 1769. Eventually, France took—and still retains—control of the islands in the 19th century. The opening of the international airport in Papeete put the islands, starting with Tahiti, on the tourist map in the 1960s. But time on Maupiti continues to move slowly.

You traveled to Maupiti on a day trip from Bora Bora. It was hard to tear yourself away from your overwater bungalow. But the promise of well-marked archaeological sites—marae (meeting grounds with carved buildings) and temples—petroglyphs, and those colorful beaches piqued your interest. The promise of learning how to surf or kiteboard without crowds tempted you even more. But it was the hike up Mount Te’urafa’atiu and the 360-degree view from the top that finally convinced you to come. You’re so glad you did. Maupiti is a true gem.

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