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Maupiti Island In French Polynesia

There’s something about Maupiti that’s captivating. The French Polynesia island provides a sense of raw beauty and a feeling of the ultimate paradise.

Maupiti, fiercely independent, and 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 it’s part of the same mountain range as Bora Bora, and so the same age. This explains why so many see the island and its stunning lagoons as the same image as Bora Bora without the big hotels.


Here are some good reasons to visit:

  • Maupiti is magic – the epitome of how one envisages an unspoiled tropical island
  • Stunning tropical island lagoon scenery
  • Action-packed and sensational snorkeling
  • Knock-out panoramas from atop Maupiti’s highest peak, accessible by foot

Where Is Maupiti & How To Get There

Maupiti is just 40km west of Bora Bora and home to just over 1,000 inhabitants. It covers 11km2 of the land surface.

Air Tahiti flies from Bora Bora to Maupiti on Fridays & Sundays and returns Sundays only.

The Maupiti Express (passenger boat) departs on Thursdays only. You can depart Bora Bora for Maupiti with a 2-hour crossing, and it costs 3000xpf each way.

You can also simply charter a speedboat or a yacht to get there. On a clear day, one can see Maupiti from Matira Beach.

View from matira beach

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 special about sailing with Bora Bora as your backdrop & Maupiti welcoming you from a distance. It’s amazing to bob along and enjoy some of the world’s finest yachting panoramas.

We always throw in a line, and trawl for the thrill of the catch. We were not disappointed to land a nice yellow-fin tuna ready to BBQ on our arrival!

Onoiau Pass

There’s but a single navigable pass into Maupiti – Onoiau Pass (The Swordfish Which Swims) – lying between Motu Pitiahe & Motu Tiapaa and it can be treacherous.

Equally, of course, it can also be a thrilling ride across 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 and given its relative narrowness, it’s possessed of a very swift & strong current. It’s dangerous for all but the strongest of swimmers, but it offers a sensational outing for the experienced diver.

The pass is still amazing and in only a short period of time I was back in its relatively shallow waters (8-10m). The floor has been neatly polished by the effluxion of time and whose narrowness groups together the water’s multitude of inhabitants, which makes for a wonderful spectacle.

It takes little effort to swim out through a spectacular array of fish of every color, size & variety, You also pass eels and colorful algae to the area sided by the coral reef.

On reaching this area, there were some 15 sharks below me of various sizes and species. There were a few lemon sharks and blacktip sharks just lazing in the depths, enjoying the fact that they had no need to swim as the currents ensured water flowed through their gills.

Maupiti with a boat

While watching these magnificent creatures, a single sea turtle swam by, something I don’t often see, Then an inquisitive manta ray at least 2 meters across swept past suddenly and without warning appeared to enter my mask. So close was the ray and 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 mesmerized by the quantity and 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. There are many dolphins and 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, and 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 and start reeling them in at your very doorstep! We grabbed a ride in a small aluminum 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:

Surfing in Maupiti

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. They bathe along the coral reef that marks Maupiti’s extremities.

There are some sensational places to kick-back and relax. We were up early to enjoy a swim at the beach on the northeastern corner of Motu Pitiahe.

It’s a simply jaw-droppingly beautiful spot, as is the swim with the leopard rays and manta rays in the waters extending towards the main island.  Motu Tiapaa opposite looked just as good, 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.

Clear waters of 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).

It was made easy given the nice stretch of the lagoon and the fabulous views of Maupiti to one side and Bora Bora to the other.

Snorkeling in Maupiti

The snorkeling 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, and sting rays and mantary 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.

Island of Maupiti

It’s a position that has been envied by 5-star hotel chains for decades. You’ll wonder where you’ve been all your life and 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 and 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 & copra are the island’s main resources.

It’s not difficult to underestimate the distance from Motu Auira back to Motu Pitiahe and we were lucky to stumble across a fisherman friend in his run-about out searching for varos (crayfish).

This absolutely delectable crustacean is white and 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 and 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!

Sunset in Maupiti

Mount Hotu Parata

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 the water’s edge alongside Maupiti’s wharf.

Mt Hotu Parata

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 small island, including Marae Vaihau on the waterfront just east of the wharf.

The more difficult to find petroglyphs a little further on and 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 latter. 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 memento of your visit.

Mount Teaurafaatiu

Snack Tarona is a good place to grab a healthy-sized meal. Set along the edge of the Maupiti lagoon not far from the Town Hall, it’s a great meeting place. You’ll find the track to climb Mount Teurafaatiu – Maupiti’s highest mountain at 380m – almost directly opposite the snack.

Check with the Town Hall or the restaurant for directions and 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!

Mt Teurafaatiu  in Maupiti's

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 and the necessary experience then a base jump off Mt Hotu Parata is the ultimate experience.

Maupiti is pure magic. It’s a reflection of a Bora Bora on a smaller scale where all the good has been retained and 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.

These are some helpful tips based on my experience:

  • 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 and it’s 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.