On each island, high jagged peaks rise dramatically from the center, dissolving into lush greenery. Just beyond is a clear turquoise lagoon.
Exploring the verdant valleys, dramatic waterfalls, and sensuous flowers of the French Polynesian islands up close is a true adventure. And the view from the islands highest points is well worth the trip up the rocky roads that lead to them.
Around the perimeter of each island is a two-lane road, with a few smaller roads generally deeply-rutted dirt roads meandering toward the center.
The best way to explore each islands interior is by taking an excursion in a 4X4 with a knowledgeable guide. Reliable tour companies include Paradise Tours on Tahiti, Albert Transports on Moorea, and Tupuna Mountain Safari on Bora Bora.
Visitors can also enjoy the French Polynesian islands natural beauty by hiking, horseback riding, helicopter, or rented scooter or car.
Taking a day trip is the best way to see the natural wonders of Tahiti. In scenic Papenoo Valley, Tahitis largest valley, a dramatic bridge spans the islands longest river. Faatautia Valley is so lovely and so unspoiled that it has been served as a dramatic backdrop in many feature films. At the Arahoho Blowholes along the coast, powerful ocean waves dash against the jagged coast, bursting out like geysers.
The natural wonders of Tahiti also include the Faarumai Waterfalls (Cascades de Faarumai), reached via a paved mile-long road. While the Vaimahuta Falls are the most accessible, a hike up a rugged trail brings visitors to the magnificent Haamaremare Iti and Haamaremareahi Falls. The nearly 1,000-foot Fautaua Waterfall in the spectacular Fautaua Valley is another breathtaking sight.
On Tahitis south coast, the Maraa Grotto below a dramatic cliff offers another outstanding view. At the base of the mountains are the lava tubes of Hitiaa. Visitors can walk or swim through a maze of lava tubes filled with grottoes, waterfalls, streams and caves.
Some of the natural wonders of Tahiti are man-made like the Harrison W. Smith Botanical Gardens, created by an American nearly one hundred years ago. Today, the Gauguin Museum is nestled amidst the lush foliage.
Mooreas Natural Beauty
Moorea is less developed than Tahiti, making it a more desirable destination for visitors seeking an untouched paradise. No visit to Moorea is complete without making the climb to Belvedere Point in the center of the island.
The spectacular view to the north includes Mooreas two bays, Cooks Bay and Opunohu Bay. In between towers Mont Rotui, a rugged mountain nearly 2,700 feet high. The breathtaking view makes Belvedere Point a highlight of every 4x4 excursion, as well as a popular spot with hikers robust enough to make the long, arduous uphill climb.
The tropical climate of French Polynesia makes its islands ideal for growing fruits and vegetables, especially pineapples. Pineapple fields sprawl across the fertile Opunohu Valley, and this sweet variety is widely available in shops and at roadside stands.
Mooreas Fruit Juice Factory, near Cooks Bay, offers tastings as well as a large stock of unusual locally-produced liqueurs in Vanilla Crème, Coconut, and Pineapple flavors.
Another natural wonder of Moorea are the dolphins who frolic in its waters. The Intercontinental Resort and Spa Moorea is the home of the Moorea Dolphin Center, where visitors can swim and interact with dolphins.
Exploring Nature on Bora Bora
Bora Bora could well be French Polynesias most beautiful island. The mountains rise up more steeply than on the other islands, providing an imposing backdrop to the dense growth of brilliantly colored flowers, bushes, and palm trees encircling its perimeter.
There are outstanding views from several spots on Bora Bora, all reachable only by treacherously rutted dirt roads. They include the TV Tower Vistapoint, which really has a tower perched on top; Fitiiu Point, which still has rusted cannons from World War II, and scenic Taihi Point, a spectacular spot with an abandoned hotel far in the distance.