Tahiti, or Jurassic Park?

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I cursed under my breath as my elbow came down – hard – on the back of my seat.

It was my own fault, of course, for sitting sideways, half hanging out of the 4×4 as it bumped and jumped through the soggy potholes that littered the road leading to the interior of the island of Tahiti.

Tahiti mountains

The potholes were disguised as puddles, and even though our driver weaved in between them as best he could, it didn't stop us from hitting a few deceptively deep ones quite hard.

I guess this is why you need a 4×4 to drive into the center of Tahiti.

Tahiti interior

Call me ignorant, but I always pictured Tahiti and the surrounding islands of French Polynesia as nothing but beaches and resorts and places for large cruise ships to dock. And, while it's true that you CAN find all of those things on Tahiti, I quickly learned that there's much more to this island.

Tahiti interior

Our driver was named Fabio – a European implant to Tahiti some 13 years ago who now considers the country home. His shirt came off as soon as we turned off the main road, as did the tarp covering the back portion of the 4×4 where I was sitting on a cushioned bench across from two travelers from Spain.

The vehicle reminded me of the songthaews I had ridden around in in Thailand – except it wasn't red and the top could come off to let the delicious sunshine in. This truck also had much better suspension. Probably for those potholes.

Tahiti mountains

As we drove down into a valley, dodging pothole-puddles along the way, Fabio pulled over to let us know that we were entering the equivalent of a national park – already in the distance we could see towering, lush mountainsides and a few cascading waterfalls, even though it wasn't even rainy season yet.

Tahiti mountains

Tahiti is one of the “youngest” islands in French Polynesia, geologically speaking. It was formed by volcanoes millennia ago, but still remains quite tall compared to older islands in the chain. The tallest peak on Tahiti stands at more than 7,000 feet. And these tall, sheer mountains “catch” the clouds and bring Tahiti rain and plenty of fresh water.

This is one of the reasons that the interior of Tahiti looks like something straight out of Jurassic Park.

Tahiti interior

Waterfalls fall out of the sky, fern leaves grow to be the size of umbrellas, and low wispy clouds aren't uncommon to spot drifting around the mountaintops, promising a drizzle.

Tahiti interior

Tahiti interior

We trundled through the wilderness, passing very few vehicles along the way. The road, Fabio told us, was built originally by the French military as a way of crossing the island. But, due to flash flooding and the difficulty of upkeep, they soon decided that it was much easier to maintain a ring road than deal with the hilly, uneven ground in the island's interior.

Hence the potholes, and the fact that you are required to have a sturdy 4×4 vehicle to tackle this road. As we forded a shallow river later, I was extremely thankful that I wasn't the one behind the wheel.

Tahiti 4x4 tour

Not being behind the wheel meant that I had plenty of time for gawking and banging elbows and snapping photos. Fabio stopped quite a few times to show us particularly pretty waterfalls and view points. We also stopped in a valley where locals from Fabio's village are permitted to claim a bit of land and grow whatever they want – the only caveat being that they can't sell what they grow. They can only trade it for what others are growing, or eat it themselves. I loved this, and thought it captured Tahitian culture better than any dinner-dance show at a fancy resort ever could.

Tahiti interior

We stopped at a river for a swim, splashing around in cool, mountain-fed water to wash off the sweat that the humidity and sunshine had brought on before heading to Fabio's favorite place. As he pulled over, the John Williams Jurassic Park theme song was blaring in my mind.

Tahiti mountains

We couldn't see the tops of the mountains here, but the clouds hanging overhead helped us picture what they would look like in the rainy season as dozens of waterfalls cascaded down their sides. Fabio said he once counted 76 waterfalls here at once, and that the beauty of it nearly moved him to tears.

Tahiti mountains

Eventually, after another stunning viewpoint, it was time for us to turn around and head out of the jungle. I had only booked a half-day tour, but I desperately wished at that point that I'd booked a full day. There was still so much to see. Maybe even a few dinosaurs…

Tahiti interior


Did you have any idea Tahiti had THIS hiding on the inside?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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32 Comments on “Tahiti, or Jurassic Park?

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  1. Those views must be stunning and just like you I did not associate this sort of landscape with Tahiti, prior to reading this post.
    Trekking a place such as this one with a small group of friends must be wonderful! Would that be safe or even allowed?

      You could probably go trekking – I didn’t hear anything about it not being allowed. Our guide was talking about how he goes hiking all the time, so it must be pretty safe!

      It is safe but not easy to trek by yourself. The paths are not always well marked and you can’t cross private properties without paying. So you need a local guide.

    You’re right, it’s hard to believe that it’s Tahiti! I pictured it like a sun-drenched place full of beaches and palm trees, blue skies and white sand… But this is certainly not what I imagined. Beautiful indeed! Well, travel is about surprises. 🙂

      Definitely! This was the best kind of surprise.

    Can’t believe this is Tahiti, though either way it is truly beautiful!

    Hahaha! That definitely looks like something from Jurassic Park!! I love sweeping landscapes like this… so beautiful!

      For sure! I couldn’t get over how lush and green it was.

    I love the lush tropical jungle of the Pacific Islands. I have only been to Hawaii and Fiji so far and they look very similar to Tahiti.

      I haven’t been to Fiji, but I can image it might be pretty similar!

    I had no idea this kind of topography was on Tahiti! So lovely and green. And totally like Jurassic Park!

      Yup, it surprised me, too! But I’m glad I had a chance to check it out while I was there.

    How stunning. So much beautiful I have to go see on this earth!!

      The list is always getting longer. 😉

    haha certainly resembles Jurassic park! Well written. Tahiti looks beautiful

      Thanks! Glad other people can see the Jurassic Park resemblance!

    LOVE the Tahiti photo tour. Such incredible sites, doesn’t even look real! Thanks for the inspiration, Amanda.

    Awesome and stunning views. And i really can’t believe this is Tahiti. But this looks very beautiful.

      I know, many people are surprised that you can find this in Tahiti!

    So green and so lush! I love it.
    I do agree with your comparison with Jurassic park 🙂

      Yup, you can just imagine the raptors and pterodactyls, can’t you??

    What a lush interior … those that stick to their sun loungers don’t though what they are missing out on!

    What a fabulous ride! I wrote about travelling by bus in one of my recent posts and this post just makes me want to travel so much more by bus! The captures are superb, the landscape does resemble Jurassic park as you said!

      Don’t think you could get here by bus (you need a 4×4), but yes – definitely a good way to see the inside of the island!

    oh my god what a big leaf, really look like a jurassic park

      I thought so, too! And yes, those plants are nicknamed “elephant ears” because of how big the leaves are!

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