Tahiti’s Hidden Secrets

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Les-3-BrasseursBy Rob Kay

 As the author of two travel books on French Polynesia I’m often asked to set up itinteraries for friends and make recommendations on where to stay, where to dine and where to hang out. I’m tired to repeating myself so I’m going to pass this on to my readers. So please no more questions…



I liken Les 3 Brasseurs to an American style microbrewery with a French flair. This hip watering hole features indoor-outdoor dining and four varieties of brew including pure malt and non pasteurized beers. Make sure and sample specialties such as Flammekueche (a pizza-like dish) as well as sauerkraut, entrecôte, and other items.

If you are thinking about a beach that’s off the beaten track with absolutely stunning views I’d check out Tahara’a Beach Park at Honu point near the old hotel of the same name.  It’s got a black sand beach but it’s much cleaner that the typical Papeete district bathing spots. It takes a little walking which is another good reason that others probably won’t be there.  The only thing to look out for is the undertow, which can be dangerous.

My all time favorite luxury hotel in the Papeete area is still the Tahiti Beachcomber Parkroyal. It’s got great food and a nice ambience and is close enough to Papeete so that you can easily shop or dash into town for a great restaurant.

Patisserie D. Hilaire is a Papeete eatery that’s revered by locals but unknown to visitors. It’s a café and salon de thé that’s got the best French pastry you’ve ever imagined including chocolate cake, pralinés, apple pie and homemade ice cream.

I readily admit I’m not much of a night club enthusiast anymore but I really dug Le Grenier de Montmartre which has quickly become a local landmark. Originally founded in Paris during World War II, it now has a second incarnation in Papeete on Avenue Prince Hinoi where it’s been replicated lock, stock and barrel. The restaurant was reconstructed from the ground up right down to the minor details including the scads of paper money from throughout the world that hang from the ceiling. Live music on the weekends and the atmosphere is very local.

The first thing we did was to drop our bags and make a mad dash for the Sheraton Pier and Dr. Michael Poole's Dolphin and Whale Watch boat. Luckily he was 10 min. late that morning or we would have missed it!
Michael Poole’s Dolphin and Whale Watch Tour is not to be missed.


In my opinion, the Kellum Stop is one place you should not miss in all of French Polynesia. The homestead of an early 20th century American settler, Medford Kellum, is a classic Yankee dwelling situated in an archetypically beautiful South Seas setting.  Your host, Marimari Kellum is the daughter of the former owner and she’s as gracious as they come.

I’m a sucker for a good pizza especially in an inspiring backdrop and thought that Baie de Nuarei was one place I’d definitely come back to.  The pizza is great and it’s located on the best beach on the entire island.  What more can you ask for?

In my mind Linareva is still the best place to stay in Moorea. It combines good food with unpretentious lodging.  The surroundings, right on the water, is also tough to beat and you’ll find a family run European style operation rather than yet another moronic luxury hotel catering to Americans that have more money than they know what to do with.

The Dolphin Tour run by American expat Michael Poole is an unforgettable experience. Here you’ll have a chance to observe dolphins (and during the right season whales) in a natural setting.  You’ll also learn more about these creatures and gain an appreciation for Tahiti’s unique environment that you’ll never find in a guide book.

Le Meridien Bora Bora is the place to stay. Photo courtesy of Le Meridien Bora Bora.

Bora Bora

Bora Bora is best appreciated from an offshore perspective and there’s no better place to do this than staying at the island’s penultimate lodging–Le Meridien Bora Bora.  Located on the northern point of the 10-kilometer long motu Pit Au, it’s an upscale Robinson Crusoe fantasy that you’ll not soon forget.

I’m always on the lookout for new restaurants and TOPdive Resort cuisine has rapidly gained a reputation as one of the best on the island. Their specialty is nouvelle cuisine and fresh fish from the lagoon or the ocean.

It’s probably not politically correct but you shouldn’t leave Bora Bora without checking out a stingray feeding session with anyone of the local tour operators.  Despite their ominous appearance they are friendly creatures that you can feed and pet.  They love to be stroked like any house cat and their skin is velvet to the touch.

It’s hard to visualize nowadays but during World War II, Bora Bora was home to thousands of American Servicemen. When I visit the island I never fail to hike the spectacular Tuivahora gun site and meditate on the dark days of our history.

Huahine is an incredibly lush island, famed for it’s independently minded inhabitants. Photo Courtesy Wikipedia


As soon as it opened I started raving about Te Tiare Beach Resort to my friends and there is no reason to stop now. When you combine the incredible beachside backdrop, the terrific accommodations and the incredible food, this is one place you won’t want to miss.

Located in isolated Huahine Iti on a splendid beach,
Pension Mauarii
is my pick for a place that will satisfy your palate and you tropical sensibilities.

If I were to pick one favorite beach in all of French Polynesia in would be Anini in southwest corner of Huahine Iti.  In my estimation, the sparkling white sand and translucent waters make this spot a classic South Pacific setting.

The Matairea Hill area in Maeva is a mother lode of archeology and I love to walk the trails in the early morning when it’s cool and the mosquitos are less aggressive. It’s one spot on Huahine that radiates with mana—the Polynesian word for life force or power and you can really feel it walking among the old marae or Polynesian temples.


My hands down favorite for the best hotel is Vahine Island on a small motu off of Tahaa.  Remote, but with just the right amount of luxury without being ostentatious, it’s perfect for honeymooners.


Chez Guy and Agnes is in my estimation the best restaurant in Raiatea. It’s not that far from town and is a simple but aesthetically pleasing structure laced with bamboo and shoji.  Besides, where else in Polynesia are you going to eat kangaroo steak?

For a romantic adventure I would speak to any of the local boatmen and see if they will run you down to one of the offshore motu.  Pack a picnic lunch, a bottle of wine and have them pick up at the time of your choosing.

If you’re craving soft adventure I’d give a thumbs up to Faimano Croisieres which has day trips or longer journeys aboard an exquisite catamaran.

Fakarava-ponton-rotoava by Frédéric Jacquot Commons -
This jetty on Fakarava is typical of what you might see in the Tuamotu group. Photo by Frédéric Jacquot, courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Tuamotu Islands

If you’re going to make the effort to stay in the Tuamotus I’d visit Kia Ora Sauvage which lies on a motu offshore Rangiroa’s atoll.  You’ll savor the ambience of being on the edge of the world yet be pampered in luxury.

When I’m in the Tuamotu group I always make tracks to Poerangi Village run by Jean-Claude and his wife Patricia in Takaroa.  The food’s incredible and the isolation makes it that much more a treat.

For an experience beyond the reef and beyond the norm I’d suggest diving in Fakarava, cetainly one of the least visited islands in French Polynesia. Jean-Christope at Te Ava Nui Dive Club has done a superb job equipping the operation and he’s spot-on when it comes to conserving Polynesia’s natural heritage.For an experience beyond the reef and beyond the norm I’d suggest diving in Fakarava, cetainly one of the least visited islands in French Polynesia. Jean-Christope at Te Ava Nui Dive Club has done a superb job equipping the operation and he’s spot-

Ua Pou - Plage de la baie d'Anahoa- 20061108 by Sémhur -
Anahoa Beach, photo by Sémhur , courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Hanakee Hiva Oa Pearl Cottages in Atuona (in Hiva Oa) has my stamp of approval as the best hotel in the Marquesas. The panoramic views of the mountains and sea are incredible, the food is great and the accommodations, constructed with plaited pandanus and bamboo are very unusual.

In my book the award for the best restaurant goes to Chez Yvonne in Hatiheu on Nuku Hiva.  You won’t need to dress up–it’s very simple–and a bit out of the way but worth the journey.

Anahoa Beach next to Hakahau on the island of Ua Pou is my choice for a picnic and a swim. The scenery and sand are idyllic and the best part is that the nono (those nasty gnats) so typically found in the Marquesas don’t seem to reside on this beach. Pack a picnic and go!

If you get out to the Marquesas, I’d say that hikes through the archaeological sites ofNuku Hiva  (Kamuihei, Hatiheu) or Hiva Oa (Taaoa Valley) are mandatory.  With the exception of the large quantity of marae (temples) on Huahine, there are simply no archeological remains of this great a magnitude found anywhere in French Polynesia. To miss seeing them is to miss experiencing the mana – the spiritual essence of the Marquesas.

Rob Kay is the author of Lonely Planet’s Tahiti and French Polynesia, a Travel Survival Kit and Hidden Tahiti pubiished by Ulysses Press. For questions or comments contact him at rkay@fijiguide.com

Rob Kay also writes about firearms for Hawaii Reporter and is the author of How to Buy an AK-47.
Read more of Rob’s articles on OnTargetHawaii.com




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