There's more to Tahiti than honeymooners in overwater bungalows. Its volcanic geography and sparkling lagoons mean there's adventure for active travellers. World champion stand-up paddleboarder Annabel Anderson — an Air Tahiti Nui ambassador — shares her top tips for a day of Tahitian thrills.
A dawn raid on The Pass
The water is lapping the edge of the lagoon a few steps from my bedroom, the first pink shard of morning light rises over the horizon and the sound of the waves crashing over the edge of the reef mean I can't stay in bed for long. Dawn is the best time to paddle out to the Pass, the surf break at the entrance where the ocean enters and exits the lagoon. Paddling towards the rising sun is possibly one of the best ways to start a day and as I glide over crystal-clear water, I wonder how a place can be so picture perfect. Not to mention the waves that have travelled thousands of kilometres before they crash over the shallows of the reef, peeling perfect rights and lefts. Once I've had my morning's fill, I paddle back to the villa where I'm staying on the edge of the lagoon in Puna'auia to the aroma of a fresh pot of Tahitian vanilla coffee, pineapple juice and fresh tropical fruit.
In the summer months, the trade winds wrap around the island offering one of the finest downwind runs in the world from Papeno'o to Pointe Venus. Today the wind is blowing so we drive up-wind and surf the ocean swells back down the coast, re-entering at the edge of the lagoon at Pointe Venus. Polynesians have harnessed the power of the wind for centuries. Paddling from point A-B was not just their form of travel, but a proud tradition that remains today. Va'a (rudderless canoe) has become their national sport and identity, and stand-up paddling is becoming increasingly popular with locals. Paddling the va'a is to Tahiti what rugby is to NZ and you'll see countless one-man, four-man and six-man canoes plying the waters from before dawn until after dusk.
Refuel like a local
Lunch is a freshly husked coconut to rehydrate and a plate of poisson cru (freshly caught tuna drizzled in lemon juice and bathed in freshly squeezed coconut milk) from a local roulette (Tahitian food truck) on the side of the road.
The beauty of Tahiti is not confined to the water's edge and as I glance up towards the steeple-like mountains that rise into the interior of the island, there is only one way to experience the view from above and that's to go up, preferably on foot and at sunset. Maybe it's because I have grown up in the mountains, but there is just something about getting up high under your own steam and earning your views. Some of my favourite hills to tackle are the labyrinth of steep streets that rise above Papeete and Puna'auia, offering endless opportunities to soak up the magnificent views over the lagoon and across to Moorea.
Dinner is well and truly "earned" by this point and there is no finer way of celebrating a day of play on, and above, the ocean than a table over the water at the Blue Banana in Puna'auia. As in many of the Pacific Islands, 10pm is known as "Polynesian midnight" and this is when I hit the hay, ready to do it all over again tomorrow.
How to create your own Tahitian adventure
Although most people dismiss Tahiti's main island and head straight for an outer island, the tiny island off the main island, known as Tahiti Iti, or Little Tahiti, is brimming with things to see and experience. My recommendation is to hire a car when you land and spend a day driving around the island. Stop to buy fresh fruit from the side of the road, eat poisson cru (Tahitian raw fish salad) at the Roulette food trucks dotted around the island and pull over to watch the waves crashing against the outside reefs that protect the lagoons. Take your time, the local speed limit is 60km/h.
The End of the Road — Teahupo'o
Teahupo'o, otherwise known as the "end of the road", is home to Tahiti's world-famous surf break, where the wave effectively breaks below sea level creating one of the heaviest waves and one of the most spectacular barrels in the world. You don't need to participate in the Billabong Pro to experience the beauty that lies at the end of the road as Tahiti Surfari is a water taxi and boat company with half-day or full-day tours including explorations to the remote Fenua Aihere side of the island,. You'll hike, visit fishing holes and waterfalls, swing from vines, dive into the waters of Vaipoiri grotto and visit the entrance to the lagoon that is home to the infamous wave of Teahupo'o. If surfing is what you came for, Tahiti Surfari also offers surf charters to Teahupo'o, and are the boat charter of choice when the World Surf League comes to town every August.
Beach days at Pointe Venus
Just 20 minutes from Papeete airport lies Pointe Venus, a horseshoe bay protected by the lagoon. Home to a long black sand beach, it's a magical place to watch the sun set over the edge of the lagoon against the backdrop of Moorea. Swim in the protected waters and enjoy the small but gentle inside wave that forms close to the point and lures local families to cool off and play in the water.
Surfing like a Pro
Although many of the surf spots are shallow reefs and lagoon passes where you need to know what you're doing, the sandy beach breaks of Papara and Papeno'o offer a great opportunity to learn in safe, warm waters and an ideal place to park up for a day at the beach between surfs. Tahiti Surf School teaches surfing and boogie boarding (don't knock it until you try it) and will pick you up, provide your gear and know the best conditions on the day.