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Touring the Interior

Even when the peaks are shrouded in clouds, you'll get the best glimpse of Tahiti's spectacular interior—soaring, jagged peaks; rivers; deep valleys; hills covered in virgin rain forest—as you fly into Pape'ete. The island's highest peak, Mt. Orohena, is a mighty 7,352 feet (2,241 meters) and the triple-spired Diadème (4,333 feet [1,321 meters]) is remarkable for its shape rather than height.

Getting to the interior is not easy, though. Only a handful of inland roads—a 4WD is required on most of them—branch off the main coastal road, and there's just one road that crosses Tahiti Nui from north to south. While the 39-km (24-mi) road, which connects the towns of Papenoo (in the north) and Papeari (south), is best experienced with a guide, it can be done on your own by foot or 4WD. Starting in the north, the trail begins at Papenoo (on the coastal road at around PK 18 clockwise) and cuts through the wide Papenoo Valley, alongside the river of the same name. En route you pass three waterfalls at various intervals: Topatari at about 5 km (3 mi) inland, Vaiharuru farther on, and then Puraha. Sixteen km (10 mi) inland you'll reach the Vaituoru Pool, which is perfect for a swim. Le Relais de la Maroto. Almost miraculously you'll come across the only accommodation in the interior, Le Relais de la Maroto. The pension, with three bungalows, 26 rooms, and a good restaurant, gets heavily booked, so call ahead if you're planning to stay here. It was progressively upgraded throughout 2011. 57-90-29. .

The road south passes by the Anapur marae and travels through a 656-foot (200-meter) tunnel and on past Lake Vaihiria. Farther south you'll encounter Marae Vaihiria, which has extensive remains including an artificial canal. The inland road finishes near Papeari.

If you want to head inland, but only have a car, head to Belvedere lookout, which is perched 1,968 feet (600 meters) above sea level. There are great views of the Papenoo Valley to the east and the mighty peaks to the south. If you're keen to hike you can set out from here, following clearly marked trails to Mt. Aorai (6,776 feet [2,206 meters]) in the south, Tahiti's third highest peak. It takes a full day to summit Mt. Aorai and get back to the city, so consider spending the night in one of the two huts, en route. Polynesian Adventure. Hiking operator Polynesian Adventure conducts two-day hikes here. 42–25–95. www.polynesianadventure.fr.st.

If you have a 4WD vehicle or just want to hike, you can also go inland to the Hitiaa lava tubes, which were formed by lava flows that are big enough to walk through. The turnoff to the trail is at the town of Hitiaa on the east coast (PK 39.9 clockwise). The rocky trail to the tubes is more than 8 km (5 mi) long and once there you'll need a strong flashlight to navigate your way inside.

Travelers with limited time, or no desire to set off on their own, have a choice of several operators who run half-day and full day excursions across the interior. Try Tahitian Excursion. Travelers with limited time, or no desire to set off on their own, have a choice of several operators who run half-day and full-day excursions across the interior. Try Tahitian Excursion. 82-69-96. www.tahitian-excursion.com.

or Tahiti Safari Expedition. Travelers with limited time, or no desire to set off on their own, have a choice of several operators who run half-day and full-day excursions across the interior. Try Tahiti Safari Expedition 42-14-25. www.tahiti-safari.com.

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