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“I looked upon the vessel that was to take me to the island of Tahiti, a destination so far from England that one couldn’t go farther without starting to come home.” Mutiny on the Bounty, 1962.

Although it’s not considered one of Marlon Bando’s greatest screen moments, I’ve been intrigued by Tahiti since first watching Mutiny on the Bounty. When the opportunity to visit arose, rather than succumb to the luxuries of 21st Century Tahiti, I decided to try and seek out the island’s other side.

Hidden deep within the lush tropical rain forest, 1800 metres above sea level, in Tahiti’s volcanic interior, the ancient village of Fare Hape is far away from the typical Tahitian retreats that dot the island’s pristine coastline. Surrounded by mountainous cliffs strewn with waterfalls and rich in vegetation, it was once a bustling village, home to thousands and at the heart of island life.

Following the arrival of the missionaries in the late 1800s, most inhabitants relocated to the coast, leaving Fare Hape deserted and forgotten. Today, faithfully rebuilt according to ancient customs, it’s maintained by the Haururu Association as a site of archaeological importance and a place for those wishing to study Polynesia’s past. 

Papa Apon is one of the site’s guardians. As he brings the 4x4 we’re travelling in to a halt, he gives me a broad toothy smile. He’s clearly proud of the restoration work achieved here. There’s a large wooden meeting house, open at the sides, furnished with wooden pews and thatched with ferns alongside around nine fairly primitive lean-tos with sharply pitched roofs, raised off the floor on stilts. 

There’s a wooden store room overlooking a river flanked by large boulders, alongside a communal cooking area. An industrial sized hob running off a rusting gas canister with its wily assortment of pots and pans is the first sign I’ve seen of 21st century involvement. There’s also a suspiciously large box of mosquito repellent coils which Papa Apon helpfully points out whilst giving me another one of his toothy grins. 

The real jewels in the crown of Fare Hape are the remains of several Maraes, stone platforms used for ceremonial purposes. They offer a window into the history of a culture that until recently risked having some of its elements long forgotten.

It’s difficult to be certain about the beliefs and practices of Fare Hape’s settlers when so much of their history was handed down orally. It’s widely accepted that ceremonies would have acknowledged ‘Oro’, The God of War, revered across Tahiti. The word ‘Marae’ translates as ‘cleared of trees and weeds’ and would have been considered ‘tapu’, a holy or sacred place, from which the word ‘taboo’ is derived.

Eventually, it’s time for Papa Apon to leave. As I nervously unload my pack from the 4x4, he assures he’ll return at the same time tomorrow to collect me. I turn to gaze at the deserted village that surrounds me. Although I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly spiritual person, I can feel that where I am is a spiritually significant place.

I’ve equipped myself with everything I’ll need for the next 24 hours, including water, food and perhaps most importantly, a mosquito net. I’ve camped alone many times though never in a place where its ancient inhabitants have weighed so heavily on my mind. I take a walk around the village to get my bearings and to confirm that I’m definitely on my own. I feel like a homeowner, creeping around and half expecting to surprise a burglar. 


A traveller's guide to off-the-beaten-track Tahiti
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