Maupiti, French Polynesia

A Society on the Margin

Coral Maze
Small vessel advances along the coral reef inside Maupiti Atoll.
in the middle of the pacific
A blue atoll sea beyond a tropical slope of Maupiti.
Fishing boats raised over the sea off Maupiti.
Casario de Vaiea, the main town.
Polynesian Eden
The view from the summit of Mount Teurafaatiu.
Canoeing for real
Native trains in a canoe
coconut bay
Tropical bay of Maupiti with coconut trees over the Pacific Ocean.
velvet shelter
Family rests on a sailboat anchored off Maupiti.
high berthing
Traditional boat moored on the still waters around Maupiti.
Beach Tereia
Peninsula full of coconut trees next to Tereia beach.
Mehari Fashion
Residents in a Citroen Mehari.
tropical coast
Coconut trees protrude from the gentle coast of Maupiti.
Pontoon over coral
Narrow walkway leads to the middle of a vast coral reef inside Maupiti Atoll.
appeal of the sea
Coconut palms from Maupiti lean towards the Pacific Ocean as the islands of the Society archipelago disperse.
Elevated berthing II
Traditional boats moored on the still waters around Maupiti.
Boo II
Vaiea's houses along the foothills of Mount Teurafaatiu, the highest point in Maupiti
In the shadow of neighboring Bora Bora's near-global fame, Maupiti is remote, sparsely inhabited and even less developed. Its inhabitants feel abandoned but those who visit it are grateful for the abandonment.

Ever since we stepped onto the runway at the airport installed in Motu Tuanai, we felt cozy due to its simplicity.

The plane's propellers are still turning but we already have our bags in our hands and a dispatched native presents himself to the service and makes sure we follow him. The airport pier is right next door and despite the air of tupperware old boat, the engine does not disappoint.

We set sail for the turquoise inland lagoon and, as the wind massages us, we approach the verdant heart of Maupiti. A stark-looking green and red Protestant church stands first against the steep slope. Further on, we glimpse the rest of the ground-floor houses and Vaiea, the main village on the island, is complete.

Vaiea, locality, Maupiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Casario de Vaiea, the main town.

Vaiea the Unpretentious Capital at the Foot of Monte Teurafaatiu

We disembark in a balancing act across a long board, which is too sloping. As for the high pier, we find the funds of some fares including Chez Manu's, the cheapest pension we'd managed to find in this remote but exasperating domain of Comptoir Français du Pacifique.

Vibrations of Caribbean music reach us from the patio, followed by one of Bob Marley's several hymns of those who, with the most suitable herb, continue to purify the souls of Jah from the vast tropical latitudes. Manu appears out of nowhere.

Dancing is barred, he welcomes us with a drunken hug and invites us to the celebration. “Come to Mommy! I don't know if you knew but today is Mother's Day. Put your things in the room and have a drink.”

The party seems to have passed its deadline. Two or three buddies slumber on folding chairs. Only one friend stays awake and shares the hostess's shaky choreographies. The afternoon is coming to an end, we settle in the secluded room of the house, turn on the tired fan and give in to a greenhouse sleep.

The Possible Foods on an Island Too Alone

A few hours later, hunger awakens us. We went out into the street with dusk giving way to night and we found no traces of the celebration. Not a shadow of a restaurant.

mini port, moored boats, Maupiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Traditional boats moored on the still waters around Maupiti.

The sound of a generator and a diffused light catch our attention. The sight of some islanders leaving armed with baguettes suggests that we can get supplies there for the next day, but we don't take long to discard the unambitious wish list.

We ask for yoghurt, drinks or fresh fruit, but beyond the heat, humidity and taro – a common vegetable in the South Pacific – only what comes from overseas canned or, at the very least, full of preservatives is preserved in those parts.

“My friends, it is fortunate that we were able to turn on the chests just now. They will have to choose from what they see outside”. We ended up surrendering to the electrical whims of the place and the evidence. The new day would bring better news.

Those who travel through these insular creations of French Polynesia end up realizing that they cannot leave without conquering the panoramas from their summits.

To the Conquest of Mount Teurafaatiu, the Roof of Maupiti

At first glance, the 380 meters of Mount Teurafaatiu looks like an easy task but we start the ascent later than we're supposed to.

Tropical slope, coconut trees, vegetation, Maupiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

A blue atoll sea beyond a tropical slope of Maupiti.

We end up distilling under the atrocious sun, all too often mistaken on slippery paths that disappear between the dense vegetation and the rocks.

During most of the ascent, a huge stone wall limits us to contemplation, but at a certain point, we reached a natural platform and found the totally open scenery we were looking for.

view, Mount Teurafaatiu, sea, Maupiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

The view from the summit of Mount Teurafaatiu.

From there, in the foreground, two or three sharp secondary peaks reinforce the haughty feeling. Downwards, the remaining atoll of Maupiti and the shrunken houses of the two villages compete for our gaze.

Further away, a stunning coral network in shades of blue and a sandy and calm sea contained by five moved linked like walls that the ocean continues to tear down.

coral reef, maupiti atoll, Maupiti, society islands, French Polynesia

Small vessel advances along the coral reef inside Maupiti Atoll.

Only the hiss of the breeze and the roar of a boat or chainsaw engine in the distance break the silence. They are the only signs of life breaking one of the most exuberant and rewarding lethargies we have ever witnessed.

However, Pierce Brosnan or any other of the famous and well-heeled frequent guests can at any time descend from their private jets to nearby Bora Bora and unleash a new media tide.

moored sailboat, sea, Maupiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Family rests on a sailboat anchored off Maupiti.

The Insignificance of Maupiti, a Genuine Society but on the Edge

Just a few miles away, Maupiti is a world apart as humble as it is ignored. Back on flat terrain, we rented bicycles and as we cycled around the island, we confirm your forced retreat. We want to buy stamps and postcards but the post office is only open twice a week and only from 2pm to 4pm.

residents, citroen mehari, Maupiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Residents of Maupiti in an old Citroen Mehari.

Every time one of its 1300 inhabitants needs a hospital or even a medical center worthy of the name, they have to take a flight to Papeete, the capital of great tahiti. Lives have already been lost in this inconvenient transport, but babies have also been born along the way.

In the opposite direction, the few stern (white fur) curious people who land on the island give something to another family and bring some blessed money.

tropical coastline, coconut trees, Maupiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Tropical bay of Maupiti with coconut trees over the Pacific Ocean.

For the rest, what is left is fishing and the cultivation of noni the fruit of a homonymous tree (Morinda citrifolia) of the coffee family and with properties that conventional medicine suspects but that both the Polynesian cultural tradition and alternative medicine in several countries have become accustomed to praising.

Oddly enough, it's impossible not to call Maupiti paradise, but these overseas Edens are almost common in endless French Polynesia and metropolitan settler investments don't reach everywhere.

As a rule, the natives complain when they lack opportunities or help, but to compensate, they have all this divine recreation almost all to themselves.

The Atipi Bay Divine Canoeing Circuit

We are still circling around the geological heart of Maupiti as we pass through the bay of Atipiti and continue to Tereia beach. They had already explained to us that we could take the opportunity to cross the lagoon on foot to the solid ground of the motion Auira.

Whenever possible, we keep our eyes on the bottom, looking for rays that can sting and poison us, but the depth increases in certain areas and forces us to walk with our arms in the air, to protect our backpacks and cameras.

It is in these strange preparations that we see four colored canoes moved by determined Polynesian paddlers approaching at great speed. The caravan passes a meter or two from us but ignores us.

canoe, canoeing, native, Maupiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Native trains in a canoe

Rowers continue their competitive navigation around the core of the atoll more concerned with getting the ideal shape for the upcoming inter-island competitions.

Maupiti is part of the Society archipelago but lives a life apart.

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