I must admit that, after spending five years on the island of Tahiti at the time of writing (February 2021), I had never been to the renowned Harrison Smith Botanical Garden. It only happened when my parents came back from vacation at Christmas, after they told me “it’s worth spending an hour or two there, no worries”. By the way, we just published (finally) our article about the things to do in Tahiti. This is clearly one of them, if you have the time.
The borders have just been closed with the outside world to supposedly limit the entry of Covid variants into the Polynesian territory. So, we are stuck on our rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but admittedly there is worse than us.
Still, we have time, and the vacations will probably be spent in French Polynesia. So, we took advantage of a very nice weekend to discover this famous garden in front of which I drove by a hundred times, but never bothered to stop there. It’s now done.
For once, I’m not going to write a lot in an article, as it would be of little interest in the end. A photographic discovery of the place will be much more interesting! Let’s go for a walk in this great botanical garden, which, in my opinion, is worth seeing if you have some time in Tahiti. Of course, most of the tourists will skip it, and would rather (this is not a critics) go and discover Bora Bora and its turquoise lagoon, or the Tuamotu atolls and the white sandy beaches of the Leeward Islands. But if you have enough time to discover Tahiti, have come for a few weeks to visit family or even if you live here, it is worth spending a morning, with your family or with your loved one, strolling through the tropical trees, plants and vines…
Here is what you should remember in a few lines about the history of this garden. The story begins between 1920 and 1925 with the purchase of the land of the present garden by the American Harrison Willard Smith. Passionate about flora, he planted a large quantity of trees, flowers, plants, etc.
In 1947, H. Smith left his garden to a friend, Mr. Jean-Marie Boubée, head of the Tahitian Agricultural Service at the time. The garden was bought in 1952 by another American, Cornelius Crane, who maintained the garden for some time. In 1962, upon Crane’s death, the government of Polynesia took over the garden. Since 2017, the place is managed by the Tourism Department.
We left early in the morning from Papeete towards this garden. One hour of road later, we discovered this beautiful place. I’ve checked beforehand if it is possible to go there with a stroller and if the alleys remain practicable, which is the case, phew!
We get our bearings on the map situated at the entrance and decide to do the big loop, as we have time. Louis takes pleasure in observing for some minutes the tortoise of Galapagos, impressive by its size and its calm.
We continue our road by following the classic circuit of the park. We discover there a whole heap of flowers, plants, and trees, admittedly, that we already know since we live here, as the famous Tiare Tahiti, but it is always very beautiful to walk in this type of scenery.
The paths are very well maintained, and you will find flowered sectors, others with huge trees, with water basins filled with water lilies, etc.
All along the paths, you can check small explanatory signs about the different species planted in the botanical garden. We take great pleasure shooting everything we see. I even brought Melanie’s DSLR, which had remained for a long time at home, and we walked around like paparazzi, with our two cameras (Canon 60D for her and 6D for me) and all our lenses.
Even if the goal is not to talk to you about photography, it is very interesting to switch from one camera to another. I’m with my new Canon 85mm f/1.8, bought second hand here in Tahiti, which allows me to get some nice background blur. But with the 70-200mm f/2.8 L mounted on Melanie’s camera, we manage to get some very close-ups of very interesting details too.
Approaching the halfway point, we discover a magnificent forest of mapés, the famous Tahitian chestnut. By the way, you can find some for sale along the roads leading to the garden. They taste good, and I do buy some from time to time. The tree really has a characteristic shape, especially its roots. They are found in the form of very large outer roots, which run down the length of the tree to end their journey in the water. When I say “outer”, they can measure almost a meter in height. It almost looks like arms coming down from the tree to look down. The atmosphere is superb, almost fairy-like honestly. Only hitch, too bad: the road is not far and slightly spoils the moment. Well, see for yourself.
At the exit of this forest, we find an area of Palm grove where you will have once again the opportunity to take beautiful pictures. The zone allows you to observe some beautiful basins with tons of water lilies, and a beautiful view of the surroundings. We are lucky, the weather is nice.
We leave after two hours, satisfied with this small discovery. Honestly, it is worth to be seen according to us. If you like nature, discovery of the flora that you know little or not at all, and if moreover you like photography, then you can easily spend some hours there. Only worry on our side, the small one is fed up with being in the stroller, that’s why we leave.
And what better way to end the day than going to this restaurant that we had already heard about too, but never had the opportunity to try. I admit that we are lucky (but also much less exposed) with this Covid situation because we can go to the restaurant without worries.
We enjoy, as planned, of a lunch in the form of a buffet of “Ma’a Tahiti”, literally of the local food. We find all the classics: Pua Roti (grilled pig), fish with all different sauces, beef with vegetables, banana, Manioc, Uru (breadfruit), Fe’i (banana to cook), Ipo (bread with coconut milk), chicken fafa, raw fish with coconut milk, fafaru (raw fish fermented in sea water) with mitihue (grated fermented coconut) or even Poe for dessert. In short, we had a great time.
The reception was for us formidable, the place is superb, at the edge of the water with sight on the peninsula in the distance. Count 4500xpf for the buffet on Sunday, but you can also eat à la carte if you prefer. We recommend this place with closed eyes.
A few quick words, I’ll keep it short. There is no public transportation to get there. You will have to either have your own car or rent one. I advise you to look on this comparator to find good prices. For information, the garden is located at PK51 on the west coast, in Papeari. It is free and open from 9am to 5pm overall. For the cheapest flights from where you live to French Polynesia, you can compare prices here.
Count on an hour’s drive from Papeete, with no one on the road. Depending on the time of day and the traffic jams, it can take up to 1h30. If you plan to stay on the peninsula, you can check out our complete guide on accommodations in French Polynesia. We give you our best recommendations.
In short, in our opinion, it is a very cool thing to do, especially with your family. We hope you enjoyed the walk anyway! If you like gardens and forest walks, then you should read the article about our walk in Vaipahi garden, a few kilometers away, another very nice place to discover during a tour of Tahiti.
See you soon,