A few days on the atoll of Mataiva
I take advantage of my 5-hour flight to the South Island of New Zealand from Tahiti to finally tell you about the few days I spent on the beautiful atoll of Mataiva. Unless you live in French Polynesia, I would say that there is no chance you have heard of this atoll here.
Locally, since the last few years, the atoll has become more and more known for its calm, authenticity and remains apart from the classic itineraries. In fact, I have never had a tourist ask me about the atoll, most of them preferring to visit the more famous ones “Rangiroa – Fakarava – Tikehau”. These are the only three atolls accessible with Air Tahiti Passes. In short, we wanted a change of scenery and spend this long weekend in a less visited area. So, we leave for Mataiva.
- Mataiva means “nine eyes”, which represent the nine channels (hoa) found on the atoll.
- The atoll is composed of a shallow lagoon and about sixty basins about 8 to 10m deep (quite unique!),
- The atoll is located in the Tuamotu archipelago. It is the most western atoll of the archipelago, about 40 km west of the atoll of Tikehau,
- The atoll, 10km long and 5.5km wide, is located about 300km from Tahiti,
- There is only one pass (to the west) on the edge of the main village (Pahua),
- Like all the other atolls of French Polynesia, this one is the result of the sinking of a volcanic island dating back to around 64 million years ago. Today, there is only one coral reef that remains, on which a set of motus can be observed,
- The population of the island in 2017 is about 300 people,
- In 2018, about 3000 people visited the island (that’s not much eh?!).
Our arrival in Mataiva
The funny thing about this atoll (so to speak) is that it is so small that you only see it at the last moment from the plane and for less than a minute. Seen from the sky, the atoll looks like a set of small shallow pools with turquoise colors as we like them. It’s quick, but it promises beautiful things.
As usual in the islands, the guesthouse where we stay during these few days (Pension Ariiheevai) comes to pick us up with the other people, mainly locals! We are greeted with beautiful flower necklaces and we get on a 4×4 in direction of the guesthouse. When we arrive, we discovered the very beautiful setting of this small guesthouse set on the edge of the lagoon: a few bungalows at the back, a large dining room, some concrete tables and benches to bask while looking at the beautiful color of the lagoon… we won’t be so bad here. The only problem was that there were quite a lot of us who had the same idea of coming here for the long week-end, we who were looking for calm, it was a bit of a failure!
After quickly settling in our large bungalow, we take advantage of the afternoon to go for a tour with everyone. I admit that it’s a bit of a shame as I was saying above, because the accommodation was full and we were more than twenty people. Which means that we move around with three 4×4s each time… it gives a bit of a summer camp vibe, but we put up with it and enjoy the places that are sublime.
We set off for a small 4×4 ride through the only dirt road that circles the island. Beautiful atmosphere and clearly, there are no crowds here. We stop at the edge of a beautiful white sand beach where elevated coral blocks are found in places, creating a certain charm to the place. The shades of blue in front of our eyes are impressive and we become aware of the shallow depth of the lagoon and its basins.
The guide suggests that we cross the lagoon on foot to a bird island in front of us. So we set off through corals and rays in 60cm of turquoise water to this famous island. On site, hundreds of birds have made their home in this beautiful setting. We can observe a lot of birds (I’m not familiar enough with the names, sorry) and I’m even lucky enough to be able to approach a blue-footed booby. The islet is composed of elevated dead corals where many eggs were laid. In short, we spend a good half hour in this beautiful setting and return to end our late afternoon at the guesthouse. A beautiful introduction.
The first day in Mataiva
We start this first day in direction of the other end of the atoll, still with our three 4×4s. A quick drive and we arrive at the scene of the day. The place is truly remarkable: a small steel shelter built at the edge of a splendid hoa with crystalline colors. These hoa, as they are locally called, are these famous shallow false passes that connect the ocean and the lagoon. While the cooks prepare the meal, we take the time to appreciate the place.
I personally go to the tip of the island where we are. The place is really beautiful and the color of the water is superb. I also take advantage of this setting to gain height with my drone. Just next to the site is also the site of the tomb of King Tu Paure (sorry, in French). Two small photos to appreciate the place seen from above!
We also take advantage of the place for some picture poses in the hoa which is particularly beautiful. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have the chance at that time to appreciate the entire meal based on grilled fish, having been intoxicated by ciguatera a few months before. However, I do enjoy some very good “ipo”, an artisanal bread made from coconut, grilled on the barbecue. A treat for the taste buds.
In short, we spend the day strolling through what many would consider a small paradise. The only little hitch, we are, to my liking, far too many to fully appreciate the place. But we deal with it! On our way back, we stop at the famous “Turtle Rock – Ofai Tau Noa”, a piece of coral partially eroded and elevated on the edge of the beach.
The second day trip on the island
On the second day, we follow the whole group and set off to discover another location of Mataiva, this time a motu, the famous sandbanks found on the coral reef. I leave by boat from the guesthouse with part of the group while Melanie and Louis leave by road in a 4×4.
The boat ride is rather nice. We pass through all the small shallow basins of the lagoon and we truly realize how little water there is. We come across coral almost everywhere and you have to be really careful with the boat not to tear everything. The pilot of the boat is used to it, so no worries. We stop at the “pito of the island – Mataiva Papa”, the belly button in Tahitian, a sort of small elevated coral islet, as if placed on the lagoon. A few more minutes by boat and we arrive on the “motu of the day”. The setting is, in my eyes, even more beautiful than the day before. A small golden sand beach is found at the edge of the motu, surrounded by two hoas. Here, nothing particular to see or do. We are there to relax, unwind, and enjoy the paradisiacal setting. Everyone goes about their business while waiting for the cooks to prepare the lunch.
We take the opportunity to get away from our “big group” and walk along the motu enjoying the splendid views of the colors of the water in the hoa. Elevated dead coral emerges on both sides of the place and gives a great atmosphere. We will also enjoy swimming in this translucent water, in natural pools as dug in the middle of the hoa. Some are almost my size and it is really appreciable to be there. We will spend the rest of the day as a family enjoying this great place along with a good meal. Another beautiful day.
Every evening, we have the chance to go for a walk by the lagoon not far from the guesthouse. At sunset, with a beautiful light, it is again very lovely. We never get tired of it.
The next day, we will visit “the swimming pool of Mataiva”, a large deep hole corresponding to the old phosphate quarry.
My opinion on the atoll of Mataiva
I must say that locally, I had really heard good things about this atoll. It is very famous for its landscapes, its lagoon (and its basins) and the fact that few visitors pass through here. Unfortunately for us (if I can say so), it was bad timing as the guesthouse was full during that long weekend and the fact that we had to travel with three 4×4s during the 3 days spoiled things a bit.
But the word is certainly a bit strong as we still spent 3 excellent days on this little piece of paradise. The fact that we were a lot at the guesthouse and during the outings does not take anything away from the fact that the atoll remains superb and that the sceneries that we could see were nevertheless breathtaking. I regret a little the organization proposed by the accommodation which looked a bit like a “summer camp” when we all moved together. It’s a shame not to offer several alternatives, for example when the guesthouse is full, to split the people into several groups. It avoids that herd effect, haha!
In spite of everything, I keep excellent memories of it, much more beautiful in my eyes than the atoll of Ahe for example that we saw a few months before. Of course, we didn’t have the opportunity to do a lot of snorkeling and from what we could see, there are very few faunas in the lagoon (too shallow and almost closed). Anyway, if you live around here or are on vacation and looking for a less touristy atoll than the classic Tikehau/Fakarava/Rangiroa, this is a very nice alternative.
The atoll of Mataiva - Practical aspects
As usual of course, a few paragraphs concerning the organization of a short stay here.
How to get to Mataiva?
I make exception of the few people who possibly have the chance to get to the atoll with their own boat, for example during a transatlantic crossing of the South Pacific Ocean (I envy you a little, I must say…). Logically, you will first have to go to the island of Tahiti, the main gateway to French Polynesia. To find the cheapest flights from where you live, I advise you to look on this flight comparator. I’ve been using it for over 10 years now, and I hardly ever separate myself from it.
Once in Tahiti, you unfortunately don’t have much choice. I am not aware of any boat or cargo ship that passes through Mataiva, although it is possible that they exist, especially from Rangiroa. Most of you will fly from Tahiti with the local airline Air Tahiti. Just be careful of the number of flights, I think there are 2 or even 3 flights maximum per week.
The difficulty in getting to Mataiva, for tourists at least, is that this atoll is not included in any Air Tahiti Pass, those famous Passes I was talking about above, which allow you to save quite a bit on internal flights. So you have no other choice than to take a round trip to the atoll, for a minimum of 3 days on the spot I think.
For locals and tourists passing through (I think it’s possible), you should consider booking a trip with “Séjour dans les îles” who offer a Flight + Accommodation with half board + Activities package, with the only two guesthouses on the island (I think). The prices are identical and it will cost about 52,000 cfp per person for the whole package (about 430€), which between us, for an “all-inclusive” stay here in French Polynesia, remains really correct in terms of price.
Where to sleep and eat in Mataiva?
We had chosen to stay at the Pension Ariiheevai. Except the fact that the accommodation was full (but they had nothing to do with it!), everything went very well there. Very nice welcome with flower necklaces, very large, simple but functional bungalows and a magical setting on the beach or almost. A few bikes and kayaks (which could use a sprucing up!) are available and there is even a small store to buy the aperitif for the sunset just next door.
I don’t know the other guesthouse (Pension Mataiva Village) so it’s difficult to give an opinion. But it seems to me that geographically, they are less well located. Of course, for lovers of luxury, hotels on stilts, you will pass your way!
Regarding food, if you book a “séjour dans les îles” package, you don’t have much to worry about since you’ll be on full board. Otherwise (if you took a return flight from Tahiti), you can find a few stores in the main village (Pahua). The food at the guesthouse was rather good overall, lots of fish of course!
Getting around the island
Again, it all depends on how you have organized your stay. We traveled with the whole group in 4×4s because it was included in our package. But you could very well have taken the bike or even walked around the atoll. With a lot of water and courage, I think you can even go more or less everywhere on foot…
There you have it, we’ve already reached the end! I hope that you enjoyed this little trip to Mataiva and that it will make you want to go there. The atoll lives essentially from tourism today and copra cultivation (to a lesser extent), so it’s a rather nice thing to go and discover these lesser-known corners outside French Polynesia. Did you enjoy the trip?
See you soon for another discovery! If you like atolls, I invite you to discover the atoll of Tikehau, another wonder.
My wife and I were planning a 3+ month journey to polynesia this upcoming winter (jan 1 – april 11) – leaving cold dark northern Sweden this time of year feels absolutely right! As we lived/worked one year in American Samoa a couple of years back we were thinking of Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomons and Cooks primarily and a few weeks in French Polynesia. After finding your excellent reports in “les deux pieds dehors” on different places in French Polynesia we ditched our primary plans and have now an iternary primarily based on your reports. We are (of course) lovers of the ocean, snokerling and diving. Yesterday I got the last tickets for Mangerava and Mataiva and our plans look like this: Tahiti (2d), Maupiti (5), Bora Bora (3 – well, had to add that one as well even if that milieu really not our cup of tea…), Fakarava (5), Rangiroa (6), Tikehau (7), Nuku Hiva (8), Hiva Oa (9), Raivavae (7), Tubuai (9), Mangerava (14), Mataiva (3), Manihi (7) and Tahiti (5) where we’ll catch the ferry for Moorea one day. Of course there will be a couple of single/double days on Tahiti inbetween flights.
Your reports have been a great inspiration to us and I really appreciate the way you write. I am NOT a big fan of trip adviser… Both my wife and I will be blogging when on the adventure, I on face book and my wife’s got a separate blog (https://fjellstrombirgander.blogg.se/). I’d be honored if you’d read and comment – and give recommendations.
All the best! And again – thank you so much for the inspiration!
/Richard and Frida
Hi Richard and Frida,
Thanks you so much for you kind word. I will have a look on your blog. Don’t hesitate to add a link to out website when blogging on French Polynesia. It might help some people then !