A favorite pastime throughout the Pacific islands is comparing one place to how another place used to be. Locals like to say that Tahiti is like Hawaii used to be, for example, and that Huahine is like Moorea used to be. In the case of French Polynesia's last westward outpost, Maupiti is like Bora Bora used to be.
Just 40km (25 miles) west of Bora Bora, this little jewel even resembles its larger neighbor, in that it consists of an outer barrier reef topped by a horseshoe of sand-edged motus enclosing a clear lagoon around a high central island. Here, there is more dry land out on the fringing motus than on the main island, which has an area of just 14 sq. km (5 1/4 sq. miles). The road around the main island is just 9.6km (5 3/4 miles) long.
Unlike Bora Bora, Maupiti has not a hint of modern tourism. Few visitors come here, and many who do are French residents of Tahiti, who like to spend their weekends relaxing at one of several small pensions, Maupiti's only choice of accommodations. Indeed, Maupiti is definitely a throwback to old Polynesia, when, among other things, very few locals spoke English.
Maupiti reminds me of the Bora Bora of more than 30 years ago, when I camped on a nearly deserted Pointe Matira, now a key part of Bora Bora's booming tourism infrastructure. Plage Tereia (Tereia Beach), a gorgeous strip of white-and-pink sand wrapping around a peninsula on the western side of Maupiti's central island, especially reminds me of those bygone days. Fortunately for the preservationists among us, local residents flatly rejected a proposed resort at this lovely location.
Just as Mount Otemanu's tombstone face is Bora Bora's trademark, Maupiti's distinguishing landmark is Mount Hotu Parata, a black-basaltic cliff dramatically rising 165m (540 ft.) above Vaiea, the island's main village. The cliff is pockmarked with caves that attract throngs of nesting seabirds.
Despite its small size, Maupiti was an important island in pre-European days. Archaeologists have uncovered both maraes and petroglyphs on the main island. They have also discovered human remains and other items out on Motu Paeao, a small islet separating two shallow passes on Maupiti's north side. Stone axes, whale teeth, and fishhooks have been dated to about A.D. 850, making it one of the oldest settlements in the Society Islands.
Whether you stay on Maupiti or see it as a day trip from Bora Bora, you are in for an authentic old Polynesian treat.