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North of Maraa, the road runs through the Paea and Punaauia suburbs of Papeete. The west coast is the driest part of Tahiti, and it's very popular with Europeans, Americans, and others who have built homes along the lagoon and in the hills overlooking it and Moorea.

Arahurahu Marae

At PK 22.5, a small road on the right of Magasin Laut leads to a narrow valley, on the floor of which sits the restored Arahurahu Marae.

Musée de Tahiti et Ses Isles

At PK 15.1, turn left at the gas station and follow the signs through a residential area to the lagoon and the Musée de Tahiti et Ses Isles (Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands), one of the South Pacific's best museums.

Punaruu Valley

On a cloudless day, you will have a view up the Punaruu Valley to the Diadème as you drive from the museum back to the main road. Power lines mar the view, but it's worth stopping to take a look. Tahitian rebels occupied the valley during the 1844 to 1848 war, and the French built a fort to keep them there (the site is now occupied by a television antenna). Later the valley was used to grow oranges, most of which were shipped to California. Villagers sell the now-wild fruit at roadside stands during July and August.

The Route 5 expressway goes as far south as the Punaruu River, just north of the Tahiti Museum. Instead of taking the overpass onto the expressway, stay in the right lane to the traffic circle under the overpass. The first exit off the circle will take you up into the Punaruu Valley. The second exit leads to the Route 5 expressway. The third is Route 1, the old two-lane coast road, which will take you to the Lagoonarium.

The Lagoonarium

At PK 11.4, the Captain Bligh Restaurant and Bar has a terrific view of Moorea and is home to the Lagoonarium de Tahiti, an underwater viewing room.

After the Lagoonarium, Route 1 soon joins the four-lane Route 5 expressway, which passes shopping centers and marinas in Punaauia. It splits just before the Sofitel Tahiti Maeva Beach Resort. The left lanes feed into the Route 5 expressway, which roars back to Papeete. The right lanes take you along Route 1, the old road that goes past the west-coast hotels and the Tahiti-Faaa International Airport before returning to town.

Watching the Sun Paint Moorea -- I was born to see sights, and no matter how many times I visit French Polynesia, I never tire of its incredible natural beauty. I always spend sunset of my first day on Tahiti's west coast, depleting my camera battery as the sun paints another glorious red-and-orange sky over Moorea's purple ridges. The InterContinental Resort Tahiti and the Restaurant Pink Coconut are my favorite places to watch. The sun sets between 5:30 and 6:30pm here, so get there in time.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.