Aorai is the second highest peak in Tahiti, and in French Polynesia, after Orohena. Moon Handbooks
says this is the best climb in French Polynesia. The Tahiti Mountaineering Club
says this mountain has some of the best views in the world. While those two comments may be true, this mountain is also very wet and rainy. I never even did get a good view of the peak. The mountain is a good place to escape the tropical heat.
The mountain has some nice rainforest and is really wild and scenic, despite the fact that it rises behind the largest city in all of French Polynesia. The mountain isn’t climbed very often, but since the trail begins at the French Army training center, the army keeps the trail well-maintained and in good condition.
While Tahiti and all of French Polynesia are very popular with tourist, expect to have the mountains all to yourself. I never did meet anyone on any of the routes. It seems almost everyone hangs out at the lagoon, beaches, and resorts instead of climbing mountains, which is a good thing if you enjoy solitude.
Lower slopes of Aorai. Photo taken not far above Le Belvedere.
Despite the fact that the mountain is right next to the capital city of French Polynesia, it isn’t that easy to get to the trailhead at Le Belvedere. There are several ways to get to the restaurant at the trailhead.
If you are alone and have three-days to spare, you can walk to the trailhead. This is 10 kms/6.2 miles each way from downtown Papeete. You can shorten the walk by 3 kms/2 miles each way by taking a bus east from Papeete to the suburb of Parae.
Walk or take a bus to east of the Hippodrome stadium in Parae. This is about 200 meters/700 feet east of the Total Gas Station. From there, keep an eye out for the signs pointing out the road to Le Belvedere. There are several turns, but there are signs for the restaurant at every intersection. Follow the poor paved road to the restaurant (7 kms/4 miles from Parae). The restaurant and trailhead is at 600 meters/1970 feet elevation, and is a hot walk.
If you are lucky you may catch a ride to the restaurant, but don’t count on it.
Follow the directions above, but rental cars are very expensive on Tahiti. Parking can be a problem at the trailhead if you are not eating in the restaurant.
If you have two or more people, the restaurant will pick you up, assuming of course, that you eat in the restaurant. The meals aren’t cheap, but are really no more than they are in the other upscale restaurants in Tahiti. Any travel agency along the main avenue in Papeete can hook you up with a shuttle. Make sure to let them know you are climbing the mountain and want to take the shuttle down the same day. You can also try calling the restaurant directly at 42 73 44.
The original restaurant "Le Belvedere" closed in 2013, changed owners in 2014, and is now open as "O Belvedere" as of 2015. It's unclear as to whether or not it still operates a shuttle... my guess is no, but they can be contacted at +689 89 403 403 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for the Restaurant Website
If you have the cash to spare, a taxi will take you to the trailhead, for $65 each way. It’s almost cheaper to eat in the restaurant and take the shuttle unless you have a group of more than three people.
Looking back at Pirae, a suburb of Papeete from near the trailhead at Le Belvedere.
The only practical way up the mountain is via the trail from Le Belvedere
. This trail starts as Le Belvedere and climbs the ridge to Fare Mato (hut). From there, the route continues up the ridge and climbs some steep cliffs by way of fixed ropes before reaching the second hut of Fare Ata. The trail then follows the knife edge ridge to the summit, which is above timberline. The one way distance is 10.6 kms/6.6 miles, assuming you can get to the trailhead, but the route is steep and slippery.
There doesn’t seem to be any other practical routes up the mountain, but an old map I have does show some sort of trail from the south and Pa’ea? The trail is probably overgrown and rugged, if it even exist at all, as none of the locals seemed to know much about it.
Part of the muddy trail to Aorai, shot in the rain. This section is along the lower ridgeline.
No permits are required.
When To Climb
July through September are the driest months and the best months for climbing. May and October are the second best months for climbing. April can go either way, but mid-November through March are very, very wet. This peak is extremely slippery during and after rain and should be avoided.
This is one part of French Polynesia that can actually be chilly, so go prepared for that.
This is a lower section of the trail to Aorai. The higher I got, the more cloudy it became, so I took few pictures up high. As viewed in November.
There is no camping on the mountain, and its too wet for that anyway. There are two huts on the mountain. Fare Mato is at 1400 meters and Fare Ata is at 1800 meters. Both huts are free and in good condition. They even have solar powered lights, but they don’t always work. Both huts usually have water, but the tanks can get low on water if it has been a drought (rare). Bring a sleeping bag and pad as you will sleep on the floor. I saw some kind of rodent near the first hut, so consider hanging your food.
Below is the weather forecast for Papeete, which is right near the mountain. This is the closest weather link you will find to Aorai. The mountains are much wetter and a much cooler than Papeete.
CLICK HERE FOR PAPEETE WEATHER FORECAST
One of the better views I got of Aorai. The upper slopes of the mountain are in the clouds and rain.
Below is the average climate chart for Papeete. Temperature values never stray much from average, but precipitation values do. The mountain is much wetter than Papeete, but this chart will give you an idea of the best times to attempt the mountain.