Located in the Society Archipelago of French Polynesia, Tahiti is a tropical high volcanic island with some of the tallest mountains in the South Pacific. Mount Aorai, (“Ao-Ra’i”, literally the “world of the sky” in Tahitian language, also the “royal house”), with its peak at 2066 m asl, is the third highest summit on the island of Tahiti following Mt Orohena (2241 m) and Mt Pito Hiti (2110 m).
The peak of Aorai is easily accessible by a well-maintained trail starting at Le Belvédère restaurant at 600 m elevation in the “commune de Pirae”, located on the north side (Leeward) of the island. There are two cabins, one at 1400 m called Fare Mato (“House of the rocky cliff”) and the second at 1800 m called Fare Ata (“House of the clouds”) with a Drop Zone for helicopter landing on both sites. The wooden cabins, built in 1989, house 15-20 people at a time and are maintained by the nature protection group “Te Rau Atiati”. The hike from Le Belvédère to Fare Ata takes 4 hours one way with a one-day light backpack and 6 hours with a 20 kg backpack for overnight trips. Less than one hour is needed to reach the summit from Fare Ata, the last spot where a campsite (4-5 tents max) can be set up. Pito Hiti is more difficult to reach (8 hours minimum one way) and Orohena can only be reached by helicopter.
The trail to Mt. Aroai passes through several vegetation types: between 600-900 m asl, remnants of mesic forests (dominated by the native tree Rhus taitensis) are found on steep and sunny slopes, as well as rainforests (with the native tree Neonauclea forsteri) in wet and shady gulches; followed by the species-rich montane cloudforest above 900 m in deep gullies and steep slopes (characterised by tall treeferns Cyathea spp.) and shrublands (with the native Dodonea viscose) on exposed windy ridges; a unique subalpine shrubland vegetation (with the endemic herb Astelia nadeaudii, the ericoid shrubs Leptecophylla pomarea and Vaccinium cereum and the sedges Gahnia schoenoides and Machaerina bidwillii) is found above 1500-1800 m. The most common trees found all over the elevation gradient, are the native Metrosideros collina (Myrtaceae) and the endemic Weinmannia parviflora (Cunoniaceae). Most mesic areas are invaded by the alien grass Melinis minutiflora, the thorny shrub Lantana camara and the small tree Tecoma stans, and wet forests by African tulip tree Spathodea campanulata, thimbleberry Rubus rosifolius, and monospecific stands of the small tree Miconia calvescens up to 1400 m elevation.
Weinmannia parviflora with fruits (JYM)