The history of Makatea is marked by the phosphate mining operation which lasted for 60 years. An abandoned factory and the deep mining pits are the scars it left behind. Discover the unique past of this atypical atoll in the Tuamotu Islands of French Polynesia.

The island of Makatea is a unique destination in The Islands of Tahiti. Discover its recent past which was marked by the mining of its phosphate-rich soil. This industrial activity lasted for 60 years until finally coming to a halt in the 1960s. There is no airport on the island, so the only way to get there is by boat, which docks at the port of Temao on the west coast. The abrupt cliffs have become a major tourist attraction on the island and there are now many climbing trails to suit climbers of all levels. The views over the Pacific Ocean from the cliff face are absolutely magnficent.

Exploring the mines

The ancient industrial village and vestiges of the phosphate mining operation are important tourist sites in Makatea. Rusting locomotives, an electricity generator partly hidden in the vegetation and thousands of pits are all that remain today of an industrial activity that lasted for 60 years. Climb to the scenic viewpoint from where you can see the ruins of the ancient port that belonged to the mine. During the period of mining, the population of the island was multiplied a hundredfold to reach 3,000. It was a period of great prosperity for some of the inhabitants of French Polynesia and the lives of the islanders changed completely: “We had microwave ovens when the people of Tahiti were still cooking in traditional earth ovens”.

After visiting the village, go to the mines themselves. They can be found in the middle of the island in a barren stretch of land known as The Sahara. It is a veritable lunar landscape with thousands of mining pits, the deepest of these pits reaching nearly 300 feet deep. The phosphate was dug out by shovel and taken to the train by wheelbarrow. The workers were paid by the barrowload. The railway was the first and only one ever built in The Islands of Tahiti.

Nature, sport and culture in Makatea

The atoll’s industrial past is unique in French Polynesia, but there are many other activities for visitors try, such as hunting for ‘kaveu‘ or coconut crabs. Your Tahitian Guesthouse will be able to organize a night hunting expedition, with the catch prepared for a delicious dinner afterwards.

Coconut crab hunting © MAKATEA Escalade
Coconut crab hunting © MAKATEA Escalade

Climbing is a thrilling sport, but when you add breathtaking views over the Pacific Ocean, it takes on another dimension completely. The cliff faces of Makatea have trails to suit climbers of all levels, even complete beginners. After your climb, visit one of the island’s freshwater caves for a refreshing dip in the cool water. You’ll discover that Makatea is a very unique destination, and it’s just one of the many surprises waiting for you in The Islands of Tahiti.

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