June 12, 2008 | Comments 0

Raiatea - a Rare Find Amid the South Pacific

Although quiet Raiatea is the second largest island in the French Polynesia, it remains to this day an unspoiled destination in the South Pacific, even with ultrachic Bora Bora close by. In fact, Raiatea can be a destination in itself if you have to choose between the islands which dot the region. Inhabited yet very lightly populated, the island still offers a surprisingly wide variety of panoramas, both from the coast and from its interior.

Back in the time of ancestry, Raiatea was famously known as the sacred isle, and with good reason: the island was the hub of religion in Polynesian antiquity, due to the inimitable sense of mystery which surrounds the island itself. Representatives of the various Polynesian tribal kingdoms went onshore to attend tribal meetings or rituals, or to participate in occasional human sacrificial rites to appease the gods. These are performed at the southeastern shores, where Marae Taputapuatea is located. Up to this day, evidence of the past can still be visited, as the open-air worshipping temple and the bas-relief petroglyphs remain intact along the island coast.

One noticeable characteristic which separates Raiatea from all the isles on the region is the absence of a real beach. This shouldn’t deter those who want to get wet though; rent a boat to one of the numerous islets which dot the lagoon that embraces the island. One of the more popular spots is Motu Nao Nao, an expanse of fine white sand, as well as Opeha Point, a good spot for early morning snorkeling. Another must visit is Tahaa, a quaint island just beyond the same lagoon; cruisers have the advantage though, as it is only accessible by boat, and only through sponsored excursions or tours. The day’s pace truly skirts along on this isle, as people make it through the day by fending for their own needs, catching their own lunch at the lagoon and whatnot. Even in the isolated areas of the great South Pacific, this seems like a dreamy scenario you won’t want to wake up from.

To be sure, there is a walk-friendly town filled with plenty of diversions for the tired or bargain-hunting tourist. Uturoa lies just outside the cruise docking port, Gare Maritime, and it is lined with plenty of bazaars, boutiques, and cafes; don’t expect a bustling street market though. You’re here to get away from the city, not to get the same old, same old experience. For sheer water fun, snorkeling is still a great pastime even in the absence of beaches, as you can delve into the water from a rented boat or from one of the surrounding islets. Inland, you can stroll through the island on lengthy horseback rides; Kaoha Nui Ranch offers trips on horseback from two-hour to half-day periods, allowing you to get an up-close perspective of the island’s ridges and valley basins. Quaint and quiet, Raiatea stays faithful to its reputation of being a destination which veers away from the beaten path, even if it is located in one of the more well-visited regions of the South Pacific.

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Filed Under: South Pacific

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