Raiatea & Tahaa
Raiatea and Ta’haa are often overlooked by tourists on their way to Bora Bora or Huahine. But there are so many super spots to discover and some of the friendliest people in Polynesia live here. Here are a few of our favourite things to do on the Islands. Its not an exhaustive list. The best way to discover Polynesia is to go slow, talk to the locals and let the ‘mana’ guide you. But let us give you a little taster of what we enjoyed in the seven years we lived here….
Tahaa (Vanilla Island)
- Population: 5 234 hab. (2017)
- Density: 90.2 km2 (34.8 sq mi)
Tahaa produces 70-80% of all French Polynesia’s vanilla. Because of the pervasive aroma of vanilla, Tahaa is known as the “Vanilla Island”. Tahaa’s pearls are of exceptional quality.
Raiatea (Sacred Island)
- Population: 12 545 hab. (2017)
- Density: 167.7 km2 (64.7 sq mi)
The islands of Raiatea and Taha’a are enclosed by a single coral reef, and may once have been a single island. Raiatea is both the largest and most populated island in the Leeward Islands.
Sailing in Raiatea & Tahaa
Sailing can’t get much better than this. What a fantastic playground! Sailing inside the lagoon feels like being on a lake. The water is so flat behind the sheltering reef, you almost forget you are on a boat. The only hazard and its a big one, is the coral heads and they are everywhere. The charts and all the markers are really accurate. After sailing these waters for over 7 years, we can say we could almost sail there blindfolded! There are lots of really nice anchorages all around! For some of them, having a catamaran helps a lot. Arc en Ciel has been for sure where no others have, thanks to its 50 cm draft. You can get a free guide to all our secret anchorages if you become a Patron. Check out our Patreon page.
Eating freshly fished lobsters on the BBQ at the back of the boat whilst sipping a nice wine and watching the sunset is hard to beat! Sailing in calm waters with dolphins playing around your boat or a morning dip in the worlds biggest swimming pool followed by nice pancakes with a fresh papaya salad isn’t bad either… You got the picture! We had the best time of our life there and we made the most of it!
Kitesurfing in Raiatea
The lagoon of Raiatea and Tahaa is the perfect place to learn to kitesurf in beautiful warm turquoise water. Guillaume started a kitesurf school there during 4 years. If you want more information on the different spots contact us.There are so many places all around Raiatea and Tahaa to Kite! In the waves at the pass of Tiva, at motu Atger, downwinds on the east coast… It’s better if you have a boat though as the launch from the mainland can be a bit tricky…
Hiking in Raiatea
Hiking is hot and sweaty but worth if for the amazing views…check out these walks…
Panoramic views from Mount Tapioi
Amazing views can be seen from a 45 minute walk up to the top of the Tapioi, which is a popular mountain hike starting just between the post office and police station at the edge of town. The walk gradually climes uphill, getting steeper at the top and is popular for walking and jogging in the early morning and evening. It’s a fantastic spot to see the sun set with views of the town, the lagoon and motus, Ta’haa, Bora Bora and on a clear day, Maupiti.
This is private ground with free roaming cattle and horses, but its fine to walk there as long as you are respectful and don’t pick fruits or drop litter. Warning…I was once chased by the bull, but on reflection I might just have been in the way…..but it scared the life out of me! I believe that now they prefer you to do the walk on week days and the path is closed to the public at weekends.
A hike up the Mount Temehani
The Temehani is Raiatea’s sacred mountain where the endemic Tiare Apetahi flower grows. The only place on earth that this flower grows, it is the symbol of Raiatea and at risk of disparition.
Mount Temehani, the highest mountain of Raiatea has a two plateaus and the summit Tefatoaiti at 1017m altitude. One of the plateaus is a nature reserve and off limits to the public and the other is this hike to 800m altitude. Its a good eight hour round hike depending from where you set off.
The hike starts passing through a cool pine tree forest and dense tropical vegetation, you can pick passion fruit that are growing wild, then the path gets narrower winding up to a slightly steep area when you start to reach the ridge of the mountain. There are guide ropes to hold onto in parts. Its a long walk but not too steep a climb to the top with fantasic view all along of Ta’haa, Bora Bora, Huahine and Maupiti in the far distance. On the way there is the ‘Queens Bath’ where you can stop, rest and have a cooling dip. Once you reach the large flat rock plateau at the top you have a fantastic view of all the East coast of Raiatea. And there is a 20 meter lava tunnel, where they say if you throw in a coconut , it will end up in the lagoon!
The legend of the Tiare Apetahi is quite sad. It is said that after arguing with her husband, the wife walked up to the plateau and took her life by cutting off her hand. Where her hand fell the rare gardenia plant grew, and soon all the mountain was covered in white flowers shaped as her hand with her five petal fingers.
Now, due to tourism and vandalism, the plant is disappearing. Efforts are being made to replant but not with very much success. There are huge fines and the risk of 3 months in prison for picking the flower or plant. Is advised to do the trek with a guide to avoid accidental damage.
The Sacred Marae of Taputapatea (UNESCO world heritage site)
It’s impossible to write about Polynesian culture without including a description of the Marae. Tremendously important in Polynesian culture, maraes are ancient outdoor temples that served for both religious and social functions. They were considered as a porthole where man could communicate with the gods and their ancestors through the medium of the high priests and are found throughout Polynesia. It is thought that the ‘mana’ of the gods, which could be described as a power and life force, was given in exchange for human and animal sacrifice at these sites.
The Marae of Taputapuatea was used as a meeting and ceremonial ground for priests, navigators and warriors from all over the pacific who came to participate in ceremonies and to discuss navigation, education and politics. It was considered as the religious center of Eastern Polynesia.
Taputapuatea is especially important as it is thought to be the first marae where the Polynesians arrived and settled. Raiatea is at the heart of the Polynesian triangle. It is one of the largest outdoor temples in Polynesia and is thought to date from 1000AD. Stones from this marae where taken to other Islands throughout Polynesia and as far as Hawaii and New Zealand. They have been incorporated into the sacred temples in these islands as a sign of allegiance.
It is in the center of this marae that Polynesian mythology states that Oro, the Polynesian god of war, was born.
Taputapatea marae and the surrounding forest and waters are now a protected UNESCO world heritage site since 2017, after 20 years of campaigning.
On a personal note it is a beautiful site, quiet and clean. The large clearing and stone platforms on the edge of the lagoon have a mystic and spiritual feel. This is a favourite spot for us to ‘chillax’ spending the day picnicking, painting and swimming off the little beach to snorkel. Relaxing under the shade of the huge sacred Banyan tree sipping on a coconut.
It feels as if we have had a privilege to visit these sacred sites on several different islands. I can’t describe them all here, or begin to give detailed descriptions. But to discover a marae is awesome, eerie and profoundly memorable.
Relaxing at the Motu
The motus of Raiatea and Ta’haa are exceptional. You can can escape from the world on your own desert Island. Motus are on the fringe reef next to an open passage, so they are great spots for snorkelling and spear fishing.
To get there you do need a boat, but some motus have small hotels who can arrange a ride if you eat in their restaurants and some can be reached by water taxi, or hire a small boat. They are often not that far from land so you could head out with the canoe or SUP. Its also possible to stay the night and camp on most motus, which is a great way to slow down and watch the show of a perfect sunset.
Most weekends everyone heads to the motu to relax and catch up with friends and family. Feasting on freshly caught fish grilled on the BBQ and chilling out sipping a cold Hinano with your toes in the warm water…listening to someone strumming away on a ukulele and infectious howls of laughter…playing patonk under the shade of the coconut trees…its not a bad way to spend the weekend!
Motu Ofetaro holds a special place in our heart. It’s where Guillaume proposed and where we held our Polynesian wedding ceremony. We never imagined getting married in Polynesia, and we were so lucky to have our close families come out to be with us. We celebrated our marriage with a traditional wedding ritual, surrounded by friends, music, love, flowers and the ocean. We can’t thank our friends and families enough for making the day so special. A special big thank you to Rava and Heimata and their families for helping us with the preparations and preparing the food, ‘a real Polynesian feast’, with such love and care. Thank you so much to everyone who shared this day with us and such amazing gifts of music, dance, fire and laughter.
Diving and Snorkeling
There are son many beautiful places to snorkel in the islands with well preserved coral and plenty of colourful tropical fish. The best spots are generally found at the atoll passes, where the protected lagoon meets the deep blue ocean.
In the shallow water next to the motus you can easily access many beautiful sites. There are clownfish poking out of their little anemone homes (think Nemo!), beautiful green, blue and purple clams, schools of butterflyfish, brightly coloured wrasse, parrotfish, surgeon fish and lionfish, to name a few. Let the gentle current take you drifting over beautiful coral formations, and still be in shallow water with sandy patches to stand up in. If you are lucky you might come across a grey stingray or blacktip reef shark, as they are common sights and not naturally aggressive.
If you feel more adventurous and a strong swimmer you can follow the edge of the motu, and swim into the deeper water of the pass. Here the coral drops away dramatically forming a cliff edge that is with teaming with life and you are more likely to have encounters with larger marine life, such as schools of spotted eagle rays, manta rays, turtles and larger sharks. Swimming in the pass it’s best to go with friends and be careful of the current.
The Hawaiki Nui Va'a Race
Va’a, the outrigger canoe, has one its most important annual sporting events, the Hawaiki Nui Va’a, a race held over three days in the Leeward Society Islands at the end of October.
The race starts from Huahine to Raiatea. Races are held in the lagoon of Raiatea, then across to Taha’a on the second day. The final days challenge is the crossing to Bora Bora reaching its climax crossing of the finish-line on the Matira beach as everyone flocks into the water to cheer the warriors on.
This mythical challenge is both the biggest paddling race in the Fenua as well as a major cultural event. With around one hundred teams coming from across French Polynesia, as well as several foreign clubs from France, Germany, Hawaii, to name a few, battling it out in this immensely physical team challenge.
The support boats following the race and spectators cheering from motor boats or from the shore create a colourful and noisy spectacle.
Guillaume and a group of six friends followed the Va’a race as they crossed from Tahaa to Raiatea. Only four made it the whole way, with waves crashing around them, six hours of non-stop kiting keeping up with the rowers was a challenge in itself.
The Tahiti Pearl Regatta
This is the largest festive regatta of the Pacific islands. It was created 16 years ago by a group of friends.This is a great Regatta that brings Raiatea to life for a few days as sailors flock in from Tahiti and afar. Sailboats fill the marinas with an electric buzz. Animations happen in town and parties and spectacles are hosted on the different Islands after each event.The race lasts four days and connects huahine, Raiatea -Tahaa and Bora Bora.
The itinerary changes each year and we have been lucky enough to be involved most years. It is open to all types of boats and all nationalities. Since 2009, the winning team has been invited to participate in the current year’s Voiles de Saint-Tropez. Guillaume has been racing on the “Speed feet” race boats from a Tahitian team for 4 years. So much fun to race in such a beautiful environment with sailor friends from all over! If you happen to be in the Leeward islands in May, it is a must see! You might also be able to participate even if you dont have a sailboat. Crew is always needed! Click here for more infos.
The following weekend after the TPR is the Regatta of the Tea Cup, a more relaxed local affaire, racing around the island of Tahaa with no rules, except that you can’t use a motor. Each time we do this one I say never again. We always break something as we push our overweight cruising boat to her limits! One year Guillaume and a friend raced with kitesurf and windsurf, killing the competition only to be sadly stranded without wind on the home straight! (Thanks Tor johnson for the great shots)
Paragliding in Raiatea
Raiatea is a great spot for paragliding. There are two main takeoff zones with an easy access. One near the town center and the other one along the bay of Faaroa. The third takeoff is from the top of mount Temehani, but you have to carry your paraglider 3 hours! Done it once… took 15 minutes to go down…There was only three of us flying at the time. Every now and then, we would go with our machetes to the take off to give it a good clean. Most locals looked at us like alien when we would land on football fields. No need to tell you that the view from the air is amazing. Once, Guillaume managed to surf, paraglide and kite all in the same day, he fell asleep with a smile!!
The Black Pearls
Tahitian black pearls are known to be some of the most beautiful pearls in the world.
They are a bit like sweets in Polynesia, once you have one you just keep wanting more! Nearly all the Polynesian ladies, and quite a few of the men, wear them in different styles of jewellery. The more you see them the more you notice just how unusual they are. The main colour is a dark charcoal grey but they shine with varying shades of blue, green, pink, silver and gold. Jo didn’t have her ears pierced when we arrived in Polynesia, but decided to do so just to wear these stunning pearls.
They are mostly farmed in the lagoons of the Tamuotus Islands, but there are several farms dotted around the lagoons of the society Islands too.
Pearls are French Polynesia’s largest export. It’s a serious business to culture the pearls and involves grafting a small bead of mollusk shell into the living oyster. It then takes at least two years for the oyster to transform this into a pearl. Naturally occurring pearls are rarely perfectly round and are called Keshi pearls. They are also very beautifully used to make jewellery.
Its well worth a visit to a pearl farm to have the whole process explained in detail. You can also see their treasures and even choose your own pearls to mount into jewellery. Its usually less expensive to buy pearls directly from the farm and I think the whole experience makes them a more meaningful souvenir.
- If your on a budget a cheaper way than flying to Raiatea is to take the cargo freight boat the Hawaki Nui or Taporo from Tahiti. Its quite rustic but adds to the adventure!
- Never forget Polynesia with a tatoo from Isidore Haiti. A slightly painful but permanent reminder of paradise.
- If your feeling a bit achy and sore, or just fancy some TLC. Don’t hesitate to see a professional osteopath in Raiatea. Our old practice is under new management and easy to find next to Tahiti Phone in the town centre of Uturoa. Contact Fanny and Benjamin.
- If you don’t have your own boat, Raiatea is the best place to start your yacht charter of the Leeward Islands. The three companies are Dream Yacht Charters at the marina closet to town or Moorings Yacht Charter and Tahiti Yacht Charter are near the airport.
- Raiatea has fantastic diving centres. Dive in security around the reef of Raiatea and Taaha with first class instructors with Hemisphere Sub or Te Mara Nui Plongée.
- Raiatea Activities organises kayak trips to gently paddle up the Faaroa river as Vivien shares his local knowlege with you or cool down by windsurfing on the stunning turquise lagoon. Find them at the marina closest to the town of Uturoa and ask for Gwen.
- Treat yourself to a bit of colonial luxury by enjoying a first class meal out and cocktails at sunset at the Raiatea Lodge, PK 9.5 to the West of Island. Kayak from here to the beautiful motu of Miri Miri just in front.
- Cycle around Raiatea and stop half way at the Opoa Beach Hotel, on the East of the Island PK37, to have a great lunch. Its hard work but worth it!
- Enjoy the amazing view at the bungalows of Villa Tonoi, just outside Uturoa to the East PK 1.5, and let them take you out sailing or on a speed boat trip of the lagoon.
- Hotel Fare Via Nui, on the west of the Island PK 22.5 has a fantastic restaurant and view. Try the Mahi sauce vanille here, its pretty amazing and the cheesecake is too good!
- Sunset Beach Motel on the west coast PK5, is set in a coconut plantation and a good base for a holiday bungalow or camping in Raiatea.
- There’s so many good places to eat, pretty much all the restaurant and cafes in and around Uturoa all have great fresh local dishes. You can’t really go wrong. There’s the healthy choices of fresh raw tuna salad with coconut milk, chinese style or as sashimi or you could try out large portions of tasty chou mein at the roulettes. A local favourite is steak sandwich with garlic butter fries, washed down with a cold Hinano!
- A day out with Tahaa Tour Excursions Day Tours – Edwin and his son Yvan, will collect you from Raiatea by motorized pirogue for an informative, fun, unforgetable visit of the Vanilla Island of Tahaa and her lagoon.
- Cycle around Tahaa and stop to find treasure at the Champon Pearl farm situated on the south point of the Island in the Bay of Apu.
- Pari Pari Rum distillery on the east coast is well worth a stop. The rum is produced from locally grown sugarcane…we still have a few drops left of our favourite ‘Rhum Ambre’ aged in oak barrels put aside for a special occasion!
- The ‘Maison d’enfance’ at Pk 1 on the east side of Raiatea is a good address if you have young children and are looking for an indoor play are. They are very professional and kind, and will be able to point you in the right direction if you have any child related worries. Its a nice place to meet other young families.