After Moorea, we spent five memorable days on the island of Raiatea, French Polynesia‘s largest island after Tahiti. After Moorea’s high peaks and blue lagoons, Raiatea provided some contrasts, plenty of stunning mountain scenery and beautiful lagoons with the ocean beyond but a softer side too of colourful shrubs, pretty villages and happy-going Polynesian life. This is not really a tourist island, with an absence of accommodation but abounds in authentic Polynesian lifestyle.
We spent five nights in a beach-front chalet, with chickens, birds and crabs being the only other company apart from each other – the early morning alarm calls were guaranteed with a very persistent cockerel! Staying in a small private resort on the quietest side of the island, we were a few yards from Polynesia’s most important temple, the Taputapuatea marae. It was from here that the Polynesian people set off in their long boats, across the Pacific Ocean to the extremities of the Polynesian Triangle (including New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island (now part of Chile), during the 11th to 14th centuries. Until 1750, annual pilgrimages were made to Raiatea but in 1750 a curse was put on the site by a high priest. However, now France is promoting Raiatea for UNESCO World Heritage status. Marie, our host, an expert in Polynesian social anthropology, gave us a comprehensive tour of the site with some spooky details. The thousand year old Marae was the place reserved for ceremonial activity in both the religious and social realm for the ancient Polynesians, including infantile sacrifice.
The first full day, we took a 60 Km return boat trip, around Raiatea and to the sister island of Tahaa. There were only six of us, a French couple from Biarritz, clearly on honeymoon. Alf asked the other young couple if they were American, and the man replied, ‘She’s American and I’m Hawaiian’. They were all twenty something year olds, so the conversation was limited. Anyway, the boat was very fast and comfortable. The trip included a visit to both an oyster farm and a vanilla plantation. We had a lovely picnic lunch in a tent on a secluded beach that was lined with tropical trees and palms; there was an assortment of delicious Polynesian dishes. The highlight was snorkelling in a protected coral reef garden – it was simply stunning.
The second day, Marie lent us a car and we toured the island’s two metalled roads – one went around the perimeter of the island and the other traversed the islands with the mountains in the centre. We stopped in the island’s biggest town for lunch and shopping – it consisted of two small main streets and was quite colourful. Our omelette, in a busy sea-front bistro was not quite like those that we remembered in France.
Others days, were spent lazing around on our secluded beach and swimming in the lagoon with the small fish, listening to the ocean breaking beyond the lagoon and watching the magnificent sunsets. Eating options were quite limited, but we learned about ‘le Snack’ which was the only restaurant around, for want of a better word. Alf took a liking to the local beer and soon realized that Bordeaux red was cheaper than in the UK or Cyprus, so we didn’t have a serious problem as wine and beer was in abundance! A visit to the village supermarket provided fresh French bread, cheese, cold meats, fruit and veggies, so we managed.
Unfortunately, on our final full day on the island, Alf had an accident. He went down a step and caught his foot in a large crab hole, his left ankle collapsed, and he fell. He was in a lot of pain and we decided to go to the hospital for an x-ray. The doctor diagnosed a stretched ligament and recommended a stabilizing ankle brace with a support strap for up to five weeks. The hospital was on the other side of the island and Marilyn had to do the driving. She hadn’t driven on the right for many years, let alone at night, with many obstacles, including children on bikes with no lights and an assortment of animals in the road, in a left-hand drive old banger of a manual car, with a badly slipping-clutch and not being able to change down fast enough to round the bends. Alf’s forgot his ankle pain and his nerves were not at their best, as he screamed, ‘you’re too far over!’ Please understand that the unprotected sea was on the right, a few feet away. A weaker couple would probably have applied for divorce. Today, we catch a flight to Bora Bora, famous for honeymoons, and it should provide some good chilling time and help Alf’s ankle to start healing and settle his nerves. Alf reckons that the drive will provide some good stories to share over a beer with friends.
For a selection of our best photos open these links:
- Coastal Raiatea – French Polynesia
- Mountains Raiatea – French Polynesia
- Marae Raiatea – French Polynesia
- Sunrise Raiatea – French Polynesia
Stay with us. After Bora Bora, we have two more stops in French Polynesia.