Raiatea ~ The Sacred Island (Society Islands)
Considered to be the most sacred of the Polynesian islands, Raiatea was the first island to be settled some 1000 years ago when the first Maoris disembarked from huge bamboo canoes. It is believed this is the starting point of the great Polynesian migration. Originally known as Havai, it was rebaptised by the daughter of Queen Rai and warrior Atea in memory of her deceased parents, and became Raiatea which means both faraway heaven and sky with soft light. Raiatea is a huge mountainous volcanic island, second only in size to Tahiti.
Where is Raiatea?
Located between Huahine and Bora Bora, the twin islands of Raiatea and Tahaa share a common lagoon. A narrow 1.8 mile channel separates the two islands. Raiatea is a 40-minute flight from Tahiti.
On Raiatea you’ll find two charming hotels as well as several family owned pensions (bed & breakfasts). The Raiatea Lodge is located on the west coast of the island and close to the main village of Uturoa. Closer to the southern end of the island, you’ll fine the Opoa Beach hotel with refreshing white washed bungalows on the beach.
What to do in Raiatea
A “must do” on Raiatea is a visit to the Marae Taputapuatea. This Polynesian temple is a national monument, featuring six stone shrines located on a flat, sandy point. A great number of human sacrifices were performed at this historic site. There are organized excursions to Marae Taputapuatea or you can just rent a car and visit it on your own, but certainly, you’ll learn more on a guided tour.
The lush green interior of Raiatea makes it the perfect place for hiking. There are a good number of well-maintained trails here. Climb up Mount Temehani and you may be rewarded with a rare glimpse of the Tiare Apetahi — a flower that grows no other place else on earth.
Winding its way though valleys, gorges and rainforests, the Faaroa River holds a mythic place in the history of Raiatea. This balmy green haven, bordered by wild hibiscus trees, is the historic site where hundreds of brave Maohi families departed on their migratory voyages to settle Hawaii and New Zealand. It is the only navigable river in Polynesia and runs in to the huge Faaroa Bay. This is an excellent excursion.
The waters around Raiatea abound with fish, and fishing enthusiasts can take advantage of this by chartering a fishing boat for a half or full day. Cast your line and catch jackfish, mahi mahi, marlin, sailfish and tuna. In addition, the lagoon offers excellent scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities.
Raiatea is the yachting and sailing capital of Tahiti and has more than a half dozen yacht charter companies located in the main village of Uturoa.