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Austral Islands vacations

A vacation in the Austral Islands is well suited for travelers with a spirit for adventure, who seek out untouched corners of the earth. Hundreds of miles to the south of Tahiti, this chain of five high islands is located on the Tropic of Capricorn.

The Australs are famed as much for the traditional art of weaving coconut and pandanus leaves into elaborate hats, purses, mats, and bags, as for the seasonal passage of humpback whales in its surrounding waters.

Compared to the rest of French Polynesia, accommodations in the Australs can be scarce, consisting only of a few small hotels and family pensions scattered across the islands. Still, there is plenty to see and experience in the region, known for its superb white sand beaches, rich vegetation and distinctly dramatic geological characteristics.

Rurutu is the northernmost island in the Austral archipelago. The topography of the island is striking, consisting of high cliffs surrounded by numerous caves, which can be explored by visitors. Humpback whales are another exceptional attraction here from July to October, but diving in the waters of Rurutu can be done all year round.

The largest of the Austral Islands is Tubuai, often called ‘The Island of Plenty.’ Tubai is comprised of two sets of hills on the eastern and western flanks of the island, joined by lowland valleys. When seen from the sea, this gives the appearance of being two islands. Tubuai is surrounded by a barrier reef enclosing a wide lagoon with fringing white sand beaches, making it an ideal spot for snorkeling. The area is also slowly gaining recognition as a haven for surfing.

Rimatara is the smallest of the Australs in size, height, and populace. Currently, visitors arrive by whaleboat at one of two villages, Amaru or Mutua Ura, but a new airport is in the process of being constructed. When new visitors arrive to Rimatura, a traditional ceremony invites them to pass through a cloud of purifying smoke wafting from beachside fires.

Situated just below the Tropic of Capricorn, Raivavae is one of the foremost islands for archeology and natural beauty in French Polynesia. Air Tahiti services the islands with flights through Tubuai. About 1,100 people live in four coastal villages on the island, with Rairua serving as the administrative center.

Finally, Rapa is the southernmost island in the South Pacific. Situated 100 miles from Raivavae and over 720 miles  south of Tahiti, it is commonly called Rapa- ti or “little Rapa” in deference to the big Rapa (Rapa Nui) - Easter Island. Fittingly, the two islands share a strong cultural connection. Rapa’s 500 inhabitants are descendants of fierce Polynesian warriors, kings, hardy sailors and pearl-shell divers.

The only island in French Polynesia that is below the tropical zone, remote Rapa faces extreme exposure conditions. The temperature in this southerly clime can drop to 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) during the Austral winter of July and August, when winds blow across the turbulent open seas, bringing cold temperatures up from the South Pole.

No airport exists on Rapa, and supplies are brought in by cargo ship from Tahiti. There are no tourist facilities other than a bed or room in a private home. Even though this lonely island at the bottom of the world is difficult to reach, there are still venturesome souls who heed the call to far away places.

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