Raiatea & Taha'a Vacations
Looking out from Bora Bora or Huahine, it is possible to see what appears to be the outline of one island looming on the horizon. It is in fact two distinct islands: Raiatea and Taha’a, surrounded by a singular reef that lies 135 northwest of Tahiti.
While not normally counted among the popular tourism stops of French Polynesia, a vacation in Raiatea is significant for the historical and cultural experience it provides the visitor.
Raiatea, meaning “faraway heaven” and “sky with soft light”, was first named Havai’i after the homeland of the ancient Polynesians. It is the most sacred island in the South Pacific and the second largest Tahitian isle behind only Tahiti itself. As the center of Polynesian religion and culture over 1000 years ago, Raiatea lends enchantment to ancient legends told to this day. The green-carpeted mountains include the celebrated Mt. Temehani, a Polynesian Mt. Olympus, which together with Taputapuatea in the south once served as the most important maraes of ancient Polynesia.
Today Raiatea is home to 10,000 people and functions as the economic and administrative center of the Leeward Islands. Its leading town, Uturoa, with a population of 4,000, is second in populace only to Papeete.
Raiatea is served by Air Tahiti, which offers frequent 40-minute flights from Papeete and Moorea, as well as several daily 15-minute flights from Huahine and Bora Bora. Ferry service also connects Raiatea with Bora Bora, Huahine, and Papeete, but runs infrequently. Both Raiatea and Taha’a have a few taxis, and Raiatea operates the public transit system, Le Truck, with daily routes from outlying villages to the town of Uturoa.
The circle-island and interior roads are best explored through hired excursion or by renting a car. To explore the lagoon, choose among motorboat, sailboat, or outrigger canoe rentals for a half or full day.
Long regarded as the yacht charter capital of Tahiti, Raiatea is home to several yacht charter companies. The island is also known as the main hub for sailing activities in French Polynesia.
In terms of accommodations, the Raiatea Hawaiki Nui Resort offers sunrise views and close proximity to the main town of Uturoa. In addition to the fine dining restaurant at this resort, there is an open-air and intimate restaurant at the Vahine Island Resort.
Hotel Opoa Beach – Raiatea is located on the southern coast of the island on a on a white-sand beach, offering spectacular views over the lagoon. Other well-appointed options for lodging include Pension Hotel Atiapiti – Raiatea, and the Hotel Raiatea Lodge.
A vacation in Taha’a, with the rich aroma of vanilla lingering heavily in the air, offers a glimpse into tranquil Tahitian life. The island’s simple beauty features soft mountain shapes surrounded by a motu with bright sand beaches. In the fertile valleys of the island’s interior, local farmers grow vanilla, watermelons and copra.
Taha’a is smaller in size and population (1,500) than its sister island, Raiatea. There are only a few villages on the island and few places to stay other than the supremely luxurious Le Taha’a Private Island & Spa. The resort’s restaurant, Ohiri, offers a 5-star culinary experience.
Taha’a is served only by water taxi from Raiatea’s airport and guests of the Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa can also arrange for a helicopter transfer from Bora Bora airport.
The scented air of Taha’a comes from the vanilla pods left to cure in the sun. Over 80% of Tahiti’s famous vanilla harvest is grown here. Plantation tours include strolling among the rows of climbing orchids and a demonstration of the pollination and curing processes.
Travel by powered outrigger canoe up the Faaroa River, the only navigable river in Polynesia. These historic waters were once the launch point for the ancient Polynesian voyages of discovery to Hawaii and New Zealand.
Explore the most sacred and revered marae in Polynesia—Taputapuatea on Raiatea. Considered a national monument, this large archaeological area is easily explored by foot and contains a plethora of marae and shrines.
Visitors can drive along the coast of Taha’a and linger in the quaint villages of Haamene with its pearl farm and turtle preserve; other notable sites include Patio, which is known for fishing and copra, and Tiva, which is known for its surrounding vanilla plantations.