Raiatea “Sacred Island”
Just 40 minutes from Tahiti, Raiatea is the second largest of the Society Islands with its sister island Taha’a sharing the same lagoon Raiatea is located between Huahine “The Garden Island” and Bora Bora on the other side. Raiatea’s name means “faraway heaven” and “sky with soft light” and is historically believed to be the main point for early Polynesians, the center for religion and culture. Polynesians arrived here over 1000 years ago and the island was first named Havai’I fanua fenua after the home land of the ancient Polynesians. To the Tahitians Raiatea is the “Sacred Island”.
Raiatea has retained a pristine natural beauty with mountains, craters, waterfalls, lush valleys with Vanilla Farms, exotic flowers, and Faaroa River, the only navigable river in French Polynesia. It has the second largest population for the Leeward Islands, but you would not know it. Its chief town on is Uturoa, and is the administrative center of the Leeward Islands. Many island tour operators and pensions can be found around this area along with the islands only chain hotel, the Raiatea Hawaiki Nui Hotel.
Raiatea holds much mystery and legend, and has some of Tahiti’s most significant archeological sites. There is only one main hotel on the island and many pensions with 2 luxury resorts on some of the motus of Taha’a. Among the many green carpeted mountains, the largest is Mt. Temehani and is often referred to as the Polynesian Mt. Olympus. With 2 twin islands sharing the same lagoon, there are fewer tourists here with so much more to experience and explore.
The airport in Raiatea also serves as the airport for Taha’a, its lagoon locked sister. The islands are surrounded by motus (islets) and reefs and are rich in marine life making it a great destination for good scuba diving and snorkeling. There are over 20 dive sites from drift dives through the passes, to drop offs and pinnacles, caves and coral canyons. There also a 3 masted ship called Nordby that sunk in 1900. This sacred island is an ecological and cultural treasure that should not be missed if you are looking for adventure and amazing views of Taha’a, Huahine, and Bora Bora.
Raiatea Hotels & Resorts
- Raiatea Hawaiki Nui Hotel
- Kaoha Nui Pension
- Sunset Beach Motel
Raiatea Island Activities
There are many dive locations around Taha’a and Raiatea. Two of the best are located in Poutoru and Hipu. Many of the best sites will be located on the passes from lagoon to open ocean. Tapu Tapu, and Paipai Pass, along with the Octopus Hole & Teavapiti name a few. The Taha’a Blue Nui Diving Center is the most reputable dive operators here and works with the resort’s clients directly. All levels of scuba offered. Best snorkeling is everywhere.
Most Ranches are on Raiatea, but one you can go riding with is Kaoha Nui Ranch. . Marquesan bred horses take you along mountain tracks up the valley and along the ridgelines behind the ranch and into the heart of the island to fascinating botanical gardens. From the ridgeline you will stand speechless in front of the grand panorama across the emerald lagoons to the majestic profiles of Taha’a and Huahine in the distance. Ranch provides bungalow and room style lodging surrounded by gardens and within minutes walk from the lagoon.
Deep Sea Fishing
Year round the open waters around the 2 islands offer some of the finest deep sea and light tackle sport fishing in French Polynesia. Half Day or full day cruises and charters where you will enjoy the fish, the company, and the scenery. Te Manu Ata, Luna Sea, and Sport Fishing Ruau II are some of the available charters.
4 x 4 Excursions
Travel off-road to the interior of the island that are not accessible by rental cars. This is the only way, except by foot, to view beautiful waterfalls and pineapple & vanilla plantations. There are several companies offering this activity and best to price locally.
Hiking and Climbing
Raiatea has an extinct volcano that is very interesting to trek on called Mount Temahani. One of Raiatea’s famous landmarks, but this mountain is the birthplace of Oro, one of Polynesia’s principal gods. This is one of the most remarkable hikes and on it the rare Tiare apetahi, a white 5 petalled flower indigenous to the island.
Faaroa River Tour
The Emerald River tour is amazing. Take a cruise up the Society Island’s only navigable river, legendary to the Polynesians who came after finding Hawaii (Raiatea’s original Tahitian Name is Hava’ii. Visit archeological ruins maraes the original sacred sites of these early Tahitians. A good half day river tour is operated by Kaoha Nui Tours.
There are many resources that operate various forms of lagoon tours. Many concentrate on the island of Taha’a because of the ease of navigating the circular lagoon. Raiatea’s lagoon being much larger and not entirely closed to the open ocean makes it less common circle island tour. One such company is Tane Catamaran Charters based out of Uturoa on Raiatea. “ Lagon Adventure “ is another that offers both catamaran and kayak river adventures.
This island has perhaps the most hirable yacht charters as it is located in the heart of 4 of the Leeward Islands best. One example is the Taravana which specializes in Sailing and Sport fishing and is a proven 50’ state of the art prototype ocean cruising catamaran superbly equipped for comfort and stability for fishing. From sailboat, to motorized yacht or catamaran type vessels this island offers amazing opportunity to see these islands by lagoon or sea.
All charter operations; lagoon and circle island tours will be based from one of a few main harbors or marinas on the island. Uturoa Harbor is the largest and is capable of handling the Radisson Paul Gauguin along with the luxurious and private Yacht style cruise vessel Ti Moana of Bora Bora Cruises. Uturoa marina is located next to Uturoa Harbor and welcomes larger vessels, and Apooiti Marina is home of Moorings and Tahiti Yacht Charter companies and welcomes all vessels under 50’.
Raiatea Dining & Nightlife
Marina Iti, the Taravana is located on Taha’a at its closest point to Raiatea. The restaurant has views of sunrise and sunset and on one of the safest natural harbors in Tahiti, the majestic bay of Apu. Accessible by boat from Raiatea, Taravana is famous for its seafood fondues and Vana soufflés. Open for 3 meals a day the restaurant is reasonably prices and large portions are served.
Reservations are recommended at this Italian restaurant on Raiatea. Located beside a pond where Tahitian eels are swimming, the place has a large wood fire oven where very good pizzas and steaks are cooked.
Located in the only place right in the center of Uturoa in the Hinano Hotel where the restaurant is located on the ground floor. They offer affordable dining serving Chinese, European and Tahitian food.
Sea Horse Restaurant
Inside Uturoa’s cruise ship terminal, you can dine outide on the plaza or inside, where tropical furniture and linen tablecloths set a refined but relaxed ambiance for very good Chinese food.
Restaurant Quai des Pecheurs
French cuisine in a casual but chic restaurant located on the Gare Maritime Plaza. This is one of Raiatea’s best places to dine serving local seafood, New Zealand beef, and spicy creole. Live music on Fridays and Tahitian Dance show on Saturday, reservations are recommended. Free transportation from Hawaiki Nui Hotel.