Colonized by the Hawaiians, then by the French, Raiatea is today a laidback tourist location far away from tumultuous modern life. A virtual Mecca for sailing aficionados, the crystal clear waters and glistening white sandy beaches contrast with the deep green of the rainforest to paint what can be considered by all rights the lost Garden of Eden
Just take into consideration if you will what the name Raiatea stands for (in the Tahitian language it means “bright sky”) and you’ll understand the mystery and the beauty that surrounds the Society Islands in French Polynesia. There’s nothing like it in the world for sailors.
Virtually isolated from the rest of the world by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, Raiatea is the epitome of island paradise where time simply stands still. Being only smaller than Tahiti, Raiatea is the largest of the Leewards Islands, located between Bora Bora and the aforementioned Tahiti.
Travel & Arrival
Once you have your mind set on traveling here, there's really nothing left than to book a plane ticket with any of the operators flying to Tahiti airport, the closest air terminal to the island. Some of these operators include Air France, Corsair, Air Caledonie International, Hawaiian Airlines and Quantas. There are also smaller, charter flights that fly directly to the island, but they’re obviously more expensive.
The other way to get your gang here is by boat. There are many cruise lines that make regular stops to Raiatea, mostly in the island’s only port, Uturoa harbor. There are also several public marinas and a privately owned one.
Avant & Apres Sail
Tahitians consider this island as their “Sacred Island” due to the many historical and cultural implications. This archipelago is considered to have been colonized by the ancient Hawaiians which made their first stop onto Raiatea.
Today, the modern tourist can visit the archeological sites (the most famous being Taputapuatea Marae), the pearl farms, the vanilla plantations, the local market and the Uturoa harbor.
The most popular form of accommodation amongst travelers has to be the overwater bungalows, which sit on wooden stilts above the incredibly light blue waters and link via wooden piers to white sandy beaches. There are also luxury hotels, and mid-range pensions and guesthouses.
Food on the island is rather pricy, no matter where you eat it. Since this is a rather isolated location, the shipping costs seem to add to the sale price of every food item. So plan your budget accordingly.
The types of food enthusiasts can enjoy are local and French, international and ethnic. There are also the famous “Les Roulottes” which are really “rolling food trucks”. This is how most of the locals dine, as they can act as restaurants or take-aways.
Shopping may be a western activity, but the locals have adapted perfectly and now provide the crowds with souvenirs and crafts. Out of these, the black pearls and the jewelries made from them seem to be the most prolific.
Events & Actions
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: when you come to Raiatea, you better throw away your watch. Every aspect of life here seems to be slowed down and there’s a general laid back atmosphere wherever you go. That being said, there are also lots of ways to have fun even for the more action-minded people.
On water, scuba diving, sailing (Raiatea is known as the sailing capital of the Leewards and has numerous facilites), snorkeling, surfing, windsurfing, jetskiing and kitesurfing will eat up most of your time. For those who want to relax on water, there are glass-bottom boats, tacle-fishing trips and sunset cruises.
On land, there are numerous 4x4 safaris, hiking and climbing trails just waiting to be discovered by any group brave enough to get out of bed early enough in the morning. Let’s not forget the horseback riding, bicycle riding the camping and the cultural tours that can be used to fill your days here in Raiatea.