Sunset RaiateaSunset Raiatea
©Sunset Raiatea|Grégoire Le Bacon

Three days in Raiatea

Raiatea, the first island

Considered by all Polynesians to be their spiritual and cultural home, Raiatea was originally named Havai’i. A sacred island of lush green valleys and mountains, including the revered Mount Temehani, home to the island’s symbolic flower, the tiare apetahi. A visit to Raiatea, the center of the Polynesian triangle, is a voyage to the birthplace of polynesian history and culture. Here are a few suggestions for a three-day break on the island.

Scenic Viewpoint, RaiateaScenic Viewpoint, Raiatea
©Scenic Viewpoint, Raiatea|Audrey Svoboda

Day 1

A tour round Raiatea will give you the opportunity to appreciate the island’s natural beauty. You’ll discover the untamed and unspoiled countryside, with majestic mountains and a breathtaking coastline. It’s quite a large island and the round tour will take most of the day, especially if you stop off to admire the scenery. Visit the main town, Uturoa and its market, and admire the street art on the walls, the work of both local and international artists during the Ono’u street art festival. If you feel like some exercise, you can hike to the site known as the three waterfalls. It will take you an hour or so and the countryside is simply beautiful.

The most important site in the whole of Polynesia for both tourists and Polynesians alike, is the marae of Taputapuātea. More than a thousand years old, the marae is classed as a world heritage site by Unesco and is the cultural and spiritual heart of Polynesia. It is the biggest marae in The Islands of Tahiti. Feel free to walk around the site and immerse yourself in the powerful mana which still emanates from the sacred archeological vestiges. Please remember that it is a sacred site and should be visited with respect. Just next to the car park is the entrance to a path which leads up to the top of the hill opposite the marae, from where you have stunning views over the lagoon.

A relatively easy hike through fields and forest that takes about an hour. The trail plunges into a forest of ferns and mape trees (Tahitian chestnut trees) whose fruit when cooked is a snack much appreciated by the locals. You can buy some from roadside stalls or at the market in Uturoa. At the end of the trail, you arrive at the three waterfalls where you can jump in the pool to cool yourself off.

Day 2

Another popular experience for visitors to Raiatea is paddling a kayak up the river at Faaroa, the only navigable river in The Islands of Tahiti. As you paddle upriver you’ll have a magnificent view of the riverbanks and mountains beyond. You’ll be accompanied by a guide who’ll point out the different varieties of plants as you go by, and will also share some of the island’s folklore and legends with you. If you want something more relaxing, you can take a boat trip up the river instead.

If you like diving, then you’ll enjoy Raiatea.  It is one of the only islands in Polynesia where you can dive to a shipwreck. The Nordby is a three-masted ship, 60 meters long with a steel hull, which sank in 1900 and rests on the seabed at a depth of 18 to 29 meters. From other dive sites in Raiatea, you can observe sea turtles, blacktip sharks, Napoleon fish and a coral reef teeming with tropical fish.

Day 3

It’s a very long walk, but the hike to the top of Mount Temehani is magnificent. You climb to a height of 821 meters and when you get there, you can admire (but certainly not touch) the beautiful tiare Apetahi, the symbol of Raiatea. It is a protected species and grows nowhere else in the world except at the top of Mount Temehani. It is strictly forbidden by law to pick the flowers. You must be accompanied by a guide on this trail, which is not signposted and goes through private land in places. It is 17km long and you’ll have the most wonderful views imaginable from start to finish. An experience that is unique in Polynesia, and one that you will never forget.

Bring out the cowboy in you! Go on a pony trek with Cadichon Vallée ranch and discover the island’s lush vegetation from the saddle. They’ll take you on a ride through a tropical rainforest and even paddle in the water of the lagoon.

Raiatea is an island surrounded by a beautiful lagoon, which it shares with the island of Taha’a. So why not spend the day exploring the motu by boat or jet-ski? There are two public motu in the lagoon: motu Ofetaro and motu Iriru. The first is known as the motu de la ville, (the town motu) because it is close to Uturoa. The second is opposite the bay at Faaroa. If you’d like to try other nautical activities, you can have sailing or windsurfing lessons in Uturoa.