“Raiatea is the sacred island,” explains Karine, the director of Raiatea Lodge Hotel. “It’s a very authentic island with a rich history and culture that is very different from the other French Polynesian islands.”
We’re enjoying an artisanal breakfast at the lodge. Fresh sweet grapefruit, papaya and passionate fruit, house made vanilla yogurt (the island is home to numerous vanilla plantations), fresh baguettes, croissants and coconut bread, a spread of meat and cheese, fresh squeezed passion fruit juice and hot beverages. The experience is enhanced with homemade banana, papaya and coconut jams.
Karine smiles as sounds of epicurious delight escape my mouth. ”The spirit of our hotel is to offer something fresh to guests, from the breakfast to the fresh juice upon arrival to fresh caught fish from our lagoon for dinner.”
The hotel’s artisanal approach reflects the culture of the island, which is lush with fruits and flowers. In fact, Raiatea is the only place in the world where you can find Tiare Apetahi, a flower that grows only on Mount Temehani. Visitors to the island can hire a guide to trek to the top to see the flower, as well as take in aerial views of the island.
While other islands like Tahiti and Moorea offer big bus tours and other excursions synonymous with tourism, Raiatea remains largely untouched. That’s not to say there aren’t tours, but there isn’t an ambiance of mass tourism. Additionally, for many experiences visitors will need to have a sense of adventure. For example, there is only one main road to get around the island. If you want to explore the center — filled with lush nature and ancient archeological sites — you’ll need to hike or take a boat/kayak down the Faaroa River, French Polynesia’s only navigable river. The interior is worth the trip, as it offers a majestic setting with lush jungle, wild hibiscus, purau trees, steep cliffs and a history that includes brave Maohi families, the ancestors of French Polynesians, canoeing west on a mission to settle New Zealand.
One truly unique feature of the island is it’s touted as the first settled island in French Polynesia, a facet that can be explored by visiting Marae Taputapuatea. Already established by 1000 AD with significant expansion after this time, it was the first royal marae in French Polynesia. Marae were the only places ancient Polynesians believed priests could go to call gods to Earth to give men the necessary strength for health and fertility. Marae Taputapuatea was a sanctuary of great importance, and priests and navigators would come from all over French Polynesia to give offerings to the gods, hold initiation ceremonies and international gatherings, and discuss the origins of the universe. This particular temple was dedicated to Oro, the god of war who demanded human sacrifices, and because it was thought that there was no greater gift to give a god than human flesh, this was a place where many were carried out. Today a visit to the open-air temple will bring you to a beautiful and peaceful place where seven marae sit constructed from stone and coral.
Across from the hotel visitors can also explore Raiatea’s lagoon, which the island shares with nearby Tahaa. Filled with a large array of corals of all different colors and sizes, it makes a great spot for kayaking and snorkeling as tropical fish like Spotted Boxfish, Stonefish and Sabre Squirrelfish call the unworldly underwater formations home.
For many travelers, Raiatea provides a budget-friendly way to explore not only the island but also nearby Tahaa, which can be reached in less than 30 minutes by boat. Known as the “Vanilla Island,” Tahaa is a giant fragrant garden where visitors can visit vanilla plantations and pearl farms, taste tropical fruits during a 4×4 safari and go underwater to view eels, gray sharks, napoleon wrasses, barracuda and enchanting coral gardens.
The accommodation on Raiatea is also something that makes the island unique.
“What makes Raiatea Lodge Hotel so special is it’s 3-star rating,” explains Karine. “In French Polynesia there are less than five. You have many pensions and luxury resorts, but we are an independent hotel that provides a clean and comfortable accommodation that has something truly different to offer.”
It’s true. Having visited other islands and experiencing both the backpacker-esque pensions and over-the-top resorts, this does provide something in between, having the cultural touches of the pensions yet the comfort, cleanliness and service of the resorts. Plus they offer a range of ways to experience the culture of the island, for example, through free usage of kayaks, snorkels and bikes, in room and poolside Polynesian massages, a lodge featuring locally-sourced building materials, floral arrangements and decor, and their food and beverage program that incorporates locally- sourced ingredients.
After breakfast I decide to digest by the pool in the gardens for a bit before kayaking to the nearby Motu Miri Miri. From the shores of Raiatea the motu looks like an undiscovered paradise, a small uninhibited island with nothing but palm trees, white sand and colorful birds. The first thing I notice when getting into the water is how clear it is, and I can see an array of different coral varieties — staghorn corals, brain coral, lettuce coral, mustard hill coral, clubbed finger coral, sea anemones and more — as well as tropical fish swimming through them. Even without snorkel gear I can make out the colors of the marine flora and fauna. As I paddle out, the water gets deeper and although the bottom is no longer visible, the still water turns a deep turquoise that is majestic and calming.
It only takes about 15 minutes until I reach the motu. Looking back at my starting point, I’m able to really appreciate the mountainous and fertile landscape of Raiatea from afar. Moreover, I can enjoy a true moment to myself as I explore an uninhibited island with nothing but palm trees and wildlife — and some of the most enormous hermit crab holes I’ve ever seen. While the journey wasn’t particularly challenging, I feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with trying something new and exploring lesser-traversed territory.
Once back at the hotel, I celebrate my accomplishment with a cocktail. The Raiatea Hotel Lodge takes pride in their cocktails as they take classic drinks like the Pina Colada and Mai Tai and add fresh squeezed juices and Raiatae flowers for a local twist. They also have specialty cocktails, and I opt for their signature “Raiatea Lodge.” The libation features white rum, orange and pineapple juices, carambola fruit liqueur and grenadine. Each sip not only takes me deeper into French Polynesian paradise, but also local culture. And that’s why I travel.
Raiatea Lodge Hotel is located on Raiatea in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. Room rates are about $180 USD per night for a single room, $220 per night for a double room and $263 USD per night for a triple room. To add half board to your stay (breakfast and dinner included) the price is about $72 USD per room per day. A two night minimum stay is required.
BP 680 – 98 735 Uturoa
Raiatea – French Polynesia
Tél : (+689) 66 20 00
Fax : (+689) 66 20 02
E-mail : [email protected]
Things To Do
Along with the above mentioned activities, visitors to Raiatea can enjoy windsurfing, deep sea fishing, scuba diving, horseback riding, visiting pearl farms and climbing Tapioi Hill, to name a few.
Featured image via KeySeeker