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My plane landed on the tiny airstrip of Raiatea. My friend Hannah and I scanned the crowd looking for our Airbnb host. There he was, shirtless and barefoot, extending his hand out in greeting.
Raiatea is wilder and less polished compared to its neighbors of Moorea and Bora Bora; it’s a place where things tend to go untamed. World-class surf over razor sharp reef, sandless shorelines, and rugged hills are the norm. It’s also one of the most sacred islands in French Polynesia, and the name ‘Raiatea’ translates into Bright Sky.
Raiatea and its lagoon partner island of Taha’a were unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. Here are the best things to do and experience on Raiatea and Taha’a.
Discover all the best travel tips for Raiatea and Taha’a in Moon Tahiti & French Polynesia.
1. Go on an Archaeological walk at Marae Taputapuatea
On the southeast coast of Raiatea lies arguably the most sacred place in French Polynesia, Marea Taputapuatea. This 5,000-acre UNESCO World Heritage Site is a temple complex built in 1,000 AD, and has since been a hallowed site for Polynesians as its at the heart of the Polynesian triangle. Archeologists believe it was once used as a space for ceremonies, funerals, and worship. At its center is a tribute to Oro, the god of war.
Today, the marae is used for seafaring events. Many paddlers come here to get their outrigger canoes blessed, and it’s still an important point for long ocean-going voyages.
A 1.5-kilometer trail weaves through the main areas of the site. The complex looks out to Te Ava Moa, a reef pass in the lagoon where seafarers arrived.
Hotels near Marae Taputapuatea:
- Fare Vahine Oviri: A quaint lodge perched on the hillside.
- Opoa Beach Hotel: Hosts beach bungalows with nice snorkeling out front.
2. Stroll around Faaroa Botanical Garden
Tiptoe through gardens lined with ginger flowers, tiare trees, bougainvilleas, the mythical Banyan tree and the mighty Tahitian chestnut tree at Faaroa Botanical Garden.
This park is privately owned, but entering is free. Walking through the seven-acre property gives you a chance to see Raiatea’s flora and fauna, and it’s a tranquil place to slow down for a picnic.
3. Kayak up the Faaroa River
Grab a paddle and venture up the Faaroa River. Keep your eyes out birds flitting about the tropical treetops. The waters are calm and warm, perfect for paddlers who might not have much experience.
Most trips last around three hours, with a stop for snacks and water in the middle of the tour. It’s a unique way to see Raiatea’s landscape from a new perspective.
Your accommodation can help arrange your tour, or book with Raiatea Activities.
4. Hike your heart out
Raiatea has more of a reputation for being a hiker’s paradise rather than a place for beach bums. this is thanks to its plethora of trekking trails and serious lack of accessible sandy beaches.
So, if you’ve packed a pair of sporty sandals or trail runners, you’re in luck. Hike to the top of Mount Temehani to search for the elusive endemic tiare apetahi flower — a delicate flower with five white petals that only grows on the island of Raiatea.
There’s also the Three Hamoa Falls trek, where you’ll encounter three cascades surrounded by lush foliage on the foothills of Mount Temehani. The higher you go, the more spectacular the waterfall is. The third waterfall requires a short rope climb which leads you to a 50-meter-tall fall with a cool pool at its base.
If that’s not enough, there’s the La Crete De Macaranga, a walk up a ridgeline with panoramic views of Raiatea’s blues.
5. Buzz around the island on an e-bike
A sustainable way to move quickly around Raiatea is with an sebikes. Powered by human pedaling and assisted by an electric motor, cruise up to 25 kph. It’s an adventurous way to feel like you’re embedded in the Raiatea landscape instead of just witnessing it out of a car window.
While Raiatea has over 90 kilometers of road, an e-bikes will also allow you to cycle along well-packed dirt roads through Raiatea’s interior.
Rent an e-bike from Tahiti Excursion. Options include half-day, full-day, and guided tours of Raiatea.
6. Go scuba diving
Blow bubbles with incredible marine critters at Raiatea’s uncrowded dive sites.
Amongst the over 20 dive sites in Raiatea, Miri Miri on the northwest coast is a top pick for beginners. Waters tend to be calm and clear, and it’s a nice spot to look for snappers, Napoleon wrasse, and blacktip reef sharks.
For more experienced divers, Rose dive site shouldn’t be missed. At around 30 meters depth, you’ll drift over a garden of rose corals. For wreck divers, there’s the Nordby, a three-mast wooden ship encrusted with corals and surrounded by surgeonfish, angelfish, and schooling jackfish. For shark fanatics, Rairas is your place to see lemon sharks, whitetip reef sharks, and black tip reef sharks.
Book a dive excursion or course with Hemisphere Sub.
7. Enjoy sunset dinner and drinks at Fish & Blue
With so many things to see and do on Raiatea, it’s easy to be always on the go. But, you’re going to want to slow down at some point and one of the best places to do so is at Fish & Blue.
Fish & Blue is a lively seaside restaurant with a boutique feel; the bar is often crowded after the sun goes down. Dishes change daily, and you’re likely to hear the specials straight from the owner’s mouth.
This is one of the pricier restaurants on Raiatea, but it’s also one of my favorites in all of French Polynesia. My tip? Come just before sunset and have a cold drink on the jetty. Then, tiptoe over to a seaside table for a dinnertime feast.
You might want to make reservations in advance as it gets pretty crowded during the high season.
In case you want to spend more time in the area, stay at Hotel Raiatea Lodge.
8. Take a day trip to Taha’a
If you’re visiting Raiatea, why not venture over to Taha’a? The flower-shaped island sharing Raiatea’s lagoon. Hop over on a 30-minute boat ride, or visit as part of a full-day tour.
For a luxurious experience of Taha’a, check into an overwater bungalow at Le Taha’a by Pearl Resorts.
Taha’a is famous the world over for its vanilla. You might even notice a distinctly sweet scent of it while you’re on the island. Follow your nose, and you’ll find vanilla farms strewn among Taha’a’s foothills.
Join a vanilla farm tour with Vallee de la Vanille to see how this high-value crop is planted and harvested visit. Buy vanilla-scented soaps, lotions, and oils, and bring some beans home to soak in a bottle of Taha’a rum!
Taha’a is also one of the largest rum producers in the region, and you’d be missing out if you didn’t try the vanilla spiced rum. Visit the Pari Pari distillery where can sup from a finished bottle or have a sample. Or, you can delve into the art of alcohol and make your own bottle of vanilla rum. It’s a perfect souvenir to bring home — it requires six months of storage before it matures to a fully-aged vanilla rum. Who doesn’t want a happy reminder of their trip to the Islands of Tahiti six months from now?!
9. Charter a sailing yacht
Feel the wind breeze through your hair and witness the beauty of the Society Islands from the sea. Raiatea is a hub for chartering sailing yachts — either crewed or bare boat. With your accommodation and transportation in one, journey around Raiatea’s lagoon before cruising onward to neighboring Huahine, Bora Bora, and beyond.
Tahiti Yacht Charter has a few sailing catamarans for hire. Trips run around 10,000 EUR for 8 days/7 nights:
10. Explore the lagoon on a snorkeling tour
One of the best snorkeling spots I’ve seen in French Polynesia is off Taha’a, next to Le Taha’a by Pearl Resorts. Vibrant coral gardens rife with tropical fish make this the best place to get up close to reef critters big and small.
Most tours start in Raiatea, even half-day snorkeling tours. From the port in Uturoa, you’ll go by boat to the coral gardens of Taha’a. Look for moorish idols, butterflyfish, damselfish and anemonefish taking refuge at the stinging tentacles of sea anemones.
Read more articles about French Polynesia
- Getting around French Polynesia: Transportation Tips
- French Polynesia on a Budget: 12 Top Tips
- The Best Overwater Bungalows in Bora Bora