One of the largest raised atolls in French Polynesia, the island formation of Rurutu is not what one expects to see in the South Pacific. Basalt and limestone cliffs are dotted with caves where the islanders once lived, as well as a volcanic interior with a lush tropical jungle, and white sand beaches with beautiful bays, all create a stunning sight. The island’s fertile soil and cooler climate are ideal for growing cabbage, lettuce and potatoes as well as coffee and taro. Archaeological digs have uncovered habitation sites, council platforms and marae temples in the village of Vitaria, showing man’s presence around 900 A.D. Rurutu is known throughout Polynesia for the quality of its woven products, including magnificent hats, bags and baskets, or mats from pandanus leaves and other natural materials. From August to October each year, humpback whales can be seen and heard in Rurutu, where they come south to mate and give birth.
Tubuai is the largest island of the archipelago and is the administrative and economic capital of the Australs. The huge lagoon, nearly twice as large as the island itself, offers 33 sq. mi. (85 km²) of pure aquatic fun. The mild climate also makes these islands ideal for farming. The first explorers were struck by the island’s beauty. Toward the end of the 19th Century, explorers Wallis and Cook took a liking to the lush vegetation and crystal-clear water of the island. However, the area did not look appropriate for good anchorage given the large barrier reef around the coast. This disadvantage turned into an incredible advantage in the eyes of the famous mutineers of the HMS Bounty.
As you approach Rapa, only accessible by sea, the Captain may announce: “Welcome to Rapa. Next stop Antarctica”. As the southernmost inhabited island of French Polynesia, this crescent shaped land mass — with a fjord-like coastline deeply indented by 12 bays —is as remote as it gets. Rapa-Iti, or “small Rapa” as the island is also called, has a strong cultural connection to Easter Island, known as Rapa-Nui or big Rapa to the Polynesians. Legend tells of the settlement of Rapa-Nui by the people of Rapa-Iti. Once home to fierce warriors who lived in fortified settlements built on terraces among volcanic peaks, the islanders now live off farming and fishing. During our visit, you will be greeted by the unique dances of Rapa. You may choose one of two different hikes offered. The first goes from the village of Area around the stunning bay to the main village of Ahurei and the second ends at the ruins of an old mountaintop fort. A traditional lunch will be served on shore.
Among the other activities on offer during our one and a half day stopover in Rapa, you will visit Ahurei, the main village of the island, explore ancient fortresses, visit an agricultural production centre, discover local arts and crafts, meet the inhabitants of this isolated island, and share a ma’a over a wood fire in the village.
Raivavae’s white sand beaches, large emerald lagoon and 28 motus encircling the lush green main island, have earned it the title of the “Bora Bora of the Austral Islands”. Giant stone tikis, including an unusual smiling tiki, resembling those in the Marquesas and on Easter Island, wood sculptures, an open-air marae temple and Polynesian canoes are some of the archaeological elements you will discover during a circle island tour. If you wish, you can relax on one of the motus and swim in the crystal-clear lagoon. An excursion by speed boat is available. A beach barbecue featuring local dishes will be served for lunch.
This is the end of our journey. We will arrive in Papeete around 7:00 pm. It’s time to say Nānā! (Goodbye) to your travel companions, to the Polynesian staff and Aranui guides.
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