Raiatea (Photo:Styve Reineck/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Melissa Paloti
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Raiatea

Raiatea is one of the largest islands in French Polynesia -- second only to Tahiti -- but don't let its size fool you into thinking that it is dripping with tourists. While Bora Bora offers celebrity chic and Moorea is simply exquisite, Raiatea is a secret find. Outside of the main port town, Uturoa, the 105-square-mile island is quiet and lightly populated, yet there's much to do and see along the coast and within its untamed, rugged interior.

About Raiatea


Pro

Visit an ancient temple on Raiatea, known as "the sacred isle"

Con

You won't find any sandy beaches here, but you can hit the beach on a nearby islet

Bottom Line

Raiatea offers rugged, unspoiled beauty as well as historical treasures


Find a Cruise to the South Pacific



Natural beauty aside, Raiatea is known as "the sacred isle" because it was the center of religion and culture in the olden days of Polynesia -- and there is certainly an enticing mystique about it. Members of various Polynesian kingdoms once journeyed here by canoe for tribal meetings, ceremonies and even human sacrifices at Marae Taputapuatea in Opoa to the southeast. Today, visitors can visit the outdoor ancient worship temple and glimpse petroglyphs carved in basaltic stones found along the coast.

One thing that sets Raiatea apart from all of the other islands in French Polynesia is that there are no real sandy beaches (blame Mother Nature). However, those who want to get their feet wet can take a trip to one of the motus or islets that dot the lagoons that circle the island (you have to rent or hire a boat to get to them). Among those are Motu Nao Nao, a stretch of gorgeous white sand, and Opeha Point, known for good snorkeling.

Skirting the same lagoon and protective barrier reef is Tahaa, a tiny island even quieter than Raiatea; you can only get there by boat via ship-sponsored excursions or private tours. Upon arrival you might see a woman fishing for the day's lunch, since hardly anyone works -- they simply fend for themselves. If it isn't a school day, kids will pause from chasing each other to wave hello. It feels a world away, even in the already far reaches of the South Pacific.

Where You're Docked

Most cruise ships tie up to the new Gare Maritime in the center of Uturoa, the main town on the northern tip of the island.

Good to Know

Except for popular lunch spots, Uturoa pretty much shuts down midday; banks and most shops close at noon or so and reopen around 2 p.m. Don't be discouraged if you return from a morning excursion to find the town dead -- it will pick back up again.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The local currency is the French Pacific Franc, about 100 to the U.S. dollar; check xe.com for the latest exchange rates. Banque Socredo and Banque de Tahiti have branches in Uturoa and both have ATM's. Hours are 8 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Language

Tahitian and French, though some English is spoken near the port.

Shopping

For local sculpture, hand-painted crafts and farm-direct black pearls, shop at Coco Vanille next to the drugstore in Uturoa. If you venture to Tahaa, be sure to buy some vanilla from one of the family-owned and -operated farms; it is known as the "vanilla isle," as more than three-quarters of all Tahitian vanilla is produced there.