Lost paradise of the Austral Islands, Rurutu is a real rough diamond. Far from the animated city and the excitement of the most touristic islands, it will seduce you with its authenticity. People often prefer to visit more popular islands such as Bora Bora or Tahiti. However this archipelago contains many wonders both biologically and archaeologically. So if you want to go on vacation and discover French Polynesia, Rurutu is one of those little jewels that we love to share with you.
The island of Rurutu:
Located 600km south of Tahiti, Rurutu is part of the archipelago of the Austral Islands, like Tubuai, Raivavae, Rimatara or Rapa. For the record, the island has been raised twice, twelve and eight million years ago respectively, following the volcanic activity. As a fact, the so-called “troglodyte island” consists mainly of coral reef. Its imposing relief contrasts with the images of postcards anchored in the imagination of everyone. From these geological movements three peaks were born: Taatio’e, Mount Manureva and Erai. It is possible to contemplate the big blue since impressive limestone cliffs and explore sumptuous caves. This is where the charm of Rurutu lays, the steep cliffs alongside the white sand beaches. Whether you love sunbathing or hiking, you will be seduced.
With an area of 32km², Rurutu is small in size, large in its richness. However, if you want to discover its secrets, I strongly advise you to call a guide. Native of the island, Reti can pride himself on knowing every nook and cranny, he has at heart to share his knowledge and to perpetuate the historical and cultural heritage of Rurutu.
The must-sees of Rurutu:
The tour of the island:
The tour of the island is a must of your trip. With its mountainous terrain, Rurutu offers sublime panoramas. Stop at the exit of Moerai and you will enjoy one of the most beautiful and breathtaking views over the bay. You will then understand why there is nothing like a 4WD trip to immerse and get away from everything. If you want to know more, locals are very proud of their heritage and it is a real pleasure for them to share their knowledge.
The visit of taro plantation:
If there is a place that embodies the spirit of Rurutu, it is probably the taro plantation. Close to nature, it perfectly matches the rest of the landscape and has an ingenious irrigation network where each plot is supplied with water. It also demonstrates a friendly and generous way of life because, if today each family holds a parcel that is transmitted from generation to generation, it was customary to redistribute the harvest within the village. On top of that, the setting is ideal for an improvised shooting…
Exploring the caves:
It’s impossible to take a tour of the island without stopping at the famous Rurutu caves.
Although its archaeological sites are famous, many of them remain fairly unknown which allows them to be preserved from any degradation. Nevertheless, some marvels remain accessible, like the cave Ana Ae’o, renamed ‘Mitterand cave ‘ after the visit of the former French president in 1990. The cave Taupe’e is also accessible. It is more commonly called “the dragon mouth” due to its shape sculpted by the stalactites and stalagmites.
The dance of whales:
Each year, the whales meet from July to October in the Rurutu pass to rest from their journey and give birth in the warm waters of the Austral Islands. If the providers are more numerous, it is still possible to enjoy a swim in optimal conditions, without being surrounded by too many tourist boats. Therefore, it is essential to respect the safety distances during nautical excursions like this one in order not to disturb the mammals within their natural habitat. Used to hold their breath for tens of minutes, cetaceans move up and down, on their backs, greeting us with fins from time to time.
The craft market:
The Austral Islands are renowned for excelling in the art of basketry and the work of pandanus fiber. Therefore, locals are used to travel several times a year to show and sell their craft during Polynesian fairs. If you have the opportunity to visit the village of Avera, make a stop at the market and do some shopping. You will find hats, baskets, rugs, hairpins and even tifaifai (handmade local blankets). And if you are looking for a last-minute gift, no worries, you have a craft shop next to the airport.
What activities to practice in Rurutu?
As mentioned above, whale watching is one of the island’s flagship activities once the season is on. However, if you are looking to embrace nature without doing too much effort, nothing like a ride. If you feel sporty enough, Viriamu, who owns a very nice guesthouse, will be happy to take you on a walk along the beach or even in the mountains.
Speaking of mountains, you can also go on many hikes. Again, Reti will be your man! He will guide you and make your way through the lush vegetation as no path is really marked. Of course, you can surely enjoy sunbathing on one of the island’s white sand beaches and relax in the middle of a wild cove.
Where to stay in Rurutu?
Take a look at the different accommodation options. The island has several guesthouses that share the same values: simplicity and authenticity. Their welcoming is warm, the meals are tasty and the setting is soothing.
Tama’a! It’s time to eat:
If you are staying in a guesthouse, don’t worry, the half board usually goes hand in hand with the accommodation. Nevertheless, you have to lunch during the excursions that await you. For this, you can stop at the shops located in each village or stop by the roadside stands.
Getting around in Rurutu?
The easiest way is to book a 4WD excursion with the guesthouse where you stay but you can also choose to rent a car. If you are sporty (or very motivated), you can also go around the island by bike but the coasts are steep and the roads on the side of Hauti are not always adapted. Otherwise, some guesthouses have recently bought quads, which can be a good compromise. Finally, you can count on the kindness of the locals and try to hitchhike near the villages and popular places.
How to get there?
In the first place, you will have to go to the island of Tahiti. Then, simply book a Tahiti – Rurutu flight via the local airline Air Tahiti. 1hr30 flight, just the time you need to recover a before exploring again.
The weather point:
The Austral Islands benefit from a temperate climate, more bearable than on the other archipelagos. Like the rest of French Polynesia, the months of December to May are generally warmer with temperatures up to 31 degrees C, while the season from May to November is much more appreciable with temperatures ranging from 22 to 28 degrees C; some will even say that it is a little cool. Plan to bring a sweater for your seaside evenings and mountain trips… Also note that it is best to avoid the months of December to February, which are usually rainy.
Our little extra:
In case you did not know, the island of Rurutu was originally called “Eteroa”, which means “Big Basket”. Later, it was given the name “Rurutu” in reference to “ruru” which means “to gather” and “tu”: “equality”.
It houses the tomb of the French navigator Eric de Bishop, buried in the cemetery of Moerai.
Rurutu is the only island in French Polynesia to make its own coffee with a subtle and nuanced taste.
If you have the opportunity to come, stop by the village of Hauti to discover the traditional limekilns, made of coral.
The Rurutu wedding is also a very important celebration. As soon as the union is announced, the families work together, one year beforehand, in order to divide the tasks and anticipate the offerings to be prepared. The women are responsible for creating the tifaifai, hats, carpets and cushions, to the various outfits that the bride and groom will have to wear.
Men, meanwhile, take care of the ma’a, collect taro, uru and fe’i and gather the pigs. The festivities are spread over a week. Each family comes to visit the future spouses respecting a certain protocol. In the first place, you have to dress the married couple, then sprinkle talc on them while a speaker prepares to trace all their genealogy. On the day of the celebration, all the guests surround the new couple with a giant pareo to seal their union.
While many people today strive to include Rurutu sites in UNESCO World Heritage, some works of art from the Austral Islands are already renowned around the world.
For instance, the sculpture of god A’a, discovered on the island of Rurutu, is now exhibited at the monumental British Museum in London. You can see a reproduction at the town hall of Moerai.