Discovered in 1775 by Spanish navigator Thomas Gayangos aboard the Aguila frigate, Raivavae used to supply the European continent with sandalwood. Praised by travelers from the whole world, the island is often referred to as one of the most beautiful ones of French Polynesia and it owns its reputation to its crystal-clear lagoon and white sand beaches.
Located 730km South-East from Tahiti, Raivavae belongs to the Austral archipelago, just like Rurutu, Tubauai, Rimatara, Rapa or Marotiti. Even though it may look tiny from the sky with its 16km2, it is a gorgeous volcanic island. Some even say its lagoon is the best of Polynesia but we will let you judge, you have no other choice but to come if you want to have a clue… Other fact, its coral reef surrounds twenty-eight motu. If you want to treat yourself to a change of scenery, there you go! The island houses 950 inhabitants who are spread within four villages: Rairua, Mahanatoa, Anatonu and Vaiuru.
Etymologically, Raivavae comes from “ra’i”, the sky, and “vavae”, which means “to push one’s way”. Therefore, Raiavavae literally means “the sky enabling to push one’s way” and, by extension, “open-air”.
If you are willing to know more about the Austral Pearl, just close your eyes and picture yourself walking around these pastel houses, your hair blowing in the wind, by the coastline. You see it? Follow us!
The Hotuatua Motu:
If there is a place testifying of womens’ hegemony, it is definitely this one. Here in Raivavae, women are said to be more agile, clever and smarter than men. This belief comes from a local legend.
In olden days, men and women already competed with each other regarding physical and intellectual matters, eager to demonstrate their superiority. In order to define who was right, the men from the village of Anatonu and the women from Vaiuru chose a representative. To decide between male and female, they were asked to confront one another during a trial which consisted in getting down of the mountain with a rock in order to put it into the lagoon before dawn.
Totally confident about his physical abilities and already sure to win, the man quickly climbed the Hiro Mount, snatched a piece of rock away and started to go down, heading to the lagoon. As he arrived on the beach, he realized the woman was way behind him and, exhausted and positive about his future victory, he decided to take a break and fell asleep.
Taking her time, the woman went down the mountain, outran the man and put the rock into the lagoon. Then, she started imitating the rooster even before the sun rose. As they heard it, the inhabitants of the island woke up and gathered on the beach to realize the defeat of the man. Since then, women are highly considered in Raivavae. But locals will probably tell this story better than us, which is why you need to go there on your own.
The island happens to shelter quite a few archeological sites, testifying of ancestral rites, which are part of its cultural inheritage. Three marae remain accessible nowadays: the Pua Pia Tiare marae, the Mauna Oto marae and the Vaimano one.
The “motu piscine”:
Emblematic site of Raiavavae, the Vaiamanu motu, also known as the “motu piscine” is a must-see for whoever goes on the island. Of great beauty, this islet features a 2km long white sand beach and is surrounded by turquoise waters.
The smiling tiki:
Originally, there used to be four tiki on the island, nowadays only one remains. Called the “smiling tiki”, it is about one meter high and is located nearby Mahanatoa. The three others were transferred in 1933 to the Paul Gauguin museum in the city of Papeari, on the island of Tahiti. However, only two of them arrived at destination as the third sank into the ocean while the crew members were trying to load it aboard the ship. Almost every of them died later on. Afterwards, when the tikis were moved from the Bruat avenue to Mamao and from Mamao to Papeari, most people who contributed to their transportation died in weird circumstances, which undeniably reinforced local superstitions and curse rumors. Since then, no one ever tried to touch them again.
What activities to practice in Raivavae?
Take a ride around the island:
With its 24km of circumference, Raivavae is easily accessible. You only have to bike along the road and keep heading right in front of you! There is no real steep slope like you could find in Rurutu but be careful of the potholes. On your way, you may find some rest areas “made in Raivavae” with thick vegetation balls, perfect if you want to sleep for a while…
Participate to an angling session:
Even though there is less and less fish in the lagoon, fishing amateurs will be delighted as there are plenty of surprises in the ocean! And if you do not catch anything, at least you will spend a nice day under the sun with charming people.
Visit the caves:
Just like its neighbor Rurutu, Raivavae is made of several remarkable caves. The Ana Poiri one namely, located in the village of Rairua, can shelter a dozen of people.
Climb the Hiro Mount:
Reinvent your own legend as you follow the path of the two antagonists. Hike for a while and climb up to the summit of the 438m mount to contemplate this breathtaking panorama.
Hike along the “traversière”:
If you are eager to take a walk with your family and have some time ahead of you, here is your plan! Just make sure to use the right SPF, to bring some water and to pick some fruits on the road.
Discover the lagoon:
If you do not feel like climbing, perhaps should you go on a lagoon tour. Get to discover the island of Raivavae from the sea, take a break on a charming islet and taste local savors.
Pick a kayak and head to the closest motu:
You are not really into sports but you have nothing against burning a few calories to appease your conscience? Kayaking is a smart choice, especially when you are located at the rear and let your duo paddle all alone… If you do not ground on the reef, maybe will you get the chance to berth on one of these glorious motu and, otherwise, you will have plenty of time to admire the wonders of nature wandering below the surface.
Where to stay in Raivavae?
The inhabitants make a point of preserving the simplicity and authenticity which make the island so beautiful, which is why no hotel is to be found there. The tourism industry was intentionally regulated and only three guesthouses were established to welcome globetrotters.
Tama’a ! Time to eat :
Once again, if you stay in a guesthouse, the best you can do is to choose the American plan. There is only one snack on the island and let’s say the owners have flexible hours…
The most convenient option is undoubtedly to book an excursion on the island but if you are quite of an adventurer, you can still explore the island on your own by renting a car, borrowing a bike or even try to hitch a ride.
How to get to Raivavae:
First of all, you need to book an international flight heading to Tahiti. From there, you can make a reservation on the Air Tahiti website and there you go for a 1-hour flight.
The weather point:
Just like the other islands of the Austral archipelago, Raivavae enjoys a temperate climate but it turns out to be colder than anywhere else in Polynesia. It may explain why you can find so may taro, mangoes and bananas out there.
Our little extras:
Just so you know, Raivavae used to be called Vavitu.
Once again, even though you thought you were great at speaking Tahitian, it will be totally useless here as we speak the Reo Raivavae on the island. Okay, we will give you a clue so that you do not feel utterly lost: here, we tend to replace the traditional “r” by a “g”. Thus, whenever you want to say “hi”, just say “ia oga na”.
The island happened to own an impressive collection of artworks (sculptures, music instruments and even carved paddles) which were transferred to the London British Museum.
Besides, the island remains the only one in Polynesia to build sewed outrigger canoes. The latter can easily be recognized thanks to their arm, located on the right of the hull, unlike those made in Polynesia.