Raiatea and Tahaa, the ‘sacred island’ and the ‘vanilla island’, both share the same blue lagoon. In fact, if you’re coming all the way out here, you’re actually getting to see two tropical islands for the price of one. From exhilarating hikes to white sand beaches, the two islands are far off the tourist map – and that’s a good thing! I spent a full week exploring these two islands while backpacking across the South Pacific Islands. Here’s my personal list of the top things to do in Raiatea and Tahaa.
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10. Stroll Around Uturoa
If you’re coming to Raiatea from anywhere other than Tahiti, strolling around the streets of Uturoa will feel like crossing the avenues of Manhattan. Well… maybe not exactly. French Polynesia’s second-biggest town has a lot of charm to it. Maybe it’s because the town is tucked between the blue lagoon and the imposing Mount Tapioi, or maybe because it’s got a cool little food market with the freshest of fruits & veggies. Whatever the case may be, it’s great to be in the ‘big city’ in the middle of nowhere, and don’t forget to grab some dinner at the food trucks (roulotte) with the locals at night.
9. Wreck Dive Or Paddle Up A River
Raiatea and Tahaa may not be famous for their scuba diving, but the only real wreck dive in French Polynesia just happens to be right here – the Nordby! Alternatively, you can join a kayaking tour up the Faaroa River, the only navigable river in French Polynesia.
8. Drive Around Tahaa
Whether on your own or as part of a tour, traveling the roads of Tahaa feels like traveling back in time. Bay after bay of emerald water and villages where not much happens, are what await you. Head inland for some serious views and always be on the lookout for wild hibiscus on the roadside, a flower that changes its color throughout the day!
7. Visit A Vanilla Farm
They don’t call Tahaa ‘the vanilla island’ for nothing. Some of the finest beans in the world are grown right here and you have the chance to see how it’s all done… and buy some of course. With optimal growing conditions, vanilla is the prime crop in Tahaa. But turning the sweet-scented flower into a bean is not an easy task. The insects normally responsible for pollination are nowhere to be found in French Polynesia (can’t they switch with the mosquitos?). So farmers have to do the delicate process by hand! Perhaps this explains the steep price of the beans but whatever the case may be, you can’t visit Tahaa without stopping by a vanilla farm.
6. Feel The Mana In Marae Taputapuatea
If Tahaa is ‘the vanilla island’ then Raiatea is ‘the sacred island’. Why? It’s home to THE most important ancient temple in the vast Polynesian Triangle, a newly named UNESCO World Heritage Site. Centuries ago, priests, chiefs, and dignitaries would somehow manage to gather here for important religious ceremonies and key decision-making. Even today, it’s a deeply spiritual place, shrouded in mana and super impressive.
5. Hike Mount Tapioi
It ain’t the tallest on the island but it sure got amazing views. The hike to the summit of Mount Tapioi only takes about an hour, but superfit locals manage to jog up in just a fraction of that. What’s at the top? Have a look for yourself – the gorgeous lagoon, neighboring Tahaa, and even Bora Bora in the far distance. Not bad!
4. Splash In The Three Waterfalls
Deep, and I mean deep in the thick rainforest of Raiatea – three waterfalls are waiting to be discovered (known locally as Les Trois Cascades). You’ll have to cross a few rivers, maneuver around giant bamboo and somehow survive the ferocious mosquitos. Is it worth it? You bet! The third waterfall is actually one waterfall splashing into another. It’s so pretty out here that producers overcome the challenges and haul their equipment out here whenever they need to shoot a nice-looking waterfall for a shampoo commercial.
3. Spot One Of The Rarest Flowers In The World
Shaped like a hand, unscented and totally in low numbers – nobody really knows (including scientists) why the heck the tiare apetahi only grows on the island of Raiatea and only on a specific plateau! Legend has it that the flower originates from the hand of a lovestruck ancient Tahitian woman, others say it somehow came from Hawaii. It ain’t easy spotting the flower, with a challenging seven-hour hike. But when you find it – consider yourself part of an exclusive botanical club.
2. Find The Perfect Beach
To satisfy your craving for white sand and palm trees you’ll have to pay a visit to one of the small islands (called motu) scattered around the very edge of the shared lagoon between Tahaa and Raiatea. They’re pristine, have a rich tropical marine life and you simply won’t want to leave. In that case, why not just stay here? If you’re up for some luxury, one of French Polynesia’s top resorts just happens to call one of the prettiest motu home.
1. Road Trip Around Raiatea
A day that I guarantee you won’t forget, rent some wheels and complete the 100 kilometers or so of coastal road that hugs Raiatea. The prettiest sections of coastline are also the loneliest ones, and you’ll have them all to yourself. There’s nothing out here but gorgeous scenery and your only concern will be to carefully select where to pull over for a stop – because you’ll want to every 5 minutes!
Ready To Visit?
There you have it! The top things to do in Raiatea and Tahaa. For more information about Tahaa and Raiatea, check out the resources below. For more information about traveling in French Polynesia, check out this guide.