Raiatea means “faraway heaven,” and “sky with soft light,” and it’s easy to see why this South Pacific island was reported to be the legendary Captain James Cook’s favorite. It’s a great place to visit if you want to get away from the beach crowd and explore off the beaten path.
|Port of Uturoa with mountains in background|
|Tropical flowers glorify|
The second largest of Society Islands, after Tahiti, Raiatea is regarded as sacred, the center of Polynesian religion and culture more than 1,000 years ago. Historians say it’s likely that migrations to Hawaii, New Zealand, and other parts of East Polynesia originated from Raiatea. Because of its spiritual nature, marae (sacred rocks with inscriptions) scattered across the South Pacific, each contain a rock from the original marae on Raiatea.
|Huts in Uturoa provide shade for shoppers.|
|Even large cruise ships must enter and leave the Raiatea lagoon|
through narrow passages like this.
|Raiatea is a paradise for snorkeling or scuba diving|
We learned that the islands of Raiatea and Taha’a are unique because both are enclosed by the same coral reef and may have once been one island. Even though Raiatea doesn’t have beaches, the lagoon is perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling with its coral gardens, caves, and drift diving in the passes. Surfing is also possible at the 10 passes that open from the ocean into the Raiatea-Taha’a Lagoon. Primitive motus (small islands) in the lagoon can be reached by boat, and picnickers or campers, both locals and visitors, often come for the day or weekend.
|Camping on motus is a favorite getaway for locals and visitors.|
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier