Known as the "Sacred Island," Raiatea is a fascinating haunt for archaeologists and historians as it's one of the islands in the Pacific where Polynesian culture can trace its roots. Visitors will find many of the older Polynesian structures still in place and are fascinating places to explore. In the 16th century, Raiatea developed a powerful cult dedicated to Oro the God of War and built a large meeting ground, the Taputaputea Marae, which is still intact. Human sacrifice was practiced until around the middle of the 18th century and visitors should look for the sacrificial stone. Several tour operators run visits to the marae (ancient temples) along with some degree of informed commentary—although in fairness Polynesian storytelling can embellish things a little.
The Faaroa River is the only navigable waterway in French Polynesia and it can be traveled by powerboat or outrigger canoe. Running through the Faaroa Gorge it passes some spectacular scenery with steep-walled jungle foliage holding dozens of bird species and wild hibiscus. Trekking up Mount Temehani, a well-known landmark that's said to be Oro's birthplace, is relatively demanding. Keep a lookout for the rare, five-petal tiare apetahi. Said to be impossible to grow anywhere else, this white, indigenous flower can only be found above 1,300 feet (396 meters). Look, but don't touch. It's against the law to pick them.
Raiatea at a Glance
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