Huahine, nicknamed the "Garden of Eden," is located 110 miles northwest of Tahiti and is just a short plane ride away. It is actually two islands, joined by a narrow isthmus and encircled by a barrier reef. The magic of Huahine is felt instantly upon arrival, and the proud people of this island do their best to make all visitors feel welcome. (The main town is called Maeva - which means welcome in Tahitian.) A 20-mile road winds through the island, passing through small villages and climbing high into the hills to offer spectacular views of the white sand beaches and brilliant turquoise lagoons.
Restored Tahitian maraes (temples) and centuries-old stone fish traps tell the story of an ancient culture whose proud descendants still reside in this magnificent paradise. Huahine is an agricultural island, rich with watermelons and cantaloupes. Vanilla, coffee and taro plantations are plentiful, as are groves of breadfruit, mango, banana, papaya and flowers. International surfing champions seek the massive waves at Avamoa Pass, and the worlds largest outrigger canoe race, the Hawaiki Nui Vaa, begins here each October.
Raiatea, called "The Sacred Island," is commonly considered the most revered island in all the South Pacific. Traditionally known as Havaii, Raiatea is the island from which all of eastern Polynesia was colonized. Legend tells of Raiateas first king, Hiro, who built a great canoe used to reach other Polynesian islands. Historically, kings from the neighboring islands would gather at the marae (temple) Taputapuatea for important ceremonies and negotiations. Re-enactments of these ceremonies on the restored maraes help visitors discover the Tahitian culture. Raiatea has the only navigable river in the islands, and popular excursions include exploring the cool, green haven of the Faaroa River in an outrigger speed canoe.
Yachting and sailing enthusiasts gather in Raiatea, home of the islands nautical bases for the Moorings and Stardust Marine charter companies. Experienced sailors and novices alike (captains can be provided) are discovering world-class sailing in the Leeward Islands. The Pacific breezes and calm lagoons are ideal year-round for sailing and deep-sea fishing. On the slopes of Mt. Temehani visitors can discover the Tiare Apetahi, a rare flower that is found only on this mountain on Raiatea. Botanists have unsuccessfully tried to grow it elsewhere. Legend says that there was once a lovely Tahitian girl who fell in love with the son of a Tahitian king. She died of a broken heart, because she could never marry him. The five delicate petals represent her hand. Those who climb the mountain early in the morning will see the Tiare Apetahi open at dawn, with a slight crackling sound -- the sound of her heart breaking.
Tahaa, just two miles north of Raiatea, offers a glimpse of the traditional, tranquil life of Tahitians. The 4,000 residents fish from the lagoon and raise livestock. Tahaa is called "The Vanilla Island," for the many plantations of this sought-after spice, which sweetens the air with its rich aroma. With its lush, green interior, surrounded by a stunningly beautiful blue lagoon and islets with white sand beaches and swaying palms, Tahaa captures the idea of a truly hidden paradise.
Each November, this island comes alive with a Stone Fishing tournament. In the method of their ancestors, the villagers wade into the lagoon, beating the water with stones tied to ropes. The frenzy frightens the schools of fish, driving them ashore, where they are easily collected for a feast.
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