French Polynesia’s Raiatea

Raiatea Motu. Taha'a in the background.
Raiatea Motu. Taha’a in the background.

Raiatea, the present settlement of Kandu’s crew, is a lagoon-enclosed island satiated with adventures. It is my home for the current school year 2016-2017 and I’m especially excited about the surfing. Raiatea is an island among 118 different atolls and islands in French Polynesia. Tahiti, the biggest island, and Raiatea the third largest are both part of an island archipelago called the Society Islands. It is one archipelago among five others in Polynesia: the Marquesas, Austral, Gambier, and Tuamotu Archipelagos. Easter Island or Rapa Nui is considered Polynesian, but it is not part of French Polynesia. They are linked to Chile and the spoken language is Spanish.

From my experiences traveling three of the five archipelagoes, I found each island/atoll chain is different: different attitudes, personalities, but mainly the different habits displayed by the people. Similarly the geography is different. The Society Islands are surrounded by a giant mass of coral. An atoll is a giant coral reef surrounding an island consisting of numerous layers of coral. As the island in the center shrinks the coral reef grows, growing on top of the layers of dead coral. The space between an atoll and an island is a lagoon like body of water between the island and the reef. The bonus of having a reef around an island is that whenever the wind or waves are robust the island is protected. Every ten years an island is estimated to shrink or sink a single millimeter while the atolls size grows.

Raiatea has a surface area of 238 square miles. It’s located at 16.8°S/Latitude, 151.4°W/Longitude. Raiatea has a buddy island, Taha’a. Most islands don’t have an outer layer of protection (an atoll), so to have two islands inside of one atoll is double rare. Which is the case for Raiatea and Taha’a, they both share an atoll. Together they reach a population of 18,000 people, Raiatea making up 13,000. Compared to Los Angeles of 6 million the island and its population are very small. Yet it beats the population for most of the other islands in French Polynesia, having the second largest city, after Tahiti. Uturoa is the city where Trent and I attend school. We are docked in Marina Uturoa within a 10 minute walk to our school Lycee des Iles-sous-le-vent d’Uturoa.

Marina Uturoa
Marina d’Uturoa and downtown.

Raiatea’s national language is French but most of the locals continue to learn and speak Tahitian. The most commonly practiced religion is Protestant. However 1000 or so years ago it was different, Raiatea was considered the center of Tahitian religion and culture. People would bring gifts to the gods or kill others for sacrifices. Mostly, people visit this island for her beauty and peacefulness. Still today Raiatea is considered the most sacred holy place throughout the South Pacific. Additionally on the islands’ two mountains: Mount Temehani at 650 meters high and Mount Toomaru at 1017 meters high, grows the Tiare Apetahi flower that pops open for sunrise and holds five pedals on one side; it looks somewhat like a human hand. This flower grows nowhere else in the world except for on Raiatea’s two tall mountains.atm60_destination_06
Sacrifices and gifts were given at places known as Marae’s. There are hundreds of them spotted about Polynesia. “French Polynesia’s Taputapuatea marae, is a center for Polynesian seafarers from where they explored Hawaii and New Zealand, now is up for world-wide recognition. France has officially lodged a bid with UNESCO to recognize the Taputapuatea marae on Raiatea Island as a World Heritage site .The culture minister says if approved, it will be the first time a site has been acknowledged in the Pacific for its cultural significance.”

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Taputapuatea marae Raiatea

Marae’s today are used for show and tell or exchanging cultural dances. In the Marquesas during big festivals I watched the numerous performances held on Marae’s done by brothering islands giving thanks through their dances and carvings. It was fearsome and overwhelming to see their presentations of costumes!

Snorkeling and exploring of the various sea life is fun for my parents. We hope to partake in some of the known diving possibilities while we’re here. There are many sorts of desirable diving activities. The island contains some of the most spectacular diving on earth; it’s a divers dream! In each pass there exists a drift dive revealing a wide selection of colorful coral, coral canyons and caves. Raiatea also bears a rare wreck dive of a ship with three masts called the Nordby that sunk in 1900. All who know want to go!

On Raiatea my brother and I have been doing a fair amount of surfing, given that there are eight passes to choose from! All you have to do is look up on line for the swell and wind direction, and choose your desired reef pass, but we’ve found that the surfspot Miri Miri is by far the best and most consistent, plus it is relatively close to where we live.

Surfing Raiatea Miri Miri.
Bryce Rigney surfing at Raiatea’s Miri Miri. COOL VIDEO: raiatea-bryce-surf-gopro

I’m enjoying very much our time in Raiatea between the great school experience and the many local sport activities available aside from surfing, like outrigger paddling and running. Turns out Trent and I have been able to participate in outrigger competitions and running competitions. b_friends_pirogueI placed well running and the school just sent me to Papeete to run against 300 of the best runners in the Polynesia Islands. I was the youngest and smallest runner in my category yet I placed 25th out of about 125 boy teens, the largest category ages between 15-17.  It was a GREAT experience and I’m lovin’ life!

Leeward Island Competition at Lycee d'Uturoa where I placed 8th in my category...sufficiently high to compete in Papeete.
Leeward Island Competition at Lycee d’Uturoa where I placed 8th in my category…sufficiently high to compete in Papeete.

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