It’s only about a half-hour flight away from both its popular sister islands, Tahiti and Bora Bora, but why is this paradise off the travelers’ radar?
We had not heard of the island of Huahine until we started planning and researching our trip to French Polynesia. We read up on the different islands in the archipelago and Huahine certainly caught our attention.
We read that it was not touristy, scarcely developed, very lush, offers taste of genuine Polynesian culture and hospitality, boasts of the largest and most important archeological site and some of the best beaches in the archipelago, good spot to relax and recharge but also has slew of activities like great diving, snorkeling, hiking, etc. It definitely sounds like our kind of destination.
We also read that Huahine was how Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea were like before they were invaded by tourism boom. Sold! We thought that Huahine would provide a good balance to our itinerary which included Bora Bora and Tahiti.
We found that Huahine was indeed very lush. It is actually dubbed as the Garden Island of French Polynesia. It is covered with dense rainforests and its dramatic landscape is thriving with vegetable and fruit farms.
It is also indeed calm and refreshingly scarcely developed. In fact, there are only three resorts here and they are nowhere as posh as the ones that its sister islands are famous for.
Huahine is actually consists of two volcanic islands joined by a small bridge over the lagoon. A scenic drive on its mostly unpaved road winds through green canopies and breathtaking vistas for about 20 miles/32 kms around the two islands.
Huahine is rich with medicinal plants that grow wildly around the island. We learned about “miro” (left photo), a fruit which produces a yellow sap that locals use to ease itchiness from mosquito bites (Yes, mosquitoes love hanging out in paradise). We also learned about “noni,” a fruit whose juice is used by locals for its detoxifying effect.
Huahine’s lagoon, bordered by white sand beaches, is absolutely stunning even during cloudy and rainy days. It also said to be rich with beautiful marine life. Unfortunately, it rained mostly throughout our stay and our snorkeling trips were cancelled.
Huahine is considered the cradle of Polynesian civilization and is an important archeogical site. It is home to the largest concentration of ancient Marae (sacred Polynesian temples), some of which are believed to date back to the original ancestors of the Polynesians, the Lapita people, around 700 AD.
The historic village of Maeva, once home to Polynesian royalty, contain ruins of maraes as well agricultural terraces, house foundations, fortification walls and burial platforms.
One ancient practice that is still evident in the island today is the use ancient fish traps, a system unique to Polynesia, that was used to supply abundant seafood to the royal inhabitants of Maeva. They still work as good as they did in 16th century in trapping fish as the tide ebbs and flows in and out of the narrow passage.
One of the island’s largest marae is dramatically situated along this stunning north coast. It was so peaceful with just us and few locals. It’s a spot for locals to go for surfing or fishing, and a delightful spot fo us to gather pretty sea shells.
Black pearl farming is one of the island’s industry. We got to observe their farming techniques and saw some of the finished products. Keith didn’t find the products fascinating (too expensive, he thought) and to his relief, they were not much to my liking either. But he definitely found the farm a good place to take a nap. Surrounded by water, it was indeed a relaxing place to be.
Huahine has some very unique inhabitants – the sacred eels that thrive in fresh water. The islanders believe that these blue-eyed eels embody the souls of their ancestors and feed them with canned sardines or mackerel as a daily ritual.
The island is dotted with vanilla farms that produce vanilla extracts of export quality. We visited one farm where the lovely caretaker showed us how the vanilla orchards are grown and how the beans are processed. We also got to try a vanilla rum.
So if this island is so culturally rich and naturally beautiful, why is it then not a popular destination as its neighboring islands? From what we understand, its locals are simply not interested in tourist development.
Also from what we gathered, the locals of Huahine surely have independent streak. While its sister islands became French colonies in 1880, the Huahine islanders resisted as much as they could and didn’t get colonized until 1888.
We had the blessing of rich interactions with Huahine’s islanders of today and these meetings were the most treasured experience we had during our French Polynesian trip.
We were walking around the village and stopped by this unassuming restaurant, Les Dauphins, to check the menu. We were charmed by the scene of locals hanging out by the bar and playing music. They were very friendly and they assured us that we would enjoy the food at this restaurant.
We took their words for it and we very much enjoyed its French-Polynesia cuisine indeed. As delicious as the food was, it was not the best part of the evening.
They didn’t only buy us two rounds of drinks but they also played traditional Polynesian music for us and even danced with us. They certainly know how to have fun, and it was only Tuesday evening. We loved their spirits. This evening alone was enough to make our Huahine experience unforgettable.
We walked to the main town of Fare one day and was delighted to see village kids joyfully jumping in and out of the water from the small pier against the backdrop of stunning sunset. We felt so happy for them for their gift of youthful freedom and the blessing of a beautiful natural playground.
Unlike the main island of Bora Bora, the villages are impressively very well-kept. The locals of Huahine pride themselves of preserving their surroundings.
We were the only tourists around. The locals warmly greeted us with “Bonjour” or “Ia Orana” (Polynesian for Hello). Ilean (left), a very friendly and vibrant woman, approached and introduced herself to us and within few minutes we knew of her life story. She seemed to know everyone and introduced us to every vendors and passersby.
We found Hauhine a spectacular, special island. We were enchanted by its natural abundance that blends seamlessly with a wealth of ancient history and mythical intrigue. We enjoyed the absolute serenity of the island’s natural surroundings. Most of all, we were endeared by the welcoming hospitality of the locals.
Getting there: Air Tahiti offers daily direct flights to Huahine from Tahiti and Bora Bora.
Getting around: The island can be best explored by renting a car or bicycle or by hired excursion. Taxi service is available. The public transit system, Le Truck, has daily routes from the six outlying villages to Fare.
Where to stay: We stayed at Maita Lapita Village and we highly recommend it. It is a charming resort modeled after a Tahitian village and is built around a preserved archeological site. It offers spacious and comfortable bungalows in beautiful garden and lakeside settings. While the bungalows do not overlook the beach, the restaurant and swimming pool provide direct access to the stunning shoreline. It is a convenient 10-minute walk to the main village of Fare. Wonderful, charming staff.
Where to dine:
-Les Dauphins – For delicious and innovative French-Polynesia fare. It’s located in Fare right next to the only post office in the island. Hang out for locals.
-Yatch Club Huahine (formerly Te Marara) – For lovely waterfront dining in Fare. Great for sunset viewing. Offering traditional island fare. Hang out for locals.
-The Omai – Located in Maita Lapita Village. Offers fusion of French and Polynesia cuisine. Overlooking the beach.