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RAIVAVAE

Sublime Raivavae
Here, in the Australs Archipelago, 90 minutes away by plane from Tahiti, you are a million miles away from Papeete's and from the tourist concentration in the Leeward Islands.

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Unique Raivavae, sublime Raivavae... Here, in the Australs Archipelago, 90 minutes away by plane from Tahiti, you are a million miles away from Papeete's hustling and buzzing and from the Leeward Islands tourist concentration. True South Seas paradise can still be enjoyed here in 2004, in Raivavae, an island that looks somewhat like Bora Bora 50 years ago. With smiles to melt down the most uptight among us, a knock-out scenery and, mostly, a way of life, an exoticism, and a gratification to motivate a true Polynesian adventure. This is a wonderful experience lived by Primi, who spent several weeks in the heart of the Austral Islands. Sent to Raivavae in the context of an English language training program for would-be creators of new guest houses or small hotels, Primi enjoyed total bliss with the island's population.

 "My first impression while arriving in Raivavae, only 800 km (500 miles) south of Tahiti, was amazement. Imagine an island with scattered hills, about 10 km by 3.5 km (6.5 x 2.2 miles), surrounded by many motus, a belt of coral, and a lagoon with shades of blue that have nothing to envy to the Bora Bora lagoon. What a surprise compared to the other islands in the archipelago that have no lagoon or are surrounded with only a thin reef! Then there are the people... The welcome is in tune with the scenery, i.e. divine! The some 1,000 inhabitants of Raivavae are spread in four villages around the island. Like everywhere else in Polynesia, there are many children and they greet you with genuine and simple smiles. Here ancestral values have survived progress. The population, a strong majority of Protestants, is very religious, as seen in the many churches built throughout the island.

CLICK to enlarge.Religious fervor marks the daily life and conveys to the children the values that seem to have disapeared from our modern lands. Rules are strict and complied with. A feeling of fatalism seems however present everywhere. The people of Raivavae know that they arem and will remain isolated for decades to come. Despite the recent construction of a landing strip and a few weekly flights to Tahiti, the island remains untouched by progress and modernity. It is a good thing for tourists coming in increasing numbers to seek adventure in the Southern Austral Islands, but not so good for the islanders to whom TV brings everyday pictures of a world that they'll probably never know, although they often dream of it. They do not know how happy they are. This is why some time some show hostility to the new flow of tourists visiting their island. At the same time, they are aware that this is the only way to open up a little to the outside world, a world they idealize without realizing the long list of disillusions it carries.

Immaculate white sand beaches on the motu and in some bays are among Polynesia's most beautiful. On top of this, they are desert all year round. It is indeed not very well thought of, especially for young women, to lazily bask in the sun by the beach. It is true that local religion frowns on sunbathing and being lazy. Still everything here encourages this lifestyle. The surrounding hills reach between 150 and 450 m in heigth, they are ideal for a sunset hike or to visit the island's small marae. A tour of the island makes you see hundreds of black pigs tied to coconut trees, a luxury item for every family that appreciates "pua" cooked according to many local recipes.

CLICK to enlarge.Fairly recently, the notion of welcoming tourists has been entering local habits and new guest houses have been opened. For those who seek an authentic Polynesia, Raivavae will be an ideal destination, especially between November and April (the warm season), as it is cooler there than in the Leeward islands during the same period. Two weekly flights from Papeete offer many travel opportunities. If you are not in a hurry, the trip by sea is a unique experience aboard a unique ship, with some kind of joyful "boat people" happy to be returning home after a few days "in the city" (Papeete)... As to lodging rates, you will certainly be pleasantly surprised. Unlike in Bora Bora, guest houses are very inexpensive, meals served there are almost given away and excellent. You will also taste local specialities, namely dishes based on lagoon fish and seafood. Listen to Primi:  " I was able to taste a New England Clam Chowder at Linda's place. This is a very refined dish appreciated all over the world, but for this fantastic cook, it was just something obvious, almost a day to day thing, made from the local giant clams. Not to mention the profusion of lobsters.  "

The island of Raivavae is today a privileged destination within French Polynesia. Come and enjoy it now and stay as long as you can...

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