Raiatea’s temple, Taputapuatea, dates back to 1000 A.D. // © 2012 Mindy Poder
Paul Gauguin Cruises
The excursion is led by Jeep Safari Raiatea and is available for $95 for clients cruising with Paul Gauguin.
There’s a lot of ground, and water, to cover in Raiatea. Not only is the island the second largest in the Society Islands after Tahiti, Raiatea is considered to be the cradle of Polynesian royalty, religion and culture — and I wanted to see why.
Disembarking from my Paul Gauguin cruise at the Raiatea pier, I boarded Jeep Safari Raiatea’s four-by-four vehicle, manned by a half-American tour guide who went by the name of James Dean and claimed to descend from Raiatea royalty. Quite the character, Dean infused the tame drive through Raiatea’s lush and verdant landscape with humorous anecdotes and facts about the island, its history and its inhabitants. Midway through the drive, Dean even picked up a new passenger — a land crab — which he captured after an enthusiastic chase. Upon my request, he found and gave me a healthy fruit called noni, which, after it ripened, I discovered is one of the most vile-smelling and foul-tasting fruits in existence.
The drive through the island led to Raiatea’s first marea (temple), Taputapuatea, located on the island’s southeastern coast and said to date back to 1000 A.D. The significant holy site has been maintained and left alone, and the simple structure of gray stones, contrasted by the trees, sky and coastline, is a peaceful spot for self-reflection.
Next, we boarded a canoe headed to the Faaroa River, the only navigable river in French Polynesia. Here, we saw locals tending to their self-made homes while birds surveyed the scene from tree branches that stretch horizontally above the length of the river. Falling into another meditation, I realized that the island hasn’t stopped inspiring visitors.