To the south of Tahiti, the five high islands and the atoll that make up the Austral Islands stretch over 1300km/808mi of ocean across both sides of the Tropic of Capricorn.
Discovered much later by European explorers, more precisely during the second half of the 18th century, these islands were deeply impacted by the arrival of English Protestant missionaries. This powerful religious influence is still greatly evident today, as seen through the enthusiastic devotion of the 6800 inhabitants. At only 1.5 hours by plane from Tahiti, the Austral Islands are much less visited than the other island groups in French Polynesia.
Their distance from the regular tourist trails has probably played a major role in the preservation of the islands’ fauna, flora and magnificent rugged topography. The chiseled mountains of the high islands with their ancient volcanic origins are well-worth a look, as will attest any avid hikers. Various excursions are available to tourists who wish to appreciate the pure air and gorgeous scenery of this archipelago with cooler temperatures than in the Society Islands.
However, besides its amazing island authenticity, this archipelago is also deeply connected to its culture. Artisanal skills and ancestral traditions are preciously transmitted and affirmed from generation to generation, which is why Austral Island arts are renowned throughout all of French Polynesia. The famous Pandanus weavings of the Austral Islands has reached such a high level of refinement that it is much appreciated and probably envied by a great number of inhabitants from the other archipelagoes.
• “Tere” Festival held during the month of January
• Artisans’ Fair
of the Australs Archipelago
One of the most famous Mutiny on the Bounty adventures took place here in 1789. Once they attained the waters of Tubuai after the notorious mutiny, the mutineers were violently attacked by the islanders and taken prisoner.
Raivavae lies at the heart of the Austral Archipelago, about 390 miles southeast of Tahiti. This island reveals all the charms of a preserved and authentic Polynesia. Measuring 5 miles long by 1.86 miles at its widest, the island is hemmed in by a shallow lagoon that opens up to a very large pass at the north.
Located 1000 km/621 mi. to the south of Tahiti, Rimatara is the smallest island in the Austral Archipelago. Lacking a lagoon, the diameter of its 4km area is surrounded by a magnificent coral reef. Since arrival by boat is extremely difficult, the pristine landscape has preserved its integrity.
Located to 1240 km of Tahiti, the island of Rapa is the southernmost of the French Polynesian islands. It is the most isolated because it can only be accessed by sea. Its area is 40 km2 with a population of almost 500 and a max elevation of 650 m. The whole island appears very much to be the peak of a sinking volcano, with the bay as the caldera.