Also called the island of memory, Huahine has archeological sites among the most extensive and best preserved in French Polynesia. The interior of the island is accessible by road, and looks like a vast tropical garden. A must experience!
Shaped like butterfly wings, the double islands of Huahine have remained a captivating secret. Still off the beaten path of the classic tourist circuit of Tahiti-Moorea-Bora Bora, Huahine offers visitors a marvelously assorted palette of landscapes, while harboring several bays, a lagoon, and large coral motu (islets) where melons are cultivated. The island is also very rich with the remnants of earlier structures and marae, ancient Polynesian temples. Large white sand beaches, passes filled with fish where it is not unusual to encounter dolphins…all complete this enchanting tropical setting which is very dear to the hearts of Polynesians. Set in a unique large lagoon, it is a high island, with several mountain peaks in which the highest, Mount Turi, reaches 669 metres (2200 ft).
A backdrop of green in the middle of the ocean
Huahine spreads 12km (7.5mi) long by 17km (10.5mi) wide. The current population is about 6,500 inhabitants. The island is essentially rural, comprised of fishermen and farmers. The little islands along the north coast in particular have undertaken original planting methods for the past forty years with the succesful cultivation of melons, watermelons and types of peppers. In order for farming to take place, volcanic earth from the neighboring high islands has to be brought down to fill a network of holes built into the coral matter. There, a fresh water table allows for irrigation. This production is primarily bound for the market in Papeete. Without forgetting vanilla, other great specialities of the islands are taro, bananas, yams, and certain types of exotic fruits that have managed to adapt to the climate and soil. The island’s inhabitants have known for a very long time how to take advantage of marine resources, as shown by their antique fish traps. Fishing remains a very appreciated family activity. Some areas, such as Maroe Bay, located between the two islands, are extremely abundant in fish. The people especially value slipper lobsters, lobsters, varo (mantis shrimp), and a variety of little shells. For being extremely rustic, the islands have quite a selection of lodging for tourists: three hotels and at least one dozen family-owned guest facilities with bungalows or rooms that offer an immersion into the local warmth and hospitality that many tourists greatly appreciate. Also, several service providers offer various types of water sports. Cruise ships regularly disembark their passengers for island visits.
However, it is easy get to, thanks to roads that permit access to magnificent panoramas situated up high on the mountain. In clear weather, you can even see the horizons of Raiatea, Tahaa, and Bora Bora, which, along with Huahine, comprise the islands under the wind, the Leeward Islands, which are part of the Society Islands. Located at 175 km (109 mi) from Tahiti, a mere half an hour by plane, Huahine is actually composed of two blocks of islands separated by a narrow sea canal between two bays: Huahine Nui (Big Huahine) and Huahine Iti (Little Huahine). Since the 1960s, a bridge has connected the two land masses.
Once called Tematatoerau, then Matairea, Huahine is also called “The Island of Women;” not only because it was governed by queens, but also in reference to the particular sliced-through shape of the topology that is visible from Fare, the tiny administrative center. Huahine can also translate as “female organ.” From the port, it is possible to have the impression that the mountain looks like the face and body of a pregnant woman laying down. The island landscapes, covered in abundant tropical vegetation, also give it female character, adding to its charm. Sheltered from modern tourism, Huahine reflects a certain quality of life, far removed from the hustle and bustle of Papeete.
Huahine in ancient times
In ancient times, Huahine was divided into eight chiefdoms spread around the island. It appears that this island, once deserted, was first populated by human beings between the 5th and 9th centuries. The carbon-14 dating carried out by archaeologists confirmed that it was occupied by a very structured society during the 12th and 13th centuries, as shown by the still visible presence of the marae. Towards 1650, Maeva became the principle political chiefdom on the island. Several dynasties succeeded each other after the 17th century. In 1769, Capitain Cook met Queen Teha’apapa. By the 19th century, a movement came about to unite rival chiefdoms. This period was rich in political developments. An article in the New York Times dated October 16, 1868, related the disposition of King Ari’imate that occurred in June, 1868. At the beginning of the 1850s, he organized a revolt with the intent to overthrow Queen Teriitaria, who had preceded him.
The annexation of France did not occur without difficulty either; and Fare was bombed in 1846 by a French naval fleet, L’Uranie. In 1890, ten years after Tahiti, and along with the ancient kingdoms of Raiatea and Bora Bora and their dependencies, Huahine became integrated into a separate institution under the supreme authority of the Governor of the French Establishments in Oceania (EFO ). Huahine was not annexed by France until 1895, and became united with the French Establishments of Oceania in 1897. What followed was the introduction of a separate judicial system (the Indigenous Code), that remained in place until 1946, the year of the proclamation of French citizenship to all French colonial subjects. With its 6,500 inhabitants, Huahine is today integrated into the overseas collectivity known as French Polynesia.
Several archeological sites
Also called the island of memory, Huahine has archeological sites among the most extensive and best preserved in French Polynesia. Therefore, there are cultural interest centers that will certainly appeal to tourists. Several marae have been restored, and Huahine has one of the finest concentrations of pre-Christian religious sites in French Polynesia, including the one at Maeva, located on the edge of the lagoon where ancient fish traps still exist. The entrance to this site contains several self-guided tours that explain how these open air spaces were reserved for ceremonial, social, and religious activities. Some of them have imposing monuments.
These sites were used to worship the ancestors and divinities, and were dedicated to the convergence of human beings and the powers of the hereafter. Affiliated groups of people expressed their solidarity amongst each other and also between themselves and the land through the marae that were at the heart of a concurrent network. Hereditary family names were connected to family marae. This was a way to prove land entitlements that were collectively distributed according to strict hierarchical structures. This harmonious relationship between nature and culture within a landscape still rich with ancestral myths and legends makes it an exceptional tourist destination.
Maeva’s fare pôte’e
Open to tourists since its restoration, the fare pôte’e located on Maeva’s archeological site on the shores of Lake Fauna Nui is a traditional Polynesian building. It is made entirely of plant materials, wood, and bamboo, and is distinguished from the rectangular fare hau pape by its rounded sides. Before, the dimensions of this type of community building were proportionate to the social standing of the inhabitants. In Huahine, all traditional structures, such as the fare pôte’e, have all been updated. One of them, a large structure on stilts, was documented in 1925 by the American archeologist, Kenneth Emory. It was located next to the Protestant temple in the village and used as a meeting house. For generations, islanders occasionally renovated it, but it fell into delapidation. Through the efforts of archeologist Yosihiko Sinoto, it was rebuilt in 1972, a few hundred yards from its current location. Over the years, it has become a space dedicated to cultural activities and village social life. Located on the shore of the lagoon between several restored marae, it had been devastated by numerous storms, and had been reconstructed quite a few times between 1996 and our present time. Today, under the direction of an association, ‘Opu Nui, the fare pôte’e houses a permanent exhibit of artifacts and educational descriptions that include photos and reproductions of prints dedicated to island life and traditional architecture.
On the site of a traditional ancient village
During the construction of the Bali Hai hotel in the 1970s—a few hundred yards from Fare—several archeological digs took place. Rare wooden objects were discovered while work was underway to build ornamental ponds. Further digging revealed more about the period during which the first Polynesian colonization took place up until European contact in the 18th century. The site revealed that daily life in the traditional village revolved around fishing and agriculture. Today, the architecture of the new Lapita hotel entails bungalows modeled over the original fare va’a, which once harbored the large double-hulled pirogues that the original inhabitants used for ocean voyaging. One room is dedicated to exhibiting ancient artifacts, prints, and original work; some of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
Fare, administrative center of the island: a quiet village
Fare, the main town in Huahine, is on the northwest coast. Its original name was Fare-nui-âtea (large sprawling house). Located on Huahine Nui, it has a deep water harbor in little Avamoa bay where schooners unload supplies from Papeete. The main town on the island stretches along the sea front. Different businesses sit along a unique shady street where traffic is often by foot in which pedestrians and cyclists casually meander. But during the day, the bustle of the market—and in the evenings, the food trucks, referred to as roulottes— bring constant activity. Tourists arrive regularly on large cruise ships that can be seen moored in the distance at Haavai Bay. Until the 1930s, the port at Fare was a stopping point for whaling ships on their way back up north, or sailing between the islands. It is reputed to have been a wonderful refuge. From November through March, large waves form just outside the pass due to huge swells on the western sector, making it a very popular spot for surfers.
Huahine, farming island
Huahine’s economy is primarily oriented towards farming and fishing. Old horticultural traditions have existed there for centuries, and you can find many taro plantations. Tubers have always been a staple of Polynesian diets. There are competitions to highlight the most beautiful root vegetables, such as taro, tarua (arrowleaf elephant’s ear, or Xanthosoma sagittifolium), cassava, yams and sweet potatoes. On the island’s motu, farming now includes watermelons and melons destined for Tahiti for which Huahine is one of the main producers. There are also vanilla plantations. Finally, in the district of Fitii in the center of the island, there is Eden Parc, a botanical garden where a hundred varieties of tropical fruit trees and other purposeful flora have been planted. A path there leads to a magnificent panoramic view of the island’s three bays.