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Raiatea - The Sacred Island

Raiatea Pearl Beach Resort

Raiatea is the second largest of the islands of French Polynesia, but is one of the least unknown. While it may have a population of 10000 you would not believe it! A rugged and mountainous island with deep bays and a narrow coastal strip, in true Tahitian fashion the island rises steeply out of the sea to towering mist-shrouded mountains.

Raiatea is known as the Sacred Island because legend tells that this is the first island that the Polynesiasn's set foot. While anthropologists and archaeologists will argue convincingly that the peoples of the South Pacific came from SE Asia, travelling by boat, traditional Tahitian folklore tells of their people heading into the setting sun on their first journey. This can only mean they came from South America! On landing in Raiatea they sent 7 boats out to discover new islands; only 6 returned, but this is supposedly how the island groups of Hawaii, Fiji, Kiribati, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), New Zealand and Cook Islands were populated. The seventh ship never returned. Because of this Raiatea holds the most historic and religious significance for all the inhabitants of the South Pacific. On the eastern tip of Raiatea, can be found the ancient temple complex of Taputapuatea, home to the ancient god Oro. These temples, or marae, are the most sacred sites of all the people of the South Pacific; here kings held court and sway over their subjects and their neighbours, deciding the fate of individuals and islands. These marae should be on the wish list of anyone wanting to learn about the culture of Polynesia, not least because they enjoy a commanding position on a headland, with the lagoon to the front and the backdrop of majestic mountains to the rear!

Raiatea's rugged and beautiful interior is best appreciated by car. A drive inland will take you past dramatic cliffs dripping with vegeration, past pineapple and grapefruit farms, bamboo forests and gurgling streams to a vantage point with views east to lagoon, dramatic mountains either side. Raiatea also boasts a magnificent botanical garden, where all sorts of exotic plants are grown. Flowers are also grown here commercially to furnish the tourist trade with a steady supply of frangipani, bouganvillea and hibiscus.

Raiatea's lagoon, shared with her sister, Taha'a, is punctured by numerous passes which make for great drift diving, and is also location of the finest of French Polynesia's few wrecks.

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RAIATEA PEARL BEACH RESORT
The Raiatea Pearl Resort is a new property for the Pearl Resort group, but one of the most well established resorts in French Polynesia. Located on the southern edge of Uturoa, the main town of Raiatea, the resort management have plans for major redevelopment in the coming months and years. The main reception and accommodations have a somewhat dated 1970s feel about them; however, the resort does boast a fabulous chef who turns out delicious and generous portions of local and European cuisine.

The resort is small - just 32 rooms, and has a great little coral reef tucked between the shoreline and the overwater bungalows. The overwater bungalows are perched on the edge of the reef, with a 100ft drop-off right beneath the sun deck. At the bottom of this drop-off is the best shipwreck in French Polynesiam, the 3-masted schooner Nordby. The resort has 8 garden rooms built in 2 blocks, 4 garden bungalows with sitting area, 7 lagoon bungalows on the edge of the shoreline and 9 overwater bungalows in blocks of 3, with private sundecks and direct access to the sea. 2 blocks are to the left of the pool and one to the right. All have ceiling fans, IDD telephone, TV, en suite shower (no bath) and fridge. Plans to renovate the rooms and add air-conditioning are in the pipeline. All the rooms are set to the side of the main reception and dining area, allowing uninterrupted views out to the pool and lagoon beyond.

To the right is the dive shop, which is run by Hemisphere Sub, whose main dive operation is located at Apooiti Marina on the other side of Uturoa. Please note that the resort does not have a beach.

The Raiatea Pearl Resort offers great value for money and is an ideal base from which to explore this wonderfully undiscovered island.

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