You’re captivated by French Polynesia. You keep returning to gaze at the volcanic peaks, the picture-perfect motus, and the amazingly clear water. It’s what you envision each time you think about paradise. And, lately, paradise has meant more than the view from a sun lounger at your pampering resort. You’ve finally started to explore—and to see what the islands are like beyond the overwater bungalows. This will be your farthest adventure yet.
The Austral Islands are the southernmost islands in French Polynesia. Tuha’a Pae, as the Polynesians call them, are made up of seven islands within two archipelagos. The Bass Islands lie to the southeast; the Tupua’i Islands, where you’re heading, sit in the northwest. The islands have no resorts. They see few visitors. But they’re absolutely beautiful.
You arrive on Rimatara, the westernmost Tupua’i Island. At only 3.3 square miles, the circular island is the smallest of the islands. It’s filled with volcanic plateaus, banana trees, and taro plantations. White-sand beaches line the coast. Pirogues glide through the shallow lagoon. While a fringe reef extends almost to the shore. The island was one of the last Polynesian islands to have contact with Europeans; it wasn’t discovered until 1821. An airport was finally built in 2006. But Rimatara has remained quiet and relatively isolated.
You’re welcomed at the little airport with a flower lei—still one of your favorite traditions—and big smiles. La Perruche Rouge, the family-owned pension where you’re staying, is nearby. “The Red Parakeet” has four bungalows with embroidered linens, wide decks, and garden views. Meals, featuring fresh fruit and fish, are shared in the thatched-roof restaurant. While the Kato family is happy, even anxious, to show off their island.
Over the next few days, you visit the little towns: Amaru, Anapoto, and Mutuaura. You see the Protestant churches, where the deeply religious islanders worship. You watch nimble fingers weaving pandanus leaves into beautiful baskets and mats. You buy a shell necklace that will surely be envied when you return home. You search for rare, brightly colored Rimatara lorikeets. Plus you claim a different beach as your very own each day. Though no one has delivered you fruity drinks, massaged aloe onto your sunburned back, or spread bougainvillea petals on your turned-down bed, you’ve never felt more at home in French Polynesia.