You know the French Polynesia drill by now. You fly off to the South Pacific, check in to your overwater bungalow, stare at a nearby motu, watch perfect sunsets, and drink Mai Tais for an entire week. No wonder it’s called paradise. There’s just one thing missing from your perfect stretch of sand: the rest of the island. By the time you depart, you may be relaxed, but you can’t really rate more than the resort. It’s time to change that on Huahine.
Huahine, a 40-minute flight from Tahiti, is known as the Garden Island of French Polynesia. From the air, the outline of the island looks like a pregnant woman, proof of Huahine’s fertility, according to Polynesian legend. It’s two main islands, Huahine Nui (Big Huahine) and Huahine Iti (Little Huahine), are separated by a sandbar at low tide. The lush islands are full of coconut and vanilla plantations, banana groves and watermelon fields. They’re surrounded by powdery beaches, turquoise lagoons, and shallow reefs. On such a beautiful island, it’d be a shame to look at the same motu all week.
You arrive at the small airport on the northern side of Huahine Nui. It’s almost enclosed by water. The ocean is on one side; brackish, shallow Lac Fauna Nui is on the other. Just a thin strip of land connects it to the island. Head east, to Matairea Hill, where stone marea (sacred temples) are hidden among the dense vegetation. You have a spectacular view from Marae Paepae Ofat. Tahitian royalty once called the village of Maeve home. It’s now full of the largest maraes, excavation sites, and V-shaped fish traps made out of rocks. Drive south to Faie and stop to buy a can of sardines. You’ll need them to feed the blue-eyed, three-by-six-feet freshwater eels that the islanders consider sacred.
Cross the small bridge that connects the two islands. You’re now on Huahine Iti, the rugged, isolated southern island. Stop for a baguette sandwich and a juicy watermelon in Maroe and watch the cruise ships passing by. Huahine’s best beaches are on the southern tip of the island. In Parea, you have isolated coves and shady lagoons all to yourself. You don’t even need a snorkel mask to see the colorful fish in the bath-like water. And you see more crabs than people along the way.
Eventually, you drive north, cross the bridge again, and head up the west side of the island. Fare, the largest town, has a chill vibe and a waterfront market on Sundays. From here, you’ll hike Mount Turi to reach an outlook point that drops down the steep hill to Maroe Bay. You’ll go surfing at Ava Mo’a Pass, which has some of the best swells in the South Pacific. And you’ll scuba diving among whitetip sharks, schools of barracudas, paddlefish, and eagle rays at Avapeihi Pass.
But first, you’re here to catch the ferry to the Royal Huahine. Your resort has a freshwater pool, an overwater restaurant, and views of Raiatea and Taha’a. Plus those overwater bungalows and refreshing Mai Tais. No one expected you to forego those luxuries. You just had to work for them this time. It was worth it.