Mataura, French Polynesia

Photo: © Jérémie Silvestro / Wikimedia Commons

Social distancing. It’s a concept about which few people had heard, much less comprehended, only a month ago. Now events are quickly being canceled. Schools, restaurants, and bars are closed. Most people are working from home. While travel has come to a virtual halt. You’re therefore left to dream.

You’re dreaming about faraway places. The more remote, the better. Somewhere warm sounds appealing. You need sunshine and fresh air after being cooped up inside for days on end. So you zone in on the South Pacific. French Polynesia is the exact opposite of where you’re stuck right now. It’s not the main islands—Tahiti, Mo’orea, Bora Bora—on which you’re focusing, though. You’re thinking about more isolated islands.

The Austral Islands are French Polynesia’s southernmost islands. They’re part of an enormous chain of mountains that extends all the way to the Cook Islands. The islands’ two archipelagos, the Tubuai and Bass Islands, are rarely visited. They have no resorts or hotels, few restaurants, and little in the way of tourist facilities. Your time would be spent swimming, biking, and hiking. The views along the way would be pretty incredible, too.

The Tubuai Islands, the northwest islands in the Australs, are scattered across 800 miles. There are four main islands and an uninhabited atoll in the group. Tubuai, the largest island, sits just above the Tropic of Capricorn. It’s been inhabited for more than 2,000 years. Captain James Cook arrived in 1777 while mapping the islands. Mutineers on a Royal Navy ship, Christian missionaries, and the French eventually followed. They found two volcanic domes, fertile plains, and white-sand beaches. They, in turn, are ringed by turquoise water, small motus, and a coral reef. Tubuai is breathtaking.

The island does have an airport. Flights from Pape’ete arrive southwest of Mataura, the largest village, every other day. Mounts Taita’a and Tonorutu come into view first. Their shaded trails are well maintained. You’ll probably see colorful Kuhl’s lorikeets and Rapa fruit doves along your hikes. Arrowroot, bananas, and coconuts—most bound for Pape’ete—grow in the lowlands. Tubuai is known as the fruit bowl of French Polynesia due to their abundance. Maraes (Polynesian meeting and sacred places) are hidden in the overgrown bush. The ruins of rebel-built Fort George are more visible along the northeast coast. This is a great place in which to get lost, even if it has to be remotely for now.

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