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mardi 19 janvier 2016

Winward Islands in French Polynesia

Five little-known islands, including Tahiti
Compound of five islands, including Tahiti and Moorea, the subset of Winward Islands alone hosts 75% of the population of French Polynesia.

The four high islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Maiao and Mehetia) and the atoll (Tetiaroa) form a remarkable insular entity in French Polynesia, integrated in Society Islands.

While these five islands are home to three quarters of the population of the five Polynesian archipelagos, one (Mehetia) is uninhabited since the early 20th century, the other (Tetiaroa), which belonged to Marlon Brando, became a hotel reserved for an extremely wealthy clientele and the third (Maiao) is inhabited by only three hundred people.

Winward Islands, Society Islands
In other words, on the only two islands of Tahiti and Moorea three quarter of the Polynesian population reside.

Another feature: with 1193 square kilometers, the global area of ​​these five islands constitutes more than a quarter of the total area of ​​land masses of French Polynesia (4200 km²). with 1193 square kilometers, the total area of ​​these five islands more than a quarter of the total area of ​​land masses of FrenchPolynesia (4200 km²).

Lastly, one more point: on Tahiti island are located the highest tops of these one hundred and eighteen islands.

Tetiaroa atoll (17 ° 0 '0' 'S - 149 ° 34' 0 '' W)
At only 53 km north of Tahiti, the (private) atoll Tetiaroa offers 6 km² land area enclosing one of the most beautiful closed lagoons of French Polynesia.

Tetiaroa, an atoll seriously threatened by a luxury hotel...
The highlight of the island is 17 meters above the level of the sea.

Long a sacred land for the Tahitians and tabu* property of the royal family of Arue town, Tetiaroa was mostly made famous for being the property of the actor Marlon Brando, who lived there from 1967-1990.

Even today, Tetiaroa presents a remarkable ecosystem and particularly well preserved. Many species of birds have made their refuge, but for how much longer?

From now on, we must be very, very rich to enjoy it...

           Indeed, although still owned by the heirs of the actor, it's the hotel society, Pacific Beachcomber, which there is currently making a very important (and very controversial) luxury hotel project.

The desert island Mehetia (17 ° 52 '30' 'S - 148 ° 4' 03 '' W)
Located a hundred kilometers east of Tahiti, Mehetia is, geologically, the youngest of five islands in the group. The last eruption of the volcano (still active) was held from March 5 to December 1981.

Mehetia, an island that was not always a desert...
Covering an area of ​​2.3 km², the island, particularly steep and devoid of lagoon, rises to 435 meters above sea level, at Mount Fareura.

It is attached administratively to the municipality of Taiarapu-Est, located at Tahiti Iti, Tahiti's peninsula.

A volcano which still spewed fire in 1981...
If Mehetia is deserted since the early 20th century, it was a long time dynamic economic hub because it served as a stopover for ships between Tahiti and Tuamotu-Gambier and Austral archipelagos.

Today it is forbidden without official access authorization.

The closed Maiao Island (17 ° 39 '19.89' 'S - 150 ° 38' 3.53 '' W)
Just 75 km west of Moorea, Maiao Island is a unique example in French Polynesia.

Maiao, the "prohibited" island, seen from the sky
Indeed, by deliberate choice of its three hundred inhabitants, it has no runway to accommodate airplanes and refuses to welcome any tourist for a period more than a few hours. However, it's essential that he so request and that it's granted for him.

With a total area of 9 square kilometers, its highest peak rises to 154 meters above the Pacific Ocean and hasn't a name.

Its lagoon is opened to the ocean by only one natural channel, deemed very dangerous, and a small artificial pass, on the opposite side from the island and hollowed only for passage of canoes and small whalers.

Many freshwater at Maiao, but alas undrinkable
The heart of the island is occupied by two lakes of brackish water: the Lake Rotoiti (at north) and Rotorahi Lake (east).

The island's economy is based exclusively on the production of woven leaves of pandanus (used to make the roof of traditional fare) and copra production.

Moorea, Tahiti's sister island (17 ° 29 '31' 'S - 149 ° 50' 8 '' W)
Located only 17 km northwest of Tahiti, Moorea covers an area of 133.50 km² and has over 16,200 inhabitants.

Moorea, a beautiful island and unspoilt
It bristles with eight mountains including the highest, Mount Tohiea, reached 1207 m.

It also has two large sumptuous bays of which, Cook's Bay, is seen by its people as the most beautiful bay of the world.

The tour of the island is dotted with many villages stretching along beaches.

Moorea is enclosed by a coral reef lagoon, it opens onto the ocean with 12 passes, all navigable.

The beautiful bays of Cook and Opunohu, views from the Belvedere
If the island's economy is based on agriculture (it produces most notably pineapples consumed in Polynesia and home to the only Farm high school of the Country) and tourism, Moorea has become, in recent years, a luxury suburb for Tahiti. Many daily maritime shuttles put it a few 35 minutes from Tahiti.

Tahiti, the mythical island (17 ° 31 '12' 'S - 149 ° 33' 36 '' W)
With an area of 1 042 km² and 178 173 inhabitants, Tahiti is by far the largest and most populated of the islands of French Polynesia. 

Tahiti Iti and Tahiti Nui
It also possesses, with Mount Orohena (2 241 m), the highest top of the five archipelagos. Were also there four more peaks over 1 332 m.

Economic heartbeat of Polynesia thanks to its port, accommodating oil tankers and container ship, and its international airport, it's also the political and administrative capital.

The island's interior, the other face of Tahiti
If Tahiti made the first explorers James Cook and Louis Antoine de Bougainville dream, the island has lost many of its attractions, it is injured by uncontrolled urbanization and an almost total privatization its coastline.

Its lagoon, itself, suffered the outrages of all releases of an important population whose wastewaters are hardly treated.

Winward islands by some screenshots
Mandatory stopover ("airport oblige") for all visitors, Tahiti conceals yet (to anyone who'll take the trouble to look for them) many treasures.

*tabu or taboo: which means forbidden or banned, actually comes from the Polynesian word "tapu" of which it's a contemporary deformation.

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

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