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mercredi 9 mars 2016

In the Leeward Islands

Taha'a, the vanilla island
Protected by the same lagoon as Raiatea, its sister island, Taha'a is known for producing the best vanilla in the world. But it offers many other delights.

According to legend, an eel, inspired by the spirit of a princess, separated Taha'a from Raiatea.

Taha'a, view from the top of Raiatea
Enclosed in the same lagoon as its big sister, Taha'a Island is probably the most authentic and most beautiful of the Leeward Islands (Raro mata'i), the western whole of the archipelago of the Society Islands.

The ancient Polynesians called itself, Uporu. Today it's also known as the (deserved) of the Vanilla Island.

Taha'a, in geography
Taha'a, 230 kilometers west off Tahiti, shares the same lagoon as its sister island Raiatea, but the similarities end there. While their common lagoon is 290 km2, the small island of Taha'a covers only just 80.

The twin islands of Raiatea and Taha'a
The remains of the ancient volcano are present in the center of the island, materialized by two main peaks steep sloped: Mount Ohiri (590 m) and Mount Puurauti (458 m).

Almost circular, the island is deeply penetrated by four beautiful bights. Skirting the island from the southwest to east, the first is Hure Piti Bay, the second the bay of Apu, the third (the most beautiful and deepest) Haamene Bay, and finally the Bay of Faaaha.

At the 2007 census, there were 5,003 people on the island of Taha'a. At Patio, where the foremost town of the island is located, their number is about a thousand. There, are the head shops and administrations.

But the nerve center of the island lies elsewhere: in Tapuamu where the core port is located and hosts the cargo boats, and therefore the bulk of the trade. Indeed, there is no airport in Taha’a.

Mount Ohiri, the highest peak of Taha'a
To get to Taha'a, except to have his own boat, there are only two ways.

Either you arrive by plane to Raiatea and borrow a maritime shuttle, one that crosses the lagoon between the two islands, either you take the regular maritime links, passenger-cargo ship or, more recently, a high-speed vessel serving Raiatea once per week. Then it's the shuttle.

Undoubtledly, the paradise must be earned!

Short history of the island of Taha'a
James Cook is who discovered the three islands of Huahine, Raiatea and Taha'a, in 1769.

At that time, Raiatea and Tahaa were under the rule of King Puni of Bora Bora, but because of the very frequent reversals in those days, the Tapoa and Tamatoa succeeded at the head of the island.

From the heart of Taha'a, the Bay of Faaaha
In the early nineteenth century, the Pomare family, which ruled Tahiti, tried to take possession of the other islands of Society. It will succeed too in conquering Raiatea and Taha'a with the rise to power of Tamatoa IV, heir of Pomare and royal lineage of Raiatea. The family will rule over Raiatea and Taha'a, until the early twentieth century.

In 1847, France recognized the independence of The Leeward Islands. But 40 years later, the annexation of the archipelago by the governor Lacascade causes an insurrection led by Teraupoo. For almost ten years, the war will rage within these islands. The French prevail in February 1897 after heavy fighting by capturing Teraupoo.

Therefore, that would have been the end of the independence of Raiatea and Taha'a.

Taha'a, the vanilla island
In the opinion of most experts worldwide, Taha'a produces the best vanilla in the world.

In fact, the vanilla production of Taha'a serves as a reference for all specialist buyers who come to provide in Polynesia.

In the Bay of Hurepiti, the insular quiet
Whether grown on natural guardians or under shade structures, vanilla is, with the fishing and tourism, the main resource of the inhabitants of Taha'a. This small island products alone, 80% of the vanilla of Polynesia.

Thus, thanks to these wonderful vanilla pods, perfume of Taha'a is reflected in the fine dining dishes of all the greatest restaurants in the world!

Sightseeing in Taha'a
Staying at Taha'a must be won!

One of the many pontoons at Tiva
The traveler, once arrived in Tahiti, will take a local flight operated by Air Tahiti to Raiatea. There, he will have to go to the port of Uturoa, to take a shuttle that will make him cross the lagoon... Provided that he is not required to wait until next morning: the shuttle schedules don't often correspond to those of aircrafts. It's also possible to rent a taxi-boat, provided you have thought to order it in advance and that the crossing is done in a day.

The other way to reach Taha'a is the boat. There are two regular maritime lines provided by "schooners", the name given to passenger-cargo ship in French Polynesia that supply all the inhabited islands.

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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