Often described as what Bora Bora was like before it was discovered, the island of Huahine offers an escape that’s relaxed — even by easygoing French Polynesian standards. Yet on this palm-fringed isle, just 40 minutes by air from Tahiti (Air Tahiti offers several daily flights from the international airport in Papeete, or fly from Moorea, Bora Bora and Raiatea), there’s plenty to fill your days.
Tour one of the largest traditional marae (outdoor stone temple) complexes in Polynesia, go snorkeling or boat-touring in the bluer-than-blue lagoon, search for Huahine’s unusual blue-eyed eels or try to decide on your favorite beach. Follow this itinerary to plan your own perfect Huahine days.
Among Huahine’s limited selection of deluxe lodgings, our pick is the thoughtfully designed Maitai Lapita Village Huahine on the waterfront, just a short stroll from Fare, the island’s largest town. Base yourself in one of the airy thatched-roof bungalows, set on a landscaped manmade lake. American-born owner Peter Owen designed the bungalows, with their lofty ceilings and spacious terraces, to resemble traditional Polynesian canoe houses. A restored marae sits on the hotel grounds. And of course, there’s an open-air restaurant and infinity pool overlooking the white-sand beach, as well as a gracious English-speaking staff to help organize your island adventures.
Once you’ve settled into your bungalow, start your island exploration with a visit to the village of Maeva, which has the densest concentration of marae in French Polynesia. To better understand the site and its heritage, book a half-day guided trip with Island Eco Tours, where owner and guide Paul Atallah, who has degrees in Polynesian anthropology and Pacific Islands archeology from the University of Hawaii, can fill you in on the region’s history. Your tour will also include stops to see Huahine’s blue-eyed eels (considered sacred to the early inhabitants) and the island’s vanilla plantation.
In the afternoon, lounge on one of the island’s beaches — there’s a gorgeous one right at your hotel — or if you’re feeling more energetic, snorkel just off the shore or explore the coast by kayak. Another option is to take a guided lagoon cruise, which makes pit stops for snorkeling and a visit to Huahine’s off-shore pearl farm, where you can learn about how French Polynesia’s distinctive black pearls are produced. The hotel staff can help arrange these tours for you.
Two evenings a week, the Omai Restaurant at Maitai Lapita Village hosts a performance of traditional Polynesian music and dance. Sup on roasted swordfish or tuna mi-cuit (seared on the outside and sashimi-style within), while the flower-garlanded performers entertain you with their graceful moves.
Start your day with an early walk along the main street in Fare, where local residents sell fresh mangoes, papayas and other fruits, and fishermen bring in their fresh catch. Have coffee on the patio at Chez Guynette, a popular café, or sit in the shade by the harbor and watch island life cruise by.
After finishing your coffee, pick up a rental car in Fare to make a circuit around the island. Try to schedule your drive for a Sunday. Your destination on the island’s southern tip is Restaurant Chez Tara, which serves a lavish ma’a Tahiti, a traditional Tahitian buffet lunch. Most of the food — including local fish, pork, chicken, plantains and other root vegetables — is cooked in an underground oven, which the staff opens with great ceremony at 11 a.m.
Chez Tara overlooks another of the island’s lovely white-sand beaches, where you can lounge or swim after your bountiful brunch. When you’re ready to continue your island journey, make sure to pause and admire the ocean view from the Belvedere, Huahine’s highest point.
Back in Fare, you’ll likely want to eat something light after your big lunch, so plan a meal at one of the roulottes, the local food trucks. The best of these casual outdoor eateries is Roulotte Hinevai, set under a tent in a roadside garden. Don’t miss the excellent poisson cru — a ceviche-like raw tuna dish that you see across French Polynesia. It also does a first-rate job with grilled mahi mahi, though you can’t go wrong with whatever fish has come off the boats that day.
Huahine doesn’t have much in the way of nightlife, but you can enjoy at nightcap at the waterside Huahine Yacht Club in Fare or at the oceanfront Oaoa Bar back at Lapita Village, toasting your two-day escape to this relaxing isle.
Photos Courtesy of Carolyn B. Heller and Alan Albert