Huahine: The Heart of Polynesia

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Huahine: The Heart of Polynesia
From hillsides strewn with decaying stone temples to fields of taro and the smiling residents of the main village of Fare, Huahine has more Polynesian flavor than its better-known neighbors. This is a place to go slow and absorb true island spirit.
Photo by Norbert Eisele-Hein/age fotostock
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    Watch a Pearl Harvest and Buy a Gem
    Hop on a free ferry from remote Faie Bay to Huahine Nui Pearl Farm, perched on stilts in the middle of the lagoon. If you're lucky, you can watch while a technician seeds or harvests pearls from oysters farmed in these waters, but even if there's no work going on, the views over the water and out to the surrounding palm-covered islets are spectacular. The farm is owned by American expat Peter Owen, who is also a potter, so while the gift shop is filled with exquisite and unique pearl jewelry, you might also be tempted by his Polynesian-inspired ceramics.
    Photo by Norbert Eisele-Hein/age fotostock
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    Visit a Painter's Jungle Workshop
    Living like a modern-day female Gauguin (without the icky parts), American expat Melanie Dupre's studio is found off a dirt road on a coconut palm–thick stretch of Motu Overei. The buildings are constructed of natural materials and the bright works capture the beauty of the island and its people. Despite the rustic setting, Melanie is known worldwide, and her collectors include the actor Pierce Brosnan. The gorgeous jungle property is owned and occupied by her local boyfriend's family, and it's worth the trip simply to be in such a traditional Polynesian setting.
    Photo by Melanie Dupré/PolynesiaPaintings
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    Tour the Island by 4x4
    The best way to explore the island without missing a thing is on a 4x4 tour with a guide who knows the local archaeology, mythology, and people. Tours tend to include the major sights and involve a marae (ancient temple) walk, pearl farm visit, and eel feeding. While you can see these things on your own, the legends you'll hear about certain sites along the way, the out-of-the-way viewpoints you'll be led to, and especially the rich history of the island's many ancient vestiges, make a tour an excellent investment. You'll also learn about the practical uses for many of the island's lush plants—ask about Tahitian toilet paper.
    Photo by Norbert Eisele-Hein/age fotostock
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    Discover Ancient Temples
    Few Polynesian isles are as doted with marae (ancient places of worship) as Huahine. The most famous spot is the village of Maeva, where you can walk from stone temple remains along a large expanse of shoreline onto a signposted trail up a hill to around 30 more archaeological sites. Marae Manunu is the biggest in the area, at around six feet high and 120 feet long. Other archaeological areas to explore around the island include the massive Marae Anini to the south, which is conveniently located next to a pretty beach where you can take a refreshing dip.
    Photo by Melanie Dupré/PolynesiaPaintings
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    Feed Sacred Blue-Eyed River Eels
    The stream underneath a cement village bridge seems an unlikely place for something sacred, but this is the home of dozens of revered pale blue-eyed river eels. Locals have deep respect for the eels because they help keep the waterways clean by eating bacteria and garbage. Today the eels can't be that hungry for detritus because for decades locals and tourists have been wading into the tea-colored river to feed the slimy creatures canned sardines (bought at the adjacent local market). The eels are around three to six feet long and are gentle as they take the fish from your hands. It's a thrilling yet somehow calming experience.
    Photo by James Thomsen
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    Traditional Polynesian Fish Traps
    If your mind is filled with ancient history after visiting the marae at Maeva, these stone fish traps will link the past with the present. Just off the bridge to Motu Ovarei, you'll see "V" shapes made of piled up rocks, their tips facing towards the ocean. As the water current moves towards the sea, fish become trapped here. Local fishermen can often be seen harpooning those fish that didn't find their way through. It's said that these same traps have been in use for centuries and they're as scenic as they are fascinating. They are a fine example of the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
    Photo by Melanie Dupré/PolynesiaPaintings
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    Share the Bustle of Boat Day
    Huahine's main village, Fare, feels like it's been ripped from the pages of a romantic novel about a somniferous South Pacific port—at least until the supply ship chugs in. On boat days, the whole island seems to show up, shuttling sacks of rice and sugar, boxes of frozen chicken, power tools, bags of cement, and more in wheelbarrows to pick-up trucks in every stage of decay. Markets fill their shelves, a child's eyes light up as her new bicycle is lowered down from the crane, and everyone catches up on the news and love affairs from friends and relatives across the island. It's a time to make friends or simply people-watch as the island's lifeline is animated.
    Photo by Melanie Dupré/PolynesiaPaintings
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    Local Life on Lake Fauna Nui
    Lake Fauna Nui is a shallow lake that separates the near-island Motu Overei from Huahine Nui, and is a shimmering mix of fresh and salt water, fed partially by the sea. You can drive along its lush south shore—from where you'll likely see local fishermen lined up, net fishing—or take the more rugged northern route on the coral gravel tracks of Motu Overei, through palm jungles that offer a gorgeous view over the dark green waters. Maeva Village and archaeological sites are found at the southeast corner. The most interesting way to tour the lake's edge is slowly, on horseback.
    Photo by Melanie Dupré/PolynesiaPaintings
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    Chez Tara's Polynesian Feast
    The dedicated owner of Chez Tara gets up at 3:00 a.m. every Sunday morning to cook a spectacular Polynesian feast that includes roast pig, fish, and veggies baked in coconut milk, all in a big pit oven. Stones are heated by fire and each dish is wrapped and then cooked in banana leaves. Guests arrive for brunch to one of the most stunning maa Tahiti (Tahitian food) buffets in the islands. While the food is delectable, it tastes even better because of the setting: a choice spot overlooking the calm, blue lagoon. So swish your feet in the sand, enjoy the strumming of a ukulele, and eat like Polynesian royalty.
    Photo by Sylvain Grandadam/age fotostock
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    Cheer the Hawaiki Nui Canoe Racers
    Huahine is the starting place for French Polynesia's biggest sporting event: the Hawaiki Nui Outrigger Canoe Race, which is held every November. The route runs from Fare Beach in Huahine to Raiatea, then to Tahaa, and finally to Bora Bora, covering a total of more than 70 miles. The course is tackled over three days and about 60 teams usually participate. Expect a colorful send-off, with lots of cheering, beer drinking, and the giving of flower garlands to the competitors. The athletes are muscular and magnificent, the ambiance is beyond festive, and the excitement of this event in French Polynesia rivals that of the Super Bowl in the United States.
    Photo by K. Koehne/age fotostock