Known as the "Sacred Island," Raiatea is a fascinating haunt for archaeologists and historians as it's one of the islands in the Pacific where Polynesian culture can trace its roots. Visitors will find many of the older Polynesian structures still in place and are fascinating places to explore. In the 16th century, Raiatea developed a powerful cult dedicated to Oro the God of War and built a large meeting ground, the Taputaputea Marae, which is still intact. Human sacrifice was practiced until around the middle of the 18th century and visitors should look for the sacrificial stone. Several tour operators run visits to the marae (ancient temples) along with some degree of informed commentary—although in fairness Polynesian storytelling can embellish things a little. The Faaroa River is the only navigable waterway in French Polynesia and it can be traveled by powerboat or outrigger canoe. Running through the Faaroa Gorge it passes some spectacular scenery with steep-walled jungle foliage holding dozens of bird species and wild hibiscus. Trekking up Mount Temehani, a well-known landmark that's said to be Oro's birthplace, is relatively demanding. Keep a lookout for the rare, five-petal tiare apetahi. Said to be impossible to grow anywhere else, this white, indigenous flower can only be found above 1,300 feet (396 meters). Look, but don't touch. It's against the law to pick them.
Raiatea has a good selection of restaurants with an across-the-board selection of food ranging from French to Polynesian, Chinese, and Italian. This is a "boatie" or "yachtie" type environment with a number of the better-known dining places clustered around Uturoa's harbor; things can get quite busy on Friday and Saturday nights. Seafood is always outstanding on the menu but the selection should satisfy most diners, though they may find the wine list more constricting. It should perhaps be pointed out that many of the restaurants are as much noted for their outstanding views or sunsets as for the food.
Another way of dining are les roulottes which are found here and on other islands in Polynesia. The name means basically "rolling food trucks" and they supply simple island food, usually on the cheap side. They are a favorite of many locals who either eat at the truck or take the food home.
There are only two hotels on the island but a number of pensions or lodging places.
As is typical across the Pacific, the locals in Raiatea shop for fresh food, including fish, at the local market. Located near the harbor on the main street, the market also sells arts and crafts. It opens at sunrise, and Wednesday and Friday are the busiest days. The freshest produce is sold on Sunday, but before dawn—the market closes at 7 am on Sunday.
Jean Luc Liaut
Both islands have an active community of artisans, but one of the more unusual is Jean Luc Liaut, a native Raiatean whose fishing boat Te Manu Ata is based in Uturoa and is available for charter. He has turned handmade fishing lures into an art form, and his products are sought globally.
Hawaiki Nui Federation
The usual art and handicraft shops sell a wide variety of woodcarvings and shell and pearl items, with most guaranteed to have been locally made. Local artists often sell at the Hawaiki Nui Federation at Uturoa airport and the Maritime Harbor.