Ra’iatea and Taha’a, French Polynesia

Aug 04, 2018 - National Geographic Orion


Today we began our exploration of French Polynesia with a visit to the twin islands of Ra’iatea and Taha’a. In the morning we had both land and sea options available. One could try kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding in a bay which ends in a river mouth and provided quite calm conditions. The second alternative was to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Taputapuātea marae. This is the most sacred site in Polynesian culture as it sits in the center of the Polynesian triangle, whose three points are Hawai’i to the north, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to the east and New Zealand to the west. People would sail from all over Polynesia to make offerings on the marae to show their spiritual kinship with the other islanders. It was also the site of the primary navigation school for all of Polynesia. Our cultural specialist, Tua Pittman, from the Cook Islands, is himself a veteran navigator on many voyages aboard replicas of the great voyaging canoes with which the Polynesians managed to explore and settle this huge area of the Pacific Ocean. Tua was able to explain the many aspects of the marae, and relate his own experience sailing many times from the Cook Islands to Ra’iatea. It was a really incredible experience to hear him relate his wealth of firsthand knowledge of his culture, together with his personal accounts of his experience here at this very sacred site.

In the afternoon we repositioned National Geographic Orion closely offshore to the other island of Taha’a and took our Zodiacs ashore to visit a vanilla farm. Here they grow, harvest, and prepare vanilla beans from 700 vanilla vines growing on a steep hillside. We then returned to the ship after our first wonderful day in French Polynesia to enjoy the Captain’s welcome aboard cocktail party and dinner.

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About the Author

Jim Kelley

Expedition Leader

A native of California, Jim has been going to sea for most of his life. Jim grew up by the ocean in Southern California, did his undergraduate work in geology at Pomona College, and received his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Wyoming. In 1966 he joined the faculty of the Department of Oceanography at the University of Washington, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Department of Biomathematics. In 1970-71 he was Fulbright Professor at the University of Athens and Senior Research Scientist at the Democritos Greek Atomic Energy Commission.

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