A vacation in the Austral Islands is well suited for travelers with a spirit for adventure, who seek out untouched corners of the earth. Hundreds of miles to the south of Tahiti, this chain of five high islands is located on the Tropic of Capricorn. The Australs are famed as much for the traditional art of weaving coconut and pandanus leaves into elaborate hats, purses, mats, and bags, as for the seasonal passage of humpback whales in its surrounding waters.
Compared to the rest of French Polynesia, accommodations in the Australs can be scarce, consisting only of a few small hotels and family pensions scattered across the islands. Still, there is plenty to see and experience in the region, known for its superb white sand beaches, rich vegetation and distinctly dramatic geological characteristics. The Austral Islands in this guide include Raivavae, Rurutu, Tubuai, Rimatara, and Rapa.
On these islands, you’ll find some of the most authentic Polynesian culture in all of French Polynesia. They are wonderfully varied, from limestone caverns of Rurutu and the Bora Bora-like lagoon in Raivavae to the windy bays of Tubuai and beautiful coastline of Rimatara.
What you shouldn’t expect, though, is a thriving nightlife. These are quiet islands. There are no resorts, just a smattering of welcoming family-run guesthouses where visitors can sample delicious local-style meals and genuinely interact with their hosts.
For more information on the beaches of the Austral Islands and French Polynesia beaches, click here. Read more to learn about the Austral Islands French Polynesia, so that you can plan your next dream vacation!
Austral Islands Weather
In the Austral Islands, the month of January is characterized by essentially constant daily high temperatures, with daily highs around 87°F throughout the month, rarely exceeding 89°F or dropping below 83°F. Daily low temperatures are around 76°F, rarely falling below 74°F or exceeding 79°F. For reference, on March 24, the hottest day of the year, temperatures typically range from 77°F to 88°F, while on August 2, the coldest day of the year, they range from 71°F to 83°F.
Austral Islands Attractions
Motu Piscine – Raivavae
Raivavae’s stunning lagoon, brimming with marine life and ringed by ironwood-covered motu, is one of the treasures of the South Pacific. Motu Piscine (Motu Swimming Pool; Motu Vaiamanu) is the best-known motu, fringed with white beaches and divided from its neighbour by a glassy turquoise channel that’s teeming with tropical fish. Fa-bu-lous. All pensions can arrange a lagoon tour, including a picnic, on Motu Piscine.
Marae Raitoro, Haunarei & Harii – Tubuai
More than 200 marae have been found in Tubuai and the few that have been cleared are among the most fascinating in the country. Raitoru and Haunarei Marae are two connected marae that were for birthing and umbilical-cord-cutting ceremonies respectively. Nearby is Marae Harii, which once served as a meeting place for chiefs. It also has several upright stones. You’ll need a guide to find this archaeological site.
Tiki – Raivavae
The only remaining tiki (carved humanlike statue) on the island stands in a private garden just to the west of the village of Mahanatoa. About 1m in height, it has highly stylised hands and chest as well as clearly outlined eyes. Its curved lips suggest a smile. It’s not signed; ask around or look for the small supermarket Magasin Florès Louise – it’s 50m to the west.
Te One Roa – Rurutu
Beach bums in search of a place to wallow will make a beeline for this picture-perfect, white-sand beach on the western coast. Here the lagoon is deep enough for a proper swim. There’s no sign – it’s about 200 m south of the Teautamatea pension.
Ana Tane Uapoto – Rurutu
On the eastern outskirts of the village of Moerai, near Arei Point, you’ll find this large roadside cavern with stalactites and stalagmites. Traditionally this cave was used to salt (for preservation) and divide whale meat among the islanders.
Marae Pomaovao – Raivavae
Across the road from the airport, this marae (traditional sacred site) features a large paved platform and a massive upright stone standing more than 2m high. According to legend, this stone was used to measure the height of warriors.
Ana Aeo – Rurutu
This cave, with its massive, oozy-looking stalactites and stalagmites, is the most stunning on the island. It’s 500m north of the Teautamatea pension; there’s a signposted track going to the right that leads to the cave.
Things to Do on the Austral Islands
Rurutu is known as the island of whales and you can observe these fascinating mammals from July to October, when they come to breed in the waters that surround the island. The island’s crystal clear waters and over water observation platform attract photographers and visitors from all over the world wanting to capture the whales up close.
Little Rapa Island
Spend some time in the village of Aurei with its distinct hunting and fishing culture, and get into some local fare, which includes plenty of sea urchins, lobsters and salmon. Little Rapa has many mysterious and ancient ruins. Visit one of the most impressive of such sights, Morongo Uta, which is an incredible historic fortification built atop a mountain.
Visit Raivavae white sandy beaches and the most breathtaking, turquoise lagoon. Enjoy the ‘joie de vivre’ and traditional hospitality of the locals. There are 28 tiny islets surrounding the lagoon, all facing toward the striking mountain of Mount Hiro. You can even find yourself a local guide and trek up to its peak to take in the stunning views below!
The lagoon waters of Tubuai hide an underwater wonderland teeming with tropical fish and crustaceans like Crayfish and Clams and a myriad of aquatic flora is showcased. Tubuai’s sand islet motus are home to thirteen different varieties of coloured sands giving you a wide choice of picnic locations!
Charming and authentic, the island of Rimatara is an off the beaten track paradise. The locals don’t see many tourists and so when you arrive you are welcomed as part of the family and you will be sure to have an authentic experience like no other island can offer. Rimatara is also home to the endangered Perruche Rouge – red parrot. Having been hunted for centuries for their magnificent colored feathers, the Perruche Rouge are now only found on this island.
Best Restaurants & Bars in the Austral Islands
Le Manotel – Island of Rurutu $11 – 30
This restaurant/bar is in the Le Manotel hotel. Le Manotel is renowned throughout the island for its table d’hôte, Helen, the hostess, will make you enjoy her delicious cuisine based on local products. Telephone: 689 40 930 225 Web: Le Manotel.
Snack Piareare – Island of Rurutu Under $10
Unique whale watching opportunity while being served lunch. They serve delicious fresh fish. The decor is nonexistent at this no-frills eatery hidden behind a gate right across from the boat quay in Moerai, but the food is seriously good. The menu is limited to a couple of daily specials, but they’re a savory and sizzling hot value. Telephone: 689 40 94 04 95 Web: Snack Piareare.
Mara’ai – Le Spot – Island of Tubuai Under $10
Run by French Hervé and his Tahitian wife Ina, Mara’ai – Le Spot is the only independent restaurant on Tubuai. With a sand floor and a palm-frond roof, this is a cool and rustic place for a drink or a relaxed meal. It’s in the village of Tamatoa, southeast of the island. Telephone: 689 40 95 08 32 Web: Mara’ai – Le Spot.
Pension Ueue Rimatara – Island of Rimatara $11 – 30
This is the restaurant within the hotel, Pension Ueue Rimatara. In the restaurant, beautiful “umete” enthroned on the tables tissue recalling the grounds of “tapa”. Dishes, hearty and made with local products are served, the majority of products consumed from family farms or island. Telephone: 689 87 74 66 13 Web: Pension Ueue Rimatara.
Best Austral Islands Accommodations
Pension Taitaa Tubuai
Pension Taitaa is a small family-run guesthouse on the island of Tubuai, within close proximity to the island’s main village of Mataura and the lagoon. Run by a husband and wife team with a rich knowledge of the surrounding island, Pension Taitaa is an authentic and intimate retreat into the French Polynesian way of life. Each room has a private bathroom, mosquito net and terrace overlooking the property’s tropical gardens. Daily food is prepared by Nathalie, the wife, and Nariiorono, the husband, organizes daily activities that include hikes, fishing, and motu picnics.
Mara ‘ai Tubuai
Mara’ai has a terrace and garden views. It has free WiFi, a garden, a private beach area and a restaurant. Offering 1 bedroom, this air-conditioned vacation home features 1 bathroom with a shower and free toiletries. Guests wishing to travel light can make use of Towels/Sheets.
Pension Vaimano-Raivavae offers authentic Polynesian accommodations with a terrace. Guests enjoy traditional, French and local cuisine on-site. Each bungalow offers a seating area, a desk, a refrigerator and tea/coffee making facilities. All bungalows include a private bathroom with a shower and toiletries.