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.
Rurutu is the northernmost island in the Austral archipelago. The topography of the island is striking, consisting of high cliffs surrounded by numerous caves, which can be explored by visitors. Humpback whales are another exceptional attraction here from July to October, but diving in the waters of Rurutu can be done all year round. The largest of the Austral Islands is Tubuai, often called ‘The Island of Plenty.’ Tubai is comprised of two sets of hills on the eastern and western flanks of the island, joined by lowland valleys. When seen from the sea, this gives the appearance of being two islands. Tubuai is surrounded by a barrier reef enclosing a wide lagoon with fringing white sand beaches, making it an ideal spot for snorkeling. The area is also slowly gaining recognition as a haven for surfing. Rimatara is the smallest of the Australs in size, height, and populace. Currently, visitors arrive by whaleboat at one of two villages, Amaru or Mutua Ura, but a new airport is in the process of being constructed. When new visitors arrive to Rimatura, a traditional ceremony invites them to pass through a cloud of purifying smoke wafting from beachside fires. Situated just below the Tropic of Capricorn, Raivavae is one of the foremost islands for archeology and natural beauty in French Polynesia. Air Tahiti services the islands with flights through Tubuai. About 1,100 people live in four coastal villages on the island, with Rairua serving as the administrative center. Finally, Rapa is the southernmost island in the South Pacific. Situated 100 miles from Raivavae and over 720 miles south of Tahiti, it is commonly called Rapa- ti or “little Rapa” in deference to the big Rapa (Rapa Nui) – Easter Island. Fittingly, the two islands share a strong cultural connection. Rapa’s 500 inhabitants are descendants of fierce Polynesian warriors, kings, hardy sailors and pearl-shell divers. There are not any major hotels on the Austral Islands. Just a few small pensions and family run homes where they rent a room. It is best to stay on one of the larger islands and take a day trip to the Australs.
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!
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.
There are airports on some of the islands. Below is a list of the airports and where they are located. Travel documents for entry into French Polynesia: Each passenger is solely responsible for obtaining and carrying the correct travel documentation, including a valid passport, Visa (if applicable), sufficient funds to cover length of stay, and medical information (if applicable). Always make sure that the way your name appears on the airline ticket matches your passport. It is also advisable that the other documentation you carry matches your passport name and that you identify yourself by the nationality on your passport. Make sure your passport is valid for the required time beyond your travel dates. Be advised, certain countries require a passport to be valid for six months beyond the date of departure. So it is a good rule of thumb to make sure your passport is valid for 6 months past your departure date from the islands. Here are the airports in the Austral Islands:
- Raivavae Airport
- Tubuai – Mataura Airport
- Rurutu Airport
- Rimatara Airport
Renting a car is not cheap. The prices fluctuate, so check out a few websites before you book your rental. I would say the average cost is about $400/week. Check with your insurance company and credit card about Collision Damage Waiver coverage to make sure you are covered in the case of an accident. Bring a hard copy of your reservation. Most of the cars available to rent are tiny and may not be large enough to fit a family of four and their bags. Always try to book the second to smallest car, and it will still have barely enough room for three people and bags (light baggage). If you have a larger family, make sure the car you book is large enough to fit all of you and your bags. Is it worth it to rent a car? It depends on your family. If you plan to take daily excursions on booked tours or you don’t want to leave your resort, you don’t need a car. If you want to explore, stock up on groceries at the supermarket, visit the local food trucks or less expensive restaurants, you should rent a car, at least for a few days. If you crave independence and like to eat dinner outside your resort on most nights, rent a car for your entire stay.
Getting Around the Islands
The most affordable way to visit several islands is with an Air Tahiti Pass. These passes connect islands of the same archipelago, or two different archipelagos, while extensions to the far-flung Marquesas and Austral islands can be added on to the other passes. The cheapest is the Discovery Pass, connecting Moorea with Huahine and Raiatea, but many other combinations are available. Those purchasing a pass must complete their travel within 28 days and only visit each island once; however, not all islands have to be visited. Passes offer good value when compared with multiple point-to-point air tickets.
Restaurants & Bars – Top Picks
$-Inexpensive $$-Moderate $$$-Pricey $$$$-Ultra High End
$$ Le Manotel – Island of Rurutu
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. For more information call 689 40 930 225, or visit them on the web at Le Manotel.
$ Snack Piareare – Island of Rurutu
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. For more information call 689 40 94 04 95, or visit them on TripAdvisor at Snack Piareare.
$ Mara’ai – Le Spot – Island of Tubuai
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. For more information call 689 40 95 08 32, or visit them on Facebook at Mara’ai – Le Spot.
$$ Pension Ueue Rimatara – Island of Rimatara
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. For more information call 689 87 74 66 13, or visit them on the web at Pension Ueue Rimatara.
Things to Do
Caves and Archaeological Sites
Archaeological sites are found in abundance. The limestone caves overlooking the cliffs were originally tombs for the islanders’ ancestors.
- Ana Pu’uru – Rurutu. Cave with gours, straw stalagmites and other amazing speleothems.
- Taupe’e Cave (Maperevaru) – Rurutu. Beautiful cave with stalactites, stalagmites, gours, cave pearls and other cave formations.
- Toarutu Cave (Mouth of Dragon) – Rurutu. Amazing cave with numerous columns, resembles a mouth of giant dragon.
- Ana Ae’o (Grotte Mitterrand) – Rurutu, Vitaria. One of the last inhabited caves in Rurutu.
- Ana Maniana – Rurutu. Legendary, elusive cave with treasures.
- Anapiro Cave – Rapa Iti. One of the four ancient burial caves in Rapa Iti.
- Marae Hano – Tubuai. Large, well preserved marae, 30 by 30 m large, extended by a stone clad path towards the sea.
- Marae Pomavao – Ra’ivavae. Large, interesting marae. Contains forty standing stones, up to 1.8 m high, one is 2 m high.
- Marae Unurau – Ra’ivavae. Important, large and well preserved marae, with some 30 standing stone slabs which are up to 3 m tall.
The island is a great mix of beautiful white fine sand, deserted beaches, a crystal clear lagoon, lush valleys and varied farming, majestic peaks and hiking trails… Land and sea blend nicely to provide travelers with a fulfilling range of experiences.
Rurutu is known as the Island of Whales because every year from July to October, southern humpback whales migrate to these warm waters to mate or give birth and nurse their young. Due to the incredible underwater visibility, this is a nirvana for avid divers and whale watchers hoping to encounter these large marine mammals. They arrive each year between August and October to mate or give birth in the amazing clear waters. Mothers and calves swim under the water while males and females communicate offering whale watchers a moment of pure bliss. Whale watching excursions are offered seasonally.
With little traffic to speak of, the Australs provide a safe environment for cyclists. Though some hotels offer rentals, visitors are advised to bring their own bikes if possible.
Horseback excursions into the rugged interior of Rurutu are available. Inquire with the management at your lodging facility.
Great video on Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea