Of the five islands I recently visited in French Polynesia, Huahine was, without a doubt, my favourite. Authentic and wild, colourful and beautiful – I knew very little about this island before arriving, but I will try and explain to you exactly how special it is and why you should visit as soon as possible.
The island is lush and verdant, full of life around every corner – spindly palm trees reaching for the sun, locals rowing close to the coast as they train for competitions and colourful fish swimming lazily in the clear water of the lagoon.
The easiest way to get there is to fly – you can come directly from Bora Bora, Moorea and Raiatea. If you want to combine Huahine with the Tuamotu Islands (which I massively recommend!), then you can come via Tahiti or Bora Bora. Paul Gauguin’s Tahiti & the Society Islands cruise stops in at Huahine as well, which is an alternative way to glimpse the island – although spending only a day here will leave you wanting more!
The island is split into two main sections: Huahine Nui (large) and Huahine Iti (small). Connected by a bridge, you'll land in the north of the island so no matter where you stay a car will come and pick you up to take you to your accommodation. Huahine is a relatively rustic island, devoid of the glitzy resorts that are so common in Bora Bora, so the hotels that I recommend here are comfortable and beautiful but simple.
If you're wondering where to visit in Tahiti, try reading our blog 'Which French Polynesian Island is best for you?'.
The first hotel I stayed at was the Hotel Le Mahana, and I just loved it. The hotel sits on the southernmost tip of Huahine, so the transfer from the airport almost feels like a tour of the island. By the end of the journey, I had already fallen in love with Huahine, so arriving at this gorgeous boutique hotel cemented it in my mind as paradise!
It’s a small hotel, tranquil and comfortable with smiling staff and lush grounds, right next to the ocean. I’d recommend both the Traditional Fare and the Deluxe Bungalows (Beach and Lagoon View). The Traditional Fare is made from natural materials like coconut wood, bamboo and pandanus just like the “fare” (houses) in Huahine were in the old days. The terraces are over the water, so you're guaranteed to get a picture-perfect ocean view!
The Deluxe Bungalows are only a few steps from the beach and equally lovely but a bit more modern. All of the rooms have air conditioning so you can stay cool no matter where you stay and hop into the water as soon as the sun is up (like I did!).
Another real highlight of this hotel is the coral garden just off the beach. There is a small jetty and even just walking along the wooden boards I could see the tropical fish in the clear water below me – being able to snorkel this close to my room was such a treat.
Tucked away by a lake studded with lily pads, the Mai Tai Lapita Village feels very rural and it’s easy to forget that you’re steps away from a white sandy beach. After waking up in my huge room with a vaulted wooden ceiling and large squashy bed, I stood on my balcony and felt immersed in a cool green oasis. However, within three minutes’ walk, I found myself on a pure white beach with a circular pool. The hotel really has the best of both worlds.
The food served in the restaurant also blew me away – I had a salmon linguini that changed my life and from the chatter around me I think a lot of the diners were experiencing similar feelings! Even better, it’s far more affordable than the resorts on Moorea and Bora Bora. Basically, it ticks all the boxes.
If you’d rather stay in a pension (a locally run guesthouse) rather than a hotel, then I would suggest Pension Tupuna. Tucked away in a fruit orchard, Tupuna is a tiny place run by Franck and Loretta. Home to just four bungalows built with traditional materials, it feels totally private.
Each bungalow has a mosquito net, hot water and a private deck. The garden is full of flowers and fruit trees – it’s a heavenly hideaway with the scent of ylang-ylang and the sound of the ocean.
Meals are included and believe me; you’ll be glad they are. Delicious meat and fish are served alongside fruit and veg grown at the property – I had rum glazed bananas for dessert that made me want to stay forever.
Another reason that Huahine tops my list of paradise islands is the balance between beach and activity. The beaches here are genuinely beautiful, but there’s also plenty to do if you need to stretch your legs. In other words, it’s impossible to get bored.
I would 100% recommend that you take a lagoon tour on your first full day in Huahine. Don’t be put off that it’s a full-day tour – it’s lovely and slow-paced, with a long relaxing lunch on a castaway island as well as plenty of stop-off points and quiet cruising.
During the tour, we learnt how to crack open a coconut to enjoy the fresh coconut water inside, how to make poisson cru (the national dish – raw fish with lime juice) and how to tie a sarong. We snorkelled alongside stingrays, blacktip reef sharks and clouds of silvery fish before eating freshly barbecued seafood with our feet dangling in the warm water. Magic.
This tour marks the moment that I really fell for Huahine. It’s an island of superlatives, doing nothing by halves. The colours of Huahine are bold – green palms and foliage, every shade of blue from the endless sky and sparkling lagoon, dotted with shocking punches of red flowers and white boats skimming through the water.
When it rained, the raindrops came down so hard that it hurt my skin, and the sky turned a moody grey for 30 minutes before the sun broke through and dried us off.
In the three days I spent on Huahine, my senses were jolted out of their comfort zone. All the sounds and scents showcased the best and brightest of what this planet has to offer. It blew me away.
This is fantastic fun – you’ll spend around 4 hours out and about on the island, partly driving around the roads and learning about the local culture but also heading up into the hills and getting stuck into the good stuff. I do literally mean stuck – we got stuck in a muddy bank with our back wheels spinning round and round!
Eventually, we got the bike free and continued on our way. Soon, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the island from the viewpoint. We got a bit muddy, but the quad tour was such a brilliant way to explore the island and we reached areas that we would never have managed on foot.
If you don’t feel up to the quad tour, I’d suggest taking a 4WD trip, so that you don’t miss out on exploring the island. You’ll see all the mainland-based highlights in one day, including the sacred eels of Huahine.
Huahine’s eels are bizarre creatures that measure between three and six feet long, with big blue eyes and funny little ears. They live in the freshwater rivers of Huahine and the islanders credit them with keeping the water clean and healthy. They love eating the tins of tuna that locals feed them each afternoon, so they’ll gather quickly when you arrive.
On a clear day, this tour will also give you amazing views of the other Society Islands. When I was there, I could see Bora Bora, Taha’a, Raiatea and even Maupiti in the distance. It was a totally breath-taking view that made me realise just how close these paradise islands are to one another.
So, there we have it! I think you can tell from my enthusiasm that I would wholeheartedly recommend Huahine to anyone. It really is a little slice of heaven, and it’s incredibly easy to combine with Bora Bora and Moorea. If you’re planning a holiday to French Polynesia, I urge you to add some time in Huahine to your itinerary. You won’t regret it!
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