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Visiting the Maraes & Fare Potee

The village of Maeva, beside the pass where Lake Fauna Nui flows toward the sea, was a major cultural and religious center before Europeans arrived in the islands. All of Huahine's chiefly families lived here. More than 200 stone structures have been discovered between the lakeshore and Matairea Hill, which looms over Maeva, including some 40 maraes (the others were houses, paddocks, and agricultural terraces).

To see the maraes on your own, start west of Maeva village at the big reed-sided building known as Fare Potee, which houses an excellent museum (tel. 24.16.63). Flanked by maraes and extending out over Lake Fauna Nui, Fare Potee is modeled after a large meetinghouse that stood here in 1925, but was later destroyed by a hurricane. Take time to read the historical markers outside, which expertly explain the history and use of the maraes. Inside, you'll observe adzes (stone axes), fishhooks, and other artifacts uncovered during restoration work by Dr. Yoshiko H. Sinoto, the chairman of the anthropology department of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu. He restored this and many other maraes throughout Polynesia. Fare Potee is open Monday through Friday 9am to noon and 2 to 4pm, Saturday 9am to noon. Admission is 200CFP (US$2.50/£1.25) per person.

Ask at Fare Potee for directions to six maraes and other structures (some were built as fortifications during the 1844 to 1848 French-Tahitian war) on Matairea Hill. The track up the hill can be muddy and slippery during wet weather, and the steep climb is best done in early morning or late afternoon. Better yet, take a tour .

Easier to reach, the large Manunu Marae stands on the beach about 1km ( 1/2 mile) across the bridge on the east end of Maeva. Follow the left fork in the road after crossing the bridge. The setting is impressive.

From the bridge, you will see several stone fish traps. Restored by Dr. Sinoto, they work as well today as they did in the 16th century, trapping fish as the tide ebbs and flows in and out of the narrow passage separating the lake from the sea.

Historical Tours

The most informative way to see the historical sites -- and much of Huahine, for that matter -- is with Paul Atallah of Island Eco Tours (tel. 68.79.67; www.island-eco-tours.com). Paul is an American who graduated from the University of Hawaii with a major in anthropology and a minor in Polynesian Island archaeology. He has lived in French Polynesia for more than a decade. His is more than a typical safari expedition, for he gives in-depth commentary about the Maeva maraes and other historical sites. He charges 5,000CFP (US$63/£32) for either morning or afternoon trips from Monday through Friday. The 3 1/2- to 4-hour trips depart daily at 8am and 1pm. He will pick you up at your hotel. Paul can also guide you to the maraes on Matairea Hill by special arrangement.

Touring the Island

You can rent a vehicle and tour both parts of Huahine in half a day. The main roads around both islands are about 32km (20 miles) long and are paved. Be careful on the steep traversière (cross-island road) that traverses the mountains from Maroe Bay to Faie Bay on the east coast. (I would not ride a scooter or bicycle over this road.) Heading clockwise from Fare, you skirt the shores of Lake Fauna Nui and come to the maraes outside Maeva village.

From Maeva, the road heads south until it turns into picturesque Faie Bay. Here you'll pass the landing for Huahine Nui Pearls & Pottery (tel. 78.30.20; www.huahinepearlfarm.com), a pearl farm and pottery studio. Once you're past Faie village at the head of the bay, the road starts uphill across the traversière . At the top, you'll be rewarded with a view down across Moorea-esque Maroe Bay, which splits Huahine into two islands.

Turn right at the dead-end by the bay and drive west to the main west-coast road. Turn left and follow it across the bridge over the narrow pass separating Huahine Nui from Huahine Iti. A right turn past the bridge will take you along the winding west-coast road to Avea Bay, where Relais Mahana and Pension Mauarii sit beside one of the South Pacific's greatest beaches. Either is an excellent place to stop for refreshment.

Sitting at the end of the peninsula at the south end of Huahine Iti, Anini Marae presents a glorious view of the island's southern coast. Nearby on the grounds of Fare Ie, another small marae bears the Taiharuru Petroglyphs. Parea is one of Huahine's largest villages. From there, you'll skirt the shoreline until you come to the village of Tefarerii on the east coast. In between is a pull-off with a marvelous view over the reefs and sea. From here, it's an easy drive to Maroe Bay. The large cruise ships land their passengers at Maroe village on the south side of the bay.

Revisiting the Old South Seas in Fare

The main village of Fare (Fah-ray) is hardly more than a row of Chinese stores and a wharf opposite the main pass in the reef on the northwest shore, but it takes us back to the days when trading schooners were the only way to get around the islands. Even today, trucks and buses arrive from all over Huahine with passengers and cargo when the interisland boats put in from Papeete. The rest of the time, Fare lives a lazy, slow pace, as people amble down its tree-lined main street and browse through the stores facing the town wharf. A monument on the waterfront designates it as Place Hawaiki, the starting point for October's big outrigger canoe race to Raiatea and Bora Bora.

Beginning at the Restaurant New Temarara, a pebbly promenade leads north along the waterfront to a sandy swimming beach, which has a daytime snack bar.

Fruit Juice & an Exotic Lunch -- On your way back to Fare from Huahine Iti, turn off the main road toward Bourayne Bay and drive 2km (1 1/4 miles) to Eden Parc (tel. 68.86.58; www.edenparc.org), a lush tropical garden where you can get freshly squeezed fruit juice or enjoy an "exotic" lunch made from produce organically grown on the premises. It's a hot and steamy site, so get out your insect repellent. Open Monday through Saturday from 8am to 2pm.

Sailboats & Sunsets at Fare -- I thoroughly enjoy strolling along the wharf, poking my head into the shops across the main street, observing the cruising yachts anchored in the harbor, and watching the boats come and go. With Raiatea, Tahaa, and Bora Bora resting on the western horizon, Fare is one of my favorite places to watch the sunset.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.