Leeward Islands

Main attractions

Mount Otemanu, Bora Bora
Mount Otemanu, Bora Bora / rachel_thecat, CC BY 3.0

This group of islands is very rich with cultural heritage - archaeological monuments and living culture. Here are located some very impressive structures, such as the massive marae Taputapuatea and the abandoned royal town Maeva.

The islands are very picturesque, with mountains, lush tropical vegetation and incredibly rich marine life - it is no wonder that Leeward islands are beloved by tourists seeking idyllic retreat before the return to their daily lives.

Natural landmarks

  • Huahine Eels, Faie – Huahine. In a creek is living a group of tame, sacred eels, 0.9 – 2 m long, fed by locals and eating from hand.
  • Octopus Grotto – Raiatea. A grotto under the sea level, 120 m long. Located in 30 – 50 m depth. Ceiling is adorned with stalactites, which formed when grotto was above the sea level. Numerous fishes live in the cave.
  • Temehani Ute Ute Plateau – Raiatea. A small plateau with 26 species of plants which grow only here. One of these plants is the famouos Tiare Apetahi (Apetahia raiateensis) with beautiful, large flowers.

Man made landmarks


Marae Manunu, Huahine
Marae Manunu, Huahine / Veromortillet, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Fare Potee – Huahine-Nui. A thorough reconstruction of a gathering place of Polynesian community, built over a marae.
  • Marae Anini (Huahine Iti) – Huahine. Seaside marae, contains very impressive settings of giant upright stones. Constructed in the 19th century for the worship of deities Oro and Hiro.
  • Marae Fare Opu – Bora Bora. Large royal marae, unfortunately, half buried under a road. Some stones contain petrolgyphs – depictions of turtles. Made in the 15th – 16th century. Ahu is 25 m long.
  • Marae Fare Rua – Bora Bora. The largest marae in Bora Bora. Altar is some 50 m long and has up to 3 m tall standing stones.
  • Marae Manunu – Huahine. Large, impressive and once important shrine, with enormous stone structures made of giant stones. Rear wall is located at the sea. Restored in 1967. The most important temple on the island after Mata’ire’a Rahi lost its importance.
  • Mata'ire'a Rahi – Huahine. The most important marae in Huahine, with huge importance of royal ceremonies. Located on the summit of a hill. Constructed sometimes around 1450 – 1500.
  • Marae Rauhuru – Huahine. Large, interesting marae. Some stones here contain petroglyphs, depicting turtles, canoes and circles.
  • Marae Tainu'u – Raiatea. Impressive marae with up to 4 m high standing stones. Stones contain petroglyphs (Tevaitoa petroglyphs) – engravings of turtles. In front of marae is built Tevaitoa church.
  • Marae Taputapuatea – Raiatea. A unique complex of marae, one of important sacred complexes of Polynesians. Established around 1000 AD and expanded significantly since then, used as a learning centre for priests and navigators. Includes multiple stone structures and sculptures. This unique archaeological monument is partly restored.
Marae in Maeva, Huahine
Marae in Maeva, Huahine / Veromortillet, CC BY-SA 3.0

Petroglyph sites

  • Maupiti turtle petroglyphs – north of Maupiti. Group of petroglyphs in stones near the beach, depicting turtles.
  • Ofai Honu ('Ofa'i-Honu) – Bora Bora. Large stone, covered with engravings of turtles. It symbolizes the birth of the founder of Bora Bora - Firiâmata-ô-Vavau.
  • Petroglyphs of Haapapara Valley – Raiatea. One of the richest finds of petroglyphs in French Polynesia. Contains depictions of humans, turtles, geometric symbols.

Other man made landmarks

  • Fa'ahia – Huahine. Interesting, well preserved remnants of early Polynesian settlement. Inhabited sometimes around 700 – 1200 AD. The site is inundated and thus the artefacts, including wooden tools, have been well preserved. Site contains numerous bones of birds which are now extinct here. Seven species of the birds are extinct globally.
  • Maeva – Huahine. Abandoned royal settlement, contains the largest concentration of megalithic structures in Polynesia except for Easter Island. In total here are known some 200 stone structures – marae, dwellings, agricultural structures, stone fish traps, fortification walls. Includes Marae Oavaura, Marae Vaiotaha and other structures.
  • Saint André Church in 'Uturoa – Raiatea. Unusual church building. Adorned with stone lace, what creates interesting play of lights inside.

List of described attractions by communes

Leeward Islands is an administrative subdivision of French Polynesia. Islands are divided into 9 communes:

Bora Bora
ArrowMarae Fare OpuAncient shrines, Megaliths, Petroglyphs and cliff art
Motu One

Map of Leeward Islands

Featured: Marae Fare Opu

Marae Fare Opu, petroglyph, French Polynesia
Marae Fare Opu, petroglyph / Makemake, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

Right at the bank of Faanui bay is located marae Fare Opu - once important ceremonial site, considered to be a royal marae. It was built in the 15th - 16th century and there have been preserved two stones with petroglyphs depicting turtles.

Recommended books:

Lonely Planet Tahiti & French Polynesia

Lonely Planet Tahiti & French Polynesia is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Swim in the sparklingly clear waters, hike to waterfalls, dive into coral wonderlands, then sips cocktail by the beach; all with your trusted travel companion.

The Cruising Guide to the Northern Leeward Islands

This 14th edition (2016-2017) has been split into two guides, The Cruising Guide to the Northern Leeward Islands and The Cruising Guide to the Southern Leeward Islands. The Cruising Guide to the Northern Leeward Islands covers the islands of Anguilla, St. Martin & Sint Maarten, St. Barts, Saba, Statia, St. Kitts, Nevis, Redonda, and Montserrat.

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