Ulturoa, or Uturoa, is the northern municipality of the island of Raiatea. The island itself forms part of the Leeway group of Islands, composed of Tahaa in the north, and Bora-Bora in the northeast. These islands, as well as Moorea and Tahiti to the southeast, comprise the Society Islands of French Polynesia.
Raiatea is the second largest island after Tahiti. Yet, it shares a surrounding coral reef with Tahaa, and geologists speculate that both may have been one island some time in the past. The Tahitian name of the island is Ra’iatea, which means “bright sky.” The designation is not too surprising since it has the Pacific summer most of the year, and coral blue ocean around the islands only brighten up the day.
An interesting thing about Raiatea is that the island is widely considered to be the center of Polynesian and Ma’ohi culture. The natives believe that this is where a number of important Polynesian gods were born. Many ethnologists also believe that Raiatea is the “staging ground” for important mass migrations to the islands east of it, and even Hawaii and New Zealand. In fact, the traditional name of the island is havai’i fanau fenua, or “Hawaii bearer of land.” The Maori in New Zealand have a saying which goes, “That your nose may arrive in Raiatea!” an exhortation to personal excellence. Many of these islands’ ancestors brought rocks from Raiatea for remembrance.
Ulturoa is the largest town of Raiatea and where the central administration of the Leeway Islands is based. A majority of the isle’s tour outfits make their camp here. While Bora-Bora’s tourist attractions are entirely focused on its beaches and lagoons, Raiatea’s tourist industry concentrates more on the island’s historical artifacts and sacred sites. These temple sites, known locally as “marae,” were left by ancient Polynesians as they migrated to other islands. They say this is a Polynesian archaeologists’ paradise. Several tours originate in Ulturoa, and make their way towards the most important site of all, Taputapuatea Marae.
Aside from historical places of significance, a visitor can charter a kayaking or outrigger tour up the island’s river, the Faaroa. It is considered the only navigable river in Polynesia. Plus, if one wishes to, he/she can hire a boat to visit Raiatea’s sea turtle sanctuary grounds.
Additionally, one can arrange a sea trip to encircle the island of Tahaa on the north. There, you will see pearl and vanilla farms, and fish sanctuaries, surrounding what the natives call the “Vanilla Island.”