Straddling the Tropic of Capricorn, the Austral Islands, 600 mi/966 km south of Papeete, enjoy a cooler climate than the rest of French Polynesia. For those looking to get away from the tourist hustle and bustle, this is the place. There are no big resorts or hotels. Of the islands with air service, Rurutu and Raivavae hold the most interest to visitors.
One of Polynesia's great artistic centers, Rurutu is known for its woven hats and baskets. It's a great place for outdoor lovers, offering limestone caves dotting the coast and walks to high plateaus with great views. There are some nice beaches but no good swimming since the reef is so close to the shoreline. Those looking for organized activities should probably skip Rurutu, but the adventurous could easily spend a few days exploring it. Between July and October, migrating humpback whales pass close to shore, and several dive companies offer "diving with whales" day-tours.
Air service to Raivavae and Rurutu is available from Tahiti. The islands have a few family pensions. They have little to offer in the way of activities but compensate with the friendliness of their people and the beauty of their lush mountains and emerald lagoons. It's worth two or three days for those looking to really get off the beaten track.
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