A magical island of migrating whales, abundant vegetation, limestone caves and smiling faces, Rurutu is the gem of the Australs. While the high islands of other French Polynesian archipelagos are extinct volcanic cones, Rurutu is a makatea, a massive chunk of coral reef that was lifted up to form an island. Because of this, the topography is startlingly different: sheer cliffs of pock-marked coral rise up around the coast, sometimes housing giant caverns filled with ferns and stalactites. There are a handful of ancient marae, some well preserved, and the locals will proudly tell you about their myths and history. The island is fringed by a continuous reef, rarely more than a stone's throw from the shoreline, so there's no lagoon as such. Even so, there are more beaches here than on most islands in French Polynesia and the sand is not the yellow-white of Bora Bora or Mo'orea, but a bright white of bleached coral.
Cook sailed past Rurutu in 1769 during his first voyage, but the islanders' hostile reception prevented him from landing. There was little contact with Europeans until well into the 19th century, when the London Missionary Society (LMS) sent native teachers to establish a mission. Christianity quickly took hold and European diseases arrived at much the same time, with disastrous results.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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