Youngest sister of Easter Island, the legendary Rapa Nui, big Rapa, situated to the west and which is not part of French Polynesia, little Rapa, “Rapa Iti” in Tahitian, is the most far-flung of the Austral Islands, some 1,420 km to the south of Tahiti. It rises up from the midst of the ocean with its nearly 600m high Mount Perehau in a much cooler air. With its peaks wreathed in clouds and its long dark green folds crenellated into deep bays, it seems so mysterious. Rapa ! What were its links with Easter Island ? Its ancient ruins, its many fortresses, its proud “pa” surrounded by the beautiful dry stone walls that crown its volcanic ridges have not yet yielded up all their secrets.
Rapa’s temperate climate is not warm enough for corals to grow, nor for coconut trees which are not to be seen on its shores and where the Australs’ winter temperature in July and August can go down as low as 5C. Yet how many fruits and how many vegetables, either known or unknown elsewhere, grow on her fertile soils! Sweet oranges, pears, figs, passion fruit.
Coffee bushes which produce an excellent coffee, but also a huge variety of “taro”, succulent root crops and with “mungu” which are plants with pinkish flowers and sugary tastes that children love to suck for candy. Goats and wild cattle live in the mountains. They augment the daily menu of the islanders alternating with salmon, crayfish, seas slugs, oyster and sea urchins that are in great abundance near the shore. The 521 inhabitants of Rapa are incredible fishers and hunters! They are also farmers.
As owners, all holding common title to the island, they live mainly at Aore, which has a Mayor’s office, a church, a post office, a school, an infirmary and a cooperative. Some families live over at Area, a very tiny village. The only link from Rapa to the outside world is the cargo boat Tuhaa Pae III which drops anchor in Haurei Bay every two to three weeks. And sometimes the odd yacht or a scientific research vessel stop here just long enough take on board fresh provisions. Entry permits are only granted for a very short length of time.