Raiatea is located in the southern part of the Leeward Islands. Its huge lagoon also incorporates the island of Tahaa. Raiatea has an area of 238 square kilometers (92 sq. miles). That makes it the fourth largest island in French Polynesia in terms of area. The biggest island is Tahiti (1,042 sq. kilometers, or 402 sq. miles), followed by Nuku Hiva in the northern Marquesas Islands (330 sq. kilometers, or 127 sq. miles) and Hiva Oa in the southern Marquesas Islands (320 sq. kilometers, or 124 sq. miles). Raiatea is shaped like an isosceles triangle with a base of 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) and a height of 20 kilometers (12.4 miles). The island is an old former volcanic mass, the last lava having flowed some 2.5 million years ago. Raiatea’s tallest point is in the south, where Mt. Tefatoaiti reaches an altitude of 1,017 meters (3,337 ft.). In the north there is the Temehani volcanic rock plateau, which rises to 792 meters (2,598 ft.) and is decorated by historic peaks. Several big valleys cut deeply into the edges of this high island, creating some of the most favorable places for populations to settle. They include six bays—Vairahi, Faaroa and Opoa along the east coast; Faatemu at the southern tip; and Vaihuti and Vaiaau along the west coast. Alluvial fans--deposits of streams coming from a gorge upon a plain—have partially filled in the bays, offering flat land that helps compensate for the narrowness of the coastal plains. Raiatea has the reputation of being the cradle of Polynesian civilizations. In ancient times, the island was known as “Havai’i fanau’ra fenua», which means “Havai’i, the cradle». Furthermore, famous ethnologist Pearl Buck wrote that according to Polynesian mythology fragments of Havai’i broke off to create other islands, swimming like a fish to become the Windward Islands of Tahiti, Moorea, Maiao, Mehetia and Tetiaroa.