A couple ambles ankle- deep in clear blue water at the edge of a pristine, palm tree-lined stretch of pink sand. They stop occasionally to observe the small black tip reef shark or parrotfish that sometimes venture just a metre from the shore. Here at the Pearl beach resort hotel of Tikehau, a small oval shaped atoll of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia, the only hustle and bustle travellers will encounter will be underwater. Activity on the surface of this 27 km-long coral reef is limited, but the underwater fauna is arguably the richest in fish species in all of French Polynesia, and the ideal playground for scuba divers and snorkelers.
Bora Bora and Moorea are the obvious choices for honeymooners and dreamers who seek to find paradise on the other side of the world, yet more and more visitors to the Pacific islands set out to explore the wilder, but equally divine atolls of the Tuamotus. The “dangerous islands”, as circumnavigators and explorers called them due to their menacingly low appearance, are starting to cater for a clientele that prefers to skip the overpopulated favourites to find their own piece of paradise.
The Tuamotus are a scuba diver’s Mecca. On any given dive in rangiroa, the most visited part of the archipelago, a diver may spot dolphins, manta rays, black tip sharks, sea turtles and even hammerhead sharks. Not expecting much in terms of accommodation, divers created a reputation for the island that soon attracted more sophisticated travellers with a taste for luxury. The overwater bungalows mainly associated with Bora Bora blossomed from there. The luxurious Kia Ora Resort & Spa on Rangiroa was closed through most of 2011 to upgrade to its current 5-star status. Overwater bungalows have been revamped and garden villas now include their own private pools. For an unforgettable experience, the resort organises excursions to the blue lagoon, a lagoon within the lagoon of the Rangiroa atoll, or to a private motu, one of the myriad islands that form an atoll. It doesn’t get anymore secluded than that. For shark observers, Fakarava, the Tuamotus’ second largest atoll is a must. The UNESCO-classified biosphere reserve is known for its “wall of sharks”. The white sand beach resort of Fakarava organises excursions to the south pass where divers will see hundreds of sharks. The resort is fairly simple in comparison with its Rangiroa and Tikehau counterparts, but features significantly less visitors so that guests don’t need to venture very far for utmost privacy.
Manta Ray Sanctuary
Both Tikehau and Manihi feature a Pearl beach resort, a high-end chain found on six Polynesian islands. Each of them has its own dive centre and offers a plethora of activities for guests in the most exceptional settings. Much bigger in size than Tikehau, Manihi is also known as a manta ray sanctuary and accommodates few guests, perfect for those attempting escape from the busy pace of daily life. Just an hour-and-a-half flight away from Tahiti, those wishing to sample the different atolls of the Tuamotu Archipelago may do so by purchasing a lagoon pass. Island hopping has never been faster than with air Tahiti’s flight package that includes visits to Moorea, Rangiroa, Tikehau, Manihi and Fakarava. The only condition is that travellers cannot return to the same island twice and must depart and return to Tahiti.
If constant packing and unpacking does not appeal, then the rocking motion of the sea may be more attractive, and a yacht charter could be the best option. The dream yacht charter offers the atoll dream cruise, an all-inclusive weeklong solution. A luxury four cabin catamaran can be booked as a whole or per cabin. Several yacht charters now allow experienced sailors to charter without crew, upon confirmation of experience. For cruise ship enthusiasts, the MS Paul Gauguin combines the Society Islands with the Tuamotus, for a week on the move in the Pacific. The ship features an onboard water sports marina and a spa among the 5-star services available on board and 70 percent of the cabins have private balconies.