image

The Tuamotus (French: Īles Tuamotu officially Archipel des Tuamotu) are the largest chain of atolls in the world in French Polynesia, spanning an area of the Pacific Ocean roughly the size of Western Europe. The islands have coconut, pandanus, and breadfruit trees and produce pearl shell and copra.

The islands were visited by the Spanish in 1606, came under a French protectorate in 1844, and were annexed by France in 1881. A small part of the group is governed with the Gambier Islands; Makatea Island is under the administration of the Society Islands. The Tuamotu group was formerly called Paumotu, or Dangerous Archipelago, because hundreds of ships have been wrecked on its reefs and atolls. Some islands of the group were used for French nuclear experiments.

The vast expanse of the Tuamotu Islands has a collection of 78 small islands and fringing atolls, scattered in a 1,300-mi (2,092-km) chain, with a total land area of c.330 sq mi (850 sq km), of the eastern Pacific Ocean governed by French Polynesia. These islands are geologically the oldest in Polynesia and look very different from the Society Islands. They are the vestiges of ancient volcanoes, sinking over millions of years while coral growth at the rim keeps reaching for sunlight. As the island eventually submerges, the ring-shaped reef forms an atoll with a central lagoon.

Several of these island groups have luxury resorts and hotels and small pension guesthouses and along with Pearl farming, is the groups major source of income. Scuba diving is exceptional and the romance of being lost amongst remote islands draws the honeymoon market.

Known as the Tuamotu chain, these tropical and sparsely inhabited islands are in fact atolls- their sum total comprising the world’s largest chain of atolls. Covering huge distances of the South Pacific Sea, the total population of the 41 inhabited islands is only a mere 12,500 persons or so.

The Islands are not a common destination for travelers due to their remoteness and lack of a developed tourism industry. This makes them very interesting to visit for people who want a true remote Pacific island experience! When tourists and travelers due journey to these islands, they usually come to dive, to slow down the pace of their lives, or are associated with one of the local businesses.

The most travelled of Tuamotu islands are Rangiroa, being the Tuamotu’s largest tourist destination, followed by Manihi, Tikehau, and in recent years Fakarava.

Rangiroa Atoll is the closest atoll to Tahiti and the most developed island for tourism. It is also the second largest atoll in the world with a lagoon in its centre measuring 75km across and 25km wide. Surrounding this lagoon are over 200 tiny islands, stretching for 200km around the lagoon, most no more than 300 metres wide but often ten kilometres long. Few places rise above 10 metres from sea level making the threat of cyclones or, worse still, tsunamis, a real worry for its 2000 inhabitants.

The largest island is Faurumai on the northern side of the atoll, with the airport and largest village of Avatora on the neighbouring island and the administrative centre of Tiputa a little further east. Here you’re find small shops, a post office and lots of village life. The 60-bungalow Kia Ora Village Hotel is located close to the airport and there are lots of small pension guesthouses this side including Fare Tiki Hoa and Pension Tuanake.

From the airport, it’s an hour boat journey across the centre of the lagoon to the delightful private island of Kia Ora Sauvage Resort. It’s another hour by boat to the far eastern tip of Rangiroa where the unusual pink sands of Les Sables Roses are found. Diving in Rangiroa is world famous although restricted mostly to three passes on the north side of the atoll where rich currents wash through attracting a massive amount of marine life including huge congregations of sharks.

Tikehau Atoll, Rangiroa’s smaller neighbour, is the second most westerly of the Tuamotu Group. Here you’ll find fantastic diving and lots of nesting sea birds on its uninhabited motu, as well as the fabulous Tikehau Pearl Resort. About 150km to the north east of Rangiroa is Manihi Pearl Resort, another popular luxury retreat for honeymooners and divers. Manihi is famous for its black pearls which are farmed extensively in the lagoon and the tiny huts on stilts that are scattered around the lagoon can be visited on day tours.

About 250km south west of Rangiroa or 450km north of Tahiti is Fakarava Atoll, the second largest atoll in the group and with a flourishing tourism industry. The airstrip is located on the north eastern side of the atoll, close to Rotoava Village which has 500 inhabitants, mostly fishermen. The delightful Le Maitai Fakarava Resort is found here with several small guesthouses including Pension Havaiki located in a pretty beach. Snorkelling in the lagoon is excellent and there are several dive companies offering courses and dive excursions to the outer reef passages.

From Fakarava, the atolls of the Tuamotu Group became more spaced out, extending 800km to the west and 1000km to the south. Further south still is the remote Gambier Group. This small collection of mountainous islands is infrequently visited and is a stronghold for subsistence Catholic fishing villages. A few guesthouses offer a unique insight into this traditional lifestyle.

The beautiful interior lagoons sometimes have one or two narrow openings to the ocean where the rushing tides provide nutrients for an exuberant coral and fish life.

Diving or snorkeling in these passes of indigo water where the visibility can reach 150 feet is an unforgettable and exhilarating experience.

Local life on these remote atolls is simple and peaceful. In the small villages, usually located near the pass, the visitor can discover the true flavor of the Tuamotu.

The interior lagoons are a haven for black pearl farms, fish parks, snorkeling and scuba diving. Motorized outrigger canoes or motor boats are used by the locals to reach the distant motu islets across the lagoon, where the day is spent collecting copra and searching for colorful seashells.

The accommodation in these atolls can range from international class hotels (in Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau), to small hotels, B & B’s or a room with families, where guests can find simple but clean accommodations.

There are also upscale sailing cruises inside Rangiroa as well as a diving and discovery cruise into more remote and uninhabited atolls. This cruise offers a unique opportunity to visit in total comfort some of the most remote tropical islands in the world.