We wanted to bounce around a little bit when we were in French Polynesia. When we were putting our trip together we looked at A LOT of places. There are so many options when it comes to French Polynesia all with a different feel and even different geography. Bora Bora and Raiatea are mountainous and lush. They are part of the Society Islands along with Tahiti and others. We wanted a different feel so we headed to Tikehau in the Tuamotu Archipelago. In overall look and feel you cannot get much different from Bora Bora to Tikehau.
Where Bora Bora is mountainous and lush, Tikehau is and atoll. It is flat and covered in pink sand and palm trees. Totally a different kind of beautiful. The water is ridiculously clear and we chose Tikehau because it is supposed to have more fish than anywhere else. It did not disappoint. It has a lot of fish… and sharks… and manta rays… and everything else that is awesome that comes along with the ocean. One of the really cool things about being there is that it truly felt like we had arrived at the end of the earth.
Are you sure this is the airport?
When we were coming in for our landing at the Tikehau “airport” the weather was overcast and when I looked out the window I saw dogs laying in a puddle right next to the runway. Not on the other side of a fence or blockade but right next to the runway. When we landed (as with all of the islands beside Papeete that we landed at) we came in HOT, meaning really fast, the plane bounced, and sped towards the end of the runway and the ocean beyond it. When we slowed down enough the pilot flipped a u-turn and parked right in front of a thatch roofed patio area with a snack bar that served as the airport. This was pretty cool in my opinion. It was definitely a new experience, I have been to some small airports but this felt like an outpost, not an airport. When we landed here I knew that we were remote and that we were not in the really elite tourist mecca of Bora Bora any more.
Every hotel is only accessible by boat so there is no way to really grab a taxi and get to your hotel. There are not a lot of flights into and out of the Tikehau airport each day so the hotels know when their guests are arriving and they have someone waiting there for you. There were 6-8 others who were headed to the Pearl Beach Resort so we all piled in the shuttle and headed for the dock to grab the boat to the resort. The whole process took maybe 30 minutes from landing to being at reception. We were greeted with fresh juice, given a tour of the grounds, and taken to our over water bungalow which we just happened to be upgraded from the standard over water bungalow to an over water sweet.
Bug nets and Bungalows-
The room was very open and was perched over the crystal clear teal waters. When I say crystal clear I mean it. You could see the bottom and all of the fish in the water and a certain times of the day it didn’t even look like there was water at all. The area had a lot of fish, sharks, and even a few rays swimming around. Compared to Bora Bora there were a lot of fish around the hotel and a lot of areas to snorkel right off the dock in the room.
Let’s talk about the room. It was definitely more open to the elements and rustic than the over water bungalow at the St. Regis but it was very nice. The bed had a mosquito net around it because the room was not sealed near the roof which was cool, it was open and airy but not open to the elements. The bed was short, like 2 full beds pushed together. I am not tall so if I am almost hanging off of it I cannot imagine what someone who is 6’2″ would feel like. I felt a little claustrophobic with the net and the short bed but I am a finicky sleeper. There was really bad weather the first couple nights we were there and the room was actually really cozy with the in room air conditioner (the island was still humid) and big sitting area. One thing that was not cool was that for the first few nights we had to deal with roaches every evening when we entered the room. Super unpleasant. We live in the tropics so are not skittish and we have experience with bugs of all kinds but some of the roaches were HUGE and there were a lot of them. So each night after dinner we prepared ourselves for battle and cleared the bathroom of the uninvited guests. When we arrived the resort was not full but 3-4 days into our stay it was. When the other guests arrived the resort must have sprayed or laid traps because the issue corrected itself.That was really the only complaint we had regarding the resort. It was clean, well-kept up and had beautiful grounds. The staff was really friendly and accommodating as well.
Our room had a huge deck with lounge chairs, a covered table and an awesome dock with a ladder that led right into the water. The water was pretty calm for most of our trip so we were able to just jump in and snorkel right off our back porch. A few nights we took some bread from dinner and would turn on the lights that lit up the water under and behind our bungalow and we would feed the fish. The fish love the bread and swarm around which brings in the sharks. We would be visited by 4-5 Black Tip sharks and the occasional small Lemon shark each night. They would just swim through the fish seeing what all the action was about. (Also, there was always a shark or two in the water when we jumped in to snorkel which was fun. It honestly never got old to us to see the sharks.)
There is no WiFi in the rooms and no hi-speed internet in all of Tikehau. You can connect to WiFi when you are at the restaurant but it is sketchy at best. When it is close to dinner and everyone is checking their phones it is pretty much a no-go. We could not upload any videos and had basic connectivity problems when we were trying to answer emails and do basic things for our businesses. If you are going to “unplug” then this will not be a bad thing for you but we needed to work when we hit week 2 of our trip so this was a cramp. We made due though and got as much done as we could with our allotted time each day. When we travel we set a schedule for work and plug-in at a designated time and unplug at a designated time regardless of productivity or connectivity.
You have reached the end of the world. Just relax.
The weather was bad for the first couple days that we were there so we were forced to just relax. After our adventures and all of the running around we did in Bora Bora this was welcome. We just hung around our bungalow and the restaurant and read and drank cappuccino. We had a couple of days of diving ahead of us and the forecast said that it was going to rain the entire time we were there so we just crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. These things have a way of working out. After our Bora Bora diving adventure we were hoping for clear skies but were prepared to dive in anything. The Pearl Beach Resort in Tikehau is bordered on one side by the reef that leads out to the open ocean. We would sit in the restaurant and just watch the enormous waves smash into the reef and create huge ocean sprays. The current was really strong and the tide was way up so they were not letting anyone in the water until things calmed down. Literally we were forced to hang out and truly unwind and because of the WiFi situation there was not a lot we could do. I think I read two books in the span of 4 days, our travel day and relaxation days. It is pretty nice to be able to relax, listen to the weather and the waves, and be surrounded by the ocean. Luckily the weather broke and we were able to proceed with our week.
Jacques Cousteau’s Tikehau —
On a trip to Tikehau in the 1980’s Jacques Cousteau said that he encountered more variety in the species of fish there than anywhere else in the south pacific. This is a big reason that we chose this particular spot. We are crazy about the ocean and all of its creatures so we wanted to see as many as we could. We dove with Tuamotu Plongee the company that does the diving for Top Dive in the area. Booking was really easy and the dive center is located at the Pearl Beach Resort so that was really convenient.
The main language that all of the dive masters and other divers spoke was French so verbal communication was not the easiest. We got through it but conversation above and beyond dive plans and directions, equipment, and names was tough. Once you are under water the diving sign language is the same. These guys were great. They organized everyone on the boat by skill and when needed they had 2 dive masters and 2 separate groups so people could have the experience they wanted that their skill level allowed. We felt totally comfortable diving with them. It is a really solid operation. They took us to some beautiful dive sites all of which are outside the lagoon along the reef. We did 2 days of diving, 2 tanks each day. They supply everything you need except for dive computers and all of their gear is Aqualung and well maintained. They come to the resort each morning and pick everyone up, outfit anyone who needs gear then you’re off!
Jacques was right —
All of the dives are outside the lagoon. It is a quick 15-20 minute ride to get to the channel that takes you into the open ocean. One of the things that made diving here really special was the Manta Ray feeding station on the way out to the dive site. Before you get to main channel they stop the boat at a specific spot and check for manta rays who are being cleaned by other fish. When we spotted them we all grabbed our fins and snorkels and slipped over the side of the boat to swim with these amazing animals. You are not allowed to swim down to their level because they will swim away but we all just followed them around for 15 minutes then jumped back in the boat. It is a great way to start a day of diving.
The first day we went to a spot on the reef that was kind of a wall. It was not a sheer drop into the abyss but more of a gradual decline that dropped into the deep blue. The visibility was endless and the fish and coral were diverse and abundant. We did a multilevel dive, we dropped to about 100 ft and stepped our way up the wall to a little canyon. There was so much to see on the way up. The canyon at the top was FULL of wildlife, eels, schools of fish, enormous puffers, porcupine fish, and even small white tip sharks hiding in the crevasses. There are amazing coral and rock formations at the top of the dive and we explored the small “caves” (more like 2-4 foot indentations in the rock) and mini canyons before our decompression stop. This was a beautiful dive and was one of my favorites in Tikehau.
During our surface time we drank tea, ate cookies and fresh coconut, and fed the huge hump head wrasse (Napoleon Fish) that was lured to the boat with coconut scraps. Hump head’s are awesome. They are one of my favorite fish, huge, awkward looking, and friendly. After we had all relaxed for a while we pulled up anchor and cruised down the reef to another spot for our second dive. We went down to 80-ish feet and swam with schools of fish, sharks, puffers, hump head wrasse, unicorn fish, anemones with their resident clown fish, and we spied on small white tip sharks again lying low in the small caves. The amount of sea life here was astounding. There was so much to look at that it felt impossible to take it all in. The water was so clear and there was no current. The fish are not overly skittish and the schools gather into these huge balls and just hang out. After our safety stop we boarded the boat and headed back to Pearl Beach.
On our second day of diving in Tikehau we had a little wind and overcast skies and we had to deal with some decent chop on the lagoon and a little lower visibility (but it was still better than the local diving we had done in Puerto Rico). We spent our time at the outer part of the reef and saw some HUGE tuna, Napoleon Fish, large schools of fish and a big shark off in the distance. We went to the same spots as the first day and the second dive had much lower visibility when we got near the current running near the lagoon. We were diving with another husband and wife and I ended up having to surface with the husband because we were both low on air while Amy and her new partner got to watch a giant turtle eat and hang out on the bottom. He had no fear of anyone and just hung out and gorged himself. It was a beautiful couple of dives and some of the best we have done so far for sure.
Are there a lot of sharks and do they bite?
The snorkeling around the resort was good. There were coral formations and a lot of trigger fish, soldier fish, parrot fish, and sharks. We even saw some sting rays swimming around. It is cool to always be backed by the pink sands and have the endless clear waters stretch out in front of you. We swam under the bungalows and would get in the water off the back of our deck and come back to bungalow the same way. The coolest thing though is that there are sharks everywhere. When you are in the water you can see them swimming around in your peripheral vision and occasionally they get in close. These are 2-3 foot reef sharks so they are not threatening in any way. They are not aggressive and are definitely more afraid of you than you could possibly be of them. They are always around. Compared to Bora Bora there was so much wildlife to look at in Tikehau and we definitely could have gone diving many more times than we did.
The life aquatic —
We do like to immerse ourselves in the local culture as much as possible when we travel. It is always really interesting to see how people live, what they value, and how it differs from where we live and where we have previously visited. The only real option to do this was to catch the ferry into the main island and explore the main town by bike. The town is called Tuherahera. This is a town in a very loose sense of the word but it is the biggest thing around in Tikehau. It is a tiny little island where the airport is and where most of the people who work at the surrounding resorts live. The houses are nice and there are the ever-present stray dogs and cats that come with every island that I have ever been to. There were very few cars. Almost everyone we passed was on bike, walking, or riding a scooter and everyone is smiling and waves.
We grabbed a couple of bikes before we left the resort and headed over by boat. There are two places to grab lunch and some deserted beaches to check out. We rode the bikes all over the place and got some of the freshest tuna tartar we had the entire trip. The food at the snack shack was great which was nice because there is not much else to do there. We found an amazing little beach with tons of shells and rocks to explore. We spent some time cruising around and found the marina where we saw some pretty big black tip sharks. It was a really relaxing day among the palm tress and the locals and it was a nice change of pace from the resort.
The rest of the time we spent kayaking and snorkeling. There are a lot of small uninhabited motus within a short distance of the hotel and they have kayaks lying around for guests to use. It feels like you are in the middle of nowhere when you beach your kayak on a tiny mound of pink sand in the ocean. The water is clear and there are a ton of photo opportunities. Some of the small islands have palm tress on them, some pines, and some nothing. It was crazy to be somewhere where there are still untouched beaches. When I say they are untouched, there is absolutely no sign of humans on them. I grew up in San Diego and Amy in Miami so we are used to every square foot of usable beachfront space being developed. It is great that there are still places this beautiful in the world.
It is time to wander on —
All in all Tikehau was a fun adventure and a great change of pace. It is so different from Bora Bora in geography, people, and wildlife. I loved the remoteness of it and the fact that very few people we came into contact with spoke English fluently made it feel more remote. Tikehau is definitely worth the extra time it takes to get there from Papeete. I would say that 4 nights is definitely enough time to spend there and then jump to another island. The diving is amazing, some of the best in French Polynesia we have been told, so book your reservations before you go and spend A LOT of time in the water. When our time in Tikehau finally wrapped up we headed to the airport with a group of Americans who were also on their way to Raiatea to board a catamaran and sail for the next 5 days. They had only arrived a couple of days prior but had done a little diving in their time in Tikehau. While we waited for the plane we swapped dive stories and they showed us a lot of amazing footage of night dives in Hawaii. One of the best things about traveling is breaking the routine and meeting new people. We boarded our plane and headed back to Papeete and then onto Raiatea. From there it was a short jump to the last stop of our adventure: The private island paradise of Vahine Island.