French Polynesia: Tikehau
The last island chain in French Polynesia that I visited was the Tuamotus. Just a twenty-minute, up and down airplane hop from Rangiroa, Tikehau is a coral atoll that boasts the world’s richest sea life environment, according to Jacques Cousteau.
What exactly is a coral atoll, you may ask? Wikipedia defines it thus: “An atoll (/ˈætɒl/ or /əˈtɒl/) is a ring-shaped coral reef including a coral rim that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. There may be coral islands/cays on the coral rim.”
Essentially Tikehau is a donut of tiny islands surrounding a very large, protected bay. Not more than 200 yards across at it’s widest point, the main island of Tikehau houses an airport, a magazin (market) and a handful of pensions and B&B’s and not much else. One cannot help but feel the fragility of life on this tiny stretch of land surrounded by water. It seems a miracle the land isn’t swallowed up at any given moment by the sea.
The only industry on the island, aside from tourism, is Copra, or Coconut Byproducts. Jobs are scarce and people motivated to work are even more scarce. In fact, it is so nearly impossible to find workers that most Pensions have to bring in people from Tahiti or neighboring isles to run the properties. It isn’t for lack of people. The local lifestyle is simply too easy and the locals prefer to spend their days at the beach, playing music, eating and sleeping than doing mundane things like working. If they need money, the locals will work a few days in a Copra job and then drink off their paycheck at the local stage/bandstand. A similar problem limits the production of local fruit and vegetables. Tour books state that the issue is the poor soil that makes it impossible to grow things on island, but that is simply not true. People just don’t bother to garden and so most of the food available on Tikehau is tinned, or imported at prices akin to highway robbery. Indeed, the meals I ate while on Tikehau were THE WORST meals I had in all of French Polynesia, and Vanuatu as well, for that matter. (I shouldn’t neglect to mention that I also contracted THE WORST case of food poisoning ever from prepared food purchased at the local Magazin, so steer clear of the egg rolls if you want to keep your stomach inside of your body!) But the amazing location, scenery and ease of life made those meals absolutely forgivable.
I spent my days on Tikehau lazing on pink sand beaches, jumping around tide pools, snorkeling, reading, watching sunrises and sunsets, sea kayaking the surf, watching reef sharks and bicycling loops around the small main island. Locals vacation here. You’ll see French Polynesians from the other islands catching their meals, gutting, scaling and preparing them in the sea shallows. If you’re a diver, Tikehau offers phenomenal diving.
If you’re up for a beautifully authentic Polynesian experience, head to Tikehau.
Tip: Avoid Tikehau during holidays like Christmas or New Year is you’re after a restful holiday. The locals P-A-R-T-Y like no one’s business. The entire island is alive with music played very loudly around the clock.
Happy 4th Birthday, Stinkerbug!!