Bountiful with 77 atolls, the Tuamotu Islands stretch over 13500km²/5200mi² of ocean. Precociously discovered by Magellan who anchored at Puka Puka in 1521, it took several years for this archipelago to spark any real interest for other European navigators.
Deemed difficult to access and less attractive than the high landmass of the Society Islands, these atolls, once called “Shallow Islands” or “Unlucky Islands,” were not approached again until 1606 following the expedition of Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queirós (Roggeveen (1722), Byron (1765), Wallis (1767) and Bougainville (1768).
Before the arrival of European navigators and Christian missionaries, Tuamotu islanders (called Paumotu) subsisted off fishing and food production. Nowadays, perliculture, tourism and the cultivation of coconut trees that missionaries introduced towards the mid-19th century are undergoing unprecedented development.
Every year, travelers from all over the world come to this archipelago to get away from it all and appreciate the peace and calm of the atolls. Famous for the Eden-like beauty of its turquoise waters and the abundance of underwater landscapes, the Tuamotu Archipelago is a must-see destination for those who love the ocean. Among the numerous water activities that are offered, scuba diving is the most popular.
MAIN ISLANDS OF THE
At only 350km/217mi northwest of Tahiti, Rangiroa is the largest atoll in French Polynesia. This destination is the most well-known and the most populated in the Archipelago and has numerous family-owned guest inns much to the delight of tourists.
Located 450 km north-east of the island of Tahiti and stretching over 70 km long with a width ranging from a few kilometers to about 15 km, Makemo is the third largest atoll of the archipelago. The area of the lagoon exceeds 800 km2. For comparison, this is almost twice the size of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Two passes, a few meters to several dozens meters deep, open this inland sea to the Ocean: Arikitamiro on the northeast and Tikaraga on the west side.
It is on this atoll located 500km/310mi to the northeast of Tahiti that the first pearl farm in French Polynesia was created in 1965. This stunning coral ring has 30km/18mi of lagoon dotted with pearl farms whose underwater installations are in shallow water (5-10 meters/16-33ft). Comprised of nine motu (islets), Manihi is almost entirely covered with coconut trees. Getting away from it all is guaranteed…
About 470 km/292 miles to the North of the island of Tahiti lies the atoll of Ahe tempting visitors to enter the captivating universe of Tuamotus coral islands. Like many other atolls in the Tuamotus, Ahe is a low-lying and ring-shaped coral island. The atoll measures 23 km/14.5 miles long and on average about 12 km/7.8 miles wide, and there is only one passage that breaks the ring shape connecting the lagoon to the ocean; the Tiareroa pass which is situated on the Northeastern shores of the atoll.
Approximately 450 kilometers northeast of Tahiti, Fakarava looks like an immense coral crown that traces a thin, oblong oval between the Pacific Ocean and its interior lagoon. Fifty kilometers long and 14 kilometers wide, the lagoon is like its own ocean with a total area of 1,150 square kilometers – nearly equal to the entire land area of Tahiti.
350 km Norheast of the island of Tahiti’s, Kaukura (‘Au-‘ura) is an oval shaped atoll 50km long made up of 65 islets (motu) of unequal size, separated by hoa (sea inlets more or less rich in fishes). The above water land of a surface of 1,100 ha is found essentially on the East side of the atoll, while the West coast includes essentially reef areas, except for seven small motus. The East coast is cut in half by the narrow Faafe pass.
Tikehau is stunning coral crown situated 300 km (186 miles) northeast of Tahiti. The 250 motu (islets) are scattered along the rim of a splendid fish-filled lagoon covering over 40000 hectares (98,842 acres). At the northwest of the Tuamotu Archipelago, and only 15 km (9.3 miles) from the island of Rangiroa, this atoll offers as its many visitors an exceptional lifestyle akin to the earthly paradise eloquently described by Bougainville.