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Tikehau is an atoll found just west of Rangiroa, part of the Tuamotus in French Polynesia. And while activities above sea level tend to involve shade, beaches and palm trees, there’s plenty to see underwater. In fact, Jacques Cousteau tagged Tikehau as having the highest concentration of fish species out of anywhere in the world!
So if, like me, you’re one of the 40,000 annual visitors who’ve come to see what’s happening on the atoll’s coral shores (and beyond in the blue), these are the best things to do in Tikehau.
Discover everything you need to know about Tikehau and the Tuamotus in the guidebook, Moon French Polynesia.
1. Snorkel at the manta cleaning station
Tikehau’s expansive lagoon is a haven for all types of marine life — including graceful manta rays. One of the most accessible places to see them is at the site of a former pearl farm, where derelict concrete blocks and coral bommies have formed a cleaning station. Here, manta rays are tended to by cleaner wrasse who munch on parasites attached to manta rays’ skin. It’s quite the symbiotic relationship.
Most lagoon tours in Tikehau, whether organized by your accommodation or by one of the dive centers, will stop here. It’s one of my favorite snorkel spots in all of French Polynesia thanks to how consistently you can spot manta rays. Some of the rays reach up to five meters in wingspan. When there’s a few together, they resemble a fleet of stealth bombers.
2. Scuba dive at the Tuheiava Pass
In 1987, the grandfather of modern scuba diving, Jacques Cousteau came to Tikehau on a scientific expedition. In his findings, he noted that Tikehau has the most fish species not just in French Polynesia, but the entire South Pacific.
But is Tikehau still as biodiverse as it once was?
My friend Hannah and I put on our dive gear and went to Tuheiava Pass. Seconds after taking the plunge, we were surrounded by hundreds of fish and tens of sharks. White tips, black tips, gray reef sharks cruised along the edge of the reef. If you’re lucky, you could spot one of Tikehau’s resident tiger sharks.
Technicolor corals, schools of sweet lips, parrotfish, wrasse, anemones and their resident fish, eels, octopus, tang, urchins and more were all spotted on our dive. If there was just one scuba dive to go to see fish, I recommend Tuheiava Pass. Most dives here are drift dives, even if there’s hardly any current.
There are two dive centers; Tikehau Diving and Raie Manta Club. Tikehau Diving is not very reliable when it comes to arranging dives (they cancelled on us the night before for for no reason–we saw their dive boat out during the day). But if you do get on their boat, their operation runs smoothly and the dive guides are very engaged. Raie Manta Club is recommended by readers who’ve been.
3. Visit the pink sand beaches
Tiptoe across a pastel pink beach in Tikehau. Called Les Sables Roses (The Pink Sands), there are a few tiny motu (small islands) formed from crushed organ pipe corals. The pulverized red corals mixes with white corals creates the motu’s rosy hue.
Many full-day or half-day lagoon tours will stop at the closest pink sand beach, so you likely won’t have to make a dedicated trip if you’re going on a lagoon tour anyways. Pack your bathing suit, some snacks, and a cold Hinano and spend a tranquil day at the beach.
4. Spend the night on a private motu
Tikehau has numerous motus, barely-there islands found along Tikehau’s perimeter. Most of them are uninhabited, or solely used as a picnic spot by tourists and locals alike.
Your plane will touch down on Tikehau’s main motu, home to most accommodations and the handful of restaurants servicing Tikehau. But venture out to one of the private motu for that true desert island experience.
Hannah and I checked into Hakamanu Lodge, a rustic private motu stay with bungalows set on the shoreline. From our bungalow, we could see octopus, reef sharks, rays, and fish cruising through the shallows. All types of bird life took refuge in the nearby bushland.
All meals are taken together in the open-air restaurant, and there’s little to do but enjoy the ocean and relax. Day trips can be arranged upon request, but are weather dependent. At night, the motu is taken over by hermit crabs who tick tack across the pathways, showing off their shells.
If you’re wanting a luxurious yet adventurous experience, check into Ninamu Resort. There are eight handmade bungalows, each unique. Or, spend a few nights at Le Tikehau by Pearl Resorts for a truly five-star stay.
5. Kayak or paddle over calm waters
Many accommodations on Tikehau offer kayaks and standup paddle boards for their guests, and what better way to explore the lagoon than on its surface?
Grab a paddle and cruise along the inside of Tikehau’s lagoon coastline. Weave into the shallows found in between motu, and dock your kayak or board at any sandy beach that catches your eye. Pack along your mask and snorkel — if you spot something from above, you could want to take a closer look below!
6. Go freediving with tiger sharks
If you’re an experienced freediver and have an affinity for sharks, come eye to eye with one of the South Pacific’s most spectacular predators, the tiger shark. Denis, owner of Tikehau Ocean Tour, is a champion freediver who has dedicated his career to learning about and conserving French Polynesia’s shark population. He has over twenty years of experience and knows Tikehau’s waters well.
Tikehau Ocean Tour offers half- and full-day trips where freedivers can come close to tiger sharks in their natural habitat.
If that’s a bit too much, go on a custom lagoon tour to go snorkeling, picnicking on a sandy motu, swimming with manta rays, and dolphin watching.
7. Watch the sunset at Hina Bell Beach
Are you really in French Polynesia if you don’t experience a sorbet colored sunset? One of the best spots to do so is Hina Bell Beach. Throw down a towel in between the beach’s jagged limestone rocks and enjoy a spot all to yourself.
Legend says Hina Bell Beach earned its name after Hina Tefauroa, the beloved queen of Tikehau. Every time Hina wished to swim, her father Tefauroa would strike a coconut palm against a coral block. This created such a loud sound, every islander knew to keep away from Hina’s swimming spot. On the second ring, the coral pool would fill with water, and Hina would go for her swim. On the third ring, Hina’s pool drained back to the sea and locals could return to the area.
FAQs about visiting Tikehau
How do I get to Tikehau?
The best way to go to Tikehau is via plane. Domestic flights arrive by Air Tahiti at Tuherahera. There are 20-minute flights from Rangiroa and 55-minute flights from Papeete. Note that Air Tahiti flights are first come, first served when it comes to seating. So board early and catch a window seat to take in the Tuamotu’s blues.
What is Tikehau known for?
Tikehau is famous for being one of the most biologically diverse places in the South Pacific, as its marine life is unrivaled.
When is the best time to visit Tikehau?
The best time to visit Tikehau is between April and October, during the dry season. However, the Tuamotus tend to be drier than other parts of French Polynesia (and bad weather rarely lingers for long), making them a decent year-round destination.