Get stranded on the island that’s like Bora Bora 40 years ago, without the price tags.
“Tikehau is like Bora Bora 40 years ago.”
Anne Tran-Thang, general manager Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, is explaining why she loves this distant part of French Polynesia. Anne was posted here for a two-year stay five years ago and has no intention of leaving.
“I know this is a resort but to me it feels like pre-European Polynesia. I love the pink sand (stained by the coral), the coconut palms, the lagoon and the traditional fares (huts). Tikehau means ‘peaceful landing’ and our little motu is unspoilt, secluded and very romantic.”
Their “little motu” is Tiano motu, one of only two inhabited islets in the 55-kilometre circumference of dots in this part of the Tuamotu group, collectively called Tikehau.
Tikehau is a 15-minute flight from the better-known Tuamtou destination of Rangiroa and a one hour flight from Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia on the island of Tahiti. At first glance Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort is like others in this fantastical part of the world, with its overwater bungalows, sandy shore, ridiculously blue lagoon and genetically blessed inhabitants. But its seclusion is apparent just a few metres off the reservation. As the only resort on the motu and with a maximum of 80 guests, it’s easy to wander along the pastel-pink sand around the next corner and have the place all to yourself, except for the seabirds and numerous geckos, which are sacred and considered good luck. You can walk around the motu in about 30 minutes, enjoying the serenity, perfumed air and coconut palms or, for even greater seclusion, kayak to the next motu or even walk across at low tide. And if you feel the need to get back to “civilisation” you can visit Tuherahera village.
Tikehau is reputed to be the most bountiful fish destination in French Polynesia and the warm, high-visibility waters around the coral reefs host an astonishing variety. The manta rays are huge, the fish so colourful they look photo-shopped and the reef sharks plentiful. Anne assures us in her fabulous French accent the sharks are “usually” harmless but cautions against swimming at night “in case zey mistake you for somezing yummy in ze dark and take a nibble”. Numerous two-metre black-tip reef sharks cruise beneath our overwater bungalow and near the shore their babies swim between our legs in ankle deep water.
Tikehau Pearl has a PADI dive centre and the renowned Tuheiva pass is an underwater coral playground for eagle rays, turtles, dolphins, tuna, barracudas, sharks and smaller technicolour fish. Other activities on offer include boat hire, escorted fishing, snorkelling and birdwatching tours, sunset cruises and reef walks. Lagoon tours and surfing are also popular but Anne says love is the primary draw. “Many people come for romantic getaways and we do weddings, intimate dinners and private picnics on deserted motus ‘tua-motu mode’ – small, simple and relaxed. And if you come during a full moon, it is even more beautiful,” she says.
Our overwater fare is spacious, luxe and has everything you need to relax and enjoy the romance, including a huge bath and no Wi-Fi or TV. We while away hours on the balcony in awe of the lagoon and incomparable sunsets, a chilled bottle of something appropriate just a phone call away.
Our fellow guests are mostly couples from France and Italy and we meet quite a few at breakfast and dinner as the open-air fare potee (communal bar and restaurant) by the infinity pool is the only dining option. The evening meals are excellent and feature French and Polynesian delights, superbly prepared and expertly presented. Happy waiters enhance the experience with their friendliness and patience as we practise our basic French language skills on them. Diane wears a massive, sweet-scented floral bouquet in her hair and presents it to my wife after a single compliment. Tinihau, whose high-voltage smile and other attributes landed him a gig in a Men of Tahiti show in Las Vegas, also elicits compliments from my doe-eyed spouse as he brings dessert.
SPM Hotels operates three other Pearl Resorts in French Polynesia, on the islands of Moorea and Bora Bora, as well as the Manava Suite Resort in Tahiti. Their Society Islands Tuamotu Island Combo Package includes stays at Tikehau, Bora Bora and Tahiti and is relatively cheap in this famously high-priced region.
Outer-island holidays in French Polynesia often just include one-night stays in Tahiti at each end of the trip to connect with flight times but tacking on a day or two to explore the main island is a must. Tahiti is the cultural hub of the group with museums, cafes, shopping centres, restaurants and art galleries to enjoy. For a fantastic day out, take the Circle Island Tour, check out Papeete Pearl Market and the huge surf at Teahupo’o before relaxing with a Hinano beer or two and dinner at the quirky roulottes food vans near the wharf.
Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort Spa on Motu Tevairoa offers both garden and overwater bungalows. Both styles are luxuriously appointed and the land-based bungalows have private internal compounds that include a plunge pool, outdoor shower and entertainment area, while the overwater bungalows boast picture-postcard views.
All Pearl resorts have Manea day spas and it’s only fair you sample the manoi-oil-infused treatments at each.
Air Tahiti Nui flies from Sydney to Papeete via Auckland five days a week and from Melbourne and Brisbane on codeshare flights. airtahitinui.com.au
Seven-night Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort packages from $3599 per person twin share. Includes all flights, five nights at Tikehau in a beach bungalow with breakfast, overnight stays at Manava Suite Resort Tahiti in Papeete at each end of the trip and all transfers.
Nine night Pearl Resort combo packages, including three nights at Tikehau and four nights at Bora Bora from $5299 per person twin share. Above inclusions apply. tahitinow.com.au
Mal Chenu was a guest of SPM hotels and Air Tahiti Nui
The story Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, French Polynesia: How Bora Bora was 40 years ago first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.