- Coastline Low-lying coral atolls
- Coastlife Beach chilling, scuba thrilling
Discover dreamy white-sand islands and world-beating diving in the Tuamotus, a chilled-out archipelago north-east of Tahiti which stars startling coral atolls encircling turquoise lagoons.
A jaw-dropping contrast to the peak-toting, high islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea, these low-slung necklaces of coral are dotted with palm-peppered motus (mini islets), the former barrier reefs of extinct, sunken volcanos. Passes cutting through to the deep-blue ocean create teeming bottlenecks of sea life moving in and out of the lagoon, and ideal spots for snorkelling, diving or fishing. Don't miss the dazzling current-drift dives at main island Rangiroa's Tiputa and Avatoru passes, famous for shark and dolphin sightings. Laid-back Tikehau boasts the only pink-sand beaches in French Polynesia and twitcher-pleasing birdlife. Mellow Manihi is a must for pearl-farm visits (black pearls are a hot buy throughout the Tuamotus). Dining is a gem here, too, with super-fresh fish and seafood, flavoured with coconut and washed down with unique, atoll-grown wine. Populated by the hardy Paumotu people, these wilder, deserted shores will feel like a real Polynesian adventure, so be sure to add a Tuomotu to your holiday plans.
Do go/Don’t go
You'll usually get the best weather in the dry, cooler winter period from May to October. Summer (November to April) sees hotter temperatures, rising humidity, cloudier skies and heavier rains, although storms are usually brief. Peak season falls in line with the northern school holidays, especially July and August, and Christmas; the islands also book up for the July Heiva festival, so get in early or look for off-season bargains. Surfing and diving are good year-round.
- Planes All international flights to French Polynesia touch down at Tahiti's Faa'a Airport (www.tahiti-aeroport.pf), five kilometres west of compact capital Pape'ete. National carrier Air Tahiti Nui (www.airtahitinui.com) covers the key routes, taking around five hours from Auckland, linked by Qantas code-share from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, Los Angeles (with connections from Paris) and Tokyo. Also look out for flights to Tahiti with Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com), Air France (www.airfrance.com), Hawaiian Airlines (www.hawaiianair.com), Lan Airlines (www.lan.com), Japan Airlines (www.jal.com) and Air Calédonie International (www.aircalin.com). Inter-island travel is normally by plane, with Tahiti the main hub. Book via domestic carrier Air Tahiti (www.airtahiti.pf), which offers money-saving AirPasses if you plan on visiting several islands. Planes are small and sometimes stop at several islands en route. Watch out for weight restrictions (usually 20kg, but you can get discount deals on excess baggage), and aim for window seats for stunning views (ask the air crew which side to bag). There are several daily flights between Tahiti and Rangiroa, the main island in the Tuomotus, taking around an hour, as well as a daily flight from Tahiti to Tikehau (around 55 minutes). There are also regular 20-minute flights from Rangiroa to Tikehau and to the other islands in the archipelago, or you can fly to Rangiroa or Tikehau from Bora Bora in the Society Islands. Air Tahiti's Bora-Tuamotu Pass offers deals between Tahiti and Rangiroa, Tikehau and three other islands in the Tuamotus, as well as Bora Bora, Moorea, Huahine, Maupiti and Ra'iatea in the Society Islands. The Lagoons Pass teams Tahiti and Moorea with Rangiroa, Tikehau, Manihi, Ahe and Fakarava in the Tuamotus.
- Boats Various mixed cargo/passenger and cruise boats ply their way between Tahiti and the other Society Islands, as well as the more distant Tuamotus and Marquesas, but flying is Smith's tip for speed, cost and comfort. French Polynesia is a popular yachting destination, with a marina in Pape'ete, Tahiti.
- Automobiles With their rings of tiny islands linked mainly by outboard motorboat, and tracks formed from crushed coral, the Tuamotus aren't really a car scene. You'll find short strips of road, such as the one between Rangiroa's airport and the passes at Avatoru and Tiputa, or Tikehau's airport and village on main atoll Tuherahera, but these are best navigated by taxi, bike or by foot (ask your hotel about hiring a push bike). Don't expect any public transport.