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samedi 13 août 2016

Tikehau, Tuamotu

A postcard of Polynesian atoll

If an island in French Polynesia meets all the criteria of the "Polynesian paradise" it's indeed Tikehau, an atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago. 

The Tikehau terminal: Heaven's Gate...
Anyone, as landing at Tikehau for the first time, feels the same sense of intense relief: "The Polynesian paradise really exists, and I've just been dropped into".

Whether the almost perfect oval shape of its coral ring, the infinite palette of blue of its lagoon, the pink and white sand of its beaches, the inexistence of roads and cars, the beauty of its coconut groves or the scarcity of its inhabitants, all combines here to validate the writings of the early discoverers of these distant lands...

A perfect atoll
At 340 km north of Ile Tahiti and 15 km from Rangiroa atoll, in the northwest part of the Archipelago of Tuamotu, Tikehau is formed of a reef ring of 75 km in circumference.

Map of Tikehau atoll
Its lagoon, one of the most abounding in fish of French Polynesia, covers an area of 461 km² and is approachable by a single place: the Tuheiava duct, west of the atoll.

The largest of the motu (islet), Haamea, is located in the southern part of the ring and measures a little less than 5 km long. Here are located the small airport (inaugurated in 1977) and the only village of the island.

 While some of the 529 inhabitants (2012 census) live on some isolated motu near the strait, in their almost all, they are grouped in the village of Tuherahera.

The main street of the only village of Tikehau
Since June 2001, a hotel, the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, occupies one of those magical motu, creating a second concentration of people on the atoll. But this luxury hotel is the only one on the island.

A story without history
Porutu Kai, former name of Tikehau, perceived for the first time by the Russian sailor Otto von Kotzebue, is named Island Krusenstern, in tribute to his fellow countryman, the explorer Adam Johann von Krusenstern.

Otto von Kotzebue, the discoverer of the atoll
It's on September 9, 1839, the Wilkes expedition stopped off in Tikehau.

Much later, in 1987, Jacques-Yves Cousteau made it the goal of one of his biggest expeditions.

Apart from some inter-island conflicts, the atoll of Tikehau remained outside the large waves of history of world history and Polynesia, probably protected by a location away from shipping routes and by one pass close making access to a lagoon seemingly dangerous.
A rich and well-preserved atoll
Despite the presence of a luxury hotel, Tikehau economy is relying still today mainly on fishing and copra culture.

The Dory 2 schooner on the only dock of Tikehau
Oceanic area surrounding the atoll and the lagoon are known as the most prolific fishing grounds of French Polynesia. Fishing is, of course, the main economic activity of the inhabitants. Products from this fishery are kept alive in fish ponds near the pass and recovered, still alive, to the schooner (mixed cargo servicing remote islands of Tahiti) in its regular passageways. Tikehau is one of the largest fresh fish suppliers of the Tahiti markets.

Beautiful coconut groves, remarkably maintained and in perfect health, are operated on most motu, giving Tikehau this striking greenery on an airplane arrival.

Fishing Back in Tikehau
Apart from the already mentioned hotel, there are some lodging houses in Tikehau, installed on various motu, but mainly concentrated in the village of Tuherahera. While tourism represents a significant financial contribution, it’s still far from replacing fishing as main resource.

Yet, the deep lagoon of Tikehau (minimum 20 m on average), as Tuheiava duct, are deemed for its dive sites among the most beautiful and richest in Tuamotus.

Ocean's Roots from Diver on Vimeo.
The incredible underwater treasures of Tikehau
Finally, if there are some pearl farms, pearl farming is only an extra activity at Tikehau.

An atoll model in environmental protection
The Tikehau lagoon is one of the best fishing of French Polynesia. You can meet eagle rays, schools of barracuda and tuna, hammerhead sharks and gray sharks, dolphins, turtles...

This wealth had struck Commander Cousteau during his expedition in 1987. Since then, the atoll has become an observatory of coral ecosystems, monitored and observed by many scientific organizations such as the IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement).

A childhood in paradise
This study and protective process about the atoll of Tikehau and its particularly rich natural environment is actively supported by the pa'umotu population. For example, since 2006, a marine turtle conservation program is experienced at Tikehau.

Turtle protection is entrusted to the population of the island, specifically a "guardian of turtles", recruited from the local fishermen. Funded by the Ministry of Environment, the program is led by the Polynesian Association Te Honu Tea which relies on the environmental protection association Tikehau Te Ora and the municipality of Tikehau.

Staying at Tikehau
If the luxury hotel of the atoll is rarely complete, however it’s strongly advised to book an accommodation in advance, especially if you opt for the guesthouse solution.

The Pearl Beach Resort: the only Hotel of Tikehau
Air Tahiti has several weekly flights to the atoll from Tahiti, but you can also arrive from Bora Bora and Rangiroa.

It’s also possible to use the Dory 2 schooner services that can carry a few passengers.

One of guesthouses of the atoll
At Tikehau, no bar, nor night club, neither beach club for childcare. However, choosing the guesthouse, you will discover a charming people leading a hard life without comfort, but having kept very much alive paumotu traditional values.

Tikehau in the Tuamotu, a postcard atoll
Calm and serenity are the hallmarks of a stay which you will be hard to stop...

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

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