We arrived at the tiny aerodrome on the island of Rangiroa in the Tuamotu archipelago of French Polynesia – marveling at the narrow air strip surrounded on both sides by aquamarine waters. Unlike all passengers we did not have any hotel reservations and we lingered around until all the passengers left and the steel gates began to close – completely locking down the small airport building. One guy walked up to us and asked us if we needed accommodation – and said because there were not many tourists on the island – his hotel was offering extremely reasonable rates – starting at 400 USD/night. We said no thank you and he quickly left apparently put off by the fact we didn’t think $400/night was a screaming deal.
We spoke to a baggage handler; he called a friend who then put us in touch with Manurani Homes – a small pension run by a a very hospitable family. Turns out we were their first ever guests. Ideally located, only about a 5-7 minute drive from the airport on the only paved road traversing the length of this narrow island, this pension offers three stand alone cottages, each with a kitchen. Within a short bicycle ride are several restaurants – and within about a minute walk is arguably one of the most scenic bays on the entire island with a small beach.
Included with every stay is a pickup and drop off at the airport and the use of bicycles and kayaks. The father drove us around the island – stopping to visit his friends and buy fresh fish. He also worked for a year in the vineyards at the only winery in French Polynesia, Domaine Vin de Tahiti. His daughter spent a year working at another lodge on the neighboring Tiputu island so she could learn English (this island is easily accessible from the pension via bicycle – and bicycles can be put in the water taxi for the short transportation across the water in between the two islands). At the time of our visit, she had only been studying English off and on for about a year but was already fairly well-versed in the language.
This family helped arrange a tour using Orava Tours to Ile aux Recifs, the Blue Lagoon and the ‘aquarium’. Each one of these was a highlight in its own right – Ile aux Recifs is a set of jagged above water coral formations located next to the breaking waves of the reef. The Blue Lagoon is a series of gorgeous lagoons with shallow water on coral reefs – one of the islands here is locally referred to as ‘bird island’ due to all the birds living here and nesting in the palm trees. But arguably the best attractions in Rangiroa are under the water. The ‘aquarium‘ is a part of the reef just offshore from Rangiroa containing a dizzying array of colorful sea perch, sharks and numerous other fish. If one scatters a few pieces of bread in these parts – one is quickly surrounded by hundreds of fish, completely blocking out the sunlight.
This tour lasted all day and included a delicious home-made lunch on the remote Reef island – offering some of the best coconut bread we have ever had (cooked fresh by one of the guides). And friendly pigs rooting around in the sand occasionally pushing their snouts into our butts as we sat, forcefully begging for food.
And a short trip across the channel from the village of Avatoru on Rangiroa is the picturesque Green Lagoon and the Punua and Moana Pension (small bungalows lining one of the shorelines). This is the quintessential South Pacific look – empty white sand beaches, palm trees lining the fringes and at least during our visit, absolutely no one around.
Rangiroa is low key relaxed and not very populated although in relation to the surrounding ‘motus’ (coral islands) is the most built up. It doesn’t get much more remote on the planet then this. No chain resorts, private pensions outnumber the few hotels here. Bicycle is a great way to get around the island. Rangiroa defines the term ‘island time’. There is no hurry – sun comes up and goes down about the same time all year. One doesn’t come here to stay busy every minute of the day – but rather to disconnect and follow the flow and rhythm of the natural world.