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FAKARAVA, French Polynesia On the tiny atoll of Fakarava,
population 700, workers are busy repaving the island’s only road in
preparation for a visit this summer by French President Jacques
Part of a scheduled tour of French Polynesia, Chirac’s visit is
an important symbolic step for Fakarava, which is seen as a model
for new development of the Tuamotu Islands, the often-ignored
scattering of atolls and lagoons, which are barely 100 miles from
Tahiti. Last September, the first resort-quality hotel opened on
Fakarava, and an effort has begun to certify half the atoll’s
lagoons and coral reefs as a UNESCO biosphere.
“It is the beginning of tourism to Fakarava,” said Nicolas
Froger, general manager of the new resort, the Hotel Maitai Dream
With new facilities emerging all over the Tuamotus, Air Tahiti
is increasing its flights to the islands by 15 percent, by adding
more direct connections from Bora Bora to Rangiroa, Tikehau, Manihi
and Fakarava atolls which redefine the phrase “getting away from it
Serenity often comes at a price, even on a hosted trip.
Sometimes, there may be no shampoo in the rooms or the village
stores could be out of beer. The islands are usually supplied by a
freighter, but a few months ago, the freighter sank.
“Sometimes, if there is no tomatoes or lettuce; people
understand,” Froger said.
On Manihi, the air terminal is a thatched hut. “It’s the whole
Robinson Crusoe kind of getaway,” said Cindy Klein of Santa
Barbara, Calif., an agent who specializes in Tahiti.
Klein often builds Polynesian itineraries with a stop at
Tikehau, where Pearl Resorts opened a resort with over-water
bungalows in 2001. But she carefully qualifies clients first,
recognizing that the idyllic Tuamotus are not for everyone.
“It can’t be the type of person who needs night life,” she said.
Until recently, the Tuamotus were best known as France’s nuclear
testing site, which detonated 181 bombs in the southeast Tuamotus,
from 1966 to 1996.
In tourism terms, the Tuamotus are hampered by geology. The
atolls are mere rings of coral dotted by tiny islets and enclosing
shallow lagoons, a sharp contrast to the towering peaks of Bora
Bora and Tahiti. “Some people like to see a mountain,” said Annie
Toomaru, a Los Angeles-based Tahitian native who sells Tahiti
packages and tours. But she recommends the Tuamotus to clients,
especially “if they like to dive and really want to be
The Tuamotus have their own history and charm, far removed from
the crowds of Bora Bora. For example, on Fakarava explorers can
find the remains of an infamous 19th century prison. Bird-watchers
love Tikehau, where all sorts of colorful species are found feeding
in the lagoons.
The new all-inclusive Maitai Dream Fakarava hopes to attract
travelers looking for a quiet Polynesian experience.
“You can see how Polynesian people actually live,” said Froger.
“People looking for an authentic island choose the Tuamotus.”
The Maitai has 30 bungalows, scattered over a white sandy beach.
Each bungalow includes an open-air shower and a deck offering
colorful sunset views. Plans call for construction of over-water
bungalows and an on-site dive center, as well as the addition of
So far, less than 10 percent of the visitors to the new Maitai
are American. “Not a lot of travel agents know about Fakarava,”
Diving is the main attraction in Fakarava, as it is on most of
the archipelago. The channels into the lagoons and the steep ocean
drop-offs that surround each atoll are legendary sites for seeing
all kinds of sharks and manta rays.
Like most of Polynesia, 60 percent of the Manihi Pearl’s
customers are either on their honeymoon or celebrating an