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Chris O’Callaghan is a carpenter from Australia. He also used to work on a boat that often traveled to Tahiti. And at some point, he decided he wanted to buy an island.
“It had to be this island,” he said, looking out at his pink-sand-beach motu (small island) on Tikehau, part of French Polynesia’s Tuamotu archipelago.
“It’s still wild here, but there are flights every day,” he said, explaining why this fairly remote island was the perfect location for his Ninamu Resort.
It takes about an hour to fly to Tikehau from Tahiti, and the fare can be packaged with a multi-island Air Tahiti Pass.
According to O’Callaghan, Ninamu — and lesser-explored Tikehau in general — can really round out a French Polynesia vacation. Once the mandatory Bora Bora overwater bungalow stay is out of their system, guests can head to Ninamu for an unexpected but truly private island and eco-boutique hotel experience, complete with numerous watersports.
Everything at Ninamu runs on solar energy; the produce mainly comes from Eden Isle, a local organic farm; and the property was entirely designed and built by O’Callaghan from materials collected around the island, such as coral and pine.
When my partner and I arrived at Ninamu via boat, we were immediately greeted by O’Callaghan and his wife, Greta, who is Tahitian. But also part of the welcoming crew were several guests who happened to be milling about at the front of the resort, where pink sands and crystal-blue water (studded with gorgeous reef sharks) stand in for a red carpet. The guests’ enduring grins clearly communicated their excitement to let us in on the secret of Ninamu.
The word has spread, though, to those most discerning in choosing their luxury retreats.
Located on its own small island on Tikehau, Ninamu Resort is a low-key eco-retreat with famous fans. // © 2017 Ninamu Resort
All seven bungalows were built by Ninamu’s owner, who collected natural materials from around the island. // © 2017 Ninamu Resort
Accommodations feature an indoor-outdoor feel. // © 2017 Ninamu Resort
Guests can walk the length of the island, which features pink sand and plenty of palm trees. // © 2017 Ninamu Resort
All activities are included, though guests can usually spot plenty of reef sharks from the front of the property. // © 2017 Ninamu Resort
According to O’Callaghan, the property has hosted quite a few A-list movie stars, as well as many of Silicon Valley’s top executives, for repeat visits.
“We have a certain elegance, but you don’t have to be over-the-top,” O’Callaghan said. “Some of the richest people in the world are wearing shorts here.”
Celebrities usually like to book the entire island, which costs about $6,000 per night and includes seven unique, rustic bungalows — enough accommodations for an entire entourage. Indeed, on several occasions since our trip, my partner has dreamt aloud that we should have a destination wedding on Ninamu, or, on second thought, his bachelor party — which I would definitely have to crash.
The rich and famous also like Ninamu because they can place security guards around the entire island, which O’Callaghan says is easier than safeguarding a sprawling hotel on a bigger island.
And all guests benefit from the inclusive nature of the resort: Stays include food — which might be the best-sourced and -prepared in all of Tikehau; and nearly every activity. O’Callaghan personally leads numerous water pursuits, which range from deep-sea fishing and stand-up paddleboarding to snorkeling with manta rays and excursions around the island. Guests become fast friends thanks to the group nature of activities, as well as the communal design of the dining and public spaces, including a den-style room with a pool table, a record player and the property’s only television.
During our visit, we enjoyed sipping on freshly squeezed coconut milk — gifted to us during the chef’s poisson cru (raw fish dish) demonstration — and exploring the length of the palm-fringed motu while barefoot. We watched the sunset from a private nook facing the ocean, pina coladas in hand. And by the end of our stay, the character of our smiles had changed. We, too, had caught the island bug and couldn’t wait to share the secret.
Pro Tip: Chris O’Callaghan suggests that advisors contact the resort directly for bookings.