A tiny ring of sand in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Tikehau Atoll is as far from home as I can imagine. Lying around 200 miles northeast of the main French Polynesian island of Tahiti, it’s a spectacular crown of coral and sand that surrounds a pristine lagoon.
Jacques Cousteau visited Tikehau in 1987 and found a greater variety of fish species here than any other location in French Polynesia. It’s a natural wonderland.
There are a few different places to stay in Tikehau, but I was headed for Ninamu Resort, a tiny slice of paradise situated on its own little island. As I arrived, I was welcomed by my smiling host holding a cold coconut for me, and her two friendly dogs. What more could you possibly want?
Ninamu Resort is home to eight beautiful bungalows and caters for a maximum capacity of 26 people, so even if it’s fully booked the island feels deliciously quiet. Each bungalow is unique and hand-built from natural local materials.
All of the bungalows are rustic and romantic, with gaps by the windows for the ocean breeze to keep you cool at night and pebble-tiled bathrooms that you might share with a crab or two. At one point a little crab tried to steal my toothbrush (make sure you keep your bathroom bits in your washbag!)
I stayed in two different bungalows during my time at Ninamu Resort – the Miki Miki and the Kaveka. Both bungalows had ocean views, so each morning I would wake up to see the pink sunrise (jet lag anyone?) and watch the blacktip reef sharks swimming in the shallow water in front of my room.
Ninamu’s little bungalows are heavenly – comfortable, bright and in a spectacular setting. Believe me, falling asleep to the sound of the waves is the best lullaby in the world.
There’s no air conditioning at Ninamu, but the night-time breezes are fresh and cool. There are also fans available if you need them. The beds are very comfortable and there are plenty of power points to charge your camera/phone up overnight. The showers are strong, there’s no shortage of hot water and towels are provided.
There are mosquito nets in every bungalow, which I used most nights. However, the most valuable thing you can buy in French Polynesia is a bottle of Monoi Oil – putting this on your skin works so much better than mosquito spray you buy in the UK, I swear the bugs actually enjoyed my UK-bought mosquito spray! As soon as I started using the Monoi Oil instead I stopped getting bites, plus it made my skin really soft.
There are several little beach huts with sun beds, where you can settle down with a book and drink in the Tahitian sunset. The beaches are pretty and white, but they do have a little bit of coral, so you need to be careful with your feet. There are beautiful shells everywhere, but if you look at them long enough, they will probably scuttle off – almost everything is alive on this island.
Another fantastic thing about Ninamu Resort is that lots of activities are included. There’s a huge shed full of equipment you can use, so you can do everything from paddle boarding and kayaking to windsurfing, kitesurfing, fishing and snorkelling. A couple of these activities cost a little extra, but the majority are already included. I spent four dreamy days at Ninamu – here are a few of the activities that I tried during my time in Tikehau.
When we told we might be able to snorkel with manta rays, I was beyond excited. I had seen these giant creatures before, but I jumped at the chance of seeing them again. Luckily for me, we spotted three beautiful mantas almost immediately and hopped straight into the lagoon to snorkel with them.
What an unreal experience! I loved swimming with these amazing animals and it was wonderful to be able to do it alone. At this point, I was the only person staying at Ninamu Resort, so I was fortunate enough to enjoy a one-on-one experience with the manta rays.
There are also loads of great snorkelling spots around the coral. I saw parrotfish, trumpetfish and colourful shoals of shimmering yellow butterflyfish. It’s just gorgeous.
On my second day at Ninamu, I was taken to the Blue Lagoon. This is an area in the east of Tikehau, where you can find iridescent blue waters and pink-hued beaches. The whole atoll is gorgeous, but this area is particularly special. The skipper dropped me off at the beach and I had two hours to enjoy this breath-taking area completely alone.
My two hours at the Blue Lagoon were magical. I wandered around, relaxed in the shade and swam in the lagoon with crowds of curious fishes. I was also joined by black tip reef sharks swimming lazily through the water (don’t worry they’re not dangerous!). Whenever I got too hot in the sun, I just slipped into the water to cool off.
After an unfortunate (and painful) experience with a stand-up paddleboard in Australia, I don’t even attempt it anymore. However, if you want to give it go, there are plenty of paddle-boards available at Ninamu.
Kayaking, however, is something that I love and a great way to explore the lagoons. I really enjoyed circling the island in one of Ninamu’s kayaks, listening to the big waves break against the atoll while the water around me was like glass. Pretty idyllic!
Leading away from Ninamu Island, there’s a trail of sandbars that look like white pearls dropped in the blue ocean. The first sandbar is a short swim away, across a deeper channel of water where the boats can move. After that, only shallow water separates one sandbar from the other.
I swam out to the first one and then hopped along about 1.5 km of these sandbars. All the while, Ninamu’s two resident dogs swam resolutely alongside me, determined to beat me to each sandbar.
You can choose to explore the sandbars by kayak, but I really enjoyed swimming to each one. I really felt like I was standing on a tiny dot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was an unbeatable experience.
When I arrived at Ninamu Resort, I was brought by boat from the airport, along with one other man. At first, I thought he was a fellow guest, but he soon turned out to be the chef! I had heard excellent reviews of the food at Ninamu, but it totally exceeded all my expectations.
The meals that this chef rustled up were incredible. Think huge tuna and avocado salads for lunch, with a big squeeze of lime on top, a perfect fillet of emperor fish for dinner, on a bed of rice, basil oil and roasted peppers. For dessert, a rum-drenched banana, flambéed and served with bright purple taro ice cream and almonds. Honestly, my mouth is watering just remembering it all!
Breakfast was just as impressive; an omelette filled with chorizo and sun-dried tomatoes, toast with Nutella, a huge platter of local fruit, sliced meats and cheese, pancakes made with mango juice and freshly squeezed orange juice.
It’s important to note that Ninamu is definitely a pension, or Tahitian guesthouse. It’s a locally-run, rustic little place without the frills and finesse than a hotel. It’s comfortable, simple and there’s nowhere else quite like it.
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