After a month of backpacker setbacks in the Society Islands I was ready to move on from French Polynesia but Emma and I were under halfway done with our French Polynesia adventure. We still had one more air pass for the Tuamotu Islands.
The Tuamotu Islands are completely different than the Society Islands, here you have long, flat atolls that are mostly barren, surround by a harsh ocean reef. Whereas the Society Islands are mountainous, volcanic peaks, that have beautiful water and motu beaches with a surrounding lagoon.
My favorite place in all of French Polynesia is Fakarava. On this little stretch of sand Emma and I found our paradise. Our guesthouse owner allowed camping for a discount and he was one of the rare genuine owners we met. He actually cared about his property and his guests. The property was kept immaculate. Each morning he came out to join us for breakfast and to see how everyone was doing.
With beforehand research we knew that Fakarava was going to be special, so we made sure to book extra days here. And I wish we would have spent most of our French Polynesia time here. Camping was on par with island prices but for the atmosphere it was worth the price.
At this point in our travels I was still wearing my wrist splint most days. I still could not put pressure on my wrist without pain and my ribs would plague me when I took deep breaths or exert myself. Even with the pain I still tried to snorkel everyday, because snorkeling on Fakarava is fantastic! This was the first island where I could literally walk off the shore anywhere and snorkel. As great as snorkeling is, Fakarava is truly known for its diving and not diving was my only regret of our time spent on the island. I was nervous to try and dive with my injuries, plus I had not dove for a few years, so unfortunately I skipped out on diving in probably the best location in the world.
Our time on Fakarava went by in a slow blur. I would wake up, have a simple breakfast of fresh eggs (when they could be found on the island), baguettes and tea. Then it was time to use one of the dozen or so bikes to find myself a new snorkeling hole before coming back for lunch and a midday nap. Afterwards Emma and I would venture out to the beach for the afternoon and watch the sunset. With the sunset we would make our way back to the campsite where we would cook a simple dinner, usually pasta. With the near constant ocean breeze I finally did not sweat at night sleeping in the tent.
I surprised Emma with a homemade cake for her birthday. Early morning on Emma’s birthday I grabbed a bike and road a few kilometers to the island’s only baker, hoping she could make a cake on such short notice. With hand signals and French, she said that she could make something, if the plane came in today and that I should come back around 4 pm.
Emma and I made a birthday plan to hang out by the beach and enjoy a small picnic of Hinano beer and music. During the day I made the excuse of getting more beer from town to cover my ride to the baker’s house. Luckily all of her ingredients showed up on the plane and she presented me with a strawberry cake that said happy anniversary, language barrier. The cake turned out perfect but the baker was worried that I was taking it via bicycle. I promised her I would not drop it as I awkwardly held it close to my body, as she nervously waved me away.
When backpacking, accommodation is always hit or miss and when backpacking on very remote islands there are very few places to choose from, unfortunately our only choice on Rangiroa was not a good one. We were able to camp at a guesthouse, the downside was that the owner also ran a restaurant. I have experienced this many times traveling, when the owner has another business it almost always seems like the guests are an inconvenience. This same thing happened to us on Huahine, all of the owner’s attention was on the restaurant, so the guesthouse was very neglected.
This was a 180 from the warm, welcoming environment we just came from. We had broken bathrooms, restricted beach access (because it might disturb the restaurant view), the actual guestrooms looked crammed and not maintained and guests were charged to use rusted, broken bicycles. The owner was not helpful with anything in general, let alone when my sandals got stolen.
We disliked our accommodation so much on Rangiroa that we actually, and thankfully, contacted Air Tahiti to see if we could change our flight. Finding out that they would change our flight date for free, we shortened our stay here and shortened our last Tuamotu Island to only 1 night so we could get back to Papeete early.
Disliking our campsite Emma decided to splurge and treat us to two great nights at a resort on the island. Staying at the resort was a lot more class than we were used to these past few months. We spent our time lounging by the pool and taking photos of the overwater bungalows. The resort food was the best we had in months, we actually had fruit and meat instead of our usual diet of bread and jam.
Relaxed from the resort and not really looking forward to one night in our tent, Tikehau was actually a great stopover. We camped with a few other guys on the beach and the guesthouse owner was super nice. He showed us all around the island and took us to the best food stand for dinner.
The next day we snorkeled a bit off the beach and took the bicycles out to explore the island before our late afternoon flight. After getting there we wished we kept more time on the island but we were also okay with getting back to Tahiti to save money.
Geographically the Tuatmotu Islands are completely different than the rest of French Polynesia. We cut our time there short to save money but I would love to come back to Fakarava and lose track of the days.
Make sure to check out my Destination French Polynesia page to read about my whole experience and learn great backpacking tips for this remote area!
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