• Photo: BlueOrange Studio / Shutterstock

Tikehau

Tikehau is one of the most beautiful of the Tuamotu atolls; it's an almost perfect oval of coral reef that encloses a brilliant blue lagoon measuring 26 km (16 mi) in diameter. There are pink-sand beaches perfect for picnics, a town with four churches, an island of thousands of nesting birds, and some of the best diving and snorkeling around. With a population of just over 400, things haven't changed much in almost half a century. People still work in copra production, agriculture, and fishing, though more are employed on pearl farms these days.

Although the island was not "discovered" by the West until the early 19th century, archeological remains suggest the island may have been inhabited more than 2,000 years ago. Russian naval officer Otto von Kotzebve is credited with first sighting Tikehau in 1815. The French eventually set up a mission in the 1860s. In 1987, a Jacques Cousteau–led research team claimed that the lagoon had the greatest concentration of fish species of anywhere in French Polynesia—a claim that continues to lure avid divers.

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