Fakarava, Tuamotu, French Polynesia
The 77 Tuamotus, (the name means “Distant Islands” in Polynesian) comprise the largest chain of coral atolls on earth. They sprawl across the vast blue South Pacific Ocean encompassing an area the size of Western Europe. Atolls are literally the skeletal remains of coral reefs, forming rings of crushed coral sand surrounding a shallow central lagoon. The natural flora and fauna of the Oceanic realm is adapted to this environment, and Fakarava’s large lagoon is designated by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve. The people of Fakarava farm coconuts for copra on shore and pearls in the lagoons. They also host the travelers who flock here to bask on the beaches and snorkel or dive in the luxuriant coral gardens along the shore. At the long spit of Les Sables Roses, the pink blush of the sand reveals its coral origin. The sleepy towns of Rotoava and Tetamanu offer scant attractions for visitors, except for their distinctive rock lighthouses shaped like stepped pyramids. Tetamanu does boast a 19th Century church built of coral rock by missionaries, and an adjoining cemetery with coral rock headstones. Aside from snorkeling or beach-basking, some visitors enjoy a visit to a lagoon pearl farm, to see how the large, flat bivalves are coaxed into creating the treasured gems formed by the lustrous nacre inside their shells.