Mataiva, French Polynesia

Mataiva means “nine eyes” in the Tahitian language, a nod to the nine hoa or channels that cut through the atoll’s surrounding reef. Its veined lagoon is unique in Polynesia, separated into 70 basins of various depths that, when viewed from above, appear as a tiled mosaic of dazzling blues and greens. Mataiva lies in the far northwest of the expansive Tuamotu Archipelago, which covers more than 700,000 square miles in the South Pacific. Large deposits of phosphate have been discovered here, although locals prefer to make their living by fishing and copra farming while keeping the atoll pristine. Pahua, the atoll’s only village, straddles two motus (islets) linked via a bridge; nearby you can find Marae Papiro, an ancient temple site with a large coral throne where, legend has it, the giant Tu guarded against invaders. Ofai Taunoa or “Turtle Rock” is a massive piece of coral limestone under which sea turtles lay their eggs in the sand, while just east of the lagoon sits Île aux Oiseaux (“Bird Island”), a shrub-covered coral spit offering sanctuary to nesting oio (brown noddies) and red-footed boobies.