The Island of Pearls
Peaceful and serene, Manihi appears to have invented the simple life. Being the least developed of the primary Tuamotu Atolls, this secluded locale is covered in white sand beaches and swaying coconut palms—and not much else. Travelers come here mainly to snorkel by day and stargaze at night.
Manihi is the farthest north of the Tuamotu Archipelago. Flight time from Tahiti is anywhere from one to two hours, depending on whether or not you connect through Rangiroa. Life here moves at a much slower pace. This small coral atoll is home to less than 1,000 inhabitants. Primarily pearl or copra (coconut) farmers and fisherman, these locals rely on the surrounding natural environment to sustain their livelihood.
Aptly named the Island of Pearls, Manihi's inner lagoon is the ideal environment for the cultivation of the highly prized Tahitian black pearl. Blessed with all the right attributes including temperature, light, density and salinity, coupled with the abundant population of the Pinctada margaritifera—the only oyster in the world capable of creating the rich hues characteristic of the black pearl—the lagoon in Manihi is a natural jewelry box for these precious gems.
Tahiti's first traditional pearl farms originated in Manihi, and many are still in operation today. We highly recommend visiting one of these small overwater shops. You will learn the process involved and witness a demonstration of their unique grafting technique, which makes it possible to produce up to four pearls over the course of one oyster's natural lifespan. More importantly, you can also purchase these pearls directly from the source.
The lagoon in Manihi is just as lustrous as the pearls cultivated below the surface. There is only one navigable pass to the ocean, keeping this lagoon and its marine life largely protected from the outside elements. Snorkeling and leisurely water activities such as kayaking and fishing are the ultimate pastimes here. The deep-sea fishing just outside the pass is exceptional.
With an incredible volume and diversity of fish, Manihi is every diver's dream. The major dive sites are located at the southwest end of the atoll. Starting on the lagoon side is the Circus, the best place to encounter manta and eagle rays. Next is Tairapa Pass, which is perfect for drift diving. On the ocean side is the Break, a large crevice in the coral reef that attracts four types of reef sharks: black tip, white tip, nurse and grey. Farther out is the Drop Off, a massive undersea wall with a depth of 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). Once a year during the month of July, thousands of marbled grouper gather here for mating season. Finally, there is West Point, known for its crystal clear visibility and impressive habitat of pink coral.
On land, you can walk or ride bikes to the main villages of Paeua and Turipaoa and explore their local shops and restaurants. You can also visit the two ancient marae (temples), each constructed from blocks of coral. Aside from that, Manihi was truly meant for beachcombing. You will find nothing but empty sand and small motu (islets), which provide the ideal setting for an afternoon picnic. Adding to the atoll's secluded appeal is the absence of a major resort. There are small pensions available, but you will find very few tourists roaming the shores of Manihi.
It is here in Manihi that the dream of a deserted island paradise becomes a reality. Whether you prefer to sink your toes into the sand or sink below the surface and swim amid the underwater pearl and coral gardens, you will feel a sense of calm knowing very few people have had a similar experience.