Tuamotu atolls emerging from Tahiti's shadow

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LOS ANGELES -- U.S. travelers' knowledge of the islands that make up French Polynesia always has been scant at best, so Tahiti's tourism bureau here traditionally has marketed the region as "Tahiti and her islands."

But recent efforts to promote the Society Islands, which include Tahiti, Bora-Bora, Moorea and Raiatea, have been so well received that Tahiti Tourism is taking those efforts one step further by marketing the Tuamotu Archipelago -- a group of 77 atolls east of the Society Islands -- as "Tahiti's Strand of Pearls."

"During the high season, Bora-Bora will sell out," said a spokesman for Tahiti Tourism. "People will try again and again to change their itineraries to work Bora-Bora in, but we want them to try some of our other islands."

Specifically, the Tuamotu Islands. Four atolls in Tuamotu have accommodations and air strips served by Air Tahiti: Rangiroa, Fakarava, Tikehau and Manihi. A rundown on the islands follows:

The Tuamotu Islands consist of four atolls with accommodations and air strips served by Air Tahiti: Rangiroa, Fakarava, Tikehau and Manihi. • Rangiroa, meaning "huge sky," is the second-largest atoll in the world after Kwajalein in Micronesia, according to Tahiti Tourism.

"[Rangiroa] has an enormous lagoon, big enough to fit Tahiti inside of it. Within the lagoon there are 40 different colors of blue," according to a bureau spokesman.

One of Rangiroa's attractions is the drift dive, also called "shooting the pass." To shoot the pass, visitors jump into the water and ride the current on a course that brings them into contact with turtles, dolphins and manta rays as well as a harmless species of shark.

Above the surface of the sea, the atoll is home to a number of bird colonies, which has earned it the name Isle of Birds.

There are two Kia Ora hotel properties on Rangiroa plus a number of small, family-operated hotels. The Kia Ora Village has garden, beach and overwater bungalows and a restaurant with open-air seating and Polynesian cuisine. The Kia Ora Sauvage has five bungalows on a small islet in a lagoon. The property has no electricity, and meals consist of freshly caught fish.

Both Kia Ora properties can be reached by calling (011) 689-96 0222 or 689-96 0384, or by e-mailing [email protected], but the spokesman for Tahiti Tourism recommended going through a tour operator.

• Fakarava, the second-largest atoll in French Polynesia, is a Unesco nature reserve. Its biggest attraction is scuba diving.

Le Maitai Dream Fakarava opened on Fakarava this summer with 30 bungalows. For more hotel information, call (011) 689-86 5146; fax (011) 689-86 5190; or e-mail [email protected].

• Manihi is the home of black pearl farms and was the site of the first pearl farm in the Tuamotu Islands.

The Manihi Pearl Beach Resort offers a choice of bungalows either on a white-sand beach facing a lagoon or over water. The property incorporates its own diving center.

For hotel information, call (011) 689-96 4273; fax (011) 689-96 4272; e-mail [email protected]; or check the Web site at www.pearlresorts.com. For reservations, call (011) 689-43 1610 or fax (011) 689-43 1786.

• Tikehau is an oval-shaped atoll known for its variety of underwater life, which makes it especially attractive to scuba divers.

On Tikehau is the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, which opened in April 2001. The resort overlooks the Tikehau lagoon and offers a range of activities, such as snorkeling, canoeing, sunset cruises, fishing and scuba diving.

For more information on the hotel, call (011) 689-96 2300; fax (011) 689-96 2301; or e-mail [email protected]. The Web site can be found at www.pearlresorts.com.

For additional information on all of French Polynesia, visit Tahiti Tourism's Web site at www.gototahiti.com.

Booking Tahiti: A list of operators

Brendan Worldwide Vacations
Phone: (800) 421-8446
Web:www.brendantours.com

Gogo Worldwide Vacations
Phone: (800) 229-4999
Web:www.gogowwv.com

Happy Vacations
Phone: (800) 567-4741
Web:www.happy-vacations.com

Islands in the Sun
Phone:
(800) 423-2880
Web:www.islandsinthesun.com

Pacific Escapes
Phone:
(800) 777-7992
Web:www.pacificescapes.com

Pleasant Holidays
Phone:
(800) 742-9244
Web:www.pleasant.net

Tahiti Legends
Phone:
(800) 200-1213
Web:www.tahitivacations.net

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