About the Tuamotus
The Tuamotus are an archipelago of 77 atolls located within the nation of French Polynesia. French Polynesia is a French Collectivity or Collectivité, in which France has administrative and government authority. Through this relationship, France is responsible for providing or administering defense, education, healthcare and other services to French Polynesia.
French Polynesia consists of six different island groups or archipelagos: The Windward Islands, The Leeward Islands, The Society Islands, The Gambier Islands, The Marquesas Islands and the Tuamotu Archipelago. Of these, the Tuamotu Archipelago has, by far, the highest number of atolls.
French Polynesia spans an area of approximately 1200 miles (2,000km). It is located to the east of New Zealand, south of the equator and Hawaii, and east of the International Date Line. This means that they are one of the last places on Earth to cross over the IDL each day.
Like many islands and atolls of the South Pacific, French Polynesia and the Tuamotus were likely settled by explorers who had set off from Indonesia and other parts of East Asia. French Polynesia was one of the last places on Earth to be settled, with these explorers arriving as recently as 1000 to 750 years ago.
European explorers began arriving in the 16th century. The first sighting of French Polynesia by Europeans actually occurred in the Tuamotus, when the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan likely spotted Pukapuka Atoll on January 24, 1521. In the 18th century, English and French explorers began arriving as well.
At the time the explorers arrived, the Tuamotus were claimed by the Pomare family of Tahiti. In the 1800s, the French began to annex, claim and declare as protectorates portions of French Polynesia. The Tuamotus became an official part of the French Colony of Tahiti in 1880.
As noted above, the Tuamotus consist of 77 atolls in an archipelago located north and east of Tahiti. It is the longest archipelago in French Polynesia, and the longest archipelago of atolls in the world. Like most atolls, the majority of the Tuamotus may extend just a few feet or meters above sea level. Parts of Rangiroa and Tikehau extend higher (39' and 26' respectively), as do other atolls in the chain.
Scientists believe that the Tuamotus are the oldest group of atolls and islands in French Polynesia. They are formed from coral growth that, over many years, formed on the ridges and sides of cone-shaped volcanoes. These old volcanoes sit on top of a ridge 1500 - 3000 Feet () below sea level, and have been dormant or extinct since the late Cretaceous.
Each atoll in the archipelago consists of a varying number of islands. The water between the islands is called a pass. In the Tuamotus, sharks will often wait for prey to move through the passes. The interior of the atolls. where the cones of the submerged volcanoes reside, are called lagoons. Each lagoon will be at a various depth below sea level, depending on the height and shape of the original volcano.
French Polynesia has a tropical climate, but each region may experience slightly different climates as the atolls and islands are spread out. French Polynesia experiences a rainy season during their summertime - from November to February. During these months, it receives on average over 200mm (7.87in) of rain each month. Some of the Tuamotus will experience less rain as they are further north than most of French Polynesia. The winter months in French Polynesia (June, July and August) are cooler and less humid with less rain, with average highs of 83°F (28°C) and average lows of 70°F (21°C).
Pape'ete, French Polynesia
Best Time to Visit the Tuamotus
The winter months (June, July and August) will be slightly cooler with much less rain than the summer months. Because of this, the Tuamotus and French Polynesia are generally more crowded and more expensive during the winter months than the humid and rainy summer months (December, January and February. The optimal time frames to visit may be the in-between seasons of spring and fall if that is a viable option.
The climate is tropical year round. The hotter, rainy season extends from November to February with average highs near 87°F (30°C) and lows near 75°F (23.9°C). The cooler, drier months are in the winter months of June, July and August (The Tuamotus are below the equator). Expect heavy amounts of rain and humidity if visiting in December or January.
The most reliable way to transit between atolls and islands is via Air Tahiti. Their website is located at www.airtahiti.com.
Know Before Visiting
Some of the Tuamotu atolls are more populated and tourist friendly than others. In general, Rangiroa, Tikehau, Manihi, Mataiva and Fakarava have more restaurants and guest accommodations available to tourists. Boating and flight options may be available to many atolls in the chain, and it is encouraged to highly research the accessibility of each before visiting as some may be considerably remote.
The official language is French but most people of the Tuamotus speak Tuamotuan.
Types A, B and E, 110V and 220V
The currency used in French Polynesia including the Tuamotus is the CFP (Change Franc Pacifique) Franc (₣). The CFP Franc is fixed against the Euro (€) at 1,000 ₣ to 8.38 € and flexible against the U.S. Dollar ($).
Grey Reef Shark
Fakarava and Rangiroa host some of the highest densities of Grey Reef Sharks in the world, as the shark there is now protected from fishing. Grey Reef Sharks feed on grouper and other fish that swim through the Fakarava pass.
Lunar-Tailed Bigeye Fish
Also known as Crescent-Tailed Bigeye, these fish are aptly named for the appearance of their fins. They are bright orange with large orange eyes. They are only endemic to the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
White Terns are tropical seabirds that grow to about 2.5 - 3 ft in size. There is a unique island in the lagoon of the Tikehau Atoll called Bird Island, that is home to many nesting White Terns and other bird species.
The Tuamotu Archipelago is located slightly to the north and east of Tahiti, often considered the hub of French Polynesia. The easiest way to get to the Tuamotus is by first flying into Pape'ete, the capital of French Polynesia located on Tahiti. The major international airport in Pape'ete is called Faa'a International Airport (PPT), which provides service to approximately 1.2 Million passengers each year.
Several airlines fly into Pape'ete direct from the United States. Hawaiian Airlines, Air France, Air Tahiti Nui and United Airlines all provide direct flights. Air New Zealand flies direct to Auckland, and LATAM Chile to South America.
From Faa'a International, the easiest way to reach the Tuamotus will be flights on Air Tahiti. Air Tahiti services several of the atolls in the Tuamotus, including Ahe (AHE), Fakarava (FAV), and Tikehau (TIH). Flights between the atolls may be difficult to find or non-existent altogether, so it may be necessary to fly through Pape'ete to visit multiple Tuamotu atolls. For more information on visiting multiple atolls and islands, visit Air Tahiti's multi-island tours page.
The currency used in the Tuamotus is the CFP Franc. It is encouraged to check with your home bank to see if there are limits on currency conversion upon arriving in Polynesia. If you are planning to travel to the Tuamotus, it is also encouraged to bring enough Francs to sustain your trip there, as ATMs may be limited.