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Known for its black-pearl farms, Manihi lies 520km (312 miles) northeast of Tahiti. In fact, French Polynesia's pearl-farming industry began here in the late 1960s, and although many farms are now closed, the 30 or so remaining seem to sit atop nearly every coral head dotting the lagoon. Great lines of buoys float like crab pots atop the blue water, with long strands of pearl oysters suspended below.

Most of the atoll's 800 or so residents live in the only village here, Paeua, which sits beside Tairapa Pass on Manihi's southern side, the only navigable entry into the lagoon. (Both the village and the pass are also referred to as Turipaoa.) The three pensions here are either very remote or cater primarily to workers at the pearl farms; as a result, in my opinion, Manihi is a one-horse atoll, that horse being the luxurious Manihi Pearl Beach Resort . If you can afford its rates, Manihi has very good diving excursions out on its lagoon; otherwise, I would look to another island for my atoll adventure.

From the resort, you can visit Paeua village every day; the hotel launch lands at the jetty inside Tairapa Pass. From there, head inland for 1 block, turn right, and walk to the pass, where there's a grocery store fronted by a huge shade tree. After sipping a soft drink on a bench beside the tree, stroll along the seawall for a sensational view of the outer reef. You'll pass a small, picturesque Catholic church facing the sea.