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Separated from Rangiroa by a deepwater channel, Tikehau is much smaller and less developed than its huge neighbor. Its nearly circular lagoon, 26km (16 miles) across, is no more than 30m (100 ft.) at its deepest. The late Jacques Cousteau found in 1987 that the Tikehau lagoon had more species of fish than any other French Polynesian lagoon. Apparently that's still true, which makes this a great destination for snorkelers and novice divers, as well as providing a substantial income for Tikehau's 400 or so friendly residents, who make more money by trapping and shipping fish to Papeete than from black-pearl farms.

Most local residents live in Tuherahera, the only village of any size, on a large motu on the southern side of the atoll. It's one of the prettiest Tuamotuan villages; hibiscus, frangipani, bougainvillea, and other colorful flowers seem to grow everywhere. You'll find grocery stores, a post office, and an infirmary in Tuherahera, but no bank (bring local currency, especially if your pension does not accept credit cards). The post office sells phone cards, which you can use to make local and international calls at a pay phone outside. As on all the atolls, do not drink the tap water on Tikehau. Bottled water is available at the pensions and from the grocery stores in Tuherahera.

The Tikehau airport is on the same island as Tuherahera village; in fact, you can easily walk from the tiny terminal to the village jetty. All of the accommodations will meet you if you have reservations, and all either have, or can arrange, bicycle rentals for about 1,500CFP (US$19/£9.50) a day. There are no rental cars here since there is simply no place to drive them!

Tikehau is an excellent place to stay at one of the family-run pensions, for several of them stand beside one of French Polynesia's best beaches -- a long, curving beach of both white and pink sand on the eastern side of Tuherahera. Unlike Rangiroa, where you must ride a boat for more than an hour to see a pink-sand beach, here it's actually in the village. The atoll is also home to the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, an excellent luxury hotel, and the charming Relais Royal Tikehau, each on a motu of its own.