It’s not often that an idyllic getaway begins with a traffic jam in the airport parking lot. But in the case of Ahe — one of nearly 80 coral atolls (lagoons surrounded by reefs) and isles in French Polynesia’s Tuamotu archipelago — the hourlong flight from Tahiti lands you near a handful of boats jockeying for position at the edge of a 53-square-mile turquoise lagoon. After the exhilarating ride to Cocoperle Lodge, on one of many motu (islets) that form the atoll, willing castaways will find a welcoming committee of silvery fish, the occasional black-tip reef shark and southern stingrays.
Claimed by France since the mid-19th century, the Tuamotus include Ahe’s neighbor of Manihi and Rangiroa, whose 558-square-mile lagoon makes it one of the largest atolls in the world. Ahe’s 550 residents, scattered across the motus, account for only 3 percent of the Tuamotu population. Some 4,000 Tuamotuans still speak the native Polynesian language, Paumotu, similar to the more widely spoken Tahitian. French is the language of education, though, so brush up on your français, or bring a pocket dictionary (remember those?); any translation apps will need to work offline.
Guests staying in one of Cocoperle Lodge’s six open-air bungalows have free use of paddleboards, kayaks and snorkel gear; for an additional fee, go fishing or snorkeling in the atoll’s lone ocean pass, teeming with marine life, or try wakeboarding or waterskiing. Owner Franck Testud Faatau prides himself on a Survivor-inspired beach barbecue called Cocolanta, which broadens the definition of finger food to include fire-charred reef fish and fluffy sprouted coconut. Guests can also arrange a visit to Kamoka, an environmentally sustainable operation run by a couple with Marin roots. Joshua Humbert and Celeste Brash met in the late 1980s at Redwood High School in Corte Madera; after reconnecting in their college years, they eventually began raising lustrous black pearls in Ahe’s lagoon and designing jewelry with it. Although the farm isn’t licensed as a hotel, Brash notes, guests are welcome to stay on a casual basis, with advance notice. “We ask that people pay for food and gas, and lend a hand, and that’s it,” she says.
Cocoperle Lodge bungalows with private bathrooms cost $134 per person per day, including breakfast and dinner; bungalows with external bathrooms run $111 per person. It’s about half off for children ages 3 to 12. Add another $18 per adult for lunch, and plan to pay for most beverages, too.
Photos by Jeanne Cooper.