Rotoava, Tuamotu Islands

Photo: Pearl Havaiki
Photo: Pearl Havaiki

For the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, you’re not focused on the beach. You should be. The pure white sand is within eyesight. Translucent water laps against it. Coral and harmless nurse sharks lie just below the surface. Plus thatched picnic tables are just a few steps from the sand—yes, in the water. But you can’t take your eyes off the shell that you’re cupping in your palm.

That slimy shell was popped open with a dull knife to reveal salty water and a dark gray oyster. The oyster’s sac was then pushed aside in hopes of finding a black pearl. Its size and color made your jaw drop. While the process with which it was made astounded you.

All of this—the breeding, the cultivating, and the harvesting of black pearls—happens right at your hotel at its own pearl farm. Pearl Havaiki is on Fakarava, the second-largest island in French Polynesia’s Tuamotu Archipelago. The rectangular-shaped atoll was home to the Pōmare Dynasty long before it moved on to Tahiti. Like Tahiti, the islands have combined Polynesian and French cultures since the mid-19th century. Rotoava, the main village, is home to both the best pain au chocolat in the South Pacific and a church with chandeliers made of conch shells. But it’s the pearls that can’t be found anywhere else.

Photo: Pearl Havaiki
Photo: Pearl Havaiki

After landing at Fakarava’s little airport, you boarded Le Truck, the island’s open-air mode of public transportation, to ride about a mile to Pearl Havaiki. Though someone tried to excite you about the island’s sites—an old lighthouse, a coral church, and a tree nursery with the island’s only beekeeper—your eyes never left the passing water during the entire trip. With few buildings and no large resorts, this is what you imagine Tahiti used to be 20 or 30 years ago.

At the hotel, you checked out your beach bungalow, featuring shell-framed mirrors and shell wind chimes, amid the tropical gardens. You ordered a Havaiki punch and whatever fish was grilling at the snack bar. Then, while you waited, you walked to the edge of the sand.

You planned to eat lunch at a table in the water, spread a towel over a sun lounger, and stare at the calm water the rest of the afternoon. Even sea kayaking could wait until tomorrow. But when the pearl farm piqued your interest, everything, except nourishment, was off the table. Oysters—make that pearls—were the only thing on your mind. And you hadn’t even seen them yet.

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