As I write these few lines (May 2019), I have been living in French Polynesia for the past four years and it’s been two years or so since I started this travel/photography blog. So far, I hadn’t had any disappointments in French Polynesia. Here is the story of my first…
Let me reassure you right now, I’m not going to spend two pages complaining about my few days on the atoll of Ahe in the Tuamotus. However, I always promised myself to create an authentic blog and to try to be as honest as possible with my readers. Far from me the idea of having a blog where everything is “always beautiful and pink” as you can see in some places. Traveling is also about taking the risk of changing your daily life and sometimes being disappointed, that’s how it is! But when I have something to say, even negative, I allow myself to say it… Even a bad experience should be shared! That’s also what a blog is all about, right?
The word “disappointment” is perhaps a bit strong in itself, as I wasn’t really frustrated with the atoll per se, but rather with the context of the stay in a guesthouse which is not what it claims to be and where the atmosphere is far from ideal. I’ll tell you more about this experience at the end of the article, which I admit affected our 3 days there… I had already been partly disappointed by a similar experience on the atoll of Tikehau, even if the atoll is superb!
Ahe is a lost atoll more than an hour’s flight from the Windward Islands, and you’ve probably never heard of it (unless if you live in French Polynesia). It is clearly not the kind of place that tourists visit during a trip here. They generally prefer to visit the 3 classics “Rangiroa – Fakarava – Tikehau”. The idea behind all this, was to leave for the Easter weekend off the beaten track, and discover a “lost” atoll of the Tuamotus.
When I say “lost”, I mean it in a good way. I’ve always been drawn to remote destinations, those where no one goes. That’s also probably the reason why I generally flee tourist sites! Here in French Polynesia, I dream of going on an atoll of the Eastern Tuamotu with my family, by cargo ship for example, and discovering the life of the Paumotus!
I have to say that the arrival above Ahe is really beautiful, since the lagoon has the particularity of having pinnacles inside it, a kind of coral growth that emerges from the surface of the water, resulting in beautiful shades of blue!
We arrived on the atoll of Ahe after a 1-hour flight from Tahiti. We are greeted by the manager of the Eco Lodge, the Coco Perle Lodge, a simple welcome, with no flower necklace, clearly a bit disappointing for the Tuamotus where I have never seen that done.
Half an hour by boat on a rather nice lagoon and here we are arrived at destination. I must say that from afar, the setting looks rather nice. A few bungalows on the sand, a bar/restaurant, all on the edge of a beautiful lagoon as we can see in the Tuamotus. They give us our bungalow and I must admit that this is the first thing that strikes us. We weren’t expecting that. The bungalow is large but very basic, nothing exceptional compared to what is “sold”. I don’t pay too much attention to it because I’ve been used to a lot less beautiful (so to speak), but clearly for the asking price, I was expecting something better.
We enjoy the day of our arrival from the area simply with a little swim, paddle or kayak and a visit of the ocean side. Everything is available, which is pretty cool. Depending on the season, there are apparently manta rays that we did not see (but other tourists did!), but there are quite a few sharks lurking around in the lagoon. The setting is very beautiful and we even had the chance to admire a beautiful sunset. It had been a really long time since I had seen such a beautiful one. The colors were just wow!
For our first dinner, they serve us a small bowl of white rice and baked fish. It was just okay, nothing more. The Tahitian family we were with even admitted to me that they had (in their own words) “starved to death” several times. Especially since even if you are on half board, no bottle of water is provided during the meal, but they offer it to you nicely of course (without telling you that you will be charged 400fr afterwards when you leave…). Fortunately, the atmosphere between us at the table is cool (even if the manager tends to impose his ideas to the visitors, which displeases everyone between us…).
We leave the next day for a day of discovery of the atoll of Ahe which includes a tour of the nicest spots on the island. I frankly worry when I see that there is no roof on the boat (except for the driver), that I am with a 3-year-old child and that clearly the manager doesn’t seem to care that my little one will burn in the sun all day…
We start the day at a nice snorkeling spot around one of the many pinnacles of the lagoon, the same ones you see from the plane when you arrive. Some corals and fish, in a lost corner in the middle of the lagoon. It’s nice, but nothing crazy if you are a regular of the lagoons! However, I take pleasure in seeing my 3-year-old doing a great job with his mask and snorkel that Auntie Marie-Laure bought him when she came to French Polynesia (thank you!). The little one is enjoying it to the fullest, and is looking at the underwater world like treasures. It is beautiful to see and that’s what counts in the end.
Second stop at another spot around coral reefs in the lagoon, but there isn’t much… On the other hand, the views from the boat on the lagoon are very beautiful and the weather is in our favor!
We ended our late morning in the south of the atoll, in a sort of second small closed lagoon of the atoll. The colors, which turn to green, are crazy and the place is really superb. We got to taste a raw clam with lemon, all in 50cm of water and a beautiful sun. A nice moment. I seize the opportunity to take out my drone to capture some pictures of the sky. The view from above is really cool, isn’t it?
We end our half-day by an hour boat ride back to the guesthouse (still very exposed to the sun with my little one). And this is where things deteriorate… They drop us off at the famous place “Cocolanta”, at the edge of a Hoa, a false pass connecting ocean and lagoon. The manager tells us to settle down there and that they are going to serve us our meal. Considering his attitude since the day before, I am skeptical… Of course, my thought is confirmed, the meal is not included in the half-day but nobody even asks us for our opinion on the matter. When you are told “sit down here, we’ll bring you your meal” it’s pretty clear to me that this is normally included.
In the end, they of course charge 2000fr (16€) to 15 people who, like me, did not seem to have understood that a supplement had to be paid. Everyone agrees that we would have paid the 16€ for the meal, but we would have preferred to have been given the choice of having it or not. Not have it imposed on us behind our back… honestly not cool…
Anyway, we spend a nice day and luckily the two families who we are with at the guesthouse (locals from Tahiti) are cool! Everyone is a bit on edge afterwards and quickly understands how the guesthouse works.
The next morning, we leave for a free visit of a primary forest (rare on the atolls of French Polynesia) and a walk on the ocean side. We take the boat again to another sector located only a few kilometers from the guesthouse. The arrival at the spot is sublime with again the beautiful weather in our favor. I disembark in one meter of crystalline water, holding my camera bag and praying not to slip!
I must admit that the walk in the primary forest is really nice though, the whole accompanied by a few explanations on the why and how. We learn, contrary to what many people think, that there were no coconut trees 100 years ago in the Tuamotus. Everything was more or less cultivated at the beginning of the last century and thereafter. Before that, there was a forest of large trees, what we call today a primary forest.
The short half-hour walk is appreciated by all, in the shade, with the sounds of birds nesting there. As soon as we step venture outside the forest, into the coconut grove, the soil and humus disappear, leaving place to the coral soup. A crossing in full sun brings us back to the ocean side where the waves of the open sea hit strongly against the reddish coral cliffs. We even have the chance to observe turtle sea urchins, something I had never seen anywhere else!
We spend a little while observing the ocean and enjoying a beautiful white sand beach. The place is really beautiful and it would be worth coming back at sunset. Unfortunately, we don’t have time. A short walk back through the primary forest and by the beautiful beach on the lagoon side and we are back at the guesthouse. A beautiful morning.
We came for only 3 days and in my opinion, that’s too short to be able to enjoy things fully. We like to peacefully visit so we won’t have the time to visit the main village, located on another motu of the atoll! In the end, we had a good time discovering this atoll. The atoll remains nice to see, but honestly, the other atolls I have seen (Fakarava, Rangiroa and Tikehau) are in my opinion still better.
I hope that this article is not too much of a rant. I was hesitant to even post it, but I then thought to myself that I would have liked to read this type of honest review before choosing this guesthouse. I later found out that there is a place run by locals that everyone praises, the “Chez Raita” guesthouse. I haven’t tested it out personally, but given the experience at the Coco Lodge, I would rather recommend that you try the local guesthouse instead…
To sum things up, we were happy to discover this atoll, but the welcome and the attitude of the guesthouse still spoilt our stay, and that of all the people who were with us. I questioned myself but when the 15 people around you share the same opinion…
I hope you still enjoyed the tour though pictures? If you want to daydream and stroll elsewhere, I invite you to discover the atoll of Rangiroa or the atoll of Mataiva, even less known and just as beautiful.
See you soon,