Have you ever fantasized about running away to a remote private island? Of course you have.
Chris O’Callaghan and his wife Greta are living that fantasy on a private motu in French Polynesia. They built and operate the Ninamu Resort, a Robinson Crusoe-style getaway in the Tikehau Atoll, about 200 miles from the island of Tahiti.
If you’re an adventurous outdoor-oriented traveler seeking an exotic getaway, put the secluded Ninamu Resort on your bucket list. Here’s the scoop:
Guest Rooms and Amenities
Guests at Ninamu stay in one of seven rustic bungalows hidden amid the palms. O’Callaghan and his staff built the bungalows by hand, and they’re all different, with curved walls inset with local coral, irregular staircases carved from local trees, and roofs thatched with coconut palms.
When my husband Alan and I stayed at Ninamu, our bungalow overlooked the lagoon, with the bed tucked into a loft at the top of a wooden spiral staircase. The beds are draped with mosquito nets, and both the fan — and the brisk ocean breeze — helped keep the bugs at bay. Guest rooms have no TVs, but if you’re like me, you don’t come to such a gorgeous island paradise to sit in front of the tube (and if you’re desperate, there’s a satellite TV in the lounge).
The spacious bathroom, on the main level, is open to the outdoors, with a coral vanity and stone-inlaid shower. While guests are encouraged to conserve the solar-heated water — you’re on a remote island, after all — we had plenty of hot water for daily showers.
The resort is “off the grid,” generating all its electricity through solar power; there’s a backup diesel generator, just in case.
The main level of the bungalow was also outfitted with two comfy couches, and the rear door lead to an ocean-facing deck. We were so busy with activities, though, that we spent very little time in our room, except to sleep.
Meals and Resort Facilities
Guests congregate in the open-air restaurant/lounge that serves as the resort’s “living room.” Complimentary Wi-Fi is available in the lounge (and nominally in the bungalows, although it wasn’t working in our room during our stay).
Room rates include all meals, so guests take meals together. During our stay, some guests chose to keep to themselves, while others were eager to meet and swap adventure tales. One evening, we had dinner with young honeymooners from Belgium; another day, we dined with the Switzerland-based executive of an environmental organization who takes frequent solo holidays around French Polynesia.
Breakfast is served buffet style, including tropical fruits, fresh breads, and locally-made jams, with eggs cooked to order if you’d like.
Lunch and dinner are simple but filling set menus, typically including lots of fresh fish — which staff and guests often catch in nearby waters, as well as fresh vegetables grown on the property or on an organic farm located on a nearby island. The resort can accommodate special diets if you inform the staff of your needs in advance.
Activities and Adventures
O’Callaghan, a former surfer from Australia, acts like a laid-back camp director, organizing activities for guests and taking them out on adventures. He keeps a shed full of “toys,” as he calls them — snorkel gear, windsurfers, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, surf boards, and more — that guests can use as they please.
O’Callaghan frequently takes guests deep-sea fishing, and if you know how to sail, you can venture out in the resort’s catamaran.
One highlight of our stay was snorkeling with a colony of giant manta rays that live in the lagoon, a short boat ride away from the resort. Another day, O’Callaghan took us by boat to “Bird Island,” home to numerous varieties of sea birds.
While the motu itself is small — we walked around the perimeter in about 20 minutes — you can also wander through the shallow water to several tinier islands.
And of course, you can always lounge on the lovely white-sand beach, with thatch-topped umbrellas sheltering the lounge chairs from the sun.
How to Get There and What it Costs
The Ninamu Resort is located in the French Polynesian island group known as the Tuamotus.
To get to Ninamu, you first need to fly to the island of Tikehau, which is just over an hour by air from the international airport in Papeete.
Ninamu staff will meet you at the airport, shuttle you to the boat dock, and then transport you to the resort by motorboat, about a 15-minute ride.
The all-inclusive rates are approximately US$425/night per person, covering accommodations, airport transfers, all meals, and most activities.
While there are no special children’s programs, kids are welcome, and if they love watersports and island adventuring, they’ll find plenty to do. Children ages 2-12 pay 50% of the adult tariff.
Why Choose Ninamu Resort?
While Ninamu is priced like a luxury resort, it’s not a place for people who need serious pampering. The bilingual (English-French) staff are gracious and helpful, but you won’t find butlers to unpack your bags or a spa offering the latest herbal wrap.
What you will find is a unique French Polynesian eco-destination, offering up scads of outdoor adventures and plenty of fun.
Just the place to live out your fantasy of a remote island escape.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the books, Moon Handbooks: Ontario and Living Abroad in Canada. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. We paid a discounted media rate for our stay at Ninamu Resort.