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World / Australia and Oceania / French Polynesia / Mataiva Island, French Polynesia

Mataiva Island, French Polynesia

One of the atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, is named after the famous Russian admiral Mikhail Lazarev. This name was given to the atoll by another outstanding explorer, Thaddeus von Bellingshausen, who was the first European to set foot in that remote place. However, maps name this island Mataiva, which means "Nine Eyes" in the Tahitian language.

Mataiva islands

The atoll's oval-shaped lagoon is 5.3 km wide and 10 km long. In its centre, there is a black basalt rock and several small motus. Coral reefs morphed into linear rocky structures separated by nine narrow channels (giving the name "Nine Eyes"). The varying depths give the water different shades and give the atoll a blue and green tesselated appearance when viewed from above.

Over the coral atoll

Rich phosphate deposits have been discovered at the bottom of these coral basins, up to an estimated 10 to 15 million tonnes. Despite all the potential economic benefits, Mataiva inhabitants have risen to defend the unique ecosystem and prevented its exploitation.

The area of around 16 square kilometres has a population of less than 300 people. The inhabitants work in three main industries: vanilla and coconut cultivation, fishing, and tourism. In 1999, a small airport opened in Mataiva. Air Tahiti operates flights to and from the atoll.

Tropical paradise

Despite being tiny in size, Mataiva is home to several attractions. The most famous is the archaeological site Marae Papiro, an ancient sacred place. In the centre, there is a stone seat: the legend says that from the seat the giant Tu guarded the atoll against invasion.

Blue waters

Among other attractions are the Tortoise Rock and the birds islet; there is a fragment of a ship hidden by the vegetation: the vessel was wrecked during the cyclone of 1906, and then what remained of it was carried away by the wind to the coconut grove.

Shallow channels ("hoa") are good for swimming and snorkelling. The white-sand coral beaches are sure to appeal to everyone.

We hope you've enjoyed the virtual tour with AirPano over this picturesque and welcoming Pacific atoll!

Photos by Ádám Plézer

28 June 2024


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