Fakarava - Shark Town
22 August 2016 | Fakarava
Every conversation we'd had with anyone about Fakarava quickly turned to the diving and snorkeling, particularly at the South Pass. Typical words/phrases: NOT TO MISS EXPERIENCE - sharks - big fish - beautiful coral - grouper - LOTS (as in hundreds) of sharks - black tip reef sharks - grey sharks - lemon sharks - sleeping sharks. So, you can imagine the anticipation. As we approached the pass in our dinghy, my anxiety level was peaking. I'll attempt to describe how "diving the pass" works: At just before slack tide, we drive our dinghy from inside the atoll lagoon through the pass opening towards the ocean. Next, we pull on our snorkeling gear and grab the line tied to the dinghy. Then, it is time to spill into the water - I made Rob go first, just in case. LOL. As the current picks up, we floated through the pass - no effort - it feels like flying.
Over the course of 3 days, we snorkeled the pass a total of 7 times - the experience blew our minds! Unfortunately, we didn't get great shots with our GoPro; however, this link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3s1qO6Hb3o), plus a few shots in our photo album might give you a visual sense of our experience. As we dropped into the water, the first thing I saw was a group of scuba divers below us - surprised me (at least it wasn't a shark staring me in the eye). As things came into view, we saw a hundred+ sharks 80 feet below us. Try visualizing this - it looked like they were treading water. I kept thinking about my brother, Greg. He would be in heaven. On day two, we gasped as we saw 1,2,3...6 eagle rays - ranging in size from a 3 foot - to 8 foot wingspan - gracefully swimming together in pairs. Just to keep me awake, I glanced over my shoulder to see a grey shark about 20 feet away checking me out - followed by an up close and personal visit from 50 or so of his friends. My personal favorite was the sleeping shark resting on the coral floor below. As we floated through the pass into the lagoon, it became shallower (and faster) as the reef rose from the ocean floor. We passed thousands of brightly colored small reef fish tucked safely into their coral homes. Absolutely an experience I will never forget - and, hope to do again.
..........Starting at the beginning
Our sail from Kauehi to Fakarava was one of the best we've had. We had a 15-knot downwind sail and used our spinnaker pole for the first time, flying wing-on-wing the entire 35 miles. We entered the north pass at just the right time (unlike Kauehi) and actually sailed through...no pedal to the metal this time! From the pass, we followed a well-marked channel to the anchorage where we slipped onto an available mooring buoy.
We spent nearly a month in Fakarava, making our way slowly from the north to the south end, each anchorage unique and special. Fakarava was a perfect balance of remote beauty, with the added bonus of those basic services we adore. All of the food on the atoll (save for the bread) still arrives by supply ship; however, it comes once a week making it much easier to extend our stay. It had been six weeks since we had purchased anything fresh, so when we first took the dinghy ashore and found vegetables, a boulangerie with freshly baked croissants, and tuna tartare -- we were in heaven! Add Internet and a cold beer and we were happy campers.
Once we had our civilization fix met, we began our short jaunt down the east coast of the atoll. The coast of Fakarava is dotted with small pensions, with colorfully painted over-the-water bungalows - elegantly simple, with none of the hype (nor cost) that we see in Bora Bora brochures, for example. If you need a place to get away from it all - this is it! Fly into Papeete, with a connecting flight to Fakarava. Spend a couple of weeks reading, sleeping, swimming, diving, and snorkeling.
Next stop, Pakokota. There we met owners, Matthieu and Agnes, along with their 5-month-old daughter, Hanni Hia. We fell in love with this adorable - and ambitious - family. Their home, and budding Lodge/Yacht Services business, is several miles south of where the concrete road ends in Fakarava. They have built a lovely eating/drinking/gathering space, along with three small bungalows (one for their family and two others to rent out). Our drive to town with Matthieu was awesome! Matthieu's early '80's Isuzu Trooper is reportedly the 1st of its kind in French Polynesia - our drive into town was definitely a 1st of its kind for me! When he said it had air conditioning, I had no idea the air was coming through the holes in the floor. We made it back safely, and enjoyed spending our lazy days visiting with fellow cruisers, kayaking, and swimming with a 10' wide manta ray.
Before heading to the south pass, we stopped for two days in a quiet little anchorage called Takaega. We were the only boat there and thoroughly enjoyed the stillness. Rob enjoyed some coconut hunting, and I read for hours on end.
Pulling into Hirifa felt like old home week. Friends we met upon our arrival in the Marquesas greeted us. We spent our days walking the reef, shell collecting, and chatting for hours and hours. I dabbled a bit in the galley baking a fresh coconut cake that we shared with our friends. And, that takes us back to where we started this post...snorkeling with the sharks!
Departing Fakarava is bittersweet. We will miss the simple way of life in the Tuomotos, yet we know that moving west means the creature comforts of staying in a marina, showers, real grocery stores, and the best of all - a visit from Katie babe!
We'll write from Tahiti.
Susan & Rob