Tuamotus: Kauehi Atoll, Fakarava and Toau.
16 June 2018
Photo: Black tip shark, South passage Fakarava
The Archipelago of the Tuamotus form part of French Polynesia and are a collection of volcanic atolls, some inhabited some not, some with passes to the inside and some you cannot get into. They are a cruising ground in their own right and for European citizens they can stay for a year, unfortunately non-European citizens have only 90 days in all of French Polynesia unless you apply for a long stay visa before you arrive. The process can take a couple of months.
The 3 day, 520nm passage from Daniels Bay, Nuka Hiva to the SE anchorage in Kauehi Atoll, Tuamotus was uneventful. We had nice breeze from the east and sailed most of the way with the wind decreasing on our last night and morning as we entered the atoll through the only pass in the reef, which is on the south side on Saturday 26th May. The pass was wide with an incoming tide, the current flow was 3 knots in our favour and although there were a few whirlpools, it was very easy to negotiate. We then motored across the atoll to the SE anchorage behind 2 islands, idyllic. Even before we had the anchor down in clear water and sand, avoiding the coral bombies, we could see plenty of fish life and had 2 black tip reef sharks coming for a look.
After we had settled and tidied the Dol, Brian went across to the other Kiwi boat in the anchorage, Helen and Ian on Nightide, we hadn’t met them before but they too are on the return trip home from Canada so we may see more of them. It was then dinner and an early night for much needed sleep.
The following morning after doing some maintenance work on Dol, we took the dinghy ashore for a walk around one of the motus, Brian found a model outrigger made from fern leaves and drift wood on the beach, we left it there for others to enjoy. We returned to the Dol and then swam off the back of the boat to two large bombies for a snorkel. This was the best snorkel we have had in a long time. The coral was mainly brain coral but the fish life was amazing, we even saw the black tipped reef shark swimming around his bombies. This became the pattern for the remainder of our stay in Kauehi Atoll, what a life. It is good to be back in the cruising community. Tuesday evening the 5 boats in the bay all got together on Dash - Mike and Kelly, Hank and Lisa – Harlequin, Scott and Laurie – Muskoko and Chris and Elissa – Barefeet, for sundowners to share experiences and stories. The following evening we had a pot luck bbq on the beach, so different from where we have been in recent years. There were lots of hermit crabs walking along the beach all evening, some getting a little too close to the bonfire almost became an entrée.
Shawnigan arrived the following day, good to catch up with Josie, Christian and the kids. There was a music evening on Muskoko complete with keyboard, guitar and ukulele, most people even attempted to sing, luckily Scott and Lisa had great voices and carried the rest of us. The next day we again snorkeled the bombies alongside Dol and this time took the underwater camera, good photos of sharks. That evening after La Cigale arrived we had another bbq on the beach, the kids had great fun with the hermit crabs and watching a black tipped reef shark chase fish for dinner in the shallows of the lagoon.
Saturday 2nd June at 06:00 we had the anchor up and motored across to the South pass of Fakarava, again timing it nicely and had 2knots of current with us as we entered and anchored at 13:15. After we anchored it was into the dinghy to snorkel the pass on the incoming tide before the current became too strong. What an experience, we are still buzzing from it, the coral, fish life and eagle rays where amazing and that is before you get to the black tip, white tip and grey reef sharks. At one point we saw 40-50 sharks together just cruising through, and at every turn there were more. It takes some getting your head around them, not to panic that they will attack, but they do just cruise past. Our underwater camera got a good workout. Brian decided not to do a commercial dive which take you down to the deeper areas where the biggest schools of sharks hang out, we had heard mixed reviews about them, but he was happy with the large schools we saw snorkeling. The next morning again Brian snorkeled the pass on an outgoing tide with Gail in the dinghy, it was not as clear with fewer sharks but there were 2 large manta rays feeding in the current. Around the middle of the day, Chris and Elissa – Barefeet arrived and we all went out to the pass for another great snorkel. Again we saw shoals of sharks both black, white tip and grey and the eagle rays. Back to the boats for sundowners on Barefeet and then we left the following morning and motor sailed up the channel to anchor off Tapehopu, Pakakota Yacht Services. We went ashore and met Mathieu the owner of the small resort, he runs Pakakota Yacht Services and is very boatie friendly. Later we went ashore for dinner with some of the crews from other boats in the anchorage, mainly French speaking but there was an Australian couple. It was a good social evening, even though our French is very limited. Mathieu and his wife, Agnes, along with their very cute 2yr old daughter joined us for the buffet style dinner cooked by Agnes, which was great, even had apple crumble and ice cream for dessert. They are wonderful hosts, Mathieu will drive you into Rotoava for provisions, to the airport, they take your rubbish, have great Wi-Fi accessible from the anchorage and other yacht services for reasonable prices.
Tuesday 5th June, we lifted the anchor and continued down the channel to anchor off the village of Rotoava. We went ashore to check out what was there, typical of French islands the shops close for afternoon siesta, there was only one small place doing crepes and Panini’s open. Muskoko and Harlequin were in the anchorage so Brian went over to find out where everything was. As with all the Tuamotus, they rely on the supply ship for almost everything including fresh produce and it was due Wednesday morning, it appears most of the cruisers were waiting for it to arrive before heading off. The ship arrives early morning and you have to be in at the stores by 11:00 to get the best of the fresh produce. We went ashore and true to what we had heard, people were waiting at the stores for the fresh produce to be unloaded. We did not need much but did get some fresh fruit and veges. Thursday we hired bicycles from Fakarava Yacht Services and rode 10km south to a pearl farm. The Tuamotus are known for their black pearls so we thought we would check them out. The roads or should we say road, in Fakarava is very flat so cycling was not difficult, and the morning was overcast so it was not too warm. All the properties we cycled past were clean and tidy with almost landscaped yards, this was true for the rest of the village. The Pearl Farm was interesting, a small operation which harvest the pearls from the lagoon. They seed the oysters on strings encased in a black plastic mesh tube to stop the fish eating them, then 18mths later they harvest the pearls. The farm also had a small shop where they sell jewelry items created with the pearls. There was another pearl farm that ran a lottery, you pay USD35 and dive for an oyster and get to keep the pearl that is inside it. Unfortunately that farm is only open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and we would not be there. It seems many of the artisan centers also open only on weekends or certain days of the week. From there we rode back into town for lunch at Rotoava Grill, then carried on out to the airport, stopping at an old disused lighthouse on the way. Then it was back into town for an ice cream, returned the bikes, then it was back to the Dol for a quiet evening.
Friday we had the anchor off the bottom and were sailing out of Fakarava by 08:00. The pass was again easy although there was a little wind against tide and an adverse 1.5kt current, but the wavelets were small and did not present any problems. The wind then died away and we motored 32nm to pick up a mooring ball at Anse Amyot, Toau. This anchorage is more like a bay, it is known as a false pass as you cannot get into the lagoon from here, however as our next stop will be Papeete, it will be easy to get out of in the early hours of the morning. Not long after we arrived and were sorting out the shade covers, 4 black tip sharks were alongside the boat chasing smaller fish for dinner. They were fast and aggressive and did catch dinner, not the time to go for a swim!
Saturday morning after doing a few jobs on Dol we took the dinghy ashore and met Valentine and Gaston, whose family have lived on Toau for over 30 years. They enjoy meeting and talking to the yachties that visit and many return as friends. It is certainly a different lifestyle living on one of these small atolls with few mod cons, the bartering system remains valid and the pace of life slow, although the inhabitants are hard working. Valentine still does some black pearls but the restaurant is now closed and only open on special occasions.
We are leaving the Tuamotus first thing tomorrow for the 230nm trip to Papeete, having enjoyed three glorious weeks here. For us the Tuamotus has all been about the peaceful anchorages, reconnecting with real cruisers again, the snorkeling and the abundant and varied reef life.