Saturday, February 24, 2018

Fabulous  Fakarava : The South Pass, An Underwater Wonderland

16th – 28th  November 2017


PB163769On approach to the south pass of Fakarava the horizon was filled with  menacing  lines of squalls. They marched across the lagoon ahead of us like rows of soldiers going into battle.

It was a scene that did little to excite us after a night at sea. At this point we were pretty sure that one of those ugly low hanging clouds would drop it’s load causing a total whiteout at our critical point of entry and we’d get very wet in the process. Then out of nowhere the dolphins appeared.


PB163786Seafaring folklore says that dolphins bring mariners good luck and with a pod of at least forty of these playful creatures surrounding GWTW just when we needed them, it stands to reason that lady luck was now on our side.


We glided into the lagoon through the glassy waters just as the clouds parted, passing a small dive resort to starboard and a huge expanse of white sand to port. Following the well marked channel past a rather nasty looking coral head which lay in wait to attack the hull of the tired or unwary, we continued on and picked up one of the white courtesy moorings without a drop of rain falling on our heads.

The six-ball mooring field is only a short dinghy ride from the south pass which of course is where the main underwater action lies for both divers and snorkelers. And just what is the major attraction here?…. well cue the music from Jaws and there’s your answer. Yep, it’s the noah’s arks, men in brown suits, call them what you will. This is shark city and there are hundreds of them down there.



Let the fun begin!

IMG_6954.PNGHaving never ever intentionally got in the water with so many of these sleek killing machines, we made a joint decision that it would be prudent to go with an experienced local dive outfit first up. So Liam signed on with Top Dive whose office was conveniently right on the foreshore in front of our mooring. Yours truly sensibly dipped out of donning the scuba gear until I got a little more  comfortable sharing the water with those big buggers, preferring to get my kicks looking down from the surface rather than swimming through their dinner table, so to speak.

Liam had a two dive session which cost 13,000 CFP or $70 per dive. We thought that was a pretty good deal compared to prices elsewhere on the planet.

GOPR0409 (2)The first dive dropped the team in the deep gutter just outside the pass entrance. Descending  straight down to 80ft, the dive party hooted along near the bottom with the incoming tide.

At 80ft the whole scene takes on an amazing hue of blue as does the coral. The water is still gin clear but there’s not a lot of sunlight at that depth. It’s only in the shallower waters the natural colour of the coral comes into view. But these weekend warriors weren’t down there to look at pretty corals, they were there to get up close and personal with sharks. And judging from the happy snaps that mission was well and truly accomplished.

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The snorkeling was pretty action packed as well. We did several drifts through the pass, sometimes sticking to the left side and sometimes to the right. Other times we just went where ever the current took us. It was fabulous. With an ever changing scene in front of our eyes there was no way you could ever get bored.



As the swift current whizzed us past the jetty and over shallow coral reefs we saw spotted eagle rays finning their way towards the surface, a couple of huge Napoleon wrasse, more sharks than you could poke a stick at  and dozens of yellow snapper who obviously figured safety in numbers was the order of the day.


It was here at the south pass of Fakarava that we once again hooked up with the Aussie crew of Lumiel a Fountaine Pajot 44 cat with John, Trish and visiting friend Jeff onboard.

We shared sundowners and snorkel trips together as well as a great night out on a tiny motu, just a five iron shot from our mooring ball, for an awsome wood fired pizza dinner. The little red roofed pizza joint “Chez Manihi’s” is usually only opened during the peak cruising season  but the owner willing obliged  our request as there were five of us plus the two guests staying at his mini resort. His seafood pizzas were mouth watering and combined with the overflowing bowls of salads and chocolate deserts we certainly didn’t go hungry and we got to take the leftovers home.


PB180010Well we’d had a great time down at the south end but there was plenty more of Fakarava to see.

It was time to move on up the island and soak it all up. Taking it one day at a time.


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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tranquil Tahanea

11th-16th November 2017

1200px-Flag_of_the_Tuamotu_Islands.svgDeparting Makemo on dusk through the western pass, the path ahead was thick with a frenzy of hundreds of feeding birds.

It was an amazing sight and one which we could not avoid ploughing straight through the middle of. The birds certainly weren’t too phased about our presence. They parted to let us sail through, then closed the veil and resumed their feeding frenzy with gusto.

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Our next destination was the uninhabited and seldom visited atoll of Tahanea which lay 42 downwind miles further to the west. With a soft evening breeze pushing us along the conditions were shaping up for yet another glorious overnight sail under jib alone.


507433876Tahanea has three entrance passes through the reef and we chose the wider middle one, Passé Teavatapu to enter through. We’d heard on the cruisers’ grapevine that this atoll now comes under the banner of a nature preserve.  Rumor has it that a park ranger from the neighbouring atoll of Fakarava  drops by once in a while but we have no real conformation on that subject.

downloadWe can only assume that if indeed it is a nature preserve it must be because of the endangered Tuamotus Sandpiper which has set up camp here.

There are less than 100 of these  birds left in existence due to the presence of black rats which inhabit many islands throughout French Polynesia. Sadly we never did lay eyes on these rare little creatures.

What we did see were plenty of fish. The Marquesas chain of islands where we’d spent the past two months is all about what’s above the water, but here in the Tuamotus it’s all about what’s in the water. And believe me there is plenty to see down there.

PB153743As I’d already tried my hand at a very short dummy run of “pass snorkeling” in Makemo, now it was time for both of us to hit the water and take the watery magic carpet ride courtesy of mother nature.  And what a hoot it was. The trick to mastering this new-found aquatic adventure is to head out in the dinghy through the entrance pass  just as the tide turns and starts flowing back into the lagoon.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts the currents flowing in the passes of the Tuamotu atolls really get up a good clip, usually at a rate of 3 - 6 knots or more, so it’s prudent to catch the incoming tide and not the outgoing one.

DSCN3243-800x6001So without further adieu it was time to hit the surf. Having donned wetsuits and snorkel and with the camera in hand we jumped overboard with a long line attached to the dinghy, floating along effortlessly as the current picked up speed. We did this in two of the three passes and you truly felt like you were flying above the sea bed. The fish, sharks, rays, turtles and coral below us whizzed by as we got carried along at an ever increasing pace. 

PB153739The ride lasted only minutes before we were spat out into the lagoon as the rushing current began to fan out and dissipate. We looked at each other with smiles on our dials, clambered back into the dinghy, revved up the mighty mercury and headed back out for another exhilarating ride.

To coin a well known advertising line the experience was Priceless!


Moving south in the lagoon over the next few days we anchored further down the atoll, tucking in behind the small motu (islets) and changing our location every once in a while. We explored the ocean shoreline with it’s rust colored reefs and tidal pools, and  snorkeled a couple of spectacular coral pinnacles which boasted a myriad of life ranging from itsy bitsy brightly coloured fish to the big guns roaming the bottom some 30 feet below.

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It certainly seemed that we had found paradise here in the Tuamotus but even paradise has its pitfalls. That pitfall came in the form of flying insects!

As was the case in the Galapagos and the Marquesas where I was previously bitten, the nasty yellow wasp has found it’s way to this corner of the world as well.  This time I really copped a beauty.

PB133681Just as were were about to drop the anchor, whamo, the yellow flyer struck attacking my index finger like a rabid dog. The pain was excruciating. Obviously that put a very sudden stop to dropping the anchor as I retreated to the cockpit with watering eyes and a finger and hand that was swelling up at a rapid rate as the minutes passed. Liam spun the boat around pointing the bows back into deeper water until I regained my composure, which took a bit of time. Eventually the pain began to ease and we picked a sandy spot between the coral and dropped the anchor for the night.

The swelling continued to progress up my arm where it stayed for over a week. No amount of ibuprofen or antihistamines helped and with no villages let alone medical help within cooee, we just had to sit it out and let my body deal with it. An epi pen is definitely now on the top of my medical shopping list.

PB143703Moving further back up the atoll we stationed ourselves near the northern most pass and did a few more drift snorkels, fascinated by the ever changing array of fish life going about their daily lives below us. We also had our own private aquarium happening at the back of GWTW. Blacktip sharks, parrot fish, rays and snapper hung in the shadow of our hulls looking for handouts.  All of them were totally nonplussed about our presence in the water with them. Can’t say that we felt the same about the sharks though.


Apart from the wasp incident we really enjoyed our time at this little atoll and we definitely would recommend a stopover here for those following in our wake.

As always when a good weather window rocks around we snap it up and move on. Up next on our list was the famous dive atoll of Fakarava. Everyone who has spent time here raves about the place and we couldn’t wait to get there.

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