16:30S 145:27W Fakarava (Tuamotus)

Conor & Marion Wall
Sun 10 Jul 2011 19:35
Fakarava an atoll in the Tuamotus
That’s not a bad word its an island, well not really an island but an atoll which is the rim of a very old crater that has sunk and now basically a ring of coral with sandy patches on the rim some large some small. This particular rim is probably 100 miles circumference the rim being no more than a few hundred meters wide, perhaps half a mile in places so for example the island (known as a Motu) at the North end of Fakarava where we anchored was about 25 miles long and mostly only a few hundred meters wide.. The last atoll that we visited (Kauehi) was a circle of about 8 miles diameter. There is one or sometimes two or three passes for boats into the atoll some have no passes so you cannot enter. Once inside it is generally well sheltered from the Pacific swell but the large atolls can get very rough in strong winds depending on where you are anchored. Even though they are reasonably shallow inside the atolls, 35 miles is a long way for waves to build up if anchored in the wrong place. They are very low lying and you can only see them from about 7 miles when approaching by boat. The Tuamotus group is made up of a bunch of these atolls, maybe 20 or 40 and in the days before GPS were seldom visited due to the very dangerous navigation around and within. The two most eastern of these atolls have a lovely name, they are called Disappointment Islands, probably because there is no way inside and nowhere to anchor on the outside.
Coconuts ready for market and left over oyster shells having had the Pearls removed.
Entering these atolls, the depth drops from a depth of sometimes 2 miles deep to 20 meters deep in as short a distance as a quarter of a mile. The current flowing in and out of the pass is sometimes extremely strong up to 10 knots on some and some have a standing wave where it enters the deep water outside the entrance, often impassable on the ebb tide. So we try to enter and leave at slack.
The gathering
Our visit to the Oyster Farm
We only had time to visit two of these atolls, Kauehi and Fakarava. At the southern end of Fakarava there is a second entrance, we entered at the North and stayed a few days there then followed a marked channel that weaved a path through coral heads often just below the surface, for 30 odd miles to the southern entrance. Here we had the most amazing snorkel ever. I have dived and snorkeled all over the world but this was amazing. We did a couple of drift snorkels i.e. we went out to the outer edge of the pass as the tide was about to change and slowly drifted back into the atoll, along the reef, with the current. The fish were amazing with too many to describe. the colours were better than in the movie ‘Finding Nemo’ and the variety of fish large and small was just unbelievable. At one point we had 8 sharks around us, these were black tipped reef sharks which are generally not dangerous unless provoked. My attitude to sharks has certainly changed following this dive and another in the Tuamoutus. Nonetheless Marion and I stayed close together and close to the dinghy which I was dragging on the surface as a means of a quick escape if required. I had time to get acquainted with a Napoleon fish (you will have to look that one up in the book) but he was almost as big as the sharks and was not too worried about our presence and we were almost able to stroke him.
DSC01791 DSC01712
All around French Polynesia boats are lifted in this fashion, notice the large wheels for turning ropes on to a wooden shaft, so simple.
We anchored there in sand an coral with large coral heads that kept snagging the chain so by the time we came to leave our chain had been let out to maximum (60 meters) and we now had to pick our way zig zag to retrieve it and the anchor. Often people have to dive to retrieve but we were lucky. The reason for the large amount of chain was mainly to do with the fact that we had very high winds for two of the nights (up to 40 knots) and with the wind shifts the chain would snag under a coral head  in effect shortening the scope on the chain. During the high winds there were some very impressive waves breaking on the other side of the coral reef that protects the lagoon.
Coconuts plucked from the tree and opened by a local, so delicious.
Eating Clams direct from the sea again prepared by these local friendly people.
As i write this we are on passage from the Tuamotus to Tahiti which is a two day and two night passage.
I wonder if he needs planning permission, building regs, health and safety, etc.