Ihre Browserversion ist veraltet. Wir empfehlen, Ihren Browser auf die neueste Version zu aktualisieren.

987 Polynésie Française: November 2018


Fakarava – Tuamotu Archipelago (6 days)

After 4 days spent in ugly Tahiti, we take the plane for Fakarava, located 450 km NE of Tahiti, in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

Our ATR42 is full, but fortunately most of the tourists disembark in Rangiroa, the stopover on the way to Fakarava.

On arrival at the small airport, we’re welcomed by Temaio with a necklace made of fresh tiare flowers. That’s really the tradition on the smaller islands. He’s the son of the owner of Pension Vaiama Village at PK 7, where we will stay for the next 5 days. There is only one road on the island and it was built for a visit of former French President Jacques Chirac, which never happened! The locals smile and call it “Route Chirac”.

Fakarava is the only atoll we plan to visit during our 3-month stay in French Polynesia. Fakarava means “beautiful” and indeed this atoll reveals a rich environment of exceptional beauty, especially under the water. The large atoll is virtually untouched, making it great for snorkeling. In the heart of the Tuamotu Archipelago, Fakarava is the second largest atoll in French Polynesia after Rangiroa: 60km long, 25km wide with 16km² of emerged land and 1153km² of lagoon.

Fakarava and the nearby smaller atolls of Aratika, Toau, Kauehi, Taiaro, Raraka and Niau have received the UNESCO Biosphere reserve designation for their pristine waters and flourishing aquatic life. Fakarava, which shelters an amazing array of marine fauna and flora, is an actual sanctuary. UNESCO Biosphere is based on local management to ensure preservation of the environment alongside with social and economic development. There are 10 UNESCO Biospheres in France including Fakarava, and only 550 in the entire world.

There are only 855 inhabitants on Fakarava mainly settled around the main village of Rotoava. It’s a place dominated by nature. The Paumotu people live of copra, pearl farming and tourism. Since their livelihood depends on natural resources, they understand the importance of sustainable development and tourism impact is limited with only a handful of small pensions on the island.
Fakarava has two passes that refresh the crystal clear waters of the lagoon. To the north, Garuae pass is the largest pass in French Polynesia. The Southern pass is called Tumakohua.

Once arrived at our nice beach bungalow in Vaiama, we immediately arrange for our first boat trip the day after. Indeed, you need to have a minimum number of people for the boat trip and this may not be every day due to the few tourists and the need to use the boat for fishing.

After a rainy night, the weather in the morning is perfect. We start our snorkeling tour at 08.00 from the jetty of our pension. Geoffrey, the son of the owner, is pushing fast the powerful boat across the crystalline lagoon. The small village of Tetamanu lies 50 km South from the pension, at the South Pass (Tumakohua Pass). We arrive there 1h 40’ later. Tetamanu has a lovely catholic church built entirely out of coral in 1874, Maria No Te Hau still stands, one of the oldest churches in French Polynesia and the first church built in the Tuamotu Archipelago. This little settlement has maybe 20 inhabitants but was bustling many years ago with the governor's house, jail and schools. With the increasing importance of the commerce compared to fishing, the main center of Fakarava’s life shifted from Tetamanu to Rotoava, near to the airport and the harbor. The diving center and the only pension on Tetamanu are well integrated within the village. We had a lot of fun snorkeling there.
In the morning, the incoming current from the ocean into the lagoon allows for a pretty fast drift snorkeling of about 400 m before landing at the end of the motu … and it’s quite fast like in a river!
In the afternoon, the out-flowing current is weaker and you can swim along the pass in both directions. Don’t worry, you don’t get swept into the ocean! We saw a lot of big and colorful fish, countless shoals of fish and an incredible stretch of multicolored corals but the highlight of the day was the second drift snorkeling in the middle of the pass … alongside the submarine canyon … a huge shoal of gray sharks at the bottom - conservatively we saw over 100 sharks! To be close to such a large number of sharks is a breathtaking experience...
The shark population in the pass is estimated at 700 from the last count. This gigantic wall of sharks is a spectacular phenomenon. Each year, especially during the full moon in June/ July, hundreds of gray sharks gather in this canyon because massive schools of delicious marbled groupers aggregate to reproduce.

More on the shark’s wall here: https://www.blancpain-ocean-commitment.com/gombessa-iv

This canyon is fully covered with fantastic corals of all shapes and colors …  
After the picnic on the motu, we go on our own for a third snorkeling with the slow out-flowing stream … again a lot of fish and some reef sharks.
Our last stop for the day is on a nearby pink sand bank (actually more orange than pink), where we get some fresh coconuts to drink and enjoy walking from one motu to the next one on picture perfect.

After another long rainy night, we’re ready for our second boat trip, this time to the North Pass.
We stop first at an islet in the middle of the lagoon for some snorkeling. We leave the group and the boat for an extended swim along the walls of this small motu. A lot of fish, multicolored giant clams and corals and, as usual, a few black tip reef-sharks. At a certain point, we notice that more and more sharks are swimming to us out of the deep blue of the lagoon. Perfect for some exciting pictures but this time, something is different. Usually, the sharks are swimming at a certain distance from us and escape when you try to take a closer picture … but not this time. They’re circling us, and getting closer after each circling, pointing directly to our bodies and … really too close for a picture ... only their jaw is in the picture... Their behavior becomes more and more aggressive and we have to constantly swim aside to avoid them. Oh gee, it’s definitively different from the other shark encounters we had so far. So, we decide to leave the area, checking nervously behind to see if they’re following us. They were clearly waiting for a bite … but not with us for sure!
We then leave the islet for the Lagon Bleu on Motu Teahatea … Wow, so impressive! First, you see these incredible turquoise, green and blue colors of the lagoon in front of the motu. You believe the deep turquoise stretch between the shore and the shallow sea bed is the famous Lagon Bleu … not yet. Motu Teahatea features an indescribably stunning stretch of white sand beach, turquoise-blue water, palm trees leaning over the shore and not a soul in sight. It's a fantastic place for a picnic. We disembark at the motu, walk 10 m across and … there it is, the Lagon Bleu! It’s a lagoon in the middle of the motu, a lagoon in the lagoon with unbelievably intensive turquoise water … a dream! This is paradise. After 1 hour contemplation, we leave the motu for the Garuae Pass.
This pass is much rougher than the South Pass, it gets really heavy with waves that can easily exceed 2m in the middle of the pass. We see many fishing birds, so we sail over there for a high speed drift snorkeling in the middle of a big shoal. Two big gray sharks are part of the party and our guide has to use his harpoon to keep them away. The two continue to follow us for a long drift … and guess what? We’re the last two of our group and nearest to the sharks … but no fright this time...

Another day in paradise: Today is biking day along the “Route Chirac” with a visit of the village of Rotoava. North of the airport, we stop to observe a man fishing with the traditional harpoon from the shore. A rather difficult mission, we saw him missing at least 10 fishes … and here we see our second turtle in Polynesia. It was much easier to see them in New Caledonia.

It’s such an incredible feeling to wake up every morning with a view of this magnificent lagoon... Today, we’re not going far. Only 2 km South from Vaiama where we visit the nearby Hinano Pearl Farm. For the first time, we see a real operating pearl farm and not only a showroom. Five people are working full time: to grow the young oysters, to clean the adult ones, to graft them and to harvest the pearls. It’s very different from the pearl farms we visited so far in Huahine or Broome. 

There are no black pearls farmed in Tahiti! In Tahiti, there are only expensive boutiques selling them to the wealthy tourists. Most of the pearl farms are located around the pristine waters of the Tuamotu and the Gambier archipelagos.
The whole process of creating a black pearl takes about four years. The first step is to collect the black-lip oysters (Pinctada Margaritifera) at the pounding site in their natural lagoon habitat. Then, to grow them at the farm for two years. After inserting a nucleus into the oyster along with a mantle piece taken from an oyster producing quality nacre, the oysters are placed back into the lagoon for 18 months. The black pearls must have at least 8mm of nacre around the nucleus to be sold. Only half of the oysters accepts the graft and contain a pearl. In nature, black pearls are very rare: one out of 15’000 oysters may have a naturally grown black pearl. Despite the name, black pearls display hues of peacock green, silver green, anthracite-gray, blue, gold and eggplant.

After the visit, we go to the shack behind the farm: on the right the worker’s kitchen, in the middle a kind of office with laptops and papers everywhere, and finally on the left a couple of shelves with magnificent pearls at an affordable price … however, without the tax free.

In the afternoon, we do some interesting kayaking in our beautiful lagoon along the coastline. Even though we’re in the lagoon, there’s quite strong current and we do need to paddle strongly to stay within safe distance of the shore. We notice a couple of potentially nice spots 1-2 km South from our pension that we’ll have to go explore further with our snorkeling gear.

It’s unfortunately our last day in paradise. We’ll miss the lagoon, the fresh fish for our fine dinner every night. In the late afternoon, we leave for Papeete but before that, we have time for some extensive snorkeling. We decide to swim down the nice spots we saw the day before. A great move! After a few disappointing brain corals, we finally find a fantastic coral garden with big multicolored corals. The whole area is of incredible beauty and it does not stop, more and more. Preserved, totally untouched. It’s our secret coral garden … better than many corals gardens we have seen with a professional boat tour and just for us … When we swim back to our pension, we see a big tawny nurse shark swimming directly on the beach in front of our bungalow. Right on the shore, it’s unbelievable.

A wonderful stay in paradise that could have lasted longer! In Fakarava, the colors of the lagoon are enough to take your breath away. Fakarava is definitely our preferred island in French Polynesia so far… even better than Maupiti.



Fakarava - Tahiti - Nuku Hiva

Tahiti – Society Archipelago (320 km and 7 days)

More than one month ago, we booked a commercial tour to the Hitiaa Lava Tubes.
Technically, they’re quite simple and one could walk through the tubes on its own but there is a 1 hour 4x4 drive across private property or alternatively, a walk of 6 km with an elevation of 640 m to get to the starting point ...
From the final parking spot near a dam, it’s only a 1 km of easy walk to reach the 1st lava tube. The “tube” is around 100 m long and 15 m high. Equipped with a headlamp, we scramble over slippery rocks and walk through dirty knee-deep water as you follow the black tunnel. Not really nice, basically a creek with a roof. The floor is covered by big blocks due to strong graviclastic activity (crumbling of the roof) that has completely changed the original morphology of the lava tube. Once out of the first tube, we follow the creek bed for a couple of hundreds meters.
To access the second lava tube, we've to climb around a waterfall and then again by-passing a second waterfall at the tube’s entrance. You follow this second tunnel for approximately 200 m. The trail continues along the creek and passes under a stone bridge, remains of a collapsed lava tube.
The third tube is the longest one, the entrance is below a small divided waterfall so you get a welcoming shower but before that, you have to swim through a waist-deep pond. About 100 m from the entrance, the tube divides either straight to an exit or to a large cavern looping on two distinct levels, complete with a large and deep pool and yet another waterfall. The entire walk from the first tunnel to the exit of the third tube follows the same creek. On the walls of the third tube, tiny golden algae will make you believe that you found a gold mine.
It was a nice day out but really not mind blowing compared to other lava tubes we visited ...

Just two days before our flight to the Marquesas, Dr. Tesin is in bed with high fever and musculoskeletal pain. We fear that a nasty tiger mosquito is responsible ... We have to postpone our planned hikes for the week. We hope for a quick recovery … in vain ...
Chikungunya, Dengue and Zika are prevalent in the whole South Pacific. The islands are literally invaded by mosquitoes. DEET is highly effective as a repellent but only if used and applied properly all the time. With 34oC,  high humidity and some physical activity, the sweat is washing away your protection very quickly. When you stay 3 months, you are exposed to the risks despite DEET on the skin and permethrin on the clothes.


Nuku Hiva - Marquesas Archipelago (7 days) 

Nuku Hiva is located in the distant Marquesas Archipelago, it’s the second biggest island in French Polynesia, after Tahiti Nui. Unlike most other islands in French Polynesia, there are no lagoons or protective coral reefs. Instead, steep and rugged mountains plunge straight into the pounding Pacific Ocean. It takes about 4 hours to get there by plane from far Tahiti, 1450 km away.

The 1-hour travel from the airport to the island’s main village, Taiohae, is one of the strangest airport pickup we ever had. In fact, the airport is located in the uninhabited Terre Déserte in the North of the island and you have to cross the entire island, driving up to a mountain pass at more than 1000 m altitude to finally join Taiohae on the other side of the island. You wonder why … well, there was no other place on this mountainous island to built the airport. Before this new “alpine” road was built, it took up to 5 hours to get to the airport along a dirt track. 

The central part of the island is a high plateau called To'ovi'i, covered primarily by a tall-grass prairie, where cattle raising is taking place. Pine forest plantations are covering large areas all around the caldera of To'ovi'i giving an overall impression of the lower Alps in parts of Germany or Austria. On the western edge of To'ovi'i rises Tekao, the island's highest peak, with an elevation of 1224 m.

Nuku Hiva is the Marquesas’ principal island and is widely regarded as the most beautiful of the Marquesas Islands. Centuries of complete isolation from the outside world have created a unique culture and language in the Marquesas. Thus, tourists should avoid greeting people in Tahitian here: it’s Ka Ora and not Ia Orana! Marquesans complain of being neglected by Tahiti, and local leaders would prefer developing a direct relationship with Paris rather than staying with Tahiti.

Taiohae, with its bay full of sailboats and fully tattooed locals trotting through the town on horseback, is the marvelous capital of the Marquesas and business center of the island. Nuku Hiva is best suited for people who spend their vacation hiking. This was also our intention … our hiking shoes and backpacks were ready! However, the intense Dengue Fever obliged us to rest for the entire stay with the walks limited between the hospital and our pension Mave Mai.

Nuku Hiva has several fascinating archaeological sites, with many tiki (sacred statues), tohua (gathering places), pae pae (rock-pile ruins of house foundations) and many more dispersed in the forest. The Taipivai Valley is housing several temples and petroglyphs and more ruins can be seen in the surroundings of Hatiheu.

Unfortunately, the hazards of travel tainted our stay in the Marquesas. We were not able to discover this other world of French Polynesia.

Tahiti (7 days)

The heavy handicap caused by the Dengue Fever has also impacted the plans for our last stay in Tahiti. Instead of hiking along the Vallée de la Tuauru or climbing up to Mount Aorai, we stayed at home watching the rain over the bay and Moorea  … just waiting to get fit again for our upcoming departure!



Please follow us on next page: Hawaii December

Previous page