Leaving Raroia on August 15th. we set a course in a westerly tack towards our next destination in the Tuamotus chain of atolls, Kauehi. The passage there took two days encountering some uncomfortable seas enroute. We struggled to make it through the Aritikamino pass having to apply full motor power to overcome the current and thankful to reach the calm waters of another beautiful lagoon. We spent three relaxing days here and experienced some final drama after Mare’s anchor became entangled in the coral reef which necessitated a flash light assisted, snorkel mission by Axel to dislodge it as we set forth on the short sail to Fakarava.
Fakarava is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotus group at some 60kms in length and is the place from where the Pomare dynasty that went on to be the traditional rulers of Tahiti originated.We spent two weeks exploring the full length of the atoll and finding some completely deserted hideaways to enjoy and have some more wonderful beach cook outs.
A chance meeting whilst at anchor in the near deserted lagoon sparked yet another wonderful adventure. Here we met a twenty seven year old local man called Martha who we observed camping on the beach adjacent to our anchorage. He was literally a subsistence hunter and derived his every meal directly from his natural environment. We had the rare pleasure of accompanying him on a torch lit, nocturnal, coconut crab hunting expedition on the nearby island. Armed only with the most basic of equipment he skilfully captured three crabs, two 1.5kg and one 3kg specimens over a two hour period. Next day we invited him aboard Mare where he very kindly cooked a delicious, hearty meal for us with the spoils of the previous night’s hunting trip. After dinner he returned to his little beach camp to continue his hunting trip and resume his simple but fulfilling lifestyle. He may not have had much in the way of material possessions but he had a tremendous richness of character and he would not accept any payment for his generosity so we decided to gift him a Bluetooth speaker to enable him to enjoy some music. He was so appreciative of our gesture which in turn made us very happy. Once again I am reminded of the contrast between my first world life experience and that of remarkable people like Martha, this whole trip has been characterised by such encounters and revelations and I feel so grateful to be afforded the opportunity to experience at first hand such alternate life styles.
For our next adventure we decided to rent some bicycles in the main village called Rotoava. Thinking that taking a little trip by bicycle would be a nice, leisurely way to explore more of this beautiful atoll we set forth with great expectations. To begin with things were absolutely perfect as we enjoyed a sunny and relaxing trip through the quiet atoll countryside. However a sudden change in weather conditions quickly turned our laid back cycling trip into an endurance test. It began raining heavily, accompanied by a strengthening wind. We decided to take a coffee break at a nearby restaurant to wait for the worst of the rain to pass. However the weather had other ideas and with the end of our four hour rental period fast approaching we realised that we needed to jump back into our saddles and hurry back to Rotoava. That proved easier said than done !. The combination of heavy rain, a strong headwind, a single speed bicycle and the legacy of our poor leg muscle tone from our relative inactivity whilst sailing over the past nine months all conspired to make for a very challenging return leg of our cycling tour. Seldom have I experienced such physical exertion as we threw all of our strength into battling against the elements to deliver the bicycles back to the bike shop on time. Somehow we managed to achieve our objective and arrived, red faced, breathless and with aching lower limbs which barely supported our weight when we alighted from the bicycles. Our leisurely cycle trip had morphed into a feat of physical endurance and while we are now accustomed to dealing with the wind whilst sailing, we will always remember this onshore encounter as the day that a headwind almost blew us out of our saddles !.
Fakarava is currently under assessment by UNESCO with a view to granting it designated biosphere status. A highlight of our time here was exploring the teeming underwater aquatic life as we snorkelled through the Tuakohua or southern pass. The south pass here is renowned as one of the best diving spots in the world. The rich coral reefs that surround the atoll play host to such a wide diversity of aquatic life as thousands of life forms abound beneath the turquoise waters. Axel and I set off in our dingy to go snorkelling inside the pass full of expectation of the wonders that awaited us beneath the surface. But first we had to wait around an hour to permit the tide to turn into the pass. I can assure you it was truly worth the wait !. When the tidal conditions finally rendered it safe to dive we jumped into the water and were blown away by what we saw. The corals presented us with such a rich palate of vibrant colours with unbelievable hues of pink, green, blue, purple and yellow flora. The diversity of the fauna was equally breath taking as it was packed with fish of all sizes, shapes and colours from tiny blue specimens to fish over a meter long and half a meter in height, together with huge turtles all swimming majestically around us. On the bottom of the reef we observed literally hundreds of nurse, black tip and white tip sharks sleeping and floating around. Sharks frequent these passes where they utilise the tidal water flows to aid their breathing without them needing to constantly swim. Most species of shark breathe by a method called ram ventilation whereby they swim with their mouths open forcing large amounts of water over their gills where tiny blood vessels harvest oxygen from the passing water. The tidal flows present in the passes provide sufficient water flow to provide this ram effect whilst the shark is stationary and thus it is a very relaxing place for them to linger. Bottom feeders like the aforementioned nurse shark are much more sedentary creatures and they employ a different approach to breathing as they use the buccal muscles in their cheeks to effectively pump water across their gills to facilitate the oxygen uptake into their bloodstream. After enjoying this wonderland of snorkelling for about two hours we noticed that the wind speed on the surface was starting to increase. The wind direction had also altered and was now blowing out of the north which meant that the fetch was conductive to generating high seas whilst we were enjoying our underwater odyssey. We needed to return to our boat quite quickly. When we arrived back at the boat Axel firstly went to the assistance of a fellow mariner with a fouled anchor. He free dived some seven meters to secure a rope to the anchor to enable the boat’s owner to dislodge the anchor from it’s entanglement. We were quite concerned now as the combination of wind strength and fetch was generating significant wave heights which could easily compromise our mooring which should it have failed would propel Mare onto the treacherous nearby coral reef with catastrophic consequences. We decided to act quickly and leave the area to seek shelter further up the coast. Despite our hasty departure the abiding memory of our visit to this part of the atoll was the stunning beauty revealed in the course of that afternoon’s underwater exploration of the pass. Memories are truly made of experiencing the type of unspoilt natural beauty that we have witnessed here on this atoll.
Before leaving Fakarava we stopped off at Pakokota yacht services to take on some supplies and avail of their WiFi facilities before heading to Toau atoll, located some 15kms due north west of Fakarava, Toau is one of the smaller atolls in the Tuamotus chain, arriving there on September 5th. Our arrival at the pass was made memorable by the sight of a dolphin pod, yet again the passage through the pass was quite uncomfortable but we were once again rewarded by the flat waters of yet another incredible natural wonder present inside the lagoon. Not for the first time we found ourselves in splendid isolation for the first few days of our time here, revelling in the serenity of yet another natural gem. Moving up to the north western side of the atoll we were delighted to be anchored beside our friends on Pangea with whom we would share some more magical diving experiences as we marvelled at the sheer diversity of fish life here also.
This would also mark our final Tuamotus atoll adventure as on September 17th. we set sail on a south westerly heading for the 360kms leg down to Tahiti.