14”25 South 145”55 West
There are 76 atolls, 45 of which are inhabited. They are part of French Polynesia and stretch 1500km northwest to
southeast and 500km east to west. Rangiroa is the capital with a population of 3016.
The Tuamotus were discovered long before the Society Islands by Spanish navigators (Quiros 1605). Whaling ships
plowed this area in the 17th century, but captains were not very talkative about their discoveries, for fear of revealing the
whereabouts of these excellent fishing zones.
Little is known of this archipelago, but drew much attention , especially from ecologists, starting in 1963, when French
government decided to base CEP (centre d’essai du Pacifique/Pacific Experimentation centre) in the more southern
atolls. The nuclear testing activities continued until 1996, lasting for 33years.
In contrast to the lush vegetation of Marquesas, the atolls have little greenery except the palm trees and short grass.
Temperature is 23-30degrees on average all year round. They are cooled by the trade winds, which 80% of the time
comes from NE to SE.
“The dangerous archipelago” it is historically known as for navigators. Many yachts have been lost to the reefs. This is
because of their low-lying character, making them visible from a yacht only when the vessel is within 8miles or so.
Not so long ago, most cruising plans aimed at only sighting and passing the Tuamotus safely. Today a few atolls are
regularly visited and included in cruising plans. Some are much more visited than others.
The cultivating of black pearls is the primary resource in the territory after tourism. The bases of the locals diet is open
ocean fish, which they trail lines for- tuna, bonito, dorado dolphin fish (mahi-mahi). Near the passes there are blue jacks,
wahoo and barracuda.
We had to watch out for ciguatera- poisoning from infected reef fish. Most cruisers would catch a fish and first show it to
the local people who would give the eat or not to eat look.
I found Freespirit at anchor outside of the lagoon of Takapoto atoll. I had spend the previous 2weeks sailing aboard Sora
and re-joined F.S on the afternoon of Sat 26th May.
The next 2weeks or so were filled with some of the most beautiful views of island paradise I have ever seen. Along with
friendly locals and exploring the underwater world in and outside the lagoons the next weeks will go unforgotten in my
Freespirit started the trip in Takaroa and sister island Takapoto, where I met F.S. I briefly go to see the town in Takapoto
after a 5mile walk there and back. It was quiet in the late afternoon but had a peaceful feeling and simplistic living style-
the essence of atoll living.
We made our way over to Ahe and Manihi, some of the most popular islands with the cruisers before Rangaroa. Starting
at Ahe we explored the little village onshore. A post office, a store a church a few houses and that’s it! That’s life out
There were only 4 boats in the anchorage and mostly our friends. We organized a trip out to a pearl farm, which was
most fascinating to see the process of black pearl cultivation. Russell even got to go out to the oyster beds, collect the
oysters, and open them up to find his pearl! Ahe also had a fantastic pass to snorkel, which we did many times over.
We covered the short distance to Manihi to wait for the arrival of Rick, David and then Kya on the following day. These
were windy days and the usually calm lagoon waters were stirred up and choppy, not making for very good snorkeling.
The best feature of the island I found to be the ‘all knowing tree’ on the wharf by the pass. Legend has it that the tree
was there long before any person arrived and has the answers to all questions if you sit under it. And so the locals seem
to do, passing the afternoons under the tree, chatting, waiting for the answers! With a full load onboard- Russell, Kya,
Rick, David, Jerry, Conceicao and myself, we shared a fish dinner and left with the morning light.
We planned to drop down the leeward side of Apataki and Toau heading south east to Fakarava. After a brief stop in
Apataki, for momentary relief from the raging wind outside the lagoon, we continued the trip down to the large islands of
Fakarava, were surf was rumored to be breaking. Sailing very close to the wind and into the swell, it did not make for a
very comfortable trip and after a little detour around Niau, we managed to find the north pass of Fakarava and were all
very relieved! As the rolling swells gave way to calm lagoon waters, we relaxed and came to anchor by the little town of
Rotoava. Found a open restaurant (a blessing on a Sunday night in French Polynesia) and all had a good meal. Met a
group of 11 Australians sailing their Tahitian bought catamaran to Perth, what a way they still had to go!
We said our goodbyes to Jerry and Conceicao, who checked into a hotel and sailed the 30miles through the lagoon to
the south of the island. Unfortunately the guys were a bit disappointed in the lack of surf but the snorkeling soon made
up for it. When you dream of the south pacific this is the place you see! 3 glorious days of sunning and snorkeling with
the reef sharks (which some were more fond of than others!). the shore was lined with palm trees and a little old village
consisting of 2 families ran a little resort business. There were a few little bungalows, looking out over the lagoon, with
thatched roofs and steps to the water. The mostly European people staying here had apparently found the lodgings on
an internet website. You look up ‘vacation destination: south Pacific paradise’ and find yourself all the way out at the
end of the world in south Fakarava! It took these visitors many 48hours to fly here, it took us 3months sailing from
Panama. But I suppose they are completely different things. The water here was clear and warm as a bath, and the
coral formations and fish were the most beautiful things I have ever seen under water. It was like snorkeling in a huge
top class aquarium.
As our time in the Tuamotus came to a close, we made one last stop at the atoll of Faaite. I’m so pleased we did, as on
arrival I found 2 boats full of friends of mine, many of which were South African! We spent the next day spear fishing for
many hours to supply fish in plenty, for a ‘braai’ on the beach of Teporioha, that evening. We drank rum out of coconuts
with their water and feasted on rock salmon, snapper and groupers. As we all sat around the fire and listening to the
strumming of guitars, we spoke of the upcoming journeys and places we’d find ourselves. What a fantastic end to a
fantastic group of islands.
Not sure when or if we would all meet again, we said our ‘fair winds’ and ‘see ya laters’. The next morning off we went in
search of Tahiti in the Society Islands and the next adventure!
|Updated: Jan. 14, 2008