Tahiti was never really on our list of places to visit. Not because it didn’t sound awesome, but it’s just never been on the radar. Around Christmas 2012 our vagabond sailing friends Livia and Carol came to visit while they were taking a break from their stay in French Polynesia applying for a long stay visa. Armed with a library of postcard hero shots of their paradise, they somehow managed to convince us to visit. When your friends tell you to come stay with them on their boat in the south Pacific, you don’t say no.
The plan was hatched and many moons later we were on our way to French Polynesia. Our journey would take us from Denver, through LAX (an awful place), to Tahiti. Then we would catch a small plane to the Fakarava Atoll in the Tuamotu Islands. Hey, a lot of people have been to Tahiti, but who gets to go to Fakarava??
|Last minute puppy snuggles are important before going to the airport.|
Where the heck is Fakarava anyway? Near Tahiti:
After a lengthy travel day(s), we were greeted at the Fakarava
Our first parking spot was at the motu of Harifa. (A motu is an island that's formed where the coral atoll sticks above the water.) There is a family that lives on this motu and they were preparing to open a restaurant for guests of nearby pensions. That's great news for us, because they were holding a Polynesian feast as a celebration, complete with a pig roasted in the sand. More on that later.
When you're walking around the motu you're essentially walking around someones yard, so it's nice to talk with the people who live there and make sure it's okay. Of course it was okay, and they were super nice. They even let us collect some green coconuts before we went to walk along the reef on the ocean side of the motu. Livia and Carol had a checklist of "experiences" that we needed to complete and collecting coconts was one of them. Green coconuts are good for the sweet water inside. After you manage to rip one out of a tree (in this case we had a nice long hook to use), you use your giant rusty machete to carve a nice opening in the top. Thankfully Carol was experienced in this area because Christine and I were making a mess of it. Later in the trip, learned how to open brown coconuts, and also also the joys of dumping some rum into a juicy green coconut.
|Coconut Queen||Bumps on a log|
With a little time the next day to kill before the feast and acceptable winds, Carol was itching to try out his new kiteboarding gear. After he showed us what it looks like when you do it right, Christine and I got harnessed up and just flew the kite (no board). It's hard enough to keep the kite in the air, I imagine it takes quite a bit of practice to do it with a board under your feet. Seems like a fun time.
On to the feast. The family started early in the morning with preparing the food and the pit. They built a fire in the pit and when it burned down they stacked various meats wrapped in leaves (okay, and some foil too). After the food was layered in the pit they carefully put sand shoveled sand back into the pit. For the very top layer of sand, they used lighter colored sand so they could easily see any smoke that was escaping and plug the hole. Their outdoor dining room was set up with a few tables for people and a long table for all of the food they had prepared. It was impressive. They had to keep squeezing dishes together to make more room for more food that was coming out of the kitchen. There were various types of smoked meats, some banana dishes, fish, and more. So delicious.
Well fed and rested, we left Harifa in the morning for the South Pass. The coral atoll ring is broken at the South Pass, which allows ocean water to sweep in and out of the atoll with the tide. The sea water brings nutrients and food into the atoll and the rich water is home to colorful coral and beautiful fish. The area is a UNESCO world heritage sight.
There aren’t a lot of safe places to park in the pass, but thanks to some friends of Livia and Carol’s we were able to park on a mooring in a sweet spot in the pass that would give us a great home base for playing in the area. Upon arrival Carol needed to get in the water to check the mooring gear (and make sure we weren’t going to float away in the middle of the night). I grabbed my snorkeling gear and hopped in the clear blue water too. While he was off doing real work, I was awestruck just looking around in the water. You could see thirty feet down to the ocean floor. And I had a good clear look at the sharks in the water. Yes, sharks. Mostly black tip sharks. They’re not very menacing, but it’s still a little strange at first to be swimming in the open water with them.
|Look out you're being followed by sharks!|
One of the great things to do at the pass is snorkel over the coral. The best way to do is to time it with the tides so that you’re snorkeling as the water is flowing into the pass. You hardly have to swim because the current carries you over the coral. It feels like flying. It’s amazing. Over the course of the few days we were there, we did this snorkel run probably twice a day. Despite the massive beauty of the pass, its remoteness prevents any crowds of people. Some people scuba dive there, but other than that we didn’t see any other people in the water. Can you imagine having a place like this all to yourself? Believe it.
|Pictures don't do it justice.|
One of the things I was most looking forward to doing on our trip was spearfishing. Snorkeling around in clear blue water with sharks and a spear gun? Yes please. While there are tons of fish in the water, not all of them are edible. Some of them are contaminated with a toxin called ciguatera. The “safe” fish vary from anchorage to anchorage too, so it’s typically best to check with any locals in the area.
Since there are sharks in the water, one person would fish while the another swam nearby with the dingy. When a fish was speared, you get it out of the water and into the dingy as soon as possible so the sharks wouldn’t come over and steal your fresh kill. On my first trip out, Carol and I went to various coral heads near the boat and looked for fish. Thanks to my excellent coach, I speared a fish on that first trip. We went fishing several times with varying levels of success. Even when we didn’t spear any fish, you’re snorkeling in some amazing water so it’s still a great time.
|Catch of the day||Ready. Aim. Fire.|
|Fresh catch on our beach coconut fire. (Marble grouper on left, parrot fish on right)|
From the south pass, we sailed up to the north pass of the atoll. Surprise - it was also beautiful. We anchored near another beautiful reef and did some more spearfishing, snorkeling, stand up paddling, beach walking, lounging. Life was feeling really difficult at this point.
Unfortunately, we our trip was coming to an end. The day before our flight we went back to the main village to get prepped to leave. We did some shopping, and walking around, but mostly we just tried to soak in as much sun and water as we could before we left.
What a great and memorable trip. As we stood in check-in line at the Tahiti airport, I couldn't help but think about how nobody had quite the vacation we just did. I'm sure they had a great time at their resorts, but I think we got to see something completely different. We're lucky to have such good and adventurous friends that are willing to share their adventure with us.
More photos on Flickr.