07 – 17 June 2016: South Pass, Fakarava, Tuamotus – 16 31S 145 28W
We moved 6 miles west from Hirifa to the South Pass at Fakarava. First up we stayed in the anchorage area on the western side of the pass, a gorgeous area (ok, it was littered with bommies) the nearby tiny motus had sand sparkling in hues of pink along their tiny shorelines due to the rusty red fringing reef. They were postage stamp sized islands, a handful of coconut palms added colour and shade, warm clear water lapped on the soft sandy shores, and the water colours in the lagoon were magnificent. Desert islands don’t get any better than these magical motus.
The drawcard for the small tourist industry here is the South Pass, diving here is rated amongst the Top 5 pass dives world wide, as we don’t dive we can’t give our opinion on that but the snorkelling was awesome. We can report though that neighbours dove one day and saw 3 schools of over 150 sharks in each, eek that a serious amount of sharks!
We snorkelled the pass 5 days and got very good at timing the current to provide us with the most entertainment possible. The trick is to get to the outside of the pass just before slack water low tide and do the first snorkel at a leisurely pace, stopping to explore nooks and crannies, discover species not before seen, look closely at the pass bottom to watch sleeping sharks and take plenty of photos.
It’s quite a long pass with two exits so if you dawdle this can easily take an hour or more. Then you zoom back in the dinghy (which skipper has been towing) outside the pass to the beginning and come through again.
Now this is the fun part – if the tide is a little slow in turning then it can be another leisurely trip through, but if the flood is in full swing then you are off like a torpedo, flying with the fish.
It is an amazing feeling, you remain motionless, no work required, and the underwater world just flies by underneath as the current and flooding tide transports you on its magic carpet - a truly incredible and addictive sensation.
We had a change of scenery and moved from the anchorage area on the west of the pass to the mooring field on the eastern side. Not only did this provide a different view ashore, crystal clear water so we could watch the sharks from the boat, but it also put us within an easy dinghy ride of a small resort that specialized in wood fired pizzas. With our dwindling food supplies how could we resist? An excellent seafood pizza, crispy green salad and fresh fruit salad was enjoyed at Chez Manihi’s.
The Gropers Are Grouping
The timing of our visit coincided with the annual groper spawn which happens around full moon every June. Not sure how the groper know underwater when the full moon is, but they do know and they gather here in their hundreds for this yearly event.
Camera crew from various countries were also around, ready to film this underwater display for upcoming documentaries. We didn’t stay for the full moon spawning, it all happens at night so as snorkelers we would have not seen much but we saw more species of gropers than we knew existed, here’s a few of them – not the most photogenic of fish in their camouflage gear.
Our stay in the Tuamotus had been terrific, we had sat out some inclement weather but we had also had some long spells of stunning conditions. There are so many more atolls to explore in the Tuamotus but time is marching on and our provisions are at rationing levels!
The anchorages had been top class, we had forgotten what a privilege it was to have flat water most nights after the often rolly anchorages in the Marquesas. Timing of the passes had initially seemed daunting but after “cutting our teeth” on the pass at Raroia we managed the others without any incident. We even exited Fakarava via the 2.7metre shallow South Pass, after snorkelling over it regularly we were confident the coral hadn’t grown any higher and we would just scrape through. As we looked over the side of Balvenie the coral seabed looked very close, that's because it was! All went well but we were pleased to get into deeper water!
5 of us left the pass at low tide slack water around 8am, all Papeete bound on French Polynesia’s most well known island Tahiti. It wasn’t really a race (was it?) as its nearly 250 miles, but 5 boats going the same way and leaving at the same time, well! The first day was rather more boisterous than expected and we flew along under double reefed main and well reefed gib. Conditions settled overnight and the skies glowed with an almost full moon, the Southern Cross continued to guide us ever closer to home.
Day 2 offered perfect sailing conditions, Tahiti loomed in front of us all afternoon, bursting abruptly out of the deep blue Pacific as a mass of mountainous green. Balvenie kept her nose in front of the other monohulls, and conceded line honours to the only catamaran in our fleet, a 50 footer who beat us by 3 hours, a respectable result for a non race.
We dropped anchor just after dark at Point Venus just a few hundred metres from where Captain Cook had anchored in Matavai Bay, his “favourite anchorage of the Pacific”. After 12 years and 1 month of cruising we had arrived in Tahiti, the land of legends.
Time To Top Up Supplies in Tahiti