The Tuamotos, meaning “Distant Islands” are an archipelago of
76 atolls in French Polynesia covering some 328 square miles. Each atoll lagoon
is surrounded by a ring of coral only a few feet high and only a few hundred
yards wide at most. Some of the coral “rings” or atolls have palms and coconut
trees and are like small islands and are called Motu. Inside the atoll the
water is normally only a few hundred feet deep at most, studded with coral
heads rising to the surface whereas right outside the atolls the depths plunge
to more than 4,000 feet within a few hundred yards from shore.
|Click to enlarge|
The atolls are home to an abundance of marine life from
vibrant corals and sponges, brightly coloured tropical fish and larger fish
like sharks, grouper, rays and sometimes turtles. Each atoll is like a very
large aquarium and a divers and snorkelers dream destination. Some of the atolls
are only a few miles across whereas a few are over 20 miles wide.
|Google earth image of the Tuamotos|
In order to enter a lagoon, you must go through a pass and most
atolls have one pass but some have two or three. Each pass must be entered at a
prescribed time set by the tides which govern the amount of current entering or
exiting the lagoon. During times of high wind more water may enter the lagoons
by being blown over the coral barriers and thus ebb currents are often stronger
than flood currents and make for a bit of a challenge to estimate time of slack
|Another boat entering a pass|
The Tuamotos atolls are sparsely populated with a total
population of only 16,000 but some of the atolls are unpopulated.
|Anchored in Raroria|
After our wonderful 3 day sail from Nuka-Hiva to Raroria we
entered the lagoon through the narrow pass at about slack water. The current
through this pass can run at over 8 knots but we only experienced about 1-1.5
knots against us due to it being slack water, or there about. Slack water
times seem to be one of the main topics of conversation with cruisers in the
Tuamotos as there is no official current table. An enterprising cruiser has
created an excel spreadsheet which tries to estimate the slack water times at
each atoll but it is just a guestimator, but certainly better than nothing.
Once we entered the lagoon we slowly motored our way across
the atoll avoiding the coral heads that are dotted around the lagoon. These
coral heads rise from about 150 feet to just below the surface and would be
disastrous if one hit one. They can be seen as light areas in otherwise deep
blue water so Jude stood on the bow and gave me instructions as to where the
coral heads were so as to avoid them.
We made our way across to the Kon-Tiki Island anchorage
which is on the eastern shore of the atoll 16.04S 142.22W, it is a large
anchorage and there were three boats there when we arrived with several hundred
meters between each boat. The anchorage is named Kon-Tiki anchorage as it is
where Thor Heyandral landed on his passage from Peru in 1947 on a balsa wood
raft. I remember reading about the adventure when I was younger and it is quite
an experience being here.
The atoll is simply quite magnificent: clear blue waters,
small islands with sandy beaches with palm trees, straight out of a holiday
We lowered the dinghy in the water and donned our snorkeling
gear and went to explore one of the coral heads. The coral and sealife around
the coral heads is magnificent with vivid coloured fish and coral and an
abundance of species we spent a few hours visiting a few different coral heads
before heading back to the boat.
|Hermit crab on a coconut|
We spent a week in Raroia at two different anchorages
snorkeling as many of the coral heads as we could and exploring the nearby Motus.
Departing through the pass Raroria on the afternoon slack
water we picked up a nice south east wind on our beam that gave us another
great sail for the 108 miles to Makemo where we arrived just before dawn and
conveniently slack water to enter the north east pass. As the light improved we
slipped through the pass with about 2.5kts of current against us and anchored
off the village of Makemo. The anchorage is not that great in a SE wind with a
2ft chop coming across the lagoon and 20kts of wind. We dropped the dinghy and
took it into town to have a look around and try and stock up on our depleted
pantry. We took the dinghy up a shallow river and tied it up to a bridge and
walked the short distance to town along a pretty but deserted street. The
houses, although simple, were very neat and tidy with flowers trimmed hedges.
The small stored had an adequate selection, but not much selection on the
veggie front but we scored some potatoes and onions! We also purchased some ice
cream and chocolate!
As the anchorage was exposed to the wind and chop we raised
the anchor and headed off to another anchorage about 2/3rds the way up the
atoll which reportedly had better protection from the wind. We wove our way
around the coral heads for a few hours and dropped the hook in crystal clear
water in about 40 feet.
A long sandy beach fringed with palm and coconut trees, stretched
for a mile or so along the motu which we looked forward to exploring once we
settled in. Although the wind was still blowing the chop was very light as the
reef in front of us provided some protection.
Over the next few days we explored on the beach where we
found a fire pit and organized a pot luck evening on the beach with crew of the
4 other boats anchored. We had a great evening of hermit crab racing and
catching up with the crew of the other boats.
|Abandoned building from 1800's|
The “middle anchorage” in Makemo has a spectacular reef to
snorkel. It is over ¼ mile long and 100 yards or so wide. The colours of the
corals and their formations are simply amazing. Fluorescent yellow and purple
corals, reef sharks, octopus and a plethora of large and small tropical fish. We
ended up spending several days snorkeling on the reef each time seeing
With slack water being at 8am at the north pass of Makemo we
had to depart the anchorage at around 6am never a good thing as the light is
poor to see the dangers of the coral heads in the water. Fortunately Charlie
and Zoe on Valendra had made the passage a few days before and had a track on
their chartplotter so we, and another boat, French Curve, followed them across
the lagoon where we had a very uneventful exit of the pass.
|Rainbow over Sarita|
|Plastic washed up on the atoll|
|Hermit crabs eating coconut|
Again we had great winds for our 60 mile passage from Makemo
to Tahanea. We arrived at the pass in Tahanea during a flood and there was
quite a bit of chop in the pass. We anchored just around the pass with a few
other boats with the wind still howling at 20 knots but with some protection
from the chop.
Tahanea has a few anchorage spots and we decided to move to
the one east part of the atoll which should give us good protection from the SE
and North winds. Again we arrived and found another part of paradise, albeit it
slightly different. We were able to walk along the long coral atoll fringes where
Jude found a beautiful Japanese glass fishing net buoy. Quite amazing that it
survived being blown across the coral reef never mind across the Pacific. I also
found a very nice fish cutting board, which I had been looking for one. We were
however dismayed at the amount of plastic washed upon the shores of this part
of paradise. Anything from drink bottles, bottle caps, fishing buoys, rope,
nets, shoes, deodorant sticks. You name it and its washed up on this remote
reef, polluting paradise.
After studying the weather we decided that it was time to
leave Tahanea and head for Fakarava – as the winds and seas were due to build
in a few days time and we did not want to get stuck in Tahanea, nice as it is
but Fakarava is supposed to be even more spectacular. Before we departed we
took the dinghy over to the east pass in Fakarava and on slack water drift snorkeled
over viewing the dense and brightly coloured corals. The Tuamotos, being so far
from anywhere and sparsely populated still has amazing coral reefs and marine
animals. Who knows how long it will last though.
|South Fakarava mooring|
|High Street Fakarava|
After a bit of a boisterous chop in the pass on exit we
raised the sails for our 54 mile passage to the Fakarava South pass. With a
following wind of 20 plus knots and following seas it was a bit rolly but we
made good speed and arrived at the pass just after slack water. With the winds
coming from the SE and the pass entrance pointing south it made for a bit of a
challenging pass entry not helped by the fact that Garmin charts are inaccurate
and put us going over a reef so we navigated by sight with Jude on the bow
looking for coral heads and other shallow water. We navigated our way around
the shallow reefs and to the anchorage and dropped the hook having to “float
the anchor chain” with a fender above some coral heads. Although the winds were
still blowing 20 plus knots the protection of the reef in front of us
significantly reduced the wave chop. The anchorage is quite large and the 5
other boats there were well spread out.
Apart from the usual exploring of the sandy Motus and reefs
Fakarava has world renowned diving in the pass. We took the dinghy over to the
pass and looked into the water where we saw the amazing coral but also a dozen
or so sharks. Its not the most natural thing to swim with sharks but in we went
and swam against the strong current taking in all the wonderful marine life and
circling sharks. The visibility in the water is excellent, easily over 60 feet
so we could see into the depths of the pass. Later in the week I managed to tag
along with another couple who wanted to dive in the pass. We took their dinghy
into the middle of the pass at slack water went in the water and down to about
70 feet still tethered to the dinghy above and drifted with the current in the
pass for about 45 minutes. The sharks
here were more abundant and larger and were accompanied by a beautiful pair of
spotted eagle rays.
Fakarava used to be the administrative capital of the
Tuamotos before it was flattened by a hurricane, date unknown but the island
still has a population of around 1500 people mainly in the north part of the
After spending 5 days anchored near the pass we decided to
move across to Hirifa in the SE part of the atoll. We found another beautiful
spot to anchor with only one other boat there and perfectly calm waters, long
sandy beaches to walk along and some great swimming.