Next atoll please!
Following the advice of our friends Lise and Nico who we’d met in Burma during our RTW trip, we stayed at Tekopa Village Camping, hosted by the most incredible couple, Jean-Claude and Marie-Reine.
After a very welcome air-conditioned plane from Tikehau, we arrived in Fakarava and immediately bumped into more friends, Zoe and Sam who we’d met in New Zealand and who Lise and Nico had first met camping in Tikehau together. Zoe and Sam had also just stayed at Tekopa Village (because of Lise and Nico’s advice) and had the most incredible time. Do you follow? Basically we are all following each other around! We were picked up by Jimmy and his wife Tilda and dropped off at JC and MR’s (easier to use their initials than writing the long names each time).
They were the most welcoming, lovely, happy couple. It was just us and them, and a big private beach. We received the most beautiful flower garlands on arrival, made with the local Tiare flower and hand-made by MR.
We put up our tent in the most idyllic spot just in front of the water and decided to snorkel straight away. It wasn’t the best but it was still pretty incredible to have on our doorstep. After a little dip, we got to know JC and MR a little more. On the day we arrived they had just been officially granted a permit for their campsite and bungalow, a new business to be run by their youngest daughter. They had constructed the one and only gorgeous hand-made bungalow a week or so before and were currently in the middle of building a new toilet and shower room, just the two of them!!!!
The whole campsite was exactly the type of place JM and I wanted to stay in whilst in French Polynesia. It was amazing! We sat for hours the first evening chatting, and were joined by Jimmy and Tilda. Jimmy took us to the dive school next door, O2 Fakarava, who had also recently opened (2 weeks before) and who our friends had also recommended. Thibault and Marion the owners were brilliant, friendly and we organised some diving with them for the following afternoon and days following. All sorted and breakfast ordered for the next day we slept the best we had whilst camping. Bring on the next four days in Fakarava.
The first full day in Fakarava was hot! Straight out of the tent and into the water for a snorkel all before 6:00am. Breakfast ready for us and the great company of eating with JC and MR the day started off well. We took the free bikes available to us to explore the village of Rotoava and see what the place had to offer = Not a lot! There was a post office, a few convienence stores and some small snack bars.
We cycled to the airport along the famous Jacques Chirac road (build for when the ex-president of France was due to visit Fakarava and then never came!) and passed beautifully coloured coral reefs particularly by the airport itself. The fish, the coral, the crystal clear water, the sunshine. This is Polynesia! Stupidly we forgot our masks and snorkels but an excuse to go back again in the next few days.
Coral garden near the airport!
Let’s dive in the best place on earth
My excitement peaked at the thought of diving in the northern pass of Fakarava. Something that has been documented a lot on in France in particular.
Fakarava has been named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, famous for its sharks and grouper mating season, as welI as its beautiful coral reefs. I was looking forward to seeing what the fuss was about.
The afternoon dive in the northern pass was phenomenal, I’ve never seen visibility like it.
I never thought we would dive with 50 + sharks, incredible coral, fish everywhere, gorgeous Napoleons everywhere, and to top it off dolphins at the surface when we were on the boat – Wow! One of my best dives ever!
Moored up and back at the dive centre, and a few beers later we booked another 2 days of diving. All in the north pass. It was going to be a good couple of days!
Sharks, sharks and more sharks
Day 2 started like every other day on the atoll – wake up – snorkel – breakfast –shower. We did another 2 dives in the morning in the north pass with a surface time snorkelling a great spot in the lagoon.
Diving here is out of this world!!!!!!!!!!! Wow and wow again. The first dive of the day was even better than the day before!!
Tired but nicely relaxed we spent the rest of the afternoon helping JC build the new shower room and toilet which he was doing on his own. Hopefully we were of some assistance and speeded up the process a little. We had a laugh doing it anyway!
Time to see south Fakarava
On day 3 we signed up to a day excursion to the Southern Pass organised by the Pension next door – Paparara. I was desperate to dive in the south but unfortunately O2 Fakarava didn’t have enough people (only me) to warrant using their boat. The pension organising the excursion however, said they could get to the pass earlier and I could get a dive in with a dive school on the south pass. Sadly when we arrived at the pension all excited about diving and raring to go, the boat wasn’t even in the water and the other woman joining us had only just finished breakfast. Nevermind we eventually got going and after over 50km and an hour and a half at full speed we arrived in the south at the tiny village of Tumakohua.
Just before arriving Frank our Captain, chef and entertainer for the day went spearfishing for our lunch. We had a quick snorkel at the same time and again sharks everywhere. This time they were pretty active and with Frank catching fish and the smell of blood, Frank lost a few of his catches to the sharks and decided 2 big parrot fish were enough and didn’t want to get eaten himself. Neither did we! Once we arrived at Tumakohua we had a short wonder around the village visiting the most gorgeous colourful church and the miniscule prison. There really isn’t much to the tiny village.
Best snorkeling if the current is right
We did initially think about staying in the south for a few days before arriving in Faka but we’d heard the price was in the region of 500 euros for 3 nights not including the dives. A little out of our budget we thought! The accommodation was so basic it wasn’t really worth the money but the bungalows were so lovely and authentic. After an explore we got to snorkel in the pass. The visibility was crystal clear, the currents weak at that time of the day, there was beautiful coral, sharks and Napoleons everywhere and fish fish fish! We could even see the divers easily so I didn’t feel so gutted that we turned up late and missed my opportunity. Lunch time was calling and we were taken to a beautiful motu with pink sand.
A Hinano in hand, we watched as our fish was BBQed alongside freshly baked coconut bread and fresh Poisson Cru and salads were prepared. It was all delicious. We ate whilst taking in the scenery – No one but us, zillions of palm trees, pink sand and crystal clear turquoise water. It was absolutely out of this world. After a couple of hours we headed back to the pass. We snorkelled a little and again it was phenomenal but unfortunately Frank decided to spearfish again and got all the sharks excited, Grey sharks circling us and then a Silky shark rocked up – that would have been fine normally just not when someone is spearfishing – so we had to get back in the boat and find another spot which wasn’t as good and the current was rapidly increasing.
A little disappointed that our last few hours weren’t as good as earlier in the day we just chilled and enjoyed what was there. We finished off cruising home as the sun went down. The day was awesome but very expensive. We are very happy we got to see the south. It’s definitely worth it but it might have been better shopping around a little and checking out what the other Pensions had to offer. When we got told we could dive I think we jumped at the chance rather than taking time to think. In our opinion the day wasn’t quite worth the money we forked out. It would’ve definitely been better to go with the O2 dive centre if they’d had enough people. They do a similar BBQ, you could have dived and those not diving would have been able to snorkel. Still we had fun and saw the beautiful pass and half of Fakarava.
Perfect ending to a wonderful stay!
Our last morning on the atoll topped off our stay perfectly. After a little bike ride visiting the ocean side of the atoll, a small pearl shop (no pearls purchased) and a quick goodbye to Marion and Thibault we spent the rest of the morning with JC and MR.
We each planted a cocotier tree on their land, “an excuse to come back and see it in the future!” they said, we walked around across some of their land and they showed us their plans for the future.
They made us wreath for our heads from the vines on some of their trees and they gave us fresh coconut water to have whilst chilling in the sea. I can’t think of a better morning in Faka. We were genuinely gutted to be leaving them.
We got the impression they felt the same and it was a really sad, but lovely goodbye. MR even gave me a necklace with pearls that she’d made herself so not to forget her. Everything about our stay in Faka was incredible but in particular and more importantly the people. Faka is tiny, with a very small population and not much to do but diving – INCREDIBLE DIVING!!! – and snorkelling but if you can mingle with the locals and you don’t dive it will still make for an incredible experience and you’ll want to stay longer!