Fakarava, Tuamotus

Tuamotu is the largest of the Polynesian archipelagos consisting of 76 islands and atolls spread over nearly 8,000 square miles. Over the last 10 years, the islands have come to life with the establishment of some 250 pearl farms and tourism based around rich scuba diving sites. Fakarava now joins Rangiroa, Manihi and Tikehau as an important dive destination.

Today, Fakarava, in the Tuamotu island group, remains one of the most remote dive destinations in French Polynesia. Speaking French here is definitely a plus. With one small dive lodge and one small "pension" and no restaurants, Fakarava is for the true adventurer. With the largest pass into the lagoon to be found anywhere in French Polynesia and with currents reaching five-knots, diving is for the more experienced.

Two passes open into the lagoon, Garuae in the north and Tetamanu to the south. Each are served by different dive operators. Garuae has strong currents and large numbers of big pelagic animals. The south pass near the village of Tetamanu offers outstanding photographic opportunities.

Te Ava Nui Diving operated by Jean-Christophe Lapeure, is located close to the airport and closest to the north pass. Tetamanu Diving Center is some 30 miles (50 km) from the airport, an hour by car to the south side. They dive mostly the south pass as the 35-mile boat ride to the north pass is generally too much to do daily.

Garuae is the largest pass in French Polynesia measuring more than one mile across. Strong currents are guaranteed daily bringing in the big pelagics. Just outside the pass is a coral garden called Central Park. The afternoon dive is generally done here looking for manta rays, grey sharks, dolphins and the gaint wrasses.

In the morning we went diving at Garuae Pass. The dive is generally somewhere between exciting and exhilarating. On our last day, the current was especially strong and the waters were full of sharks. Taking the opportunity, I became separated from the group as I was swept through the channel. But as most passes do, I was dumped back into the same location as the rest of the group. Here the waters churned and I renamed this area the "mix-master." In the afternoon at Central Park, we were treated to the display and dance of four friendly manta rays in clear water. It was an excellent video opportunity.

The diving center is moving to the newly built Matai Fakarava Dream Hotel, whose land is owned by Leon and Mathilde. They are also upgrading their pension to include an over-the-water restaurant and six bungalows offering a budget alternative to the Fakarava Dream Hotel.

Fakarava may even get a new road replacing the coral-sand one of today. With a new hotel and a restaurant or two, it will grow over the next few years to resemble some of the bigger dive destinations. The unspoiled beaches of Fakarava have some of the most spectacular sunsets to be found anywhere in French Polynesia. With exciting advanced small-group diving and a Polynesian island atmosphere, now is the time to experience this remote tropical adventure.

Fakarava, Tuamotus
French Polynesia