Island paradise. We have all imagined it…the soft white beaches, the bluest of waters with palm trees slowly waving in the light sea breezes, coconuts mysteriously appearing with little straws in them…..
As we left Tahiti, the waves became a bit rough and we braced ourselves for a period of walking adjustment. We sailed all night and all the next day before we arrived at Fakarava. This area is one of the largest atolls and the second largest lagoon in the Tuamotu Archipelago and they get more sunshine than any other area in French Polynesia. It is also classified by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve. We are glad to be here in May as the shoulder seasons are the best times to visit. It is also home to Garuae Pass, the largest pass in all of French Polynesia. This is a break in the coral reef where you enter into the lagoon and it does not look wide enough for us to fit through!
The lagoon has several smaller atolls that are completely protected by the coral reef which provides an environment for underwater fish, flora, and fauna to flourish. The islands are flat and full of white sand and palm trees set in beautiful blue waters. 800 people live here and it is the original home to the Pomares, who later became the Royal Family of Tahiti.
The boat anchored right in front of a small coral reef and we did take the kayak over to visit it in the late afternoon. There is some very bright purple and blue coral that is very pretty. The water was very shallow so everything was easy to see, even the fish, and with the wind blowing us we just drifted over the top.
Early the next morning we decided to go on the blue lagoon snorkeling tour and we hoped to see a few fish. After a 20-minute boat ride, our first stop was at a small atoll that was filled with birds and we were able to drop an anchor there. We jumped in to see the fish swimming in and out of the coral surrounding the island and enjoyed being the only boat in the area. We did see a flutefish which we later learned can swim backward. I guess that helps them to get out of tight coral spaces. The fish here were very colorful and plentiful and we saw more than I had hoped we would see. At the edge of the coral surrounding the island, there was a steep drop-off that was like looking into a dark blue abyss. The water was so very clear and yet you could not see the bottom in the distance. I am not a diver and I am not comfortable being and seeing underwater and I swear I could hear the jaws movie music beginning to play as I looked into the deep waters. Time to get out!
Our next stop was the Blue Lagoon-a lagoon within a lagoon. From the bird island, we sped through the blue waters that gradually turned green as the water became more shallow. We arrive at one of the atolls and the sand below was very white and the sun was high so the greens and blues of the waters were just stunning.
As we walked from the boat through clear waters to the atoll, I saw a stingray swimming past. They are graceful and appear to be flying underwater and this one was a light gray in color. You could easily miss it if you were not paying attention.
We entered the atoll among many palm trees and an old rusty shelter. We could see blue water on the other side and as we approached, the view that unfolded before us was amazing. The arcing white sand beach surrounded the deep blue of the lagoon creating an oasis that would be hard to leave as we were the only ones there and there were only 12 of us.
The snorkel here was not as good as the bird island, but we enjoyed very shallow water with some coral islands that housed some colorful yellow-tailed Eastern triangular Butterflyfish, some black fish, and some very colorful blue fish that were very small. Then someone yells shark! I am thinking….nope, too shallow for jaws and sure enough, the sharks are Blacktip Reef Sharks and are generally harmless. At first, we see only a few and they are curious about us, but from a distance. Suits me just fine.
Our guide Louis and his crew had set up a table of local bread, cookies, and coconut milk. Yummy! They just take a very large knife and hack off the tip of the coconut and insert a straw. It is so refreshing and tastes nothing like the canned coconut we get at home. Local island bread is also very good. We learned that when sailing in the Abaco Islands. Some loaves of bread you had to buy early or they sell out!
One of our fellow shipmates started to feed the fish some cookie crumbs and the fish came right up to him. We were all standing in ankle-deep water just watching and enjoying the antics of the fish fighting over the crumbs when someone yells…shark! They wanted to see what all the commotion was about and we ended up with 6 sharks around us at one point. We all just stood still and watched as they circled about. They came very close but were generally shy and stayed a fair distance away. I enjoyed watching them…from a safe distance. Just in case.