We made our final downhill run to Papeete today, and to commemorate the occasion, Frank could not resist playing his theme song for the Pacific section of the trip: Southern Cross, by Crosby, Stills & Nash. It was kind of emotional for me, knowing I would not be back the Tuamotus way for many years most likely. All we have left here in French Polynesia is a trip to Bora Bora in a week or so, and then we’re on our way out…to the Cook Islands and on to New Zealand, the waterborne part of our trip having come to a close. We fly out from Rarotonga in the Cooks on Aug. 24 at 1 a.m., and when we do it, we lose the 24th entirely, arriving a few hours later on the 25th, having crossed the International Date Line.
From Fakarava, we averaged around 9 kts and matched Tahina’s top record speed at just over 19 kts, surfing down a wave. It took us a few days to figure out why Fakarava had been built up so high by everyone we’d heard from, because winds were in the 20s the whole week we were there. No dive boats were venturing from Rotoava, the main town on the north end, down to the south pass, which was what we’d come for. Frank couldn’t see any clear anchorages on the charts and his Google Earth photos didn’t help much, so he was hesitant to go down there and risk a very uncomfortable couple of days in an anchorage unprotected from the wind and waves. So we sat for 3 days, biding our time in the somewhat murky northern anchorage, hoping the win would lay down some. By Friday, we’d all had it.
Jason and I set out to see if we could get some local knowledge from a charter boat we recognized in the anchorage. The boat’s captain, a guy named Oliver from New Caledonia, was very friendly and whipped out his chart to show us 3 places we could very comfortably park Tahina. We brought this knowledge back to Frank and agreed to go for it in the morning. The south pass was 26 miles away and we wanted to be sure to get there during daylight hours.
To pass the time that afternoon, Jason and I rented bikes for $5 each from a pension behind the town gymnasium and played like we were back in Jacksonville, doing the beach cruiser thing. We went north toward the airport and explored an old abandoned lighthouse made of limestone from the reefs, and then we pedaled south for awhile until the wind tired us out and houses got thin. It was nice to get back on a bike. It’s been something like 6 months. We rode a total of 15k before giving it up and heading back to the boat.
The next morning we set sail early for Tetamanu in the south pass. We arrived before lunch and made our way to the dive shop we’d been calling for days to no avail. Sure enough, they were open, but somehow they were booked for the next 48 hours, despite their lack of phone answering services. Nico, the very dour and not-so-friendly dive master at the shop, recommended we go on our own.
After some snorkeling that afternoon, we followed his dive boat out so that we got the dropoff point and timing of the incoming current right, and about 10 min after his group went down, we rigged a very long line to our dinghy and went in. Jason towed the dinghy along with us, and we descended along the reef edge to about 85 feet. The current was moving at 2-3 kts, pulling us along gently so we didn’t have to do much work other than click the shutter button on the cameras. The reef here was spectacular, and the fish were plentiful. We saw more grouper than we’ve seen on the whole trip in this pass.
About midway through the dive, we rounded a corner and there were sharks everywhere. First it was 3 grey reef sharks on the bottom, and I swam over to get a photo. They sit in strong current to keep airflow going while they rest, and as I floated by one swam up and did a strange little flip in front of us, showing us her whole belly. A little further on, we hit a cloud of blackfin sharks. There were hundreds of these guys. They are known to be pretty much nonaggressive, so I swam over so the current would take me through the edge of the group so I could get some pics.
It was amazing, watching these sharks part around me as I floated through. One was swimming above me with his mouth wide open and two cleaner wrasses darting in and out of his teeth. Then all of a sudden I guess he got tired of them and slammed his mouth shut. They got out in time though, and even managed to get him to let them start cleaning again. Later, a shark higher up was following a small fish right toward Jason, and I could see both of us wondering if he was going to notice Jason and stop before he made a meal of it inches from Jason’s face. Sure enough, he saw Jason when he was about 15 feet away and stopped his pursuit. The fish will get to live another day.
The sharks were pretty deep (about 95 feet) and we were pretty late in the dive t be that deep, so we had to go ahead and part with them to make our way farther up in order to make sure we didn’t cause decompression sickness problems for ourselves, so we went back to the reef edge and looked at corals and napoleon wrasses, slowly inching upward until we rounded the corner of the pass. Then the current really picked up, and we started flying along at around 6 kts, past all kinds of fish and coral. It feels like a ride, and it’s one of my favorite parts of pass diving. I’d say the only downside is you have to put the camera down, because unless it’s video, anything you try to shoot ends up with motion blur.
We had dinner that night at Tetamanu Village with its very kind and friendly owner Anabelle, who was raised in Hawaii, and some of her guests at her and her husband’s resort. They have 6 small bungalows at the pass, complete with daily meals and prime snorkeling and diving access at the pass. They live there on the isolated motu of Tetamanu, which was previously the main town on Fakarava, but was moved to Rotoava years ago for reasons of convenience for supply ships to enter and exit as well as improved weather protection on the northern shore. They are now the only full-time residents of Tetamanu.
Before dinner, Nico the dive master came up and scolded me in a most unfriendly way for going near the sharks, because though his divers went in awhile before us, it turns out they were behind us, and he was very angry at the way my swimming close to them moved them away from his divers. I apologized, as we had no idea they were behind us and the sharks didn’t seem perturbed by my being there, but he continued to stare me down and then made a point of not conversing with anyone at the table for the rest of the night. My thought is, that’s what you get for not answering the phone for days on end and then refusing to take us as a guide. I didn’t know you were there. I apologized, so shoot me.
This probably didn’t help our case when we suited up for our dive the next morning and discovered we were short one tank of air. Nico flat out refused to rent us a tank or fill one of ours. In fact, he wouldn’t even speak to us. So Jason went to Annabelle, the owner of the shop and the resort, and she agreed. Needless to say Nico threw a fit and started yelling about us and pointing, but Annabelle later told us it was his last day and that he’d been no good and she had a new dive master starting the next day. No wonder he wasn’t very customer service oriented…he was out of there. Either way, Annabelle saved the day and we had a great morning dive just before we made our way out for Tahiti. We’re happy to hear she’s got a new guide on the way and we’d recommend Tetamanu Village for a dive on Fakarava’s South Pass anytime.