The Tuamotus Diaries #33, Day 67 – August 3rd 2016
Having been in Fakarava for 24 hours now, I wanted to register my first impressions of it before they are no more.
Fakarava is a very large atoll – 30 miles long by 15 miles wide – and you can feel it once inside. From one of its rims it is impossible to see the other side of the atoll. Upon arrival we benefited from very pleasant weather conditions, which helped us create a positive first-impression. We arrived through the North pass, and then sailed down to roughly the middle of the atoll for our first days in. A navigable channel has been marked between the North and South passes of Fakarava, passing just a few meters from the atoll’s eastern rim shore, being therefore absolutely protected from the prevailing Trade Winds’ eastern direction. We sailed this channel for over two hours on the way down the shore, enjoying a lovely breeze just a tad ahead of the beam, on perfectly flat seas – I dare to say the best sailing I have EVER had. As we enjoyed sailing along the channel, the village and adjoining developments paraded slowly before our eyes.
Fakarava’s village spreads for at least two miles along the atoll’s rim. It also counts with a number of tourism developments – fancy small constructions which look like hotels or small resorts. In fact, as we sailed down the rim, we crossed with a number of powerboats laden with lobster-like, red skinned tourists. We saw a number of Pearl Farms – an economic activity common in the Tuamotus atolls. Some of these farms, we understand, cater to tourism often offering tours of their underwater facilities. We are looking forward to visiting one of them with the arrival of my sister in law.
We dropped anchor at a place more or less halfway down the atoll’s eastern rim, a place called Tonae. It’s a roadstead anchorage lined with white sandy patches interspersed with reefs, with the usual backdrop of palm trees and scrub. The wind is very light, the water still as glass, and we can only hear the roar of the ocean outside. If not as transparent as in Makemo, the water here is of a vivid, deep royal blue, like in a giant swimming pool, and we didn’t resist plunging as soon as the anchor was set. We had a deliciously tranquil night o’sleep.
Having been for such a long time in Makemo, and having enjoyed it so much, it is impossible not to compare. To my eye, Fakarava did seem a lot more Developed and Touristy than Makemo. As Adriana, Raquel and Paulo praised this aspect, I still remain to get used to it – or convinced. With much fewer coral heads, and the navigable marked channel crossing it from North to South, I believe Fakarava is also easier to move inside. And the consequence of this is immediate – almost everywhere along the first half of the rim that we sailed yesterday could we see some form or another of human development, be it private or commercial. We also saw more cruising boats here yesterday than the total aggregate amount we’d seen during two months inside Makemo. Every now and then we see powerboats passing by us here at the anchorage, and there is definitely traffic in the radio channels – both of which were rarities on the other atoll. In a nutshell, if I were to summarize, Makemo is far more Raw and Wilder than Fakarava.
Most of this difference, I believe, stems from two specific aspects that differ between the two atolls. Having a lot more coral heads inside, navigation is far more hazardous inside Makemo (and the marked navigable channel built in Farakava further augments this difference). But perhaps the most relevant aspect: Fakarava is oriented Across the prevailing wind direction, whereas Makemo is oriented mostly Along it. Even the slightest Trade Wind will create quite a chop inside Makemo, whereas in Fakarava it does not stir the water at all.
As calm as it feels inside here, though, Fakarava’s sheer dimension is keeping me uneasy. As tranquil as it is inside with the prevailing wind directions, there is a lot of fetch for all other directions, and should the wind decide to blow “from the wrong side” conditions can deteriorate significantly inside of here. But this is something we will have to learn to deal with over time.
For now, we are having a good time, resting from the passage, and getting ready for Raquel’s b-day.