The Tuamotus | Dangerous archipelago
First the apprehension, approaching the entry channel and then, the wonder of the first lagoon …
The dangerous archipelago!
One is apprehensive when preparing to enter the first pass of a Tuamotu atoll, the so called ‘Dangerous Archipelago’. And then, the wonder of the first lagoon. The anchor touches white sand in 2 meters of crystal clear water and all around is an incredible palette of greens, blues, turquoise and then mauve as the evening approaches and we light a fire on a deserted motu. A quick selfie is needed to be sure that we’re not dreaming, not because there is an internet connection to put it on line! The Tuamotus are the essence of the Pacific Islands: a thin fringe of sand clinging to the edge of a coral reef. Outside, the immensity of the ocean, inside the lagoon where the colours of the coral rival the fish. Between the two is the pass, hunting zone for large fish and sharks and an unforgettable dive experience.
The underwater life is so abundant that snorkeling or spear fishing become a passion that one can dedicate hours to each day. When not swimming, one can gaze at the immense horizon and dream or set of exploring the lagoon on a paddle board. The Tuamotus are full of great kite boarding spots: steady trade winds, calm lagoons.
The passes offer great surf spots which work according to the prevailing swell. The best know of these are the waves of Rangiroa and Tikehau, but Fakarava, Apataki and Faaite are just as good and mostly deserted.
Our favourite atolls: Fakarava, Toau, Faaite…
- Administrative requirements:
None if you’ve already entered French Polynesia through the Marquise or Tahiti, or visit the local gendarmes if there is an office on the atoll you visit, they can handle clearing in.
- Water/Gas/Fuel :
Fakarava Yacht Services + pensions
- Provisions :
Some small shops in the villages that sell basic produce and some fruit and vegetables if you’re lucky
Getting to the Tuamotu
450 miles South West of the Marquise and 250 miles North East of Tahiti, the Tuamotus were known as the ‘Dangerous Archipelago’. So low on the water they are almost invisible and with strong currents and swell pushing onto coral reefs. Without GPS or accurate charts, it was wise to steer clear. Today sailing this zone is much easier, but it is wise to keep in mind that charts are not always accurate…
The sail from the Marquise typically takes 3 to 4 days reaching in the trade winds. It is best to plan your arrival for daylight and tides to make the passes easier to handle. Passes are best crossed at low tide or just at the start of the incoming tide. During outgoing tides some passes become dangerous with standing waves and turbulence. This means knowing when the tide will change! The rule to apply is that high-tide is generally around midday. However when the sea swell is big it’s possible to have an outgoing tide for several days, while the lagoon empties of all the water that the waves push over the reefs.
Once inside a lagoon, the navigation buoys (when present) are generally accurate but one should keep a keen eye out for coral heads. Best is to move about between 10am and 3pm to ensure the best visibility.
Arriving from the Marquise the first atolls one crosses are Takaroa, Manihi and Ahe. The largest are Rangiroa and Fakarava. The closest to Tahiti are Rangiroa and Tikehau which due to this proximity are better set-up for tourists with hotels, dive clubs etc. In the other atolls you might find a family pension and some stores with basic provisions, not much else. Don’t hesitate to call the contacts given in sailing guides if you need help deciding when to cross a pass, people are friendly and always ready to help.