Diving in the Fakarava atoll was an unforgettable experience for me. The excitement of gliding in the current surrounded by hundreds of sharks was indescribable. One minute I was looking at a school of yellow fish and the very next second, there I was, facing a wall of large grey sharks. Seriously, regardless of the dive site you visit, Fakarava diving will not disappoint you one bit!
Fakarava has two passes connecting the ocean with the lagoon. The North Pass is called Garuae and the South Pass is Tumakohua. Because of the incoming current from the ocean to the lagoon (and the outgoing from the lagoon into the ocean), there is an abundance of aquatic life. The seabed topography varies from sand flats to canyons and large coral gardens. The healthy reef houses a diverse marine ecosystem all year round. Besides having a myriad of colourful fish of all sizes, there are hundreds of beautiful sharks in the pristine waters. The corals are also plentiful and very pretty. With underwater visibility between 20 to 40 meters, no wonder Fakarava diving tops the list of world’s best diving sites.
WHERE IS FAKARAVA?
Fakarava is a little piece of South Pacific paradise. It lies in the remote Tuamotu islands, about one hour-flight away Northeast from Tahiti in French Polynesia. The Tuamotu archipelago is the world’s largest chain of atolls, comprising over 80 islands. You can imagine how cool it is to fly over them! The sandbars take different shapes and are surrounded by brightly blue water.
FAKARAVA DIVING – NORTH PASS
This is the widest pass in French Polynesia. The water currents are strong to the point that at times, the oxygen bubbles flow passed you horizontally! Diving in the Garuae Pass can be challenging, so it is likely to find very advanced divers. Nonetheless, on a good day, it is possible to dive in certain parts of the pass if you are less experienced. This is what Andy and I did. We were both kind of beginners but we were very determined to dive the pass. This was the sole reason for us visiting Fakarava. And let me tell you, diving along and against the current was not the challenging part but staying still at one spot for a long time.
You never know what you will see underwater in the Garuae Pass. It depends on what the current brings into the channel every day. But you are always guaranteed to see a spectacular marine ecosystem. We have proof to show you!
We did two dives in the North Pass: one along a cliff wall in the outer ocean side and, one drift dive into the channel. They were both exciting and beautiful but the second dive was beyond thrilling! I began the descend in the deep blue with nothing in site but Andy and the dive master. It was so strange seeing nothing but the intense ocean blue. A few minutes later, we transitioned into clearer lighter water with plenty of marine life. Words cannot describe the feeling of being pushed by the current into the channel! I had the sensation of almost free floating, as if I were in space, but surrounded by vibrant coral gardens and thousands of fish. From there on, the experience was like an underwater party! Fish dancing around us, corals swinging back and forth and our bubbles swirling before us.
And then…there they were! Hundreds of large sharks in line graciously swimming against the current in the channel. It was insane! We held ourselves to a dead piece of coral to remain as still as possible watching the “wall of sharks”. We were near enough to see their eyes well but far enough not to disturb them.
There were mainly Grey sharks, of around two meter-length, but also other pelagic fish such as Whitetip, Silvertip, Tawny Nurse and Blacktip ocean sharks.
FAKARAVA DIVING – SOUTH PASS
Fakarava’s South Pass is more remote than Garuae Pass as it lies in the southernmost part of the atoll. Accommodation in this area is scarce and it is very likely, you will stay in the northern part of the island, near Rotoava. If this is the case, you will have to arrange your South Pass diving in advance. Diving shops usually do not visit the Tumakohua pass on a daily basis because it is time-consuming and costly to reach. As a result, most trips to the South Pass are organised for two dives with a lunch stay at the beach (and sometimes a short stop to Pink Beach). It takes around one hour and a half-boat ride one way and it is only possible when the sea state is calm.
As for the Garuae Pass, the diving has to be timed according to the tides in and out of the lagoon. We saw large schools of barracudas, Moorish Idols, Bannerfish, Wrasses, Angelfish and many more. But what makes Tumakohua special is the impressive “wall of sharks”. There are constantly many and very close to each other. From the first descend to the sand channel, I found myself facing slender Grey sharks right into their eyes. At first, I thought I should move off their way but then, as the first few swam passed me undisturbed, I realised there was nothing to fear. I was beyond mesmerized!! It was surreal to be moving right towards these marine creatures.
The drift dive continued parallel to the wall of sharks until hitting a sort of cavern. We used it for shelter while we observed the big pelagic fish in their natural habitat. Here we saw the same shark species as in Garuae Pass and a White-spotted Eagle Ray.
As we dived in shallower waters towards the exit point at the beach, we passed by large coral gardens and ten to twelve fast blacktip reef sharks. They were too curious about us and would swim within arm’s length from us. By this point, we had dived a complete hour with larger sharks, so we were not intimidated. They kept us company even during our lunch in ankle-depth water.
DIVING OPERATOR OPTIONS
There are not as many diving shops as in other more popular islands of French Polynesia. Before booking the trip to Fakarava, I was considering Top Dive and Dive Spirit. The former is the largest and most popular diving operator in French Polynesia. I chose to go with the latter option for a more personalised experience. It was the right choice as there were fewer people in the boat and more individual attention for the challenging drift dives. From the first emails with Dive Spirit to the post-dive chat, Ariane and Matias were very helpful. The equipment and the boat were new, the diving shop facilities were comfortable and the dive masters were very attentive. Ah! And the food was delicious too!
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