Protected from mass tourism, this Tuamotu archipelago has a global influence that is reminiscent of the sun of its islands.
With no less than 76 atolls, including Fakarava, Mataiva, Rangiroa, Hao, Anaa, Ahe, Manihi or Makemo, the archipelago stretches for hundreds of kilometers. From the sky, “the Tuam’s”, as we usually call them, look like small bubbles that would have burst when rising to the surface.
The island of Fakarava
Former capital of the Tuamotu, Fakarava is 450 km northeast of Tahiti. Renowned for the beauty of its seabed and the diversity of its ecosystem, the island has been awarded the title of biosphere by UNESCO. It is good to bask in the sun of Fakarava.
With its 60km long and 21 km wide, the island is considered the second largest Polynesian atoll after Rangiroa. 16km² of land for 1100km² of lagoon, you must admit that these numbers are nice enough to attract divers from every corner of the globe.
Punctuated by numerous motu (islets), most of which remain unexplored, the atoll only asks to be visited by new adventurers on its beaches of pink sand lined with crystalline waters.
Although it is tempting to live from love and fresh coconut water, it is necessary that the inhabitants provide for their needs. Therefore, the majority of them live in the two main villages of the atoll, where the economic center is. As in most Tuamotu Islands, the primary source of income is pearl farming. Ladies (gentlemen), if you want to visit a pearl farm, you are at the perfect place! Tourism comes in second place and allows hosts and other service providers alive.
Split into two parts, the island concentrates the majority of its economic activities in the North where are the airport, some shops and other snacks. In the South, everything seems wilder and isolated. To sum up, if you want to choose the ease, opt for the North face where you can find the main motu and the Rotoava village. If on the contrary, you have an adventurous spirit, go for the South part with its little motu and the village of Tetamonu.
The pearl farms:
Symbol of Polynesia, the “Tahiti Black Pearl”, as it is generally called, is an exceptional souvenir that many like to bring back from their holidays. By having chosen a stay at the Tuamotu, you are in the perfect place. The pearl is to the Tuamotu what the nougat is to Montelimar, the “Bêtises” to Cambrai, etc… The atoll has two pearl farms open to the public. 10km from Rotoava is “the Hinano Pearls”, while “Pearls of Havaiki”, the oldest farm in the atoll still in operation, is further south. Both will allow you to learn more about the creation process. And if you’d like a quick summary, check out our article on pearl farms.
The village of Rotoava:
Let’s go for a walk in the “city center”! Charming and picturesque village, Rotoava is located on the north, just by the beach. The church there testifies of the evangelization of the atoll in 1849, it was built and blessed the following year by Honoré Laval. Since then, the population of Fakarava has remained predominantly Catholic.
The town also hosts the only school of the atoll that can accommodate up to 130 students. From the sixth grade, students must go to Rangiroa High School and Papeete High School.
Finally, you will find a tiny police center, diving centers, some snacks and that’s it. This is also what makes the beauty of the Tuamotu, its calm and its wilderness.
The Tetamanu Church:
Built at the edge of the Tumakohua Pass, the village of Tetamanu is one of a kind. Former capital of the atoll, it is home to one of the first Catholic churches in French Polynesia. Built in 1874 with coral, it is very well preserved and beautifully decorated with garlands of shells.
The old lighthouse of Topaka:
The flagship monument of the island, the Topaka tower is an exceptional building. With its 14m20 height, its unusual style and ten terraces made of stones, coral and cement, it stands out from the rest of the landscape. Built in 1957 under the direction of a woman, Mrs. Taui Degage, helped by a team of men from Rurutu, the lighthouse is made of lime for the most part (coral powder), as it is customary in the Austral Islands.
Originally, the lighthouse served as a landmark for fishermen and pleasure boats day and night. Today, it is no longer in use because other more modern models have replaced it and it is likely to be demolished as it is in the protection zone of the airport, which is why you must hasten to get there!
What activities to practice?
The Big Blue? Blue hell? In deep water? These films probably ring a bell … Find out by yourself what the Pacific has to offer. It is unimaginable to go to Fakarava without jumping into the water … Scuba diving is the number one activity on the atoll as the underwater fauna and flora are so rich.
Flip a coin?
To the north, the Garuae Pass has some surprises for you … The largest pass in French Polynesia, it is 1600m wide and allows you to observe the coral reefs and different specimens drift diving, like grey sharks. It is considered to be more difficult because of the current but most dive centers choose to exploit it because it is only 25 minutes away by boat from the village.
To the south, the Tumakohua Pass is in the middle of nowhere. It is particularly known for its famous school of grey sharks that stroll on 20m deep and 200m wide, something to impress you. There, thousands of fishes have their home: barracuda, napoleon fish, very classic for Polynesia. Oops … I’m told in the headset that we just saw a paddle perch and a fish surgeon!
Red mullet, damselfish, damselfly, grouper, parrotfish, jacks, soles, scorpion fish, nazons, trumpet fish and hundreds of small coral fishes have found refuge in these waters … Some eagles rays wander here and there, between sleeping sharks, grey sharks and white tips. Beware of the moray eels…
Only disadvantage: the price, which is higher than the rates charged in the North because of the distance. It takes 1hr30 to 2hrs to get there by boat. However, you can choose an accommodation located on the south of the atoll if you want to save time.
The richness of the island’s ecosystem earned its reputation as the “Mecca for diving”.
Take a bike ride on the Jacques Chirac road:
In 2003, when Gaston Flosse was president of French Polynesia, he undertook to build a road 15km long so that his friend, the President of the French Republic Jacques Chirac, could visit him in his country house, in peace. However he has never been there, but the inhabitants are happy to be able to take one of the most beautiful roads of the archipelago. Even today, the Paumotu like to call it the “Chirac road” and there is no doubt that you will have a good time on the asphalt.
Blue Lagoon Tour:
The beauty of the lagoon as well as the diversity of species that are hidden there have contributed to the fame of the island. It would be a pity to leave without having enjoyed an excursion on the water … Located 45min by boat from the Atoll, the blue lagoon (or green lagoon for some) is a must. Under the radiant sun, we discover a lagoon inside the lagoon, it reveals all its shades and contrasts with the surrounding sandbars. Between two snorkeling breaks, do not forget to get your head out of the water and roll your eyes, take the time to stop at the Bird Island.
Take a sunbath on the pink sand beaches:
It is still unknown but Fakarava has also beautiful pink sand beaches, like Tikehau. Why not bask in the sun, surrounded by small strings of deserted islands where the sand takes a slightly pinkish hue?
Discover the marae:
Cultural remains of yesteryear Polynesia, the marae attest of the richness of the Maohi heritage. In Torea, at the north of the atoll, is the Tainoka marae, also called Tahiri Vai Rau named after the warrior who guarded the pass more than 300 years ago.
The ships wishing to cross the lagoon were to announce themselves by singing a warrior song and, in the manner that it was executed, Tahiri Vai Rau knew if they were allies or enemies. The latter were thrown to sharks or taken to Utukaega for torture.
Where to stay?
The island does not have any international luxury hotel, travelers generally choose to go there to get to know their hosts, to discover the local way of life, to isolate themselves from the rest of the world and to enjoy the surrounding nature. Therefore, many guesthouses will be happy to welcome you but if you want a little more comfort, the atoll also has some very nice lodges.
Tama’a! It’s time to eat:
Once again, if you are near the village, you will have no problem finding a snack bar or a small restaurant for lunch. Day trips also include a meal and a snack, but for dinner we recommend booking your stay half board. In addition, it will give you the opportunity to taste the homemade dishes of your host…
If you stay next to the village, walking can be a relaxing option, there is no doubt you will be able to get around the village. However, if you want to go further, you’d better rent a bike or a scooter. And if you want more comfort and drive as fast as 30km/h on the main road, choose an electric car!
How to get there?
First of all, you have to take a plane to Tahiti, as you can imagine that the airstrips of the atolls cannot accommodate Airbus or any other plane this big… Then, you just have to book a flight from Tahiti to Fakarava via the local airline Air Tahiti. 1h10 in direct flight, 2h if you make a small stop in Rangiroa, the exact time you need to doze off on the plane…
The weather point:
The Tuamotu Archipelago enjoys almost perpetual sunshine. This is the special characteristic of the atoll, its surface being flat, clouds have no mountainous terrain to cling to. Therefore, although rainfalls are higher during the rainy season (November to April), they are much less numerous than in other archipelagos. If you want to visit the atoll in optimal conditions, prefer to leave during the austral winter, between May and October: the temperatures are slightly lower (between 23 and 30 degrees) and you will enjoy a sunny weather.
Our little extras:
Fakarava used to be called Havai’i and Havaiki.
Garuae, the North Pass, is the largest in French Polynesia with 1.6 km wide.