It’s easy not to notice the small, lovely islets that form a ring around Fakarava’s lagoon, the second largest atoll in French Polynesia. After all, it’s the lagoon that draws your attention, its beauty pulling at you like a magnet.
There is a purity in the lagoon and the quiet elegance of the marine life that live out their lives in the shallows near shore. It’s almost as if you glance at it each time you’re seeing and feeling it for the first time. Here, the world seems unblemished. Life in the small villages, with their bougainvillea lined roads, bright coral churches, quaint homes, boulangerie, snacks, and restaurants seems to hover above the clear waters surrounding this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Fakarava is part of the Tuamotu Islands that form the largest chain of atolls globally. Fakarava atoll’s rectangular shaped lagoon is the second-largest lagoon in the chain. A boat ride from one corner to another can take roughly an hour.
There are two major passes from the Pacific into the center: Garuae Pass, the largest lagoon pass in French Polynesia, and Tumakohua Pass, also known as Southern Pass. The flow of water in and out of the lagoon at the passes creates exceptionally crystal clear water and a diverse ecosystem. This is why Fakarava atoll is a bucket-list dream destination for scuba divers.
Fakarava features such an untouched environment that it has been officially designated a winter. The land and underwater wildlife are remarkable, including rare, endemic protected species which makes preservation critical. The purpose of the biosphere reserve designation is to combine the conservation of natural resources and human development harmoniously. This involves research, surveillance, training and education of locals and visitors.
Fakarava means “beautiful” or “making things superb.” For the Fakarava atoll, this means everything is as beautiful above as it is under the water. All you need is some simple snorkeling gear for you to fall in love with this oceanic wonder and the marine life so easy to encounter.
Divers travel from around the world to experience huge, fluorescent coral heads, reef sharks, sturgeons, white tip sharks, perch, barracudas, tunas, manta rays, and dolphins with superb underwater visibility and water temps closer to a bath than the ocean.
New divers can head to locations throughout the lagoon to see incredible marine life with little to no current. Experienced divers head to the passes to fly over magnificent underwater canyons covered by huge coral heads and inhabited by everything from schools of fish to “walls” of sharks.
The famous French painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954) would claim that colors were for setting oneself free. The artist spent three months in Tahiti in 1930, exploring as far as Fakarava, where he was enthralled by the infinite variety and shades of blue of the lagoon. This discovery was such that it triggered a new creative artistic move for Matisse. Think of Fakarava as visual therapy for the soul.
Grab your dive gear and head to Fakarava. Fakarava transportation stands out among most other Tuamotu Islands by having an airport with service to and from Papeete via Air Tahiti. Despite Fakarava’s remoteness and size, there are outstanding accommodations and vacation packages to rest up for the next day’s dives.