I have been living in French Polynesia for 4 years now as I write these lines. Can’t believe how fast these four years went and how lucky I am to be able to discover all these Polynesian wonders, its islands… If you dream, deep down inside yourself, of untouched white sandy beaches, a lush vegetation, a warm temperature all year round and a pleasant tropical climate, chances are that French Polynesia is something you have in mind, with terms as exotic as Tahiti, Bora Bora or the Marquesas.
During these last few years, I had the chance to visit the Tuamotu archipelago several times. It is mainly known for hosting almost all the Polynesian atolls, including two of the most famous in the world for scuba diving: Fakarava and Rangiroa. These low-lying islands, almost floating, are a delight for all lovers of nature, heavenly places, lagoons with crazy colors and underwater depths to discover by snorkeling or diving. I already personally knew several atolls: Tikehau, Rangiroa, Fakarava, Kauehi, Tetiaroa, Niau, Aratika, Raraka or more recently Ahé, and I have to say that I keep taking so much pleasure in visiting these small pieces of the world…
I gladly had the opportunity to discover other Tuamotu atolls by catamaran during a full week, in partnership with Poe Charter and Tahiti Tourisme. Indeed, the Poe Charter team, whom I know well, recently announced the installation of a permanent charter base on Apataki atoll. This is the first one ever! The idea behind it? To develop tourism and to be able to offer charter cruises in the Tuamotus from Apataki, Fakarava or Rangiroa. So, I was proud to embark for a week on a Poe Charter catamaran to discover these wonders.
With two other French journalists, Bernard Rubinstein and Christine Camuset, commissioned by the magazines Voile Magazine / Le monde du Multicoque, as well as with an Italian journalist Federica Presutto, assigned by the magazine TU Style, I’m going to test the typical cruise that will be offered in September to anyone wishing to discover this piece of paradise!
On the program? Flying to Fakarava, then enjoying its lagoon, continuing on the magnificent atoll of Toau, then Apataki and Rangiroa. The whole trip will take 7 days! I think it is a great way to discover the remote corners of French Polynesia. All the people coming from France (or elsewhere) to the Tuamotus for a trip visit at least one of the 3 classics: Fakarava, Rangiroa or Tikehau. Very often, the circuits and tourist spots are always the same. By leaving in this way by catamaran for a week, it is then the occasion to go off the beaten track and to discover places which are still almost unknown! The small difference is that we will cruise for more days than planned, so as to soak up the local life. I would not continue the trip until Rangiroa, not being able to for personal reasons…
As usual, I remain entirely in control of the writing and I will try, during this long travel diary article, to make you live my experience and my feeling about my week. I hope it will give you a clear desire to come and try this adventure! Come on, let’s go for a week of vacation summarized!
For those who do not know the atolls, they are, to put it simply, ancient volcanic islands around where coral has developed. The volcanic island has eroded and sunk over time. We reach the stage of atoll when the volcanic island (located today in the center of the atoll) has completely disappeared. All that remains is the coral reef on which sand islands (“motu”) have been established and built. For comparison, the islands of Maupiti or Bora Bora are called “almost-atoll” because the volcanic island (admittedly old) is still present in the lagoon of these islands. On the atolls, there is always an “ocean” side, subject to swell and wind, and a “lagoon” side, more protected and usually calmer. Most of the villages, guesthouses and hotels are built on the lagoon side.
As one of the main interests of this new base in the Tuamotu is to spend as much time as possible on the catamaran, we flew from Tahiti with a flight from Tahiti -> Arutua -> Niau -> Fakarava. The weather is fine in Tahiti, but unfortunately very overcast in “Faka” (for those in the know).
On arrival, we are told that the charter that is supposed to take us during the week is a bit late because of a stormy sea. Everybody takes it easy, it’s not the end of the world. We meet Stephanie and Aldric, who pick us up at the airport and take us to their home, in the island’s village, Rotoava. Having arrived in French Polynesia in 2005, they decided to settle in Fakarava a few years later, in 2013. As a result, they opened a small boat service business: Fakarava Yacht Services. They are the ones you can contact if you need anything on the atoll: spare parts for your boat, laundry, bike rental, internet access, etc.
Aldric was kind enough to show us around the main village of the island, which is very nice even with bad weather conditions. We even visited the highest point of the island, the Topaka lighthouse. This lighthouse, built with lime in 1957 in the north of the atoll, is about 15 meters high. It was used as a visual landmark for the surrounding boats and could be lit by a fire.
Our catamaran finally arrived at the end of the afternoon, at nightfall, after 46 hours of sailing between Tahiti and Fakarava with a crazy wind and sea… Our team spent the night at the Paparara pension. I already knew the area for having slept there one night a few years ago. The is a really sublime place, at the edge of the water in charming bungalows!
This slight setback also shows the interest of having catamarans directly on the spot. I think it is a really good news to have soon 3 catamarans at disposal in Tuamotu. It’s time-saving so we can enjoy more the Tuamotu. Anyway, even if the weather is not on our side for the moment, we keep our chin up and I’m still as excited at the idea of leaving for a week on a catamaran in reality. It is the first time I do it!
The waking up on the second day lets me suppose that the weather could get better… It was still very cloudy but less than the day before, and we even had a beautiful rainbow on the lagoon, right in front of our eyes at the guesthouse. Aldric takes us to the atoll dock, and we meet the team that went through the nightmare yesterday at sea: Teiki, the skipper, and Mahana, the hostess, whom I already knew because I went to Tetiaroa with her.
We met everyone on the boat and settled into our respective cabins. I’m not a big boat specialist but the whole place is pretty cool I think, very clean. There are a total of 4 cabins on the catamaran, and we each have our own.
A small meal at the dock, still under a very threatening sky, and we’re off to the lagoon, towards the south of Faka. I must say that it is really unusual to have such bad weather at this time of the year, the month of June is often very nice, in theory. We sail quietly to the middle of the atoll in a channel marked on the GPS. I also learn with Teiki, surprisingly, that the entire atoll is not actually mapped and it is then very dangerous to venture out of the channel, at the risk of blowing up your catamaran on one of the many patch reefs outcropping in the lagoon (which would be really stupid for our first day…).
We moored in the evening at a magical-looking spot (Kakaiau), a kind of small recess in the coral reef, like a hoa (water passage between the lagoon and the ocean) but which had been filled in. Unfortunately, the weather is still very bad for this first day, but we are all happy to be here!
First wake-up on the catamaran: the night was good, very calm, we are now on the lagoon side and well protected by the motu next to us. After a good breakfast, we decide to go and explore this famous hoa where we slept, even if the weather is still not on our side.
It is a little frustrating to have a very cloudy weather because, even with clouds, the spot seems very beautiful. We spend a small moment in the place in order to take some pictures and stroll in 50cm of water.
The objective of our day? The famous south pass of Fakarava! We slowly sail down the south pass on the lagoon side and arrive there in the beginning of the afternoon. The overcast sky keeps sticking with us for the moment, but this does not prevent us from exploring this little piece of paradise lost at almost a day’s sail from the North Passage by catamaran. The weather is almost apocalyptic at our arrival. It is really dark, and we can’t imagine being here in case of big hurricane, considering the height of motus in the corner.
We unload the zodiac (which goes almost everywhere) on one of the small beaches of the main motu. People come here for scuba diving and for the famous shark wall of the South Pass. If you are looking for somewhere on the other side of the world, this is the place to be. We are really very (very) far from everything here. We only meet diving enthusiasts or almost, and some sailors passing by.
Visiting the area is very nice and we spend some hours strolling in this corner outside of time. Even if the weather is still not good, the place is splendid. The water is crystal clear, I don’t even dare to imagine with sunshine. Black tip sharks are present everywhere along the beach! A little swim with them feels good (don’t worry, they are almost afraid of you).
The South Pass of Fakarava is a bit like the world’s end, the ideal place for diving and discovering the marine life, and why not a bit of lazing around and snorkeling on the coral reef too?
We went to take a look at a monohull that crashed on the reef a few days before our arrival. He apparently tried to leave at night, which is obviously not recommended in a channel with current… A quick visit to the local church, which is rather nice, and here we are again at the end of the afternoon on the catamaran. We spend the night here, in this remote area, crossing our fingers to have a better weather tomorrow!
Our dream is fulfilled! The sun comes out at 6 am, and a beautiful soft light illuminates the motu of the southern pass where we spent the night. How good this sun feels! We enjoy our lunch on the outside saloon of the boat, with the sun caressing our back…
7:30 am, it’s time to leave. Today’s program will be a complete trip up the Fakarava lagoon to the Otugi pass, in the South of Toau atoll. A big day of sailing, which should be calm given the weather. We set the fishing rods in the water. It did not take long for the first trevally to bite. The lunch is already found!
We reached the North pass of Fakarava at about 12:00 pm, which we easily crossed. The weather is still good, and we enjoy a very good fish prepared by Mahana during the navigation. Very soon, we saw the first motus of Toau atoll in the distance. I must admit that this is the place I wanted to see the most during this catamaran cruise in the Tuamotu. Nearly nobody comes there, and the atoll is almost uninhabited. In short, it makes me dream!
The early morning views in this idyllic setting are breathtaking. The turquoise lagoon would make me want to stay here for a few weeks, I’ll definitively come back!
We arrive at the infamous Otugi pass, the same pass where the great navigator Laurent Bourgnon died while diving, in June 2018. The passage is done without too many worries, even if this pass is known to be extremely dangerous because of a very violent current. As soon as we enter the lagoon, the magic happens: the current decreases, and the noise of the waves gradually gives way to the dead calm of a lagoon, that appears to be extraordinary. The superb blue shades have emerged in the middle of the patch reefs littering the lagoon. We had to move slowly and cautiously, with the engine, since the area is not mapped with the GPS. We carefully navigate and notice a spot at the edge of a beach. A few tries and zigzags between the coral reefs almost emerging in places will be necessary to find the way to our mooring spot. I feel like saying we stop in paradise here. There is nobody on the horizon, not a boat, not a house, not a noise, NOTHING.
I go down with Federica, the Italian journalist who accompanies me, to go for a dive under water. A short hour of exploration of the patch reefs with snorkeling and fins feels like a dream. The patch reefs are very beautiful, abundant in fauna and flora. We met of course many curious black tip sharks. Obviously, they’re not used to meet many people here. I hurried to swim to the motu located in front of us to be the first one from the boat touching the land, as if it was very important!
I have to say that arriving on this motu where, most probably, only a few people have passed during the year leaves me with a tremendous feeling of joy. I take advantage of this moment out of time and come back to the catamaran with the black tips. The whole team then goes to the same motu by zodiac to enjoy the late afternoon and, hopefully, a beautiful sunset.
I personally escape from the group for a photographic session on the motu. For the first time since the beginning of the stay, I really enjoy taking pictures in this sublime place. It is an excellent playground for the amateur photographer that I am. On the beach, in the lagoon, in the hoa, inside the motu, there are so many things to shoot.
Discovering these motu and their white sand beaches is magical. Here, there is nobody, not a tourist, not a cruise ship, only us…
It is also the first opportunity since the beginning for me to fly my drone. The view from the sky is simply amazing I have to admit, and we fully realize the exceptional setting of our mooring, between a maze of patch reefs and magical shades of blue. Judge for yourself.
And then, the sunset time approaches and I spend the end of the afternoon enjoying the magnificent golden and pink colors the sky offers us. We return on the catamaran at nightfall by zodiac. I think this is the most beautiful moment of the trip.
After yesterday’s wonderful day, our energy is boosted! We leave in zodiac with Federica and Teiki in the early morning, to discover another beach at the ends of the earth. The area is magical, even if the clouds are very threatening. This is even wilder than the day before, and we really are all alone in the world here. What a feeling. Unfortunately, rain is arriving again…
We left this little corner of paradise at the end of the morning to reach Anse Amyot, in the north of Toau atoll. We are expected, so to speak, by Gaston and Valentine, the guardians of the place. The departure from the Otugi pass with an ingoing current and a strong headwind is quite impressive, and it is the first time I see the catamaran moving so much. Once out of the pass area, the sea calmed down a bit and we sailed upwind to the Toau atoll. It is not the most amusing passage we did, but we make do…
We finally see the Amyot Cove, around 2 pm. It has the name of “cove” and not “pass” because, in reality, it is only a recess in the coral reef. It is impossible to go further by catamaran, it is basically a dead end! We arrived in a splendid sun and the area looked magical, once again. Some huts and houses placed by the beach, a turquoise water… that’s everything there is here. Certainly, some boats are present as the place is known by the sailors passing in the Pacific Ocean.
We walk around and discover the place. A few souls, five at our passage, live on this motu. Two guesthouses with basic bungalows, but in a superb setting, are located on the beach. We were told that they are often rented by sailors passing through. I spent the end of the afternoon wandering on the motu and enjoying the area, even if the weather became cloudy again…
And then, at the aperitif time, we meet Gaston and Valentine, a wonderful couple living here all year round, in (almost) total autonomy. They plant, grow, fish, live on little, but you know what? They seem happier than most people are… so, maybe happiness comes down to something else than what we think! We all organize together an improvised aperitif in a corner of their garden. We really spend a great moment, discussing and exchanging, all accompanied by some home-made rum and local alcohols! Happiness is not that far…
Early in the morning, we join Gaston and Valentine at their place, once again for a Paumotu-style breakfast (the inhabitants of the Tuamotu archipelago). What’s planned? A grilled trevally, caught only one hour ago in the cove. Gaston must know how to choose it because it’s honestly one of the best fishes I’ve ever tasted. Another good moment spent with them, and that’s also what travel and French Polynesia are all about: meeting people. Because you can find white sand beaches and coconut trees anywhere in the world, but there’s nothing like the kindness of Polynesians and these exchanges, and it’s great to live. I must admit that having been able to come here, in a very little visited atoll, for a week in a catamaran, facilitates this type of encounters and interactions. It is difficult to find the same in a place full of tourists…
We start the last cruise to Apataki atoll, where we are expected. A few hours of navigation and we arrive in Apataki, under the rain. We can see the future base where the three Poe Charter catamarans will be moored, well sheltered. The mayor of the town, who is in favor of the project, welcomes us with pleasure and takes us to the town hall for a nice welcome with songs, traditional dances and music. We then have the right to explanations on the possible arrival of the new Apataki airport. This is the main concern of the atoll. It does not have enough landing space for an Air Tahiti ATR. Only small planes with 10 seats can land here, and this strongly affects the development of the atoll. The construction of the future airport, if the project succeeds, is scheduled for 2021. We keep our fingers crossed for them, and we do hope that the project of Bruce, the manager of Poe Charter, will help to go in the right direction.
Unfortunately for us, the weather is getting worse and worse at the end of the day, and it is now pouring down on the atoll. Everyone is busy doing whatever they please on the catamaran, moored at the village quay. Tomorrow, departure for the visit of the atoll!
The sun makes a timid appearance at 6:30 am. We leave with Federica to walk around the main motu, in order to feel the local life of the atoll. No need to say that it’s very peaceful. We then went to visit the small pearl farm, located at the entrance of the pass. I already knew all the explanations, but it’s always nice to walk on these improvised houses on the lagoon. There are about ten people working here. If you have the opportunity to see one of them during your trip in Polynesia, go for it, it is really nice.
We leave the dock with a lot of sunshine, and head for the careening spot in Apataki. It clearly feels good for everyone to feel the warmth of the sun on us. We were not too lucky with the weather during this week and, in general, at the time of writing this article (beginning of July), I can say that we have had some pretty crappy May/June… This is for me the first time I see a weather that bad during this period, in 4 years. Here is my article about the weather in Polynesia for your trip.
Anyway, the weather is good for the moment, everything is fine. To get to the Apataki careening spot, we slowly sail with the wind, on the lagoon side, towards the motu Ruha Vahina – whose nickname is the Apataki pito, meaning the belly button in Tahitian. Since we arrived, everyone tells us that “we did not truly come to Apataki if we did not go to the pito”. After a beautiful navigation in the sun and in the calm, which allowed me to finally finish my book (Sukkwan Island de David Dann), we saw the famous motu. A few minutes of research to find a good mooring away from the patch reefs (if the boat moves), and here we are, discovering this corner which looks sublime. The water is crystal clear, and the sun is at its peak: we feel pretty good here.
On the spot, we meet people living on the spot who explain us the legend of the “pito”. We crown as it should be the site, and we leave to explore for a few moments the places, by making the tour of the motu. The setting is superb, really beautiful. I make the most of the opportunity to take a few pictures, but also to fly my drone for the second time of the trip. The views from above are amazing, and we really realize that we are actually in the middle of nowhere. See for yourself.
We go back to the boat to enjoy once again an excellent meal cooked by Mahana. We raise the anchor for a few hours of navigation, always in the lagoon and in the sun, in direction of my last spot of the stay. Unfortunately, I had to leave for Tahiti the next day, as I did not have enough time off to continue the trip to the north of Apataki and Rangiroa.
Funny thing is that this is the first time I see something else sticking out of a motu than coconut trees. As a general rule, when you sail between atolls, the top of the coconut trees is the first thing you see. As I approached the place, I suspected what it was: boat poles, extending far above the coconut trees. We are well and truly in the careening.
We anchored off the coast and disembarked with the zodiac to meet the people on the spot: Tony, Pauline, the whole family and the passing sailors, all with the most improbable backgrounds than the others. If you think you have done something extraordinary by coming to Apataki, wait until you talk with them! There is a great atmosphere in this end-of-the-world place, some houses on the motu, turquoise water, we are not bad. This place is actually quite well known locally as the only place in Tuamotu where you can repair and dry your boat. The whole team is there to help you, and they even have opened a small business. The reputation is very good, so don’t hesitate if you are around and need help!
We are coming at the right time since it’s someone’s birthday too! So, we are all going to eat together on the site with a huge table! Everyone starts cooking. Federica and I take the opportunity to go and get lost at the end of the motu. It’s the perfect hour, as golden as you could wish: the famous goldens hours, about which we often talk about in photography. We spend a beautiful hour enjoying this splendid setting. On the ocean side, we find the boat of Gaston and Valentine (met on Toau) who were also passing through Apataki. There is like a small recess between the two motu of the corner, which allows to pass behind and put its boat in the peace, in this small marina – the cutest in the world, don’t you think?
A beautiful photographic session in the area leaves me a little dreamer. We end the evening with a sublime sunset at the edge of the lagoon, a last image of Apataki for me, a wonder. We join the rest of the group for the evening. We really have a great time, good food, some alcohol for the party and really nice people to talk to!
Wake up at 6:00 am, I’m sad to leave anyway. I join Tony at 7am on the motu. I’m going back with him in a potimarara, a kind of local boat. Indeed, it is impossible to have a flight from Apataki to come back to Tahiti, so I have to leave by boat to Arutua, 2 hours away from here (with this speed boat).
I take the opportunity to say goodbye to all the team, to the people we spent the evening with. A very good time. I get aware of the place in the early morning, which is sublime, looking like a pool, not a wave, no wind, dead calm. I embarked as planned on the boat and we set off headlong towards the southern pass of Apataki. A quick stop in the village where I saw for the first time the future Poe Charter base at the dock with a superb weather. We leave the southern channel and sail along the atoll in the direction of Arutua. We see very quickly the atoll in the distance. 1 hour later, we return by the very small channel of Arutua, in a superb environment. A big sun, a small village built at the edge of the pass, and numerous pearl farms in the lagoon.
We go along the motus, on the lagoon side, and it is always so beautiful. A last turn in a turquoise pool allows us to go directly by boat to the airport. This is the end of the trip for me. One hour by plane to Tahiti and I’m back home. It was the first time I had been on a boat for such a long time, and I must say that I really enjoyed the experience. Even if the weather was not really on our side, the feeling of being able to sail freely between the atolls is really nice. I already catch myself dreaming of a next charter I could do with friends, here in French Polynesia. Because yes, this is another great thing. You can totally consider renting the catamaran in group, with family, friends, ideally with a skipper and a hostess, and go for a 1-week or 10-days trip.
In any case, I would like to thank Poe Charter and Tahiti Tourisme for this trip. The experience was superb, and I am ready for a second catamaran cruise in the Tuamotu! Except for the weather, but which we are dependent on after all, everything was perfect and I really recommend you to try the experience with Poe Charter if you come in French Polynesia, and if you want to get out of the tourist classics.
Practical summary of the trip:
- Departure from Fakarava (but possibility to vary for Rangiroa or other),
- Possibility to make also customizable catamaran trips (on request)
- Price for a 7-day cruise / 6 people, all included (skipper, hostess, gas, meals, free activities): 8190€, or:
- 1170€ per day for the complete catamaran, or,
- 195€ per person/day all included.
- Possibility to rent a catamaran for a week without skipper from Apataki: 2800€ per week
Between us, the experience is really worth the journey in my opinion, and it also makes you see Polynesia in a different way than on the classical flight + hotel. It’s a very different trip, and I really enjoyed it. Price-wise, for those who are wondering, it’s a very good value for money. If you had in mind to come here, to take flights in the islands with the passes, choose a hotel (for 6 people) with full board, as well as your rental car to move in the islands, it will finally cost you much more…
I say bravo to those who had the courage to get to the end of this very long travel writing of my week in the Tuamotus. So, did you like it? Did it make you want to spend a whole week on a catamaran in the Tuamotus now? Leave me a little comment to give me your feelings! It always makes me extremely happy to know that you made it to the end and to see what you thought about it!
See you soon,