Our one-week trip to Kauehi Atoll
As we have been living here for 5 years and a half, we have had the chance to visit many islands in French Polynesia, both as a family with Melanie and Louis (and now Teo) and for professional reasons. Even if we are ultimately only slightly impacted by the world situation of Covid19, it makes us a bit upset to be stuck in Tahiti (I know it will make some people laugh), and the idea of being able to get out of our rock in the middle of the Pacific doesn’t leave our mind. The Easter weekend is good timing this year since we have 4 public holidays. It’s the perfect opportunity for us to get out, not from French Polynesia since we can’t leave the territory without a compelling reason when I’m writing this article (April 2021), but at least from Tahiti.
So, we’ve decided to leave the classical islands for this weekend, which we have already visited anyway. The only island that we would like to visit more in depth is the atoll of Fakarava, in the Tuamotu archipelago. I have already quickly been there twice, including during my cruise in the Tuamotu by catamaran, but the idea of spending a full week there with my family sounds great. Several options were available for this 4-day weekend. Indeed, we usually go through the website “Séjour dans les îles”, a website restricted to Polynesian citizens, offering flight + hotel/guesthouse packages, often with half-board. I did the math several times and the result are unequivocal: it’s always cheaper than booking things separately. A good deal for us.
We had initially considered Manihi or Makemo atoll, but these last ones, I think due to the Covid19 crisis, have been for now removed from the offers at “Séjour dans les îles” website. So, we decided to go to Kauehi atoll, in the Tuamotu. I had already been there for a day with my work, and I had quickly seen the village and the church. I have good memories of it. Then, I said to myself “why not?”. We booked (right after selling a kidney for the payment for 4 persons by the way, haha) for one week on the atoll. But at the same time, especially in this crappy situation everybody knows, we prefer to spend our money in a week of vacations rather than leaving it on a bank account… Personal choice. Why 7 days? Simply because the atoll is only served by one plane per week (on Wednesday). We booked at the only pension/lodge on the island: the famous Kauehi Lodge, of which I have only heard and read good things. There are only 3 bungalows on the spot, so we are not going to be bothered by the crowd there!
Particular fact, we all leave being more or less sick. Melanie has been out of shape for several weeks because of a cold/sinusitis that doesn’t go away (yes, we do get colds in Tahiti) and I have just had a little relapse of the ciguatera (food poisoning) by having eaten a “bad” fish, a few days before leaving. It’s a pain in the ass, especially when you go to an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where you only eat fish. To be continued.
Let’s go, I’ll take you for a walk in our stay in Kauehi, in the form of a personal travel story this time.
Kauehi atoll, the context
The atoll is part of the Fakarava Commune with 6 other atolls, including Aratika, Niau, Raraka, Taiaro and Toau. Since 1977, the 7 atolls have been classified as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. As mentioned above, there is usually only one flight per week, and very rarely two flights during school vacations. I know that some atolls are more and more visited by the locals, like Mataiva, but I don’t know of anyone who has been to Kauehi for vacations.
The atoll, located at 450 km from Tahiti, is 24 km long and 18 km wide. There are about 200 inhabitants. The locals live mainly from copra, knowing there is only one tourist accommodation, the one we are staying in. The atoll was opened to the world only in 2001, with the creation of the airstrip. I think I’ve read somewhere that about 2,000 to 2,500 people a year pass through the atoll, including I think the many sailboats crossing the Pacific and its beautiful islands.
Arrival in Kauehi and discovering the Kauehi Lodge
After a 1-hour flight from Tahiti, we stopped briefly at Aratika atoll, that I know after having stopped there also for a short time for work. We leave, after having dropped off three quarters of the plane, for a 10-minutes flight to our final destination: Kauehi atoll. We discover the tiny airport of the atoll, in the same style as any other remote atoll in the Tuamotu: a small main hall and a place where the luggage will be deposited by hand as it arrives. We are welcomed with a flower necklace by Aldo, owner with Colette of the guesthouse where we’ll spend the week.
Small aside concerning luggage, we’ve decided not to make the same mistake as during our stay in January in Mangareva (in the Gambier). Indeed, we packed all the food for Teo this time, and so it was heavy on the scale. We are in half-board, and we know that the few stores of the village will not have much to suggest (admitting that they are already open…). As soon as we arrive, we learn that the atoll has not been served by the usual boats for almost 2 months and the stores are then almost empty. So, we’ve done well! We’ll tell you more about it again at the end of the article in the practical side, but clearly, it is necessary to consider taking all that you can from Tahiti to come here. We even leave with our lunch (ham/cheese/bread/chips etc.). In total, 53 kg of checked luggage, fortunately we have Air Tahiti’s excess luggage tickets (the ones you earn with points and the Kaveka card). Air Tahiti still hasn’t decided to give babies a baggage allowance, so unfortunately Teo doesn’t have the right to 1kg, not even for the stroller… too bad.
Anyway, we loaded our luggage in the truck of the guesthouse, and drove at low speed to the Lodge, located about 2km west of the airport, opposite the village. Some beautiful views on the lagoon and its turquoise waters are offered to us on the road, and it is not bad at all. We arrive in a beautiful coconut grove at the entrance of the hotel, after 15 minutes of track. We find there a very beautiful, flowered garden right when we enter. We walk around the property while waiting that the guests before us leave, and while sipping a coconut.
The guesthouse is composed of a very big round living room, all in wood, with parquet, local materials, and decorated with taste. Everything is really clean, and it’s a room where we take pleasure to stay in and observe the lagoon through the windows located all around the room. Around this lounge area, there are covered wooden walkways that allow you to walk and push the stroller (I grant you, it’s not the main purpose, eh!). There is also a kitchen available where you can store your stuff in the fridge.
From the corridors, two stairs give you access to the beautiful white sandy beach in front of the guesthouse. The setting is really beautiful and, honestly, it’s a pleasure to be here. The corridors a few meters high offer a magical view over the lagoon, the corals on the beach and especially the perpetual passage of black tip sharks passing by the beach. The setting is heavenly, and even words and pictures cannot capture the beauty of this place.
We finally discover our bungalow, on the edges of two corridors. It is really spacious and has a big private bathroom. For us, it is perfect, and we shall be very well there during all a week with our two children. By the way, the guesthouse has only three bungalows (2 standard and 1 premium with a fridge, a kitchenette, and a mezzanine with mattresses). The 3 bungalows are occupied by Tahitian residents, which is normal you will say, knowing that nobody can enter French Polynesia at the time of writing this article. We find there families with children from 4 to 6 years old, only little guys, perfect for Louis: he will have friends for all the holiday. We finally settle on our small private terrace offering a splendid view on the lagoon. Paradise is not that far.
Ah yes, I almost forgot. The highlight of the show, it is the beautiful wooden pontoon which advances in the lagoon and ends in a small house fitted out. This is a superb spot, with a table, some chairs, a sofa and a bed to lie down. In short, it is the magic spot, the one you may already have dreamed of to watch the blue of the lagoon and the black tips sharks passing in less than 2 meters of water. Even if the weather is overcast on the day of our arrival, it is still the perfect place to wake up in the morning while waiting for breakfast, to have lunch or a drink in the evening, to play cards, to get lost in your thoughts…
We will simply spend the end of the afternoon basking in a meter of water in front of the pension and discovering the coral reefs that cover the area. In short, we enjoy our time. We don’t come to Kauehi to “do things”, as there is not much to do actually. We come here with our family to relax, to disconnect and to enjoy life with our children. The little ones take pleasure to evolve between the black tip sharks of the seaside. At the beginning, you might be a little nervous to go there, but you get used to it quite quickly. It is finally like a small dog or cat which would come to caress you the feet (way of speaking, hein!).
As a little interesting anecdote, I told you at the beginning of the article that I had a relapse of ciguatera a few days before leaving Tahiti. Naturally, I talked about it at the guesthouse. Not mincing my words, I have to say that it really pisses me off not being able to eat fish during my stay here. The lady who helps out at the guesthouse, Teirei, tells me about a folk remedy she used to take every time she got food poisoned here on the atoll. Living here, we eat almost nothing but fish all year round and ciguatera poisoning, from a “Taero” fish as they say in Tahitian, is common. Considering the few symptoms I had this time, I told myself that it doesn’t cost anything to try. She tells me that even her grandmother used to take it when she was sick. So here I am during the meal, taking the famous treatment composed of a good dose of Negritta (Rum), an egg yolk, a dose of brown sugar and lemon juice (only the base of 3 lemons from Tahiti). The instructions are simple: start eating a few pieces of fish at the beginning of the meal, follow up with this folk remedy and continue by eating “a lot of fish”. It is finally less hard than I thought to swallow, even if it warms your heart (it’s mostly the rum actually…).
In any case, I do not have any concern the evening of the meal, nor during the night, so that seems to go well for me. We lie down in our beautiful bungalow, soothed by the noise of the lagoon…
The rest of our trip on the atoll
Even if I decided to write this article in the form of a travelogue and not a practical guide (which would not make any sense anyway), I am not going to tell you about our days spent here, because I must admit that they are all quite similar! As I said, there are not tons of things to do.
We spend a majority of our time swimming in the sea with the black tip sharks and enjoying the magic spot at the end of the pontoon. The days go by and are similar since we go there early in the morning around 5h30/6am at dawn, we go there to take the aperitif of noon by playing the famous UNO with Louis, and we spend there a small half-hour at sunset to shoot with my tripod and my filters! It’s the occasion to test again my KASE filters that I received a few months ago…
Among the nice things we did several times during the week spent here: kayaking along the coast, especially to the hoa located about 15 minutes from the guesthouse. I explain again for those who do not really know, but the hoas are particular areas of the atolls where a communication exists between the ocean and the lagoon. In concrete terms, to give you an idea of what it is, it is usually an area more or less in water, depending on the tides and the depth of the lagoon. Concerning the one we’re in, there is a part always in water, very nice to swim besides. We can walk almost everywhere and there is a totally out of water area, filled with pieces of corals of various sizes and small accumulations of sand everywhere. This is the area that will be subject to large storm tides and hurricanes. Clearly, during major weather events, this area will be flooded. Anyway, I digress, sorry.
We often leave from the pension with the kayaks provided free of charge and follow the turquoise coast to reach the entrance of the hoa. Each time, we have to get out of the kayak to carry it for about ten meters, making it pass over a sand bank to get to the flooded area of the hoa. We can then paddle again from here to go up the hoa for a hundred meters. At the end, it is a dead end! We can swim in less than one meter of water here, it’ great! From here, we often enjoy wandering on this zone of the hoa out of water. Nothing very particular to do here: stroll in family, we look for beautiful shells to make decoration with Louis, we take photos, in short: we have some fun. We shall also spend some end of afternoon to walk on this flat land in search of beautiful lights.
Another nice thing to note during our week spent there is a small path that starts from the guesthouse and crosses the coconut grove and the forest, in direction of this famous hoa where we go by kayak. It is a small, pleasant walk to do, perfect for children. We rediscover the typical vegetation of the Polynesian motus, it is pretty cool. The path is marked with coconuts! We will also have the chance to go to the ruins of the lighthouse of the atoll. It is almost completely collapsed, unlike the one I saw some time ago in Fakarava. Nothing too crazy, but a little nice family walk.
Visiting the village
During the week, we also took the opportunity of being dropped off at the only village of the atoll. We go up again in the truck towards the village. The track built in coral soup on the majority of the section is nice. By arriving there, we discover a small village where currently live hardly 200 souls. The atmosphere is really “end of the world”: we cross there some people but not much, a lot of old abandoned buildings of the time. We are told that since the fall of the pearl, the atoll is gradually being emptied of its inhabitants. There would have been up to 600 people living here during the beautiful pearl period.
Even if the village looks abandoned or almost, I think it has a certain charm. Some alleys, stray dogs, some children playing all around, a school, a church and some stores, all more or less closed. We spend 2 hours in this village from another time, very far from France and even from what we could see in Tahiti. However, we are only at one big hour of plane from the capital…
Day trip to the motu
Funny thing in the atolls, we always propose you an “outing on the motu”, even though we are already on a motu! The idea being of course to discover another place of the atoll, often a motu belonging to the family of the guesthouse’s managers. We take off by boat from the guesthouse at 9 am with a superb weather. A beautiful day in perspective. We cross the lagoon in all its length to arrive, after having passed by the village and the pass, at the other end. The navigation is relatively easy, without much jolt but without much interest either. There are very few coral patties or shallow waters as we can see in some atolls, only some “blue”.
We arrive after 30/40 minutes of boat on the famous spot of the day: the very beautiful motu Tehavare (“small lie”), located at the edge of a magnificent hoa with crystalline colors. Everybody finds his own spot in the shade of a few trees and coconut palms, and settles down for the day. Here, nothing crazy to do either. The setting is however really nice to spend the day. We spend 2 hours walking and taking pictures in this paradisiacal environment of the end of the world. The water is superb, the bathing too, and we always have our black tip sharks friends which are extremely present in edge of beach.
The family of the pension is slowly cooking the meal on the spot. On the program: fresh raw fish (with a skipjack tuna), prepared with a fresh coconut juice shredded on the spot. There is also “uto bread” in preparation, a local bread (or rather a cake) made of sprouted coconut and flour, put in a banana leaf, and then cooked on the barbecue. Then, groupers and nasons are quietly cooked on the grill, right by the sea. And lastly, in dessert, there is poe, which are pancakes prepared in entrance, but this time they are mixed with fresh coconut milk… It’s now time to eat, and we settle down in edge of sea, feet in the water. We taste this delicious meal, honestly very good and tasty, in a context which leaves us dreaming. I take advantage of it to fly my drone from the motu, to take height and observe the surroundings. It is always so beautiful.
We come back to the pension at the end of the afternoon, after having spent an excellent day on this motu.
I’m coming to the end of this little travel story of our week spent there. I hope you will have enjoyed the walk, and maybe you will want to discover this atoll! I leave you with some practical advice.
Practical things to know about traveling to Kauehi
Here is a summary of the things to remember when traveling here:
- The atoll is only connected by one flight a week (sometimes two apparently) from the island of Tahiti (and often with a stopover in Aratika or Katiu),
- Residents can go through “Séjour dans les îles” website or consider booking things separately, for example at the Tourism Fair and directly with the guesthouse (to see if it is really cheaper… not sure),
- There is only one guesthouse on the atoll, so there is no need to look further,
- To find the best airfare to come here, have a look at this flight comparator, then you will have to take a flight with Air Tahiti which is the only company that serves this atoll from Tahiti,
- Be careful to bring everything you need for your baby for example, see the article Traveling with baby in French Polynesia.
- For lunch, the guesthouse does not prepare any meal so I advise you to take the necessary from Tahiti to eat lunch,
- Don’t forget the anti-mosquito product and some Monoï, because we also served as meals to mosquitoes and nonos (small gnats that like fresh flesh).
I leave you on these few words. We really spent a pleasant stay here in Kauehi, in a really nice setting. The guesthouse is very beautiful and well situated, with a beautiful beach, and we did enjoy the meals which are globally varied every day. You must like fish since you will not eat meat here, but it was always very good.
To quibble about a few points where we think improvements could be made: there was no cleaning during the 7 days we were there, and the breakfast is always the same (bread/butter/jam/fruit). It could be nice to vary at least one element, like uto pancakes, crepes, or pancakes, even if we understand that it can sometimes be complicated to be supplied here!
We will see you soon for a new article. For those who want to read another trip in the Tuamotu, I invite you to check our trip on the atoll of Rangiroa!
See you soon,
Sylvain & Mel