Fakarava is a tiny, skinny atoll floating in the South Pacific and is the second-largest atoll in the Tuamotu Island group. It is described – unbelievably! – as being 37 miles long and 13 miles wide…BUT, that is including the ocean water that is in its sphere. The actual “land” looks like a wavy string resembling the number 7. Our ship was anchored on the leeward side, and our walk across to the (very windy) windward side took 5 minutes, if that, proving that it is NOT 13 miles wide!
On the leeward side is where all the small boats, and our ship, were moored; where people were swimming and sunbathing; where the calm blue water was gorgeous and inviting; and where the stores and restaurants were located, although there aren’t that many. The atoll’s population is only about 850 people. Houses were found on both sides of the island, but as you will see in the photos, the wind and surf are pretty enthusiastic on the windward side.
Fakarava has one of the world’s most pristine and undisturbed coral reef ecosystems. It is home to the highest concentration of gray reef sharks in the world (their school numbers about 700), and they are fully protected. Consequently, one of the biggest draws on Fakarava is scuba diving. Mike said the dive here was one of the top three in his 45 years of diving. He saw dozens of gray reef sharks and large shoals of other fish.
It was the largest concentration of sharks that Mike had ever seen. Some were very active, hunting just a few feet from the divers. Others were sitting still on the bottom, making use of the strong current flowing past to oxygenate their gills so that they didn’t have to swim. At one point the sharks scattered and the dive guide later said that he was sure that meant there was a hammerhead shark nearby, although we didn’t see it. Other divers, diving on the other side of the boat, said they saw several hammerheads.
Life here is hot, sleepy, and slow. There are only a few miles of road, so there are hardly any vehicles. There is no public transportation. People get around on bicycles or scooters. The atoll is first mentioned by a Russian navigator in 1820, who “named” it Wittgenstein Island. Never mind that it already had a name and was already inhabited by native Polynesians. Thankfully, the atoll reverted to its native name of Fakarava. It seems to fit well, evoking the South Pacific character.
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