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I’ve long had a dream of learning how to sail. So when the opportunity came to volunteer as crew onboard a 42-foot catamaran, I flew to Fakarava to come onboard. We sailed from one side of the atoll to the other, and I spent a week experiencing the atoll’s above and below sea level activities.
If you’re headed to the second largest atoll in the Tuamotus, these are best things to do in Fakarava.
Find out everything you need to know about visiting Fakarava in the guidebook, Moon French Polynesia.
1. Go scuba diving with 100s of gray reef sharks
Fakarava is home to hundreds of gray reef sharks who school at the atoll’s passes. It’s the highest concentration of gray reef sharks in the world. Of course, this is one experience you absolutely can’t miss if you’re a scuba diver in Fakarava.
My catamaran was anchored in a spot without cell connection. Desperate to book a dive trip to the passes, I padded the yacht’s outrigger canoe an hour to Raimiti Resort and left a note for the dive guide who’d already gone out for the day: “On your next dive trip, please pick me up at the catamaran with black sails.”
To my surprise, the boat appeared a few hours later and whisked me to Fakarava’s South Pass, Tumakohua Pass. Within minutes, we were surrounded by gray reef sharks. They all seemed to be in a trance, swimming still against the current. While I’d dived with sharks before in Fiji, this experience felt different somehow. These gray sharks were calmer, less curious about the divers. Some were even resting on the sea floor, letting the current move water through their gills.
We tucked into a cave. Hidden from them, the shy sharks swam closer. It fascinated me to see such a dense concentration of predators.
This is only possible because the pass happens to be a main mating and spawning site for a variety of fish, including 20,000 groupers, who gather to continue their genetic legacies. The sharks are able to sustain themselves on these concentrated fish populations.
Come between June and July for your chance to experience the grouper mating season, and see the sharks in their highest numbers. Both the North Pass (Garuae Pass) and the South Pass are home to groupers and sharks.
Book your dive with Topdive (one of my favorite dive operators in French Polynesia) or Dive Spirit Fakarava.
The Aqua Tiki Liveaboard ventures to Fakarava on its “Tuamotus” itinerary, and is one of the best ways to experience this dive as you’ll most likely dive at both passes.
2. Visit Fakarava’s pink sand beaches
Throughout the Tuamotus, you’ll find beaches with a rose-tinted hue. These pink beaches, Les Sables Roses, are formed when bright red corals die and wash ashore. Ground by time and waves, red flecks of coral mix with white coarse coral grains, creating a bubblegum pink beach.
Fakarava is home to a pink sand beach found about an hour boat ride south of the main atoll of Rotoava. Pack some snacks, drinks, and your camera to capture a beach unlike anywhere else in the world.
3. Sunbathe on beach PK9
Beaches are typically named after their shape, color or from the person who discovered them. But how about a beach named from a highway kilometer post?
All throughout French Polynesia, roads are marked by their kilometer posting. So it’s little surprise that you’ll know exactly where to find PK9, just 9 kilometers from the airport. You’ll spot a concrete sign off the main road from Rotoava. From there, follow the dirt road to a little sanctuary of palm trees. Best of all? It’s rarely crowded, so pack your own supplies.
4. Go for a Joy ride
Many of the atolls in the Tuamotus are made from clusters of tiny motu (islets), that rarely span more than a few kilometers long. Think of them as a pearl necklace, with each motu forming a single bead.
Fakarava’s main motu has a (whopping) 30 kilometer road network that’s easy to cycle along.
While it’s not necessarily worth spending your luggage allowance bringing along a bike of your own, many accommodations offer them free for their guests. The salty air has no doubt weathered the bikes a bit — expect rusty chains and some creaking as you pedal along, but it’s all in the name of fun.
If you’re up for a bit more of a thrill, there’s a quad bike tour where you’ll rumble across Fakarava’s main motu.
5. Visit Topaka Lighthouse
It’s rare to get more than a few meters above sea level no matter where you’re at on Fakarava. That is, unless you brave your fear of heights and climb to the top of Topaka Lighthouse, built sometime in the late 1950s. The island used to light a fire atop the lighthouse as a signal for boats and to communicate with nearby atolls.
It’s now been decommissioned, and a rusty/broken ladder leads to the top — where some of the sections have started to crumble. I didn’t feel super comfortable climbing to the top of the lighthouse, and I don’t recommend any travelers do it. But, if you’re braver than most, it is possible — test every rung thoroughly before putting your weight on it, as most are barely hanging on by a thread of rusted metal.
6. Sail across the lagoon
Anchored near the passes, you’ll find a community of yachts of every size. Tiny, barely-floating 24-foot yachts moor next to ultra-luxe 60-foot catamarans. The Fakarava sailing community is tight knit, and occasionally skippers are seeking crew. Many sailors stop here as they cross the blue between the Marquesas and Tahiti.
If your’e a skilled sailor already, charter a yacht from the Society Islands and venture to Fakarava. You could easily spend a week or so exploring the lagoon, and sailing from one pass to the other.
7. Stroll the streets of Rotoava
Rotoava is the main town of Fakarava, and where you’ll find plumeria, hibiscus, and bougainvillea-lined roads. It’s certainly not the busiest town you’ll ever come across, but there’s enough to enjoy for half a day or so. On Sundays, listen to enchanting hymns at church (there’s no such thing as a bad singer on Fakarava). Enjoy a meal at one of the handful of restaurants, chat with the local dive guides, and shop for hand-painted pareu (sarongs) at a small stand.
Where to stay on Fakarava
Pension Paparara Dive and Lodge is a two-star stay on Fakarava’s main motu. Rooms are simply but clean, lacking air conditioning but breezy. Guests have access to the property’s bicycles, and there’s an onsite restaurant. Decent snorkeling is just in front of the property, and the hosts are happy to arrange dives and day tours.
Fafapiti Lodge Fakarava is on the main motu of Fakarava, and truly feels like a retreat. The property is powered by solar panels, and all meals are made from locally sourced ingredients. There are three bungalows onsite, each with a private bathroom and terrace. The owners are scuba divers themselves and happy to help arrange all dives and day trips.
How to Get to Fakarava
The best way to get to Fakarava is by plane. There’s a domestic airport on the main motu, near the main town of Rotoava. You can fly directly into Fakarava from Papeete with Air Tahiti.
Because accommodations are somewhat scarce on Fakarava, you’ll have to make sure that there are both accommodations and flights available for the dates you wish to travel before booking your trip.
The best time to visit Fakarava
The best time to visit Fakarava is from May to June if you wish to see the greatest density of gray sharks. If you’re not a scuba diver, note that Fakarava is a year-round destination but most likely to have the best weather from May to November.