Saturday, May 22, 2010

South Pass "Sharkarava"

Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

Yesterday we departed South Pass Fakarava after what was an outstanding couple of days. Our adventures started after a late afternoon arrival on the 15th. On the 16th it was still quite windy and the water was rather stirred up so we delayed diving and snorkeled in the South Pass during slack water. South Pass Fakarava is known as one of the best diving sites in the world so we had rather high expectations. The snorkel was good with several black tip reef sharks hanging around the edge and decent fish life, but visibility was poor due to all the wind we have had for a week. Mom noticed the divers at the surface waving arms and yelling to no avail as no-one on shore (where the dive boat was parked) was paying attention. We headed out in our dingy to help and gave the dive master Bill's mask as someone had mask problems and he gave up his earlier.

On the 17th we dove with the local dive shop, the dive master Niko, a consummate Frenchman (not necessarily rude, just french), led the dive with us and a couple of scot's Stuart & Trish on a 67' sailboat "Rhiane Marie" we had met the day before. We got dropped off "in the blue" and dropped to about 100' before hitting the wall. We climbed up to about 75' and hung on to the coral to hold position when we approached what Niko called "the nursery" where over 100 grey reef sharks were circling in the current. Many were pregnant and there were a lot of juveniles as well. Water clarity wasn't great, probably 50' or so, but still, the site was amazing. After a few minutes we zig-zaged across the pass wall up to about 40' were we saw a HUGE Napoleon Wrass (probably over 100 lbs) who was very friendly as well as many other fish and beautiful coral. The dive ended after about 60 mins by swimming up the beach to the dive shop. In the afternoon we took a dingy trip with Stuart & Trish to the western side of the pass to visit the pink beaches and a small island with human bones. Apparently they don't know how old the remains are, but they were unearthed 15-20 years ago after a big storm. They are now on display with a single skull and many other bones "artfully" arranged...a bit creepy, but kind of cool.

Morning of the 18th Soggy Paws and Nakia arrived through the pass about 6:30 for the morning slack as predicted and at 12:15 we all headed to the pass for our own drift dive towing the dingy. Visibility was better but still not great and we replicated our first dive nicely, dropping first into about 90 feet, just upstream of the shark nursury just inside the break on the eastern side. We drifted all he way through the main pass, past the village and then out he shallower side pass that heads east towards the anchorage. That side pass really moves, probably 4+ knots while the main pass is only moving at 1 knot. We saw many more sharks and really enjoyed the side pass even though it was going by way too fast. The colors are excellent and the coral very healthy.

On the 19th we again dove in the early afternoon (1:15 this time) and hit slack perfectly. Wind was calm now, seas were down, and visibility was much improved (probably 80' or more). We waited a bit longer this time, allowing the incoming clear water to start coming in and it was definitely worth it. We were moving faster, but the water clarity was worth it. We stayed deeper in the pass for longer and found a second "family" of sharks further into the pass. Not quite as big as the first group, but still very cool to see. We stayed down almost all the way back to the boats through the small pass and really enjoyed it. In the late afternoon we visited the eastern Pension run by Manihi and Tila, a Fakaravan couple who speak excellent English (and Italian) who have created an amazingly beautiful island paradise. We arranged for a dinner the following night for all of us (9 people plus their guests).

On the 20th, Bill, Dave, and John went fishing with Manihi in the morning, catching a wahoo for dinner. I opened up some coconuts (best ones so far, very juicy and sweet meat), then reprofiled and sharpened my knife (damaged opening the last set of coconuts), sharpened John's machete (used to open the coconuts) and then sharpened Dave & Sherry's which didn't have any edge yet as it came with a 1mm flat edge from the hardware store in Columbia. In the afternoon we did another dive (noticing a pattern yet) and had the best one yet. Visibility was over 100', no wind, bright sun. We got closer to the sharks, hundreds of them, 2 huge napoleons, a flounder, and many other beautiful fish. As we went out the small pass, there was a school of 4" long fish (sardine like) swimming the other way that we went right through. Very cool, kind of like driving into a snow-storm at night. In the evening we went into Manihi's pension for dinner and had an amazing meal of Grilled Ginger Wahoo and Beef Stew with Cole Slaw and rice and two excellent deserts for CFP2000 ($22) BYOB. Excellent company and a beautiful setting made it a special night.

Morning of the 21st the morning slack was finally late enough to dive on (8:45 slack, 8:15 splash). Mom was having sinus pressure so skipped the dive, but Bill and I joined Soggy Paws for another amazing dive. This time we stayed deeper longer, stopping right next to the sharks hanging out, taking some photos (more in the web-albums soon, I promise). With the current having come in for the last 6 hours, visibility was amazing at 150' or so even with the low light. The downside was that we finished with no current in front of the dive shop, missing the small side pass, but with adjustments to timing I am sure that could be figured out. We then left the anchorage, heading north. We will get to the north pass and internet by lunch time (22nd) and plan to dive there as well the next few days before heading to Toau for our last few days in the Tuamotus.

If any of you want to experience diving nirvana we can highly suggest Fakarava and have some information on a dive shop in the North that works with Manihi to arrange a few days north & Toau, then some time with Manihi and dives in the south pass...can't imagine a much better dive trip.