In most places, when you see sharks you get out of the water. Here in South Fakarava, sharks are the reason to get INTO the water. But it is certainly unnerving to knowingly dive in with the toothy demons of the deep.
The first day here, we went to a spot called the "swimming pool" that is a small beach area with shallow water and lots of fish. Unfortunately, some folks were actually cleaning fish in this area so the sharks were plentiful – and feeding! So we chose not to get into the water here. So we went back towards where we were anchored and went snorkeling around some fabulous coral heads. It was incredible. But the sharks do make you nervous. We saw several black tipped reef sharks right after we got into the water. The colorful and varied shaped tropical fish amongst the corals though were unbelievable. There are many varieties we have never seen before and can't wait to get our "Pacific Fish" book when Richard comes to visit so we can identify them.
After a great snorkel, we decided to take the real plunge and splurge on a dive in the South Pass. This is supposedly one of the best diving spots in the world and we decided we couldn't pass up the chance. So we booked a trip with the local dive operation "Top Dive" and it would be just the two of us. They only dive on the incoming tide through the pass – and unfortunately for our timing, that meant a very early morning dive. That meant not exactly the best light. And we always heard sharks feast at dawn and dusk – though the dive master said that is not true. According to him, :"they eat whenever they feel like it and the opportunity for a meal is there." We hoped we wouldn't be that "opportunity."
At 0700, we went to the dive shop and got ready to head out to the pass. Our dive master, Matthias Fatout spoke great English and instilled confidence. He did a great description of the dive and explained that we would see a variety of types of sharks. He had signals for each type as he'd point them out to us. We would all stay relatively close together as we drifted in the pass. The boat drops you off at one end and meets you at the other end. We descended and immediately saw a few sharks – some actually sleeping on the sandy bottom. The place we were at was called "shark observatory." After a short drift you came upon a hundred sharks – above you , below you and to the side of you. We stayed near the wall of coral and saw gray sharks, long nose sharks, silver tips and black tips. They each had different characteristics – the long nose being the largest. We saw a few pregnant sharks and just lots and lots of swimming, circling sharks. This place was amazing, because as we watched the sharks, we unfortunately missed many of the massive amount of incredible fish along the coral wall. We would stop regularly and just hold on to a piece of rock and watch the sharks. They didn't seem at all interested in us (that was a good thing). As we made our way down the pass, we encountered a huge barracuda that was more interested in us than any of the sharks. And the biggest treat at the end, was what is locally called a Napoleon wrasse. This is a massive fish about 6 feet long, three feet high, iridescent blue like a parrot fish with a toothy grin and eyeballs that rotate out of the side of its head like lizard eyeballs. It came right up to us and was magical. Its weird eyes were going round and round and it was just as calm and unafraid as could be (I guess when you're that big – not much scares you). The dive was over and we lived to tell you about it. It was an experience we'll never forget.
We also took another afternoon snorkel because we just can't get enough of the clear water and amazing fish. The sharks when we were snorkeling though seem more frightening than the hundreds in the pass.
If you are a diver, you should put Fakarava on your wish list. Pretty amazing.
We also had a great local experience last evening. There is a small resort on shore and the owner, Manihi, came out to the two sailboats here and invited us in for pizza. He has a traditional wood oven and makes the pizza himself. Dressed in the tradtional polynesian wrap and bare to the waist. The price was fair for all we could eat pizza and we'd bring our own drinks. The resort is quite incredible with these very traditional bungalows made with local woods, thatch, bamboo. The dining area was right on the water with a shallow area that you could watch fish and of course, sharks, swimming around. We enjoyed a great evening especially when the locals Manihi and his friends, cousins and the other resort guests, took up the guitar and sang some traditional Polynesian tunes. The pizza was unbelievably delicious – and it was "fish pizza" made with locally caught fish – that was really fresh. It was one of those wonderful nights.
We have really enjoyed Fakarava and will be sorry to leave here tomorrow . But the weather is good and we'll hopefully get out the pass and be heading to Tahiti. Richard arrives in less than ten days and we want to be sure we're there when he arrives.