Erika and I spent the last week at Tahanea in the Tuamotus. We were here 12 years ago and really enjoyed our stay. Then, we never saw another living soul. The island is not normally inhabited (although people from nearby islands do have “summer homes” here) and there were no other boats. This time around the fishing camp on shore was well populated and in the week we were there there were probably 10 or 12 cruising boats that passed through. The park ranger even came by and took down our names and information in his little book (although whether or not the book stayed dry in his leaky boat is questionable, he did a lot of bailing as he went about his business).
If you have a mental picture of tropical island vacations and cruising then Tahanea is probably pretty close to that picture (minus the airport and the well-muscled pool boy with the pina colada). Crystal clear warm water, colorful coral, white sand beaches (at least when viewed from a distance), palm trees swaying in the breeze. The wind was pretty variable for our stay, so we moved around the lagoon based on the best anchorages for the wind.
We stayed by the pass into the lagoon for a couple of days when we first arrived and took the dinghy to the passes (there are three) for some drift snorkeling. We dinghy to the up-current end of the pass, then jump in the water with our mask and fins and swim with the current and see what there is to see. We also dinghied out to a couple of the reefs that are in the central portion of the lagoon. The coral was less stunning than in our memories (has there been that much of a change since we were last here?) but the fish population is pretty amazing. Every place we jumped in there were large numbers and kinds of fish. Each reef or pass seemed to have slightly different family makeup, but they were all pretty and abundant. It felt like you were swimming in someone’s well stocked tropical aquarium. OF course, I’m not sure how many people keep black tip reef sharks in their aquariums. Every time you jump in it’s best to do a quick 360 degree turn to see who may be watching you as much as you are watching them. You get used to the sharks but it still took Erika a couple of times of jumping back into the dinghy before she was comfortable with the sharks around her.
From the passes we moved up to the NW end of the island and enjoyed some snorkeling there for a day. Here we were joined by Namaste, a boat we met down at the pass. It always adds to an anchorage to have another boat to converse with. They gave us some tips on where to snorkel and Erika even put in a request with Chris to catch us a fish while he was spear fishing. Downside was on our second day a tremendous squall system came through the anchorage and made for some interesting times. Namaste felt the brunt of it and headed back down to the pass during the squall, no fish for Erika. Howling wind, pounding rain, lightning and thunder to wake the dead. We survived just fine, but it was a little scary.
The last couple of days we spent down at the SE corner of the lagoon. This part of Tahanea really deserves the mental picture you have of a tropical paradise. The coral/snorkeling aren’t as nice, but the palm trees and white sand beaches compensate. On our first jump in to the water we immediately saw a very large sting ray trying to bury itself just to get away from the remoras desperately trying to attach themselves to the ray. The whole time we were here there was a school of remoras hanging out at the aft end of the boat waiting for any food scrap that might go overboard. We played around in the kayaks and just generally enjoyed a nice, quiet tropical paradise.
Now we’re moving on to Fakarava, where we plan to dive with the sharks and do other fun and adventurous things.