Fakarava Travel Guide

May 27, 2016

Things To Do & Places To See In Fakarava

Check out this 5 days in Fakarava sample itinerary to see how to divide your days on the island

Rotoava Village

The largest settlement in Fakarava is really just a tiny village. It’s one of the calmest and most picturesque villages I encountered in French Polynesia, with locals dropping the kids off at school in the morning, and heavenly scented gardenia flowers and colorful hibiscus blooming everywhere. There isn’t much happening in the village but it’s got everything you need, including a couple of grocery shops, dive centers, a beachfront snack and of course – a tiny shack selling island fashions.

Rotoava Fakarava Atoll French Polynesiagardenia tiare flower fakarava atoll french polynesiahibiscus in fakarava french polynesiaRotoava village Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia local housesRotoava Village boutique Fakarava Atoll French Polynesiasunset over fakarava lagoon

If you happen to be in Fakarava on a Sunday, get up early and head to the whitewashed Catholic church (just after the Mormon church). Service starts at 9am and you’ll definitely hear the church bells ringing. Follow the locals, dressed in their finest clothes to the start of the weekly gathering. You might not understand anything that’s said, but you’ll never forget the beautiful singing and strong sense of community. Have a look at the interior decoration – it’s all made from local coral and shells! My personal highlight took place as the service was about to end. Everyone just held hands in one final prayer and kissed each other on the cheek to wrap things off. After service, locals rush back home to start the Sunday feast known as ma’a Tahiti. If you’re lucky, you might get invited over for lunch!

Catholic church Rotoava Village Fakarava Atoll French PolynesiaSunday church service catholic church Fakarava Atoll French PolynesiaSunday church service Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia

South Of Rotoava Village

At the edge of Rotoava, the paved road swings over to the reef side and continues for another 10 kilometers to the southern side of the main motu before turning into a dirt road. There are a couple of good snacks, pensions and a dive center just outside the village – but the fun is simply to cycle along this flat stretch of road with nothing but palm trees around you. I was told by a local that there’s even a pretty beach somewhere around PK12 (12 kilometers south of Rotoava).

Empty road Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia

Lagoon and jetty Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia

Taputavaka Lighthouse

Also known as Phare de Taputavaka, you’ll find this pyramid-shaped former lighthouse on the reef side of the Relais Marama. It’s one of the oldest lighthouses in French Polynesia at nearly 100 years old, kind of looking like a small ancient Mayan pyramid in Mexico.   

Phare de Taputavaka Lighthouse Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia

Topaka Lighthouse

Another oddly shaped former lighthouse that looks even more so like something the ancient Maya could have built (if only they had a way to get here). Known as Phare de Topaka, you’ll find it on the reef side just after PK2. The former lighthouse dates back to 1957 and is no longer functioning. During times of emergency, a fire would be lit atop to signal neighboring atolls.

Phare de Topaka Lighthouse fakarava french polynesia

PK9 Beach

You must pay a visit to the beach named after the PK marker indicating its distance north of Rotoava. Plage de PK9 is one of the most beautiful tropical beaches in the South Pacific. Why? The soft white sand, the turquoise lagoon colors, the palm trees curving in all directions and… there’s absolutely nobody here most of the time!

PK9 Tropical Beach Fakarava Atoll French PolynesiaPK9 Tropical Beach Fakarava Atoll French PolynesiaPK9 Tropical Beach Fakarava Atoll French PolynesiaPK9 tropical beach fakarava french polynesiaPK9 Tropical Beach Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia

To get here, cycle north of the village towards the airport, after which the paved road turns into a dirt road. You’ll pass by one or two houses, wild reef-side beaches and maybe a couple of wasps trying to check you out. On your right hand side, look out for the PK9 marker and turn left all the way. It’s a 9-kilometer cycle from town and you’ll have to bring everything you need with you (water, beach gear etc) for a few hours, because you simply won’t want to leave!

getting to PK9 beach Fakarava french polynesia

The snorkeling is pretty good too, with excellent visibility, a sandy bottom and a maybe a few sharks passing by. Enjoy paradise.

snorkeling-PK9-beach-fakarava-yellow-coralsnorkeling-PK9-beach-fakarava-pink-boulderDCIM101GOPROG0170549.snorkeling-PK9-beach-fakarava-fish.DCIM101GOPROG0240657.snorkeling-PK9-beach-fakarava-view-of-beach

Marae Tahiti Vairau

A little bit further north of PK9 beach, turn left to get to this ancient Polynesian temple. It’s not worth cycling all the way here just for this, but if you’re already here you might as well see. In any case, the finest ancient marae will be found in Raiatea, Huahine, Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa.

Marae Tahiti Vairau fakarava

Garuae Pass Lookout

The dirt road ends at Garuae Pass, also known as the ‘north pass’. It’s the widest lagoon pass in French Polynesia and where you’ll do the bulk of your diving. Feel free to snorkel a bit but be super aware of the currents. I opted out but a friend of mine said it was superb.

Diving In The North Pass

Diving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff selfieThis is the prime reason for coming to Fakarava. The scuba diving in Fakarava is among the best in all of the South Pacific. Garuae Pass (a.k.a north pass) is super accessible from Rotoava. I went diving with Dive Spirit Fakarava whom I highly recommend. Have a look at the ‘diving and snorkeling’ section for more info about them. The best time to dive the north pass is during ‘slack tide’. This is when the incoming current is beginning and the fish come out in large numbers.

Ohotu Cliff

You’ll spend the bulk of your time in and around the coral garden along this cliff. I’ll start off by mentioning that the corals here are superb, far better than in Rangiroa or anywhere else I’ve seen. Even if you won’t spot any sharks (and there’s hardly a chance of that happening), you will still greatly enjoy your dive. The corals are healthy and come in all shape, colors and sizes.

Diving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff coral gardenDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff coral gardenDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae starfishDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff yellow coralDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff pristine coralDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff coralDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garue Ohotu Cliff

With visibility usually between 20-40 meters, you’ll have no problem spotting the walls of grey and white tip reef sharks patrolling the deep blue. If conditions are right, you’ll leave the confines of the coral garden and swim super close to 200 or so sharks!

Diving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae shark wallDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae wall of sharksDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae shark closeupDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae

As for the fish… you’ll spot huge napoleons, barracuda, the usual colorful reef fish and my favorite – schools of goatfish. These guys cruise along in large numbers, and you can just swim right through them and watch how they harmoniously change their pattern. Incredible!

Diving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae goatfishDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae goatfish closeupDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff snapperDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff coral gardenDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu CliffDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae reef dive

Alibaba Canyon

When conditions are right, you’ll finish your dive off with a drift back into the lagoon, a thrilling ride that can only be described as riding on the rooftop of a bullet train. En route, you’ll fly over canyons, coral-covered channels and helpless fish caught in the strong current.

Diving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff driftDrift-dive-fakarava-north-pass-diversDrift-dive-fakarava-north-pass-flyingDrift-dive-fakarava-north-pass-fishDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae reef diveDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff tropical fish

Just before the end of the drift, you’ll reach the Alibaba Canyon. You’ll be instructed to ‘stay low’ to avoid being swept by the incoming current and all that’s left to do is enjoy the view. Colorful lagoon fish are everywhere and sharks are patrolling the waters above your head. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a rare marlin. This was the first time I’ve seen one, super impressive with its spear sticking out in front.

Diving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae grey reef shark

Nurse Shark Cave

If the navigational skills of your dive instructor are good, you might even finish your incredible drift dive at the entrance of the ‘nurse shark cave’. With the incoming current now at its peak, fish from around the neighborhood take refuge in this cave. And as its name suggests, nurse sharks like to take afternoon naps here as well. We spotted a 2-meter nurse shark sleeping inside and an odd looking spotted flounder swimming ‘sideways’ at the cave’s entrance.

Diving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff nurse shark caveDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff fish in caveDiving Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia North Pass Garuae Ohotu Cliff fish in cave

Have a look at the top highlights from the memorable scuba diving in Fakarava!

Lagoon Tour: Pink Sand Beach & South Pass

If you’re not yet convinced that Fakarava is way more than just diving, here’s another proof. One of the highlights around here is the famous pink sand beach (les sable roses). Other atolls have such beaches, but the one in Fakarava is said to be spectacular. You can visit the pink sand beach on a full day tour that also includes Tetamanu Village and the legendary ‘south pass’. I joined Captain Geoffrey and Temio from Vaiama Village Pension, which also welcomes outside guests to join their tours to the blue lagoon and pink sand beach.

Tumakohua Pass Tetamanu Fakarava Atoll French PolynesiaAfter about 90 minutes of seeing nothing but pearl farms and deserted beaches, you’ll reach Tetamanu Village. Sitting at the mouth of the Tumakohua Pass (also known as the south pass), Tetamanu Village is home to only four families (that’s right) and its main purpose these days is to cater for scuba divers who follow the legend and make the long journey out here.

Your crew starts to prepare the picnic lunch as you head out on a village tour. Tetamanu Village is something straight out of some fantasy movie. There is no electricity (batteries only) and forget about internet folks! Walking along the grassy ‘main street’, you’ll visit the Catholic church that’s been here since 1874. The oldest in the Tuamotus and one of the first Catholic churches in French Polynesia, the building is made entirely from coral rock!

Tetamanu Village main street Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia

tetamanu village fakarava north pass church

Down the street, you’ll pass by the former school, now taken over by nature. It closed its doors when it didn’t make economic sense to import a teacher for just one child… Further down, there’s even a small prison – well, what’s left of this single cell. You see, Tetamanu actually preceded Rotoava and was the main settlement in Fakarava. When they finally figured out that a better spot for a ‘large’ village is by the north pass, Tetamanu began its gradual decline. Without the scuba diving dollars keeping it alive, this village would long be abandoned.

Tetamanu Village old prison Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia

Tetamanu Village abandoned school Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia

After the tour, put your snorkeling gear on and head into the water. The lagoon on this side of Fakarava is much clearer and richer than around Rotoava, though as not that great for snorkeling with the reef rapidly dropping into the deep. Nonetheless, you’ll come across dozens of reef sharks, trevally, giant Napoleon and stingrays (to name just a few). The real underwater appeal of the south pass is just meters away inside and beyond the pass.

Giant Napoleon fish Tetamanu Village Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia

Tetamanu Village Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia snorkeling

Black tip reef sharks Tetamanu Village Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia snorkeling

You most certainly can skip the snorkeling part of the tour and book a single dive. Mention this at the time of booking the lagoon tour and hope there’s an open spot.

Lunch was simply in a different league from all the lagoon excursions I went on in French Polynesia. There was lobster, sashimi, grilled fish and sausages to go along with a side of breadfruit, rice and my absolute favorite – coconut bread!

Pink Sand tour Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia BBQ lunch

After lunch, you’ll head to the famous pink sand beach. In the middle of nowhere, you’ll land on dreamy sand bars floating in the blue lagoon. The degree of ‘pinkness’ will depend on the sun. On a cloudy day like when I made the voyage, it was more orange than pink but nonetheless spectacular!

Pink Sand beach Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia 1

Pink Sand Fakarava Atoll French Polynesia

If the weather is nice, you’ll have about an hour to play around in the water and enjoy one of the most paradise-like spots in French Polynesia.

Logistics: leave at 8am, back at 4pm. Be prepared for a 90-minute boat ride in each direction (bring pills if you get seasick though the lagoon is usually flat). Bring: snorkeling gear (if you have your own), towel, something warm & rain jacket if a cloudy day, sunscreen etc. The crew does bring along plenty of water, juices and beers. The tour costs 12000F per adult, can take a maximum of 8 people and there is a minimum as well so inquire early.

Bottom line: I would strongly advise going on this full-day tour only if the weather is pleasant. Without the sun, it’s a lot less impressive than it could be and the ride back can be choppy and wet.

Places To Eat In Fakarava

Grocery shops: there are two shops in the main village just across from each other. They’re open from early morning until noon and from 4pm until about 7pm (closed Sundays). There’s another shop around PK8 south of the village.

Snack Chez Elda fakarava french polynesiaSnack Chez Elda: my favorite dinner spot! If your pension won’t drive you here, Elda will pick you up and drop you off for free. Come here for traditional Polynesian dishes, served in huge portions and with a generous dose of garlic and ginger. It will be hard to choose what to order and that’s exactly why Elda came up with combo dishes to make your life easy (1500-1900 F). I came here on two occasions and had tuna sashimi, carpaccio and tartare. And to drink? Go for the huge cocktails (1200F), guaranteed to put you to bed within hours!

view from Snack Kori Kori fakarava french polynesiaSnack Kori Kori: a snack with a view to die for, conveniently located seconds away from Dive Spirit Fakarava and Pension Vekeveke. I always came between dives and loved the huge sandwiches (~400F), though they do also serve serious steaks and fish dishes (~1700F). Don’t forget to toss your leftovers down below to the sharks!

Havaiki Hotel fakarava french polynesiaHavaiki Hotel: the Havaiki is the fanciest hotel in Fakarava so it’s no surprise to find a good restaurant out here. Food is served in a lovely lagoonside deck shaded by a thatched roof. Traditional Polynesian dishes are the main attraction, starting at around 1700F.

Snack Paillote: pretty much in Rotava Village, come here mainly for crepes by the beach.

Now It’s Your Turn

I hope you’ve found this Fakarava Travel Guide useful. If you have any questions or your own Fakarava travel tips, leave a comment below and let’s get the conversation started!

TOP THINGS TO DO IN RANGIROA AND FAKARAVA THUMBNAIL

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5 comments

  1. Fantastic detail and thankyou for the effort and great photo’s
    My wife and I will be visiting late August/Early September and was wondering if you could advise what type of food is available in the local shops? as two people we are meeting are cruising yachties

    1. Hi Patrick
      Thanks for the feedback! Fakarava is such a unique destination! Fruits and vegetables are imported to the island for the most part. Locals pre order those as do the shops. It arrives on the weekly cargo boat if all goes well. Shops will have durable foods such as: canned food, pasta, cookies, alcohol, rice etc. and I’m pretty sure also frozen stuff. There are two shops in the main village and the one that ‘doubles’ as the bakery, also has some fruits and vegetables. I recall there were apples, mangoes, tomatoes… There is also the sarong and island fashions shop in the village which is technically also a fruits & vegetables ‘market’, but that is really up to the mood of the owner. Enjoy your time and feel free to hit me up with more questions!

  2. Hi
    Thanks for the info on Fakarava. We are planning to visit but I am concerned about the wasps you mentioned bc I am allergic to them and other bee stings. Are there many wasps/bees on Fakarava? and is their emergency medical facilities?
    We are avid snorkelers. We plan to visit Moorea, Bora Bora, TaHaa, Rangiroa, TIkehau. Now we are thinking to add in Fakarava and skip TaHaa. Is snorkeling wonderful in Fakarava. We love to see colorful coral. Will Fakarava have that?

    1. Hi Susan

      I’m not sure if it was a seasonal thing but there were wasps there. Not in crazy amounts, but there were. I can’t recall if I encountered them on other atolls. There is an infermary in the main village of Rotoava which I assume is also on call 24/7. I did visit the plave with a local and it seemed legit though I think it’s staffed only by certified nurses with doctors visiting a few times per month.

      Fakarava was incredible for the “island life” viba combined with the incredible diving and beaches. Rangiroa has no beaches and I think Tikehau as well (unless you take a boat excursion). As for the snorkeling, it is lovely in Fakarava but probably similar to what you see in Rangiroa. The difference is in the diving because Fakarava’s corals are in much better state than anywehere else. The coral in Rangiroa was of the “hard” kind and the fun was in snorkeling with sharks pretty much off the dock of your pension. So if it’s corals you like, Fakarava is an excellent choice and more of an “off the beaten track” destination.

      Hope this helps!

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