If you hear someone refer to the ‘wall of sharks’ in French Polynesia, it’s probably the south pass at Fakarava that they are talking about.
Fakarava’s south pass (local name: Tetamanu) is legendary. In addition to said shark wall, it is also famous for an immense gathering of marbled grouper every year in June-July for spawning, and the associated shark action, who see the event as an all-you-can-eat buffet. We didn’t witness this (our trip was in February) but — tip — I was told that the grouper are just as numerous in the north pass too at that time of year.
During our stay in Fakarava last month, diving with Kaina Plongee, we went on two consecutive day trips across to the south pass, a journey of an hour and a bit by speedboat. It is also possible to stay at the south pass, though since accommodation and diving choices are very limited there, it is, at time of writing, a rather expensive option.
The morning dives began on the outside of the pass, ocean side. We would drop down to a broad, rolling reef slope, named les roses because of the stunning coverage of montipora corals. As I have said, coral diversity at the sites I visited in French Polynesia was relatively poor and limited to hard corals only, but this vast expanse of delicate leaf-like formations was a very fine sight.
There were shifting clusters of bigeye and blue-lined snapper (I didn’t see these pretty snapper much elsewhere on this trip), and as usual, the odd reef shark marauding. It is a wonderful luxury to be able to write ‘as usual’ in a sentence describing the presence of sharks. There was a general abundance of everything.
Then we turned inwards into the pass. And then came the sharks.
We visited four different spots where schooling grey sharks just kept coming and coming. The sharks swam past very close to us, weaving impassively, impervious to the current.
We also spotted the blacktip shark (not to be confused with the blacktip reef shark). It is a large shark, its body shaped a bit like a hammerhead, i.e. bulky with a pointed snout. A shyer creature, it lurked behind the grey sharks, so I don’t have any good pictures to show. But it was one more shark species to add to my list of sharks spotted (a total of 11 different species by the end of the trip!).
On these four incredible dives, we viewed the sharks from every possible angle. At one point we descended into a kind of small valley between two coral ridges, and found ourselves entirely beneath a school of greys. I was sprawled on the bottom (rubble, not coral) with my BCD deflated so as not to drift off in the current, shooting the sharks ‘flying’ overhead like aeroplanes. Thanks to Eian Kee for the second picture below.
We ended the dives either by doing a drifting safety stop in the shallows of the lagoon, or near the small resort at the village of Tetamanu. In the latter location, I took some of my best photos of the trip. The shallow coral slope was dense with fish and the shallow water and dappled sunlight around the small piers made it a photography paradise.
Between dives, I spent a most memorable surface interval snorkelling in swimming-pool like conditions in front of Tetamanu village with plenty of sharky company.
Between this sandy pool and the pass itself is an extremely shallow coral area full of fish, perfect for taking magical just-below-the-surface shots. Had the water been calmer, there would be fantastic mirror effects to be had here.
Both day trips were made complete by a picnic at a nearby beauty spot on the lagoon known as les sables roses for obvious reasons. The organization of the excursions by Vincent and his team was faultless and unhurried. He adapted the dives to fit our photography requirements and allowed me and my buddy to continue shooting to our hearts’ content in the shallows at the end, something I hugely appreciate, as many dive operators would be hassling us to get out of the water in order to stay on schedule.
The south pass of Fakarava deserves its reputation as a world-class dive site, especially for shark fans. To me, both the north and south passes in Fakarava have equally fantastic diving and visiting each one is a must if you are diving on the island.
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