22 Mai 2012
Dive site : Ohutu - Garuae Pass, Fakarava
Date : Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Editor : Mary anne - TOPDIVE
Divemaster : Fanny Bonnemains
Companions : Ken & Maya From Los Angeles
A curious sensation overcomes you once you reach Fakarava. Unlike Rangiroa, the atoll of Fakarava is a lot less populated and is certainly a lot less touristy. The atoll conditions are a lot less harsh, there is much more vegetation and the sea conditions on the atoll are calmer. Life just comes to a standstill. Although you get a general good feeling of the place when you get there be prepared to rough it out a little in Faka. The atoll is famous for 2 things: its remote exotic beauty and its diving.
On Fakarava, be prepared for “a walk on the wild side” where diving is concerned. Being a UNESCO biosphere, my expectations were rather lofty. Although seeing is believing, I was quite prepared to be surprised and pretty much have my socks knocked off !
Arriving at the TOPDIVE TeAvaNui divecenter, I quickly made acquaintance with my divemaster, Fanny BONNEMAINS, a young, chirpy little blond who turns out to be a ski-instructor and divemaster depending on the season. A mental image of her on a snowboard quickly flashed through my mind. As fate would have it, and as dive itineraries go, I was grouped with Ken & Maya, the LA couple that I had met in Fakarava. Really keen diving photographers! Cool! It was nice to dive with people you knew. At least I knew what to expect and they were quite experienced to keep our little group dynamic.
After a quick gear set-up, Fanny briefed us on our dive plan. Today, we were diving in Ohutu, a magnificent undersea plateau to the right exiting the Garuae pass. Unlike Rangiroa, where the divesites were literally next door, the Garuae pass (the principal divesite) took a good 25 minute boat ride from the divecenter. In Fakarava, unlike any other atoll, the dives were planned around the tide tables. The dive would be timed to coincide with the incoming slack tide otherwise erratic currents would pose a potential risk for divers being swept out into the open sea. That said, at the end of the dive, having done all safety stops, the rule of thumb for diver recovery would be for the divemaster to inflate a fluorescent marker buoy which would signal to the diveboat their presence on the surface for immediate pick-up. As opposed to Rangiroa, where the “zodiac” was the diveboat of choice, Fakarava sea conditions are not as changeable, thus allowing the luxury of a wider and more comfortable aluminium diveboat.
Leaving the divecenter, we set off to the pass and the foretold “wonders” that awaited us! The sea seemed indeed much calmer and more clement. It was also sunny and the weather conditions seemed to be in our favour. We shared our aluminium diveboat with 3 other divegroups totalling 4 divemaster/instructors and around 15 divers. Sea entry was brash and à la US marines we singled filed to the back of the boat to giant “run” into the water while the boat was still in motion. Purpose of this was to get to the right location outside the pass and work our way with the incoming slack tide. This wasn’t a drift dive and our target was to descend the right side of the pass in Ohutu to the dropoff at around 90 feet. Timing our dive with the incoming slack tide would make this possible. As we entered marine style, a slight current required some sporty finning and some quick equalizing to keep our group intact. We were immediately struck with the profusion of coral and fish life, more than most divesite on other islands in Polynesia. The variety of coral was more diverse – a proliferation of madrepores; pocillopora, staghorn coral – acropora and favia. Their inhabitants were fairly the same endemic species of the Tuamotus.
I observed the most diverse concentration of parrotfish of different colors, grazing on the coral landscape; shoals of surgeon and unicorn fish, shoals of Tuamotu emperors, different species of butterfly fish swimming in pairs in and out of the coral heads; huge marbled groupers taking in the nourishment of the slack tides in huge mouthfuls and an impressive band of yellow margined snappers. Once in a while, we’d see a large Napoleon wrasse cruising in the deep. In the distance were grey and black tipped sharks survey the reef. A couple of manta rays skirted by in the blue water near the surface. Bands of tuna and rainbow runners scurried past. The reef traffic was relentless and the thrill of all this wildlife around us was intoxicating.
As we progressed a little inward near the mouth of the pass, Fanny lead us into a corridor where she warned us to expect rather murky, “milky” water and a lot of clicking noise. In fact, I found out later when we settled onto this shallow coral plateau that this was indeed the mouth of the reef and the sound was the incoming current brushing up on the bottom coral. This “corridor” didn’t hold much life due to it being a “passageway”. The adjacent coral gardens were indeed a surprise as we levelled off to the tailend of our dive.
Suddenly, a lone turtle came gliding near us and got incredibly close that we even though it to be “tamed” and used to divers. My photographer dive buddies had a field day! Maya was ecstatic and absorbed with the docility of this creature she couldn’t stop snapping away! The turtle came so close that it started nipping on her reserve air canister. It was a rare encounter. After years of diving, I don’t think I’d been in such close contact with such wildlife! Moments like this, I wish I’d taken up photography.
As we surfaced and waited for the boast to pick us up, we didn’t have the words to describe such an awesome dive. Really breathtaking!
© Photos V. Truchet, S. Girardot