Watching the grey shark ‘wall’
We go for a dive in the famous Tetamanu pass, which is known as one of the most beautiful passes of Polynesia for its colours and dense fauna and flora.
Paumotu ancestors named it Tumakohua because of its shape, which, according to them, was suggestive of a woman’s sexual organ (hua). According to legends that Taupiri Teanuanua, one of the six inhabitants of the Motu, proudly keeps in a notebook, ‘In the days of yore, the passes of Tumakohua and of N’garue, which is situated to the north-west of Fakarava, had seven daughters after which the currents flowing through and protecting the atoll are today named.’
After such a beautiful introduction, it’s time for a dive! The incoming current is indeed an invitation for a most promising drift dive. We get into the water on the ocean side and dive along the reef straight towards the viewpoint, situated 22 m down. The position is ideal to admire the grouping and movement of grey sharks (rairas – Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) into the pass. Nearly 80 sharks are circling around, criss-crossing each other, ready to attack any prey that swims past. Some black-tipped reef sharks (Carcharhynus limbatus), which are differentiated by their darker skin and their pyramid-shaped dorsal fin, as well as a two or three white-tip reef sharks (tapete – Carcharhinus albimarginatus), join in the ritual underwater ballet.
Our instructor, who has experience in diving around some ten atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago, says that it is the location of the second-largest concentration of sharks in the archipelago after Tiputa in Rangiroa.
A coral garden worthy of the legend of the thousand and one nights
The Temakohua pass contains countless treasures, starting with a magnificent rose garden which, unlike that of Moorea, is located at accessible depth, 35 m below water level. What a fantastic spectacle clouds of damselfish and bluestripe snappers (Lutjanus kasmira) grazing the limestone petals above which we swim just before plunging into the canyons. We choose the bottleneck on the right-hand side, which leads to a former fish park into the lagoon. Under the vaults of the canyons, shoals of bigeye fish and squirrelfish are hiding away from the current and from predators. Our path crosses with that of a shoal of Pacific barracudas, then of a shoal of humpback red snappers stalked by some giant trevallies (Caranx ignobilis).
A real nursery for reef fish
The current suddenly pushes us into a garden worthy of the legend of the thousand and one nights. Intact reefs of Montipora, Acropora and Porites stretch as far as the eye can see, in a wide range of purple, yellow, blue and orange shades. The sun’s rays light up the reefs, which mirror in the surface of the water. The sheltered and shallow waters of this part of the lagoon are home to a real nursery of reef fish. Here, damselfish, Tahiti butterflyfish, pennant coralfish, globefish and emperor angelfish live together in a perfect harmony, which is only disturbed by blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus melanos), camouflage groupers or peacock hinds. Suddenly, a sailfish scoots past us at 5 m deep! If ever it stops asking for directions, then we must really be in wonderland. The next day, we make the same dive with a different twist towards the end of the trip. We emerge on the other side of the pass in front of the Tetamanu Village boarding house’s pontoon, where some garfish are loafing around close to the water’s surface.
Drift dives into the pass
Dives in the passes have put the Tuamotu Archipelago among the world’s most popular diving destinations. Drift dives are generally organised, with divers letting the current in the pass carry them, without a single palm stroke. They can thus enjoy exceptional aquatic encounters with the diverse fauna that transits through the pass.
This type of dive is truly thrilling and offers optimal safety conditions as well as favourable currents. Drift diving is generally practised along the incoming current, which carries divers from the ocean side into the shallow lagoon. Diving with the outflow in a pass is generally too risky for divers, but Tetamanu is the exception to the rule: it is narrow (only 230 m large) and low currents make it one of the most accessible passes in Polynesia.
Still captivated by the legends and pure colours of the Tumakohua pass, we get back to the surface at a spot where the pink sand dunes border the Fakarava reef. We then fully understand the meaning of the atoll’s name, ‘faka’ meaning large rock and ‘rava’, beauty.
A dive into the largest pass of Polynesia
On the other side of Tetamanu, in the north of the Fakarava Atoll, is the largest pass in Polynesia. Its concentration in fauna makes it one of the most beautiful diving spots in the Tuamotu Archipelago.
N’Garuae, the ‘Large Mouth’ in Polynesian language, measures not less than 1,600m! According to local beliefs, the two passes are linked by the tides and currents, which represent the offspring of the man, Garuae and the woman, Tumakohua (the south pass of Tetamanu). The dive centre offers explorations in this larger and tougher pass. The dives on offer are completely different from those in the south pass, both in terms of the topography of the site and of the strength of the currents, which is greater than in Tetamanu.
Diving in the pass is always practised along the incoming current but there are a number of opportunities for groups of divers. Irrespective of the side that you choose, when you get into the water on the blue ocean side, you usually encounter some grey reef sharks at the mouth of the pass. Depending on the period, you may be able to see some hammerhead shark marauding peacefully. Afterwards, you will let the current carry you towards the lagoon, going through vast canyons covered with beautiful corals. You will make multiple encounters, many of them very surprising, including the underwater flight of manta rays, barracudas passing by and the concentration of black jacks.
The bottom of the north pass is covered with beautiful corals inhabited by a multitude of multicoloured fish. The drift dive then takes divers to the large underwater basin, which is highly populated and is home to shoals of bigeye fish, humpback red snappers, pennant coral fish, lionfish, turtles, Napoleon fish and various species of sharks.
Dives outside the lagoon are practised on the ocean side along the external reef drop-offs, and end up at beautiful coral gardens illuminated by the sun’s rays. A lovely atmosphere prevails and there are various – and always unexpected – encounters, namely a sailfish which briefly appears close to our group or a pair of rabbitfish which change colour during their courtship displays.