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samedi 13 décembre 2014

A dream atoll for a dream holiday

Faaite, Tuamotu Archipelago

In French Polynesia, there are islands where the reality beyond the myth. The Faaite atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago, is one of them.

Well! 16 ° 43 ' South and 145 ° 19' West. None of these contact informations mean anything to you: they are those from the Faaite Atoll!

Located in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, the Atoll of Faaite is 1:10 flight from Tahiti ... But there is one flight per week on Wednesday. The length of stay is imposed by the rotations of Air Tahiti!

Arrival by plane on the atoll of Faaite  
  A whole week to immerse themselves in the magical world of a Tuamotu atoll...

Faaite atoll and history
Faaite atoll is known worldwide for the terrible tragedy that unfolded in September 1987 that the media named "the stakes of Faaite". That year, in three days, six people were sentenced to be burnt at the stake because they refused to worship the Virgin Mary. (This unprecedented slaughter is the subject of another article)

The Atoll of Faaite seen offshore
The first Westerner to set foot on Faaite was John Turnbull in 1803, an English merchant who scoured the South Pacific and opened the way from Hawaii to Tahiti. He was in search of black pearls. That's the reason why he had ventured into the Tuamotus.

Only on July 16, 1820 Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen Thaddeus landed there in turn, on behalf of Alexander 1st's Russia

  Then Faaite had fallen into oblivion, which allowed its people to continue to live far from the noise and fury of the world until that fateful month of September 1987…

The Faaite atoll and geography
Located almost due north of the island of Tahiti, the atoll of Faaite belongs to the so-called Northern Tuamotu. The atoll has a town hall annex and is depending on the municipality of Anaa.

In 2007, the census reported a population of 367 inhabitants against 313 in the previous count. These figures compare with those of 1997, which reported a population of 180 souls only. These figures show firstly that the 1987 drama fades in the memories, and secondly that the dramatic economic crisis in Polynesia pushes the Paumotu (inhabitants of the Tuamotu) to return to their islands.

Map of the Faaite Atoll
Note that this is also wake of the 1987 events that it was decided to build the airport in order to break the isolation of inhabitants.

The Pass of Teporioha (the only one from the lagoon of Faaite) very narrow and the shallow lagoon, inhibit the schooners (Polynesian mixed cargos) from approaching the village of Hitianau. Thus it's difficult and dangerous to make supply of the population. The economy of Faaite is based almost exclusively on fishing and copra. However, in recent years tourism develops gradually, even if it's restricted to the size of the atoll.

The Turtles of Faaite
The turtle was a sacred animal to Faaite and many were "floating" over the lagoon until the 1980s.

 Previously the hunting of turtles was highly codified.

When the forefathers decided one tifai (turtle hunting), flowers crowns, and coconuts were placed on a stone of the marae of Nimo Oteruga. Two or three men were chosen from the best to lead the hunt. That day, we mustn't light fires in the village.

   On returning from the hunt, men announced their socket at a distance, reciting a toinoino which told the taking of the beast. The elders, remained in the village, waited for this sign which made them know whether hunting was good.

The hunters returned, pushing three cries. The first one said whether it was a male or female turtle. If it was a male, it said Takero and a female, Matariki. Then the second one gave the name of the man who had caught the turtle, and finally where it was taken.

Today, the animal is fully protected and the hunting is prohibited ... But how to control an isolated atoll?

Staying at Faaite

     That's the real challenge, but the genuine reward. Indeed, at Faaite, the minimum stay is one week (the flight turnaround obliges!). However, to date, there is neither hotel nor camping, nor guesthouse on the atoll! The nearest accommodation is on the atoll of Fakarava, a little less than 20 km north-west of Faaite.

What a solution then to discover this wonderful Paumotu?

Hitianau, the only harbour of the Faaite atoll
Only one solution: take the telephone directory and contact the Town Hall, or the people directly in order to get a homestay. Less easy as buying a package for a stay in a holiday village, it's true. But once this point resolved, you will have the infinite happiness to discover the Paumotu's kindness, the richness of their culture, the reality of their daily lives and the intimate beauty of the Tuamotu atoll: this beauty hidden in the heart of its inhabitants.

Therefore, the magic of the postcard will fade into the background of your travel memories, and no pictures will return you this wealth.

What to do during a visit to Faaite?
Beyond the daily life of an atoll, fishing and copra work essentially, you will also have the opportunity to admire the most beautiful koko of Tuamotus.

The koko of Faaite, the most beautiful of Tuamotus
A koko is a natural karst conduit, communicating with the ocean, from where the water comes out with great force during each high tide; then it drains into a strong siphon at low tide. When there is swell, the phenomenon is spectacular.

      And if you like sliding sports, Faaite conceals a surf spot that the great champions especially appreciate. A reef wave, dangerous and certainly reserved for experienced surfers, but of exceptional quality if we are to believe some great champions.

If you make the trip, no doubt that your great grandchildren will long remember the way you tell them what unique stay ...

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

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