Sail French Polynesia: the Tuamotu Archipelago

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

The remoteness of the Tuamotu Archipelago makes it a quite different charter destination to most. This is primarily a crewed-charter destination that requires a flight from Papeete, taking you into another world. These flat atolls, such a contrast to te mountainous islands elswhere in French Polynesia, are so far from the usual tourist crowds and commercialism that a sailing holiday here is the epitome of a tropical island escape.  

Sailing in the Tuamotos presents some challenges. Besides the natural hazards of navigating an area strewn with coral atolls, idylic though it is, provisioning is also an issue for a sailing holiday in the Tuamotus. The best and easiest way to experience this part of French Polynesia is by crewed charter. A number of larger catamarans with permanent crew are based in the archipelago.

Crewed charter boats stationed in the Tuamotus are in strong demand and not always available as advertised on the Internet. As well as flying from Papeete to pick up your charter in the Tuamotus, it may be possible to sail from the main island of Tahiti or from Raiatea, depending on availability. For such voyages we only recommend chartering with a hired skipper or crew,, which may include a diving instructor in some cases, unless previous experience proves full blue-water sailing competence in an atoll environment. Entry into the lagoons is technical and the best approach is to use local knowledge.

Talk to us first if considering a Tuamotus boat charter. And for more on boat charters in French Polynesia, read about sailing holidays in the Society Islands and Marquesas Islands.  

Sailing In the Tuamotus on Charter

The Tuamotu Archipelago comprises a low-lying string of atolls at the heart of French Polynesia. lying between the Society Islands to the south and the Marquesas to the north. The main gateways to the Tuamotus are Rangiroa (population around 3,000) and Fakarava (1,000). Both these destinations offer good navigation aids into and within their lagoons, and are the most developed atolls onshore.   

Fakarava and nearby

At the centre of this well spread-out collection, Fakarava offers good anchorages and a choice of several nearby smaller atolls for some variety and total seclusion. A favoured anchorage is Hirifa, about an hour's sail from the atoll's South Pass. Idyllic is the only way to describe this anchorage, with its still waters, beautiful beach, and a sandbar with steady breeze for kitesurfers and wingfoil enthusiasts. There is also good internet here. On Fakarava's doorstep is a 30m trench where the diving experience is simply other-worldly, descending as you do into a space teeming with life in clear visibility.  

The neighbouring atoll of Toau is best accessed via Fakarava's northern pass. Sail to the southeast pass of Toau and anchor at Teahuroa in a wild and uninhabited lagoon. Dive in the Faketahuna pass, remarkable for its coral and marine fauna. On your sail to Rangiroa, if the amazing experiences so far have not delayed your journey too much, there may be time to take in Apataki, to visit the village and engage with some of the local people.

Rangiroa and Tikehau

Rangiroa, to the western edge of the archipelago and surrounded by the world's second largest lagoon, is the main settlement in the Tuamotus.The decision on whether to base your charter in Fakarava or Rangiroa may just come down to a flip of the coin. Both have it all, including fabulous dive spots and locations for water sports. One thing Rangiroa does have going for it is a little more on-land activity and attractions, like the Mana'o Rum ageing cellar and vineyards, located on a small motu just off the village of Avatoru, and the atoll's evidence of early French missionarty influence.

The Tuamotus are considered one of the best diving destinations worldwide. Travelandleisure.com put them top of it's list in May 2024, and Rangiroa's Tiputa pass is right up there! Likewise the water sport enviroment, with plenty of wind above calm lagoon waters, just ideal for relaxation and active fun whatever the mood. 

For some real blue-water sailing that requires experience due to the rushing current, take the 35 nautical mile passage between Rangiroa its nearest neighbour, Tikehau. There's a spot on Tikehau where manta rays are known to congregate - which will be of great interest if you haven't already seen plenty! Tikehau is a smaller atoll and its main settlement is quite well developed with its own airport. 

Scattered around the main Tuamotus are some resorts where, if you wish, you can dine ashore in luxury, seafood being the main menu item of course! One of the best is Ninamu Resort at Tikehau, with it's terrific cocktail bar. 

Makatea including Tetiaroa

South and west of the above Tuamotu atolls lies Makatea, the group's only uplifted coral island and once used for phosphate mining. A charter from Papeete -with skipper in almost all cases - takes you to this less-visited destination that provides a different perspective. Here you can engage in land-based activities such as climbing, caving and the night sport of coconut crab hunting, as well as the magnificent diving to be had there. 

Makatea is an overnight sail from base. On the return journey stop off at Tetiaroa, a bird and turtle sanctuary. Tetiaroa is pristine, and interesting enough to spend a night or two. It is close enough to Tahiti that you can leave around midday to arrive back at home base. 

Getting to the Tuamotus

Internationally, Tahiti is served through Fa'a'ā International Airport, Papeete. Air Tahiti has scheduled flights to Rangiroa, Tikehau and Fakarava, including multi-island passes. Flights from Papeete take about 75 minutes. Flight schedules allow planning of both return and one-way charter itineraries. Bareboat charters out of Tahiti or the Society Islands may also be arranged for suitably qualified skippers on enquiry.

While sparsely populated, there are a number of local inhabitants who provide catering services for passing travellers. These are a precious commodity in such far-flung atolls. Once more we stress or recommendation for taking along local knowledge. That's the key to unlocking the real secrets of this amaxing place. 

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