There are dive destinations that claim to have sharks, and then there’s the South Pass (Tetamanu) of Fakarava in the Tuamotu atolls of French Polynesia.Three words describe the comparison between the two: Different League Entirely.
On a recent dive with TOPDIVE-Bathys, my fellow divers were mostly French, along with a few Canadians from Vancouver we’d picked up on a yacht (lucky dogs) on our way to the dive site. Nearly everyone had already dived the pass a few times, and they were chomping at the bit to get into the water again, murmuring “C’est magnifiques” all around when I asked what to expect. I’d dived with reef sharks at Blue Corner in Palau, and I’d experienced shark dives in the Bahamas, so I wondered how this could be all that different.
Following a backward roll off the zodiac and an 80-foot descent into the blue a few moments later, I learned exactly how different it was.
A veritable conveyor belt of grey sharks was riding the upwelling on the ocean side of the pass, creating a dizzying tableau that looked like puzzle parts from a 500-piece jigsaw tossed against a deep blue carpet. My fellow divers and I fell neatly in line on the bottom (the sharks will only come as close as the nearest diver to them), found rocks for a hold and settled in for a spectacle that seemed like it would never stop.
We’d timed our dive for the incoming current, when the ocean pours into Fakarava’s clear blue lagoon, attracting sharks to the east side of the pass.
After a good 15 minutes, the dive master shook his rattle, indicating it was time to go, and we drifted through the pass on a comfortable current into the lagoon. Along the way, we passed massive Napoleon wrasse, white tips hanging out on the bottom and watchful schools of dark red priacanthus, with their bulging eyes and slant-hinged jaws.
As the reef drew nearer and the water shallower inside the lagoon, the colors of the coral popped with yellows, greens and blues in water so clear it seemed as if we were in freshwater springs. The safety sausage went up, and we surfaced to see the zodiac a ways away next to the Canadians’ yacht. Seeing our location, the dive master asked if we’d like to ride to the boat in the powerful current sweeping around the edge of the inner lagoon as a grand finale to our dive. After a unanimous yes from our group, we headed back down for an amazing roller-coaster ride over the lagoon’s vividly colored corals and fish.
Then, as if it had been scripted by diving divinity, we experienced the kicker: a manta the size of a Volkswagen appeared before us, barely moving its wings against the current while feeding on invisible plankton. We all scrambled to grab hold of nearby rocks, so we could pause alongside the manta, if only for a moment. Holding on tightly, I could feel the current on my face, keen to blow away my mask and regulator and was forced to reluctantly let go. The manta edged slowly away with the slightest of movements, as we flew away like fairies over the last 50 yards to the boat.
It was one of those dives when you surface thinking one thing and one thing only: How in the world will anything top that?
Check out the Sept./Oct. issue of Scuba Diving for a collection of similar adrenaline-pumping dive stories.