French Polynesia: Journeying to the Tuamotus via Makatea

Makatea, an island of upraised fossilised coral in the Tuamotus, is an overnight sail from Papeete in French Polynesia. Kiwi cruisers Kristin Percy and Rupert Wilson stopped over en route to the Tuamotus and found the island offers several moorings, some basic facilities and a warm welcome for visiting yachts.

Published 3 weeks ago, updated 2 weeks ago

We arrived in the early morning after an overnight sail from Papeete. There was one other boat on a mooring just outside the little concrete breakwater entrance that leads to the small boat dock and slipway.

The island is en route to the Tuamotus and is a raised coral atoll, with a surrounding reef, huge cliffs and no lagoon – the cliffs rise directly from the reef. Thus there is no reef pass, unlike most of the Tuamotus. The geology is upraised fossilised coral – similar to Atiu (Cook Islands) and Niue.  This type of ‘rock’ is therefore known as ‘makatea’ throughout the eastern Polynesian islands. It’s very sharp and unforgiving, so you need good shoes.

Makatea now has limited moorings available for visiting yachts and basic facilities ashore.

Makatea Mural (c) SV Rumpus

Dotted with relics

Makatea is dotted about with remarkable large relics of the phosphate mining that happened here till the mid 20th Century, with many workers at that time having come from the Cook Islands. The breakwater is a vestige of this industry, with rusting tanks and other machinery.

No secure anchorages

There is no secure anchorage. We found three moorings. One close to the breakwater entrance; one just north of a row of old pier supports at 15° 49.5596′ S 148° 16.7737′ W and one further south. These are only tenable in a slight swell and winds from the east.

The concrete docks at Makatea (c) SY Rumpus.

The mooring near the old pier is submerged about two metres, so you have to swim and dive to retrieve it. The one further south is apparent on the surface but, we were informed, not 100% reliable.

This photo shows the alignment of the old pier from the submerged mooring. (c) SV Rumpus

The moorings seem alarmingly close to the reef, but we did not have any trouble. The reef is wonderful for snorkelling, with huge clouds of fish, octopus and a few nosey sharks.

Surging waves

Waves surge into the landing spot, so if you’re using your dinghy, keep close to the west cardinal mark to avoid bommies. Don’t attempt to land in a big swell. The waves can break right across the entrance.

We had a 50 foot catamaran hang off our stern as they were concerned about the southern mooring and so we were both on the “old pier” mooring.

Behind the tree is the narrow entrance in the breakwater at Makatea.  (c) SY Rumpus.

A bit of a warning however – if someone asks to tie to you, ask them to post an anchor watch all night. Although we did ask, we were woken at 3 am by the catamaran lurching, unattended, with the line having twisted around their keel and prop so that they were side on to our stern.

Julien Mai (+689 87 74 45 22) and his son were very engaging and helpful. I recommend that you contact them by text message in advance of your arrival and they will keep an eye out for you.

They will arrange a tour of the island and even come out to your boat and pick you up if you’re unwilling to brave the surf at the dock entrance. They said that the government is planning to install six more moorings some time, which should boost the visitor numbers.

There is no airport. The village is at the top of the hill, a short walk up from the landing spot. They speak English, but French is easier.

The village shop on Makatea (c) SV Rumpus.

We had a delicious lunch and a vehicle tour of the island. There is a tiny shop where you can get basic supplies, even ice creams, and limited wifi. The old relics are amazing and the phosphate mining history is quite the tale.

View looking south east from the Belvedere.

There are a few short tracks, spectacular view spots and a beach/reef/cliff walk on the eastern side of the island. The highlight was the cool fresh water swim in the caves – take your waterproof light.

Our tour itinerary for Makatea (c) SV Rumpus

Kristin & Rupert Wilson
SY Rumpus
June 2023

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The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising Club.


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