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Saturday, March 02, 2013

Napuka atoll Island tour

March 2, 2013 10AM local (Mar 2 @ 2000UTC)
Anchorage position: 14°10.02' S 141°16.63' W
Napuka atoll, Tuamotu archipelago, South Pacific
LightSpeed anchored outside some pretty gnarly surf.   This is not the place to get a restful nights sleep.

After a quick breakfast we launched the dinghy and lined up outside the reef cut to make a dash to the boat ramp. A quick, powerful and reliable outboard engine is required for these sorts of adventures and our trusty Yamaha Enduro 15 has exactly the sort of gitty up and go you need for these situations. In a flash we were out in front of a curing wave and then it was time to put on the breaks as we slid up to the interior seawall. A group of local guys helped Kathy climb out of an undulating boat and on to the super slippery slime covered quay. With a few guys holding our painter I made the scramble and almost slipped as I shuffle-stepped on the super slick slime layer of the seawall. From there we pulled the dinghy toward the ramp from where we carried it well above the high water mark. Everyone was super friendly and helpful, just what you'd expect in a place that gets zero tourism and very few visitors.
 Landing the dinghy also involved some surf and careful timing
The local guys made quick work of sliding the dinghy up the ultra slick slime covered  ramp.  

After a quick breakfast we launched the dinghy and lined up outside the reef cut to make a dash to the boat ramp. A quick, powerful and reliable outboard engine is required for these sorts of adventures and our trusty Yamaha Enduro 15 has exactly the sort of gitty up and go you need for these situations. In a flash we were out in front of a curing wave and then it was time to put on the breaks as we slid up to the interior seawall. A group of local guys helped Kathy climb out of an undulating boat and on to the super slippery slime covered quay. With a few guys holding our painter I made the scramble and almost slipped as I shuffle-stepped on the super slick slime layer of the seawall. From there we pulled the dinghy toward the ramp from where we carried it well above the high water mark. Everyone was super friendly and helpful, just what you'd expect in a place that gets zero tourism and very few visitors.


A local, but non-native Johann Muller, a German who's the local baker on Napuka for the last 20 years gave us a guided tour of the motu. He invited us to his house where he showed us his amazing garden and treated us to a giant papaya.

 What a treat, we haven't had one of those since Samoa. He was also growing two varieties of potatoes, squash, bok choy, tomatoes, papaya, banana, peppers and a few other things. How things grow in the white sand and coral rubble is still a mystery as the soil didn't appear to be amended with compost as it was white in color.

There are basically 4 roads forming a cross and interestingly at the end of each road is a large concrete cross. So when you look down any of the roads from the center of the island you see a cross silhouetted on ocean or the lagoon water beyond.



 We walked on all four primary roads and then a few others, like the low tide road that cuts along the lagoon, but only at low tide when it's not flooded. Along the way everyone was super friendly with lots of greetings and waving. Many people came out of their homes to say bonjour (hello) and one friendly fellow named Joseph treated us to some fresh coconut water by chopping open a few green coconuts from his yard.


 Pigs and dogs are free range on the islands and they lay around in the yards together or walk among the homes.  As you can see in the image below pigs, dogs and piglets milling around the house.




We found a really cute baby kitten that was crying and when we called it ran over and latched on to Kathy, obviously wanting to be taken home. Unfortunately, since Hawaii is on the agenda there is no possible way we could bring anther cat as Hawaii is the most strict of any island nation.


According to Johann, only few a boats have stopped at Napuka in the last 20 years. One was an unlucky Norwegian yacht that accidentally sailed permanently onto the reef in the middle of the night back in 1999. Otherwise it's just us and one or two other boats, and for good reason as the anchorage is dangerous even in ideal circumstances.

Napuka atoll has a population of 200 to 300 depending if the kids are back from boarding school at Hao atoll, the economy runs on copra production and the locals depend heavily on subsistence fishing. Giant clams are reportedly abundant in the lagoon and a frequent consumed local delicacy. There's a post office, a doctor (with internet access) and three shops on the island supplying basic staple goods and exchangeable cooking gas bottles (~20lb with French fittings). Diesel might be available in small quantities from the shops or the power plant, but the sketchy dingy landing would make it a very undesirable place to jerry jug fuel. The atoll is serviced by Air Tahiti and infrequent supply ships. The adjacent island Tepoto also has a cut in the reef and a boat ramp and population of around 30-40, but no airport. All of this according to our very helpful guide Johann.

As is always the case when dealing with surf, getting back to the boat was more sketch than coming ashore. It was low tide and almost every wave was closing out the reef opening. Each breaker was hitting the ramp like a beach break, so launching the dinghy was pretty wild. We carried the boat to the top of the very slimy slick ramp, got in and then waited for a wave as the guys pulled on the painter and we were launched as the wave sucked us seaward. Again, our trusty Yamaha fired on the first pull and we gunned it for the sea between waves. No time for hesitation or second thoughts if you don't want to get swamped.


Back on the boat we put on our gear and went for a snorkel to check out the anchor situation and enjoy the amazing number of fish and corals. I made a few free dives to 40' to wiggle the anchor free and then we just enjoyed the clear waters. Big schools of black trigger fish, parrot fish, unicorn fish and even a few curious black tip reef sharks to keep us company. Then I climbed aboard to align the rudders while Kathy stayed in the water to visually verify that they were perfectly straight. We have hydraulic steering and over the course of hundreds or thousands of miles the rudders can get slightly out of alignment, a few degrees and that can slow us down, so it's worth checking every once in a while.

Then with Kathy still in the water, I fired up the engines and Kathy guided the retrieval of the anchor chain from amongst the coral heads ensuring we didn't get snagged. Then she climbed aboard and we raised sail for the journey north to the Marquesas.

Unfortunately, I can't recommend a visit to Napuka due to the dangerous anchorage.

For more information one could contact:
Johann Muller
98772 Napuka
Tuamotu
Polynesie Francaise

Johann speaks German, French, English and some Tahitian.

That's it for now.

 A odd little island home.  It looks occupied on the first floor and vacant on the second, maybe they forgot to  make room for stairs?
 Another of the four roads with a cross at the end.
 Kids playing soccer in the street.  If you look really close you see the third cross at the end of this road where we landed our dinghy.
 One of three shops, this one like most in the South Pacific has a solid emphasis on canned meats.


 LightSpeed too close to the reef .
 Locals kicking back in a wheelbarrow.
 Another friendly Napuka atoll resident that offered us a few fresh green coconut as we passed by.
Napuka landing looking pretty tame between sets.