Raroia - our own island

Category: Ships Log
  Raroia, Tuamotus  

July 2nd - July 7th

Mastering our first reef pass, tracking down Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki, and enjoying our own island.

“Do you see any coral heads in our path?” I ask. “No, everything is clear ahead,” comes Alena’s answer from the handheld VHF radio. So far we are doing good, considering that this is our first reef pass experience. The passes here in the Tuamotus have a bad name because of the strong currents which can top 10 kts and more. The primary forces behind it are the tides and the fact that most of the atolls have only  a handful of passes in the circular reef. Raroia, our destination, has only one pass (Pass Ngarue), so all the tidal current of this 20 mile long atoll tries to go through one 130 m wide pass. The good news is that Ngarue is a fairly easy pass with a maximum current of 8 kts; however, this is still too much for Green Panther so the correct timing is essential. We studied the tide and current tables and calculated that at our estimated arrival time of 10 am we should have about 4 kts outgoing current. Not great but doable, so we decided to go for it. We lowered the sails once we saw the pass and turned on our engine. We aimed for the center to avoid sandbanks extending in from either side. We could see some eddies and turbulent water where we assumed the sandbanks were, but thanks to GPS we could make sure that we stayed in the deepest part of the pass. The current calculations were correct and we slowly crept into the lagoon at 1.5 kts, fighting the 4 kts of outgoing current. Alena was at the bow, the best viewpoint to spot coral heads or shallow water in our path and I remained at the helm. We used our handheld VHF radios on low power to communicate which worked well. We continued with this system even once in the lagoon since our cruising guide correctly advised “Once through the pass, there are many coral heads visible and awash.”

Raroia, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Raroia looks pretty much like paradise

We made it safe to the anchorage in front of the small village of Nguramoava, but this side of the atoll (west) was exposed to the east wind and we had about 2-3 ft wind waves. So we decided to take our chances and find our way between the many coral heads to the east side of the atoll. We found that as long as the sun was up we could easily spot the coral heads, also called bombies, by looking for a change in the water color from deep blue to light blue and/or brown. However, our first try to go straight east from the village was complicated by a myriad of buoys from a pearl farm. We were navigating around them quite well, however after awhile a powerboat from the pearl farm approached and showed us the correct way to the east side.  This was to go all the way back to the pass and then turn east. An hour or so later we finally made it to the protected east side of Raroia.

Raroia, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Wharf of the small village of Nguramoava


Coral head with and without sun, Tuamotus, Raroia
The sun is essential to navigate an atoll. Corals are easy to spot (light blue water) when the sun is up (upper image) but are almost
invissible when clouds block the sun (lower image).

Our next goal was to find the island next to the spot were Thor Heyerdahl’s balsa raft, Kon Tiki, ended its journey from South America. We’d read the Thor Heyerdahlmuseum from Norway erected a monument on the island to commemorate his adventure. With the GPS coordinates from our cruising guide we found the island, anchored, and swam ashore to look for the monument. We enjoyed about 80°F (27°C) clear water with corals and a variety of reef fish before we reached the coral rubble beach of the island. Our arrival didn’t go unnoticed. Several frigate birds and especially a colony of white terns observed us from the air. The terns, who we believe were nesting on the island, followed us wherever we went and kept a close watch. It was kind of funny, whenever we looked up there were a dozen terns hovering right about us. Big (bird) brother is watching you. :-)

Kon Tiki Island, Raroia
Alena beach walking on Kontiki island


white turns, raroia
White terns watching us

We didn’t find a monument at first but eventually discovered an old wooden frame of a hut in the center of the island. Jumping over piles of brown palm leaves, pushing shrubs aside and using a stick to fight our way through the numerous spider webs we made our way to the hut frame. Just past the frame, we could see the monument a bit further in the brush. We were pretty excited to have found the monument honoring the crazy trip of the Norwegian adventurer and his crew.


Kontiki Island monument and us
We found the Kontoki monument.

We stayed the night anchored behind the Kon Tiki island, but set out to explore more islands the next morning. A mile or so away we found a nice sandy spot (this is where you want to anchor - otherwise the anchor chain can get wrapped around corals) behind a palm tree laden island. It was uninhabited like all of the islands on the east side of Raroia, except for one small island with a pearl farm on it. Well, officially the entire Raroia atoll is called an island which has little islets or motus on it’s circular reef. Anyway we enjoyed the next few days on this little islet with snorkeling, beach combing, swimming, evening visits by manta rays, and the luxury of fresh coconuts. It takes quite an effort to open a coconut, especially the first step to get rid of all the dense husk. I finally managed using our machete, but Green Panther’s cockpit  was quite messy after I was done. The coconut juice tasted delicious though and Alena made fantastic coconut banana bread.

our own island
Our island , on the left and her sister on the right.


Alena rinke Raroia
Alena on a snorkeling photoshoot


A manta ray visiting Green Panther


Alena baking on Green Panther

The time went by way too fast and we decided to thank the island for hosting us with a beach cleanup. Armed with two large garbage bags we rowed our dinghy ashore and started to work our way around the islet. Most of the stuff we found were old plastic bottles, old nylon fishing line, shoes, styrofoam, and more plastic bottles. It is sad to imagine that so much garbage made it onto the shores of a tiny uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific ;-(. But at least we could declare the islet “trash free” for now. Maybe buying less beverages in one-use plastic bottles, or making recycling more readily available, would help to create a better future for the islet - just a thought.  

Raroia Island Tuamotus, Beach clean up
The result of our beach cleanup

After some boat work and more relaxing (hanging out on a boat in the sun is actually rather exhausting!), we hoisted anchor almost a week later. On our way back to the pass I noticed again how detailed our electronic charts are; we use Navionics Gold. They seem to show each coral head in the lagoon. Soon I was looking more on the charts and less on the water, until all of a sudden we saw a coral head right in front of us and had to turn the wheel very hard to avoid it in the last minute. The chart showed no obstacles and a 100 ft water depth. Okay, lesson learned.  Since then we always look on the water and only glance at the charts when moving across an atoll. Our next stop will be the atoll of Makema, where we will try to re-supply our stock of fresh food (vegetables, cheese, eggs, and meat) and to do more snorkeling of course!

Raroia Island Tuamotus. Green Panther
Green Panther anchored in front of our islet on Raroia

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