Makatea, in the Tuamotu Islands, is a unique island, only accessible by the cargo ferries Mareva Nui and Saint Xavier Marie Stella or on a catamaran charter from Tahiti. You can also get to Makatea on a poti marara fishing boat from Tikehau, the closest atoll. Unlike the other Tuamotu Islands, Makatea is a high island with a plateau rising 260 feet above sea level. The island emerged from the sea tens of millions of years ago, with thousands of tons of phosphate encased in its rocks. The phosphate was the subject of a large mining operation that lasted for almost fifty years. There is much to interest geologists and nature lovers on this remote island, and here is our suggested itinerary for a four day break.
A voyage back in time
To understand the modern history of this island, make a visist to the remains of the mining operation. In the mining village you can stills see the ruins of the railway and the remains of locomotives, an abandoned factory and an electricity generator. Slowly but surely, the island’s vegetation is beginning to cover the scars that phosphate mining left behind.
For the second part of your day of discovery, go with a guide to visit the actual phosphate mines. In the middle of a dense jungle, you’ll come to a vast clearing known as ‘the Sahara’. The barren land is pierced with over a million deep holes, from where the phosphate was extracted. Some of the holes are nearly 300 feet deep, so be careful where you tread! Up to 800 barrowloads of phosphate were removed from this site every day.
Explore the caves
There are three freshwater caves in Makatea, with their source in the groundwater table. The most visited cave is called Hina, where children love to dive from the walls into the cool water. There are stalactites and stalagmites in the bigger chambers that you can swim into (NB: you might trip over a stalagmite).It is a magical place where families come to swim and baptisms are sometimes performed.
A climber’s paradise
There are over a hundred climbing trails on the island’s five sites. Makatea Escalade looks after the sites and ensures the safety of climbers. There are trails to suit eveybody, even complete beginners. The ‘via ferrata’, a protected climbing route with steel fixtures and cables, is a trail that all climbers will enjoy. The spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean make this a unique and unforgettable experience.
Relaxing and crab catching
The beautiful beaches of Makatea are perfect for doing little or nothing. So take a moment to relax and enjoy the splendid views. When night falls, join the locals on a traditional kaveu catching expedition. A skill that’s been passed down from father to son through the ages, catching kaveu, the coconut crab, is a thrilling adventure. Your hosts will be able to organize an expedition for you and the fruits of your hunt will be part of a delicious meal.
In the heart of nature
Makatea has many rare and endemic species. Among the most fascinating plants is the maire mono‘i, which has the most delicious perfume and is the symbol of the island. The fara vare’au is a tree of the pandanus family which is only found in Makatea. Another rare species is the rupe, a bright blue bird that is menaced with extinction.
A sporting hike
Makatea is an excellent destination for hiking enthusiasts, with several challenging trails, some of which are not suitable for beginners. One of the best trails is to the summit of Puutiare which stands at 370 feet high, from where the view is magnificent. It takes about an hour to get to the top. Another superb trail is Niania, which leads to a scenic viewpoint with a glorious panoramic view. The trail takes about 15 minutes and is very steep and quite dangerous. We recommend that hikers of all levels use the services of a local guide in Makatea.
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