Makatea, Tuamotu Archipelago

Jul 05, 2018 - National Geographic Orion

Unique among the islands of French Polynesia, Makatea is an uplifted atoll where historic coral reefs stand almost 100 meters above the ocean surface. At one time rich with deposits of phosphate ore, intensive mining activity over several decades has shaped the story of this community; rusting relics from the railroad, harbor, and mine support infrastructure remain visible through the now-dense forest. We explored the island on foot and by truck, transiting the abrupt coastal heights, through the village, and across the atoll’s former lagoon to reach an overlook with spectacular views.

Over the thousands of years since its tectonic uplift, the porous limestone rocks of Makatea have eroded by rainwater to form a series of caves. One easily accessible site is partially filled with freshwater and served as the fascinating final destination for our morning walks. Following a candle-lit path down stone steps to the pool’s edge, we then swam through spaces alternately small and spacious to investigate the cave’s corners and features. A new experience for most of the ship’s company, the grotto was certainly the day’s highlight!

We filled the afternoon with diving and snorkeling along the reef face near the port of Temao. Concurrently, the onboard photography team compiled hundreds of guest images into a slideshow representing the best moments of our voyage that all enjoyed during Captain Graser’s farewell cocktail hour. After 2241 nautical miles, 203 engine hours, 14 diverse island stops, 45 species of birds plus several types of marine mammals, near-daily snorkeling and diving opportunities, and many enchanting community visits, our “Azure Seas: From Tahiti to the Marquesas” expedition concludes tomorrow morning. Hopefully, the incredible locations we’ve travelled together inspire future explorations through the Pacific!

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About the Author

Deb Goodwin


Passionate about creating opportunities for explorers of all ages to engage with wild and under-studied places, Deb embraces the power of immersive experiences to inspire curiosity and conservation. Extended backcountry expeditions as a teen jumpstarted this commitment and continue to motivate her travels. No matter the location, she observes the natural environment with a detective’s mindset, seeking to understand how local history, geology, weather, and ecological processes together shape the coastal land- and seascape. 

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