Tour of Makatea

We’ve been busy exploring Makatea for the last few days. It’s a raised atoll with a plateau over steep, white cliffs towering over a strip of flat land around the island and a fringing reef. The reef falls off steeply, but the friendly locals have installed 4 moorings for sailboats–basically their only tourists apart from a few travellers who arrive with the supply ship from time to time (there is no airport).

Yesterday we took a hike with fellow cruisers we met here and they showed us the main attraction of the island: big caves with pools of freshwater, connected by tunnels. Swimming under the low ceiling we reached the next chambers full of stalactites and stalagmites. On our way back we were spontaneously invited for lunch by a family sitting out in the garden–Polynesians are just fabulous.

Today we did a guided tour around the island (our contribution to the tourism here) and visited the old guano excavation sites. From 1917 on a French company with 3000 workers dug off huge quantities of sand and rock to get the phosphate it contains (long-gone bird colonies left huge quantities of poo, so-called guano, which is full of phosphate). They stopped in 1966, leaving behind a barren surface full of deep holes and lots of machinery. By now nature has recovered, the jungle has grown over the scarred land and the huge, rusty machines, locomotives, etc. give the landscape a post-apocalyptic feeling.

Instead of encouraging the low-scale tourism industry some little pensions, snacks and tour-guides have started, the mayor wants to sell the mining rights for the remaining phospate to an Australian company. Greed for short-term profits could lead to another ecocide. The population of just 70 people is divided and property owners who actually live in Tahiti will have a say as well. Let’s hope that beautiful, little Makatea won’t be destroyed once again.

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