Canadian Geographic




EXPLORE THE UNIQUE geography, history and beauty of Newfoundla­nd and Labrador on Canadian Geographic Education’s first

provincial Giant Floor Map.

This resource is now available free of charge to all schools in Newfoundla­nd and Labrador.

washed up, 2,000 kilometres to the southeast — but Fakarava, my last stop in Polynesia, feels conspicuou­sly remote and exempt, perhaps, from the constraint­s of calendars and clocks. The second-largest island of the Tuamotu archipelag­o, Fakarava is a 60-kilometre sill of coral enclosing a lagoon vivid with aquatic colour and incident. Now part of a UNESCO biosphere reserve, it saw its first European visitor in 1820 when the Russian explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingsha­usen sailed in and dubbed it Wittgenste­in. The name didn’t take. For most of the hour-long flight east from Pape’ete, it’s only ocean stretched below, midnight blue now, and calm as carpet. When the first of the Tuamotus appear, they look like bleached, lonely bones. “So narrow, so barren, so beset with sea,” Robert Louis Stevenson wrote when he stayed on Fakarava in 1888. It’s true that after the fertile, lofty mountainsc­apes of the Society Islands, Fakarava, almost level with the Pacific enclosing it, does at first present a flat, blanched austerity. Walking the long shifting coral beach at Passe Garuae or riding a bike along Fakarava’s single ribbon of paved road, you feel its exposure to sun, wind and ocean. But Fakarava is greener than it first appears, festooned, even, in places, with frangipani and heliotrope. A towering sandalwood tree presides over the centre of Rotoava, Fakarava’s main village, like a benevolent, all-seeing elder. To get my bearings, I enlist a local guide, Enoha, who makes do with just the one name. An affable, 50-something painter who also sculpts driftwood and whalebone, he tours me from one end of the atoll to the other, stopping to comment on everything from pre-european settlement, modern-day airport lore, soldierbus­hes, ironwood trees, a fruit called soursop and the various uses for the leaves and bark of the breadfruit tree (a powerful antioxidan­t and an excellent glue for patching canoes, respective­ly) For supper that night I stop by the Pension Paparara, 20 minutes from Rotoava along the lagoon shore by bike. Over grilled parrotfish and a carpaccio of mother-of-pearl, I get talking to Jan Calta, a Czech programmer in his 30s who’s on his second visit to Fakarava, and spending as much of it as possible under water. “You’re not diving?” he wonders. He’s asking for himself, probably, but maybe also on behalf of common sense. Fakarava is renowned in scuba circles, several of which I’ll drift into, conversati­onally, while I’m here on dry land around suppertime. The word is that with the conditions and the rich sealife, what we’ve got right here is some of the best diving anywhere in the world. I tell Calta what I’m telling everybody: Matisse snorkelled. Paul Gauguin is the French painter who’s most closely associated with Tahiti (he’s buried on Hiva Oa, second-largest of the Marquesas Islands, 1,000 kilometres to the northeast), but Matisse came for a visit, too, in 1930. He acquired wooden goggles, and though he hadn’t been well, there he was paddling around in the lagoon, marvelling at the undersea light, which he called “a second sky.” Though he stayed for just four days, the experience soaked deep. Everybody should come to Fakarava, he felt. He wasn’t painting, but he was drawing and writing — and pondering colours. I’m not surprised to learn, later, of his desire to distill the essence of what he was seeing in these southern seas. The predominan­t shade, he eventually decided, is the lambent blue of the morpho butterfly’s wing — his own favourite colour. “Blue, but such a blue!” Matisse wrote. “It pierced my heart.”

Fakarava feels CONSPICUOU­SLY REMOTE AND EXEMPT, perhaps, from the restraints of CALENDARS AND CLOCKS.

Read more about Tahiti’s rum, pearl and vanilla industries at cangeotrav­

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A group of swimmers paddle their way across a lagoon near Moorea.

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