I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m taking a punt here. Positive change happens…… a new place, seeing friends or family, a holiday or great day out for example and there’s an immediate upturn and alteration in your energy levels. I’m there. The island of Makatea has delivered.
The Tuamotos as an island chain are amazing. But after a while one atoll looks much like another. When your land mass extends to maybe 3m above sea level it’s tricky for the geography to incorporate interesting hills and elevation.
Makatea provided a welcome change to low lying atolls. This place has limestone cliffs, incredible recent history and offered us a playground for a few days as we remembered how to be ‘outdoor-ies’.
The island is stuffed full of phosphate and for 60 intensive years the phosphate was mined by men with shovels literally digging holes in the ground then the product was transported away by ship for the fertiliser industry. Each man dug up to 10 tonnes per day. That seemed a big number to me.
3,600 people lived on this piece of land in the pacific which measures about nine square miles. The island had a cinema, churches, a clinic, big machine shops to service the plant and three massive diesel engines which provided power 24 hours a day. We took a tour with the major, Julien and he proudly told us they were the only place in the pacific where basketball was played after dark.
Then one day in 1966 production stopped overnight. Julien said the French government wanted all the skilled workers for the nuclear testing industry which was just starting as Algeria had declared independence and stopped the French testing their bombs there. French Polynesia was to suffer this affliction and the upset and compensation claims still progress seemingly unsatisfactorily today.
About 100 to 120 people live on Makatea today. There are remnants and scars from its mining past. The community are now looking at ways of generating more income using the natural environment and adventure tourism is firmly on the agenda.
In 2019, a bunch of climbers spent time here, putting up new climbing routes, bolting as they went. If you want to see more, look here. https://fanatic-climbing.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Makatea_Escalade_Topoguide_2019-low-OK.pdf
Lots of the climbs were absolutely beyond me, but Dave picked out some of the lower grade stuff and we had two days climbing limestone in the South Pacific with the ocean as the backdrop and absolutely no one else around. Quite remarkable.
The climbers also installed a via ferrata. This is a series of wires and steps at height taking you on a journey around the cliffs. We took ourselves off and found this, leading to a couple of hours of rather good fun.
We both loved Makatea, this bizarre piece of rock which juts from the sea. There’s nowhere else like it around here. A true one off place.