In our last post, we described the first part of our trip to French Polynesia, where we spent the week searching for and swimming with humpback whales off the coast of Mo’orea. For Part 2 of our Polynesian adventure, we left Mo’orea via ferry, and then flew from Tahiti (where the main airport is located) to the Tuamotu Archipelago, which is a group of 80 islands and atolls northeast of Mo’orea and Tahiti. Our destination was the atoll of Rangiroa, the third largest atoll in the world. An atoll is a coral reef roughly in the shape of a ring or circle, made up of several small islands and islets, with a shallow lagoon in the middle. About 2500 people live on two of the small island sections that make up Rangiroa. The circumference of this atoll is about 120 miles, and the widest the land ever gets is about ¼ mile. So, it’s a little bit of land in chunks around a very large coral oval.
Between some of the island sections, there are two passes that experience extreme tides with a strong incoming current into the lagoon or outgoing current into the ocean. This is where the scuba diving occurs. At Tiputa Pass, hundreds of sharks gather to catch fish in the middle of this strong current. There can also be manta rays, spotted eagle rays, turtles, barracuda, tiger sharks, and hammerhead sharks. Bottlenose dolphins also frequent the area outside the pass.
Our first day of diving (with Top Dive) in Tiputa Pass was quite windy and we were only able to do two dives. The first dive gave us spotted eagle rays, reef sharks, Napoleon wrasse, and our first ever tiger shark (fortunately not too close—no pictures).
On our second dive we had plenty of time out in the blue (outside of the lagoon), and the bottlenose dolphins came to play! What a thrill this was.
We were sad to see how much the coral reef had degraded since we visited here in 2014. And our guide said it was much worse than even one year ago. The water temperature has risen and that is likely contributing to the degradation of the reef.
Day two of diving the Tiputa Pass on Rangiroa: We saw three sailfish at the surface—a first for us! We also saw some very large Napoleon wrasse, peacock flounders, and scrawled filefish (some of the weirdest-looking critters).
On the second dive of the day, we explored some canyons we hadn’t visited back in 2014. A school of bannerfish, a couple of moray eels, and assorted reef fish kept us entertained.
That evening we celebrated my 64th birthday at the end of the hotel pier. Since we had celebrated Hank’s birthday at this same hotel 9 years earlier, it was a very special event.
Next day: on to our next atoll, Fakarava, which we did not visit in 2014. This is world famous among scuba divers for its great shark diving. Our 45-minute flight was followed by a 2-hour boat ride to the most remote place we have ever vacationed (except maybe the Classic Camp in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania). We arrived at the Motu Aito Paradise Pension, a cross between summer camp and a rustic bed-and-breakfast.
Our “suite” included a covered bedroom (with mosquito netting around the bed), an attached open-air shower area, and a small bathroom. Meals were served family style, and most of the other guests spoke French.
The dive shop (Top Dive) is at one end of the property, and our boat rides to the dive site (South Pass) each day took only about 5 minutes. Every dive was full of sharks, but we also got to see lots of reef fish and healthy coral reefs.
We had three days of diving on Fakarava (nine dives total), and we saw more sharks on each dive than we’ve ever seen on single dives before. These included blacktip reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, silvertip sharks, gray reef sharks (the most common), and blacktip/black fin sharks.
These were all drift dives, meaning we would get off the boat, dive down to 80 or 90 feet, and let the current carry us along the pass, then ascend in a calmer location for the boat to pick us up after the dive. Sometimes we had to kick hard against the current to avoid heading way out to sea, but our dive guides knew the routes across the pass and through the currents, so we all managed without serious incidents.
In between dives, we enjoyed relaxing on this beautiful motu (islet), watching blacktip reef sharks, mullets, sergeants, and butterflyfish swim in the mini-lagoon, waiting for leftover food from our meals. We enjoyed a relaxing sunset and played with the resident kitties, who have an important job of controlling the mouse population here (they are doing a great job because we didn’t see any mice!).
Some of the group did a night dive or visited nearby Pink Beach, but we took it easy—three dives a day is enough for us. On our last day we took a 1 ½-hour boat ride back to the tiny Fakarava airport, where we then flew back to Tahiti, and then back to LAX, another tropical diving adventure complete.
To really see some dolphin and shark action (plus divers and fish), click on Hank’s 8-minute YouTube Video, complete with music.
Till the next trip, thanks for reading!