French Polynesia Part 2-Diving in Rangiroa and Fakarava

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.

A portion of an atoll seen from the air...The lagoon in the middle of the coral island sections can be fairly shallow, which gives the water that turquoise color.
Only 2 small portions on the north side of the lagoon are inhabited.

The Hotel Maitai in Rangiroa was our home for three nights, the same place we stayed back in 2014!

Our little hut on Rangiroa
Pretty hard to beat this location!
You can't even believe how gorgeous this place is!

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.

This bottlenose dolphin came so close I could almost touch it!

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).

Those 3 barely-visible shapes in the water are sailfish!
A Napoleon wrasse that was about 3 or 4 feet long!
Peacock founder
Scrawled filefish
Hank hanging out
One of many varieties of surgeonfish

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.

Longfin bannerfish
Giant moray eel
Emperor angelfish
Tim Yeo took this photo of Hank and me to celebrate my birthday!
On the boat heading back after our dive
Tim Yeo's photo--most of our group around the Rangiroa pool

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.

My special birthday dessert!

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.

A view of one small part of the atoll of Fakarava
Our pension for four nights
After landing at the tiny Fakarava airport, we had a 2-hour boat ride to our pension.

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 indoor portion of our "suite," with mosquito netting and curtains, but no glass in the windows (it was pretty hot there).
Our outdoor shower area, a favorite hangout of the three cats on the islet.
Enjoying a meal together
Behind the dining room table was a small shallow lagoon where blacktip reef sharks circled, waiting for leftovers.

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.

This was our departure spot for each dive, with a beautiful view of the lagoon.
We shared every dive with literally hundreds of sharks!

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 gray reef sharks look mean, but they really aren't interested in us!
Remoras are usually seen stuck to the sharks, but several were free swimming.
We saw schools of various fish, including these bluestripe snappers...
...white-spotted surgeonfish
...and humpback and onespot snappers.
Trumpetfish and Moorish idols are always reef favorites!
As are clownfish (anemonefish)...
...parrotfish, like this spotted parrotfish...
...and a huge variety of butterflyfish, including these ornate butterflyfish.

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.

We spotted several lone groupers,
lots of surgeonfish, including this yellowfin surgeonfish,
and at least 2 dozen species of butterflyfish, such as this fourspot butterflyfish.
Hank enjoyed his 300th career dive!
Cindy enjoyed filming sharks!
And Tim enjoyed taking off his fins and running in the sand!
Tim and Bruce used reef hooks to hang on, and we used them the next day as well. This helps to protect the reef.
A typical reef scene with at least a dozen different species
Some kind of grouper--these are so hard to identify!
Our first sighting of rainbow chub, not very common in this part of the Pacific

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!).

A blacktip reef shark hangs out in the mini-lagoon, waiting for leftovers.
A tiny hermit crab did not like being in Hank's palm.
A glorious sunset over the lagoon
These cats were well fed on island mice and scraps from the guests!

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.

Leaving the pension to travel back to the airport
Tim and Hank exit the boat and head to the airport for the trip back to Tahiti and then L.A.

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!

13 thoughts on “French Polynesia Part 2-Diving in Rangiroa and Fakarava”

  1. beautiful photography and such an exciting trip. amazing adventures. Very helpful cataloging of the fish. Quite astonishing. Diane

  2. What an amazing trip! It’s a whole other world down there. And to see so many sharks in one place. Wow. Thank you for sharing your pictures and video. I loved them!!

    • It was an amazing trip, Anne, and another world when we’re below the ocean’s surface. If you ever need photos or videos of ocean creatures (for your class), just let me know! God’s creation is so varied and amazing! All the best.


  3. Hey Hank & Cindy, Love the video & of course all the pics.One of the pics looks like a photo I have on my screensaver. Your video is so nice I think it would make a great aquarium on my big screen. Do you think it was the time of year to see so many sharks? This looks like it was a wonderful place to dive and hang out. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

    • Mindy, we watch the videos we make on our big screen TV. Open up the video on your TV in YouTube! Just search for my name and you’ll see all the public videos. As for the sharks, the time of year is usually important for great sightings. In a few months, the large groupers have a mass spawning event that lasts for some time. Then there is the hammerhead shark event…all at same place in Fakarava. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Cindy and Hank….you are truly living your best life and we are all thrilled that you allow us to share your adventures with each new blog….wishing you a blessed and memorable Thanksgiving….Q

    • Jim, every time I look at this video and the blog post, I’m amazed that we were fortunate enough to live this adventure. You would think that at least one of those sharks would come up to one of us and at least investigate. Thankfully, that is not the case. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Marleen and Jeff.

  5. What a wonderful post! This sharks were beautiful but also kind of scary. Love that you are having these adventures. And happy birthday, Cindy!

    • Thank you, Lynn! It was a great birthday celebration. And super fun to dive with all those sharks, who are completely uninterested in us humans!

    • We always love diving with the two of you–looking forward to another trip together in 2024! Fellow divers out there, let us know if you want to join us on some tropical diving adventures–Fiji and Bali-to-Komodo coming up next year!

    • R&M, we came to appreciate the 100 cu. ft. SCUBA tanks that Richard uses on most of his dives. Normally, we are using the 80 cu. ft. aluminum tanks but both Rangiroa and Fakarava had 100s only. Wow are those things heavy!! Plus we had to carry extra weight because they are so buoyant when coming up for a safety stop at 15-20 ft. However, we had deep dives to 90-100 ft. and very long dive times. We had to keep a sharp eye on our computers since it was easy to reach the no-deco limit on most dives in Fakarava.


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