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Tuamotu Dive Sites
RANGIROA DIVE SITES
Rangiroa is the largest and most famous atoll in Polynesia, and fourth
largest in the world. Rangiroa means "huge sky" in Tahitian because you
cannot see from one side of the atoll to the other and the light reflects
back off the shallow sandy lagoon skywards, giving off a special lustre.
It has the largest range of hotel accommodation in the Tuamotus, but is
by no means spoilt. Over 240 motu, or islands, are strung along the reef
that surrounds the lagoon. Rangiroas two villages, Avatoru & Tiputa,
are situated on the edge of two of the three passes that drain and fill
the lagoon twice daily. A paved two-lane main road connects the two villages,
with a string of islets in between. The diving in Rangiroa, as with all
the Tuamotus, is dominated by pass diving - drift dives along the edge
of the outside reef and into the channels that pass between the open ocean
and the lagoon on the inside of the atoll. It is within these passes,
and with the right conditions, that you have the opportunity to see the
Tuamotus' legendary "wall of sharks".
A lagoon dive with depths ranging from 10-30ft this is an excellent
check out dive for people who have not donned their scuba diving gear
for a while or are testing the aquatic waters for the very first time!
A shallow coral reef formation in the lagoon, just off the beach from
the village of Tiputa, it is full of butterflyfish, anemones and clownfish,
Napoleon wrasse, triggerfish and a host of other reef dwellers. Being
shallow the ambient light is exceptional and makes for great panoramic
views of the attractive stands of hard corals that dominate the inner
lagoon reefs of the Tuamotus. This dive is best done on a slackening
incoming tide, not on an outgoing tide, as the latter will seriously
- TIPUTA PASS
Tiputa is the southern of the two famous passes at Rangiroa. The pass
is about 120ft deep and perhaps 300 yards wide, and twice daily the
incoming tide fills the lagoon with fresh, nurtient rich water, sucking
in with it schools of jacks, barracuda, snapper and of course, sharks.
On the outside of the pass, along the reef walls you have the opportunity
to see mantas, turtles, eagle rays, grey reef sharks, black tips and
dolphins. If you are lucky you can see sailfish or even tiger & great
hammerhead sharks! Tiputa can offer just about anything!
- TIPUTA CAVERNS
The numerous cavities found along the outer wall at Tiputa Pass are
not the real attraction on this dive. The real showstopper is found
in the open water beyond the reef: at a depth of 100-120ft, hundreds
of sharks nonchalantly circle around divers. Grey reef sharks, white
tips and, in season, great & scalloped hammerheads. This is one of the
great shark dives of the world!
- AVATORU PASS - RIGHT HAND EXIT
This is a 60ft drift dive out of Avatoru Pass from the lagoon to the
ocean on an outgoing tide. The area is renowned for the large numbers
of tuna, Napoleon wrasse and manta rays, but you will also find schooling
leopard rays, grey reef sharks patrolling, waiting to pick of a tasty
morsel that drifts to close! You will find typical schooling fish here
as well - jacks, barracuda, surgeonfish, snapper to name but a few.
The reef is dominated by large formations of hard corals. The main attraction
at Avatoru is the silvertip sharks that frequent this area. Great chunky
beasts up to 8-9ft long, these magnificent sharks dwarf even the largest
of grey reef sharks. They come up the wall and along the top of the
reef in shallow waters, affording great opportunities for photographers.
- SHARK CAVE
At a depth of about 110ft within Tiputa Pass there is a cave opening
up onto the reef drop-off. Here can be found as many 30 grey reef sharks,
either sleeping on the floor or swimming freely around the cave interior.
A fantastic place to take close-up shots of dozing grey reef sharks!
A deep sandy-bottomed gully flanked by acropora and pocillipora coral
where barracuda & sharks are regularly seen. At the end of a second
valley a small amphitheatre is home to numerous free swimming moray
eels can be approached, with a certain amount of caution!
MANIHI DIVE SITES
Manihi, one of the Tuamotu atolls 325 miles from Tahiti, has a lagoon
18 miles long and 4 wide. It's principle source of income is black pearl
farming, and the total population of 400 live in village of Turipaoa next
to a reef pass of the same name.
- MANIHI INLET, RIGHT-HAND EXIT
This is a great place to enjoy a close look at the grouper which in
late July, during the Tahitian winter and in conjunction with the phases
of the moon, arrive in their tens of thousands to mate and lay eggs.
This feast of food is snapped up eagerly by the increased numbers of
smaller reef fish that arrive to take advantage of this bountiful harvest
of eggs & sperm. The groupers themselves attract apex predators such
as sharks, Napoleon wrasse, barracudas, rainbow runners and other species.
This may be a feast for fish, but it's also a feast for your senses!
- TAIRAPA INLET
Only 400 yards long, 50 yards wide and never more than 60ft deep, this
is a safe and easy introduction to the world of drift dives through
atoll passes! The seafloor is sand interspersed with large formations
of pocillopora corals and the ambient light makes your passage clear
and simple. Typical reef fish can be found here - butterflyfish, clownfish
in anemones, basslets, parrotfish, wrasse, grunts, snapper etc. Sharks,
eagle rays and sometimes mantas can be found here.
- MOUTH OF TAIRAPA INLET
It almost seems like every fish in sea comes to the mouth to Tairapa
Inlet to feed on an incoming tide; the density of fish life is staggering.
As the tide picks up and forces fresh, nutrient rich water through the
pass into the lagoon the schools of jacks, snapper, bass, surgeonfish,
pompano, grunts, triggerfish (and everything else you can think of!)
rush into the lagoon. Sharks and the larger predators are ever present,
patrolling the pass entrance and, at the lagoon end of the rollercoaster
ride others wait for the tired or elderly to be picked off! In the middle
of this fish soup you can have the pleasure of marvelling at one of
the wonders of the underwater world!
- THE DROP OFF
On the southwestern ocean side of Manihi there is a breathtaking wall
descending sheer from 10ft to 4500ft deep. This dive site just drips
with grey reef sharks, Napoleon wrasse, pelagic jacks, large schools
of snapper and pickhandle barracuda, plus fish from the deep sea like
dogfin tuna & marlin. Each year, around late June or early July, tens
of thousands of groupers gather here to breed. It is one of the most
fascinating underwater events in the world.
- THE CIRCUS
Located at the lagoon side of the pass, this is the favourite spot for
eagle and manta rays. Solitary or in groups, the rays swoop along in
only 30ft of water. These graceful giants are always a popular encounter
for divers and photographers can get very close to them, as the mantas
are curious and friendly. This is perhaps one of - if not THE - finest
places in the world to see mantas. It certainly puts Faa Piti in Bora
Bora to shame, and would give Mi'l Channel in Yap a run for its money!
- WEST POINT
On the ocean side at the far western end of Manihi and with visibility
often up to 200ft the incredibly clear waters of this stunning atoll
are the perfect medium for the growth of healthy and vibrant corals;
fire coral, elkhorn coral, staghorn coral, lettuce corals, and seafans.
- THE BREAK
A 75ft deep coral amphitheatre on the outer lip of the reef The Break
is a great spot for some controlled shark feeding, an ideal way for
you to get those close-up shots of sharks in action! Black tip, white
tip and grey reef sharks are the most usually sighted, but the occasional
silvertip and hammerhead is also seen. This is also another great place
to see groupers come to mate in July.
TIKEHAU DIVE SITES
An almost circular atoll 50 miles in circumference in the northwest Tuamotus,
220 miles from Tahiti. This is a classic South Sea location and even known
by the locals as paradise! Now that is saying something! Two villages,
Tuheiava in the southwest and Maiaia in the northeast contain the majority
of the atoll's population. Tikehau is what Rangiroa was 20 years ago,
if that's possible to comprehend!
A series of small coral heads rising from the main reef are home to
a number of cleaner wrasse, small fish about 4 inches long with blue
stripes running laterally down their bodies. To these wrasse come manta
rays to be picked clean of parasites. As long s you remain still on
the reef the mantas will come right up to you. They enjoy the sensation
of bubbles that rise up to their bellies. With exceptional visibility
this is one of the finest locations in the world to see manta rays.
- RAIRA CAVE
Numerous grey reef sharks relax in the numerous caves that pierce the
reef along a natural fault line on the drop-off. This site is famous
for the massive school of barracuda that are more often than not seen
along the reef. Hundreds of red snapper can be found lurking in the
small crevices that punctuate the reef.
- TUHEIAVA INLET
A pass dive that is done on an incoming tide, mantas and eagle rays
are commonly seen in the channel. Half way down the pass a coral outcrop
with a hollow underside is home to about 10 whitetip reef sharks.
- TURTLE HOLE
An amphitheatre in the reef top that is filed with sand and small coral
formations, this is a popular spot for turtles to sleep at night, so
makes for an excellent night dive, especially as the bottom of the hollow
is only 60ft deep.
In the northern lagoon of Tikehau, Teavatia is a motu, a Tahitian word
that describes low coral islands that make up the only landmass on the
edge of or within the many lagoons of French Polynesia. The motu's small
fringing reef, lying relatively isolated on the sandy lagoon floor is
locally renowned for its remarkable diversity and colour. Stingrays
are a common site on the sandy areas beyond the reef, and if you look
carefully you will see large "stands" of garden eels poking
out of the sand.
- THE THRUST
A relatively deep dive of 145ft, generally reserved for experienced
divers, here on the edge of the abyssal depths of the South Pacific
a vast array of massive fish species in massive numbers perform before
your googly eyes! Dogfish tuna, swordfish, sailfish, grey reef sharks,
silvertips, great hammerheads - they're all to be found at The Thrust!
FAKARAVA DIVE SITES
- TE AVA NUI
On the northern outer drop-off of Fakarava, Te Ava Nui is dominated
by spectacular hard coral formations that step down the wall. Large
plate corals, gardens of staghorn corals all provide an infinite number
of homes for reef fish, including lionfish, triggerfish, angelfish,
groupers & wrasse. Sandy areas are home to firefish and gobies, commensal
shrimps a range of shells. Looking out to the open ocean and you will
b sure to find Napoleon wrasse, occasionally dolphins, grey reef sharks
and, in season, hammerheads.
- GARUAE PASS
At the northern end of Fakarava, just to the west of the airport, Garuae
Pass is the widest and some say most spectacular pass in all of French
Polynesia. Some 800 yards wide and 120-130ft deep, the quantities of
water that travel through this pass are quite mind boggling. Millions
of tons of water are forced into the pass twice a day under such pressure
that there is no way a diver could swim against it! Into this maelstrom
get sucked monster schools of baitfish, which are fed upon by equally
monstrous schools of jacks, snapper, bass, barreacuda and other pelagic
fish. At the top of the food chain, expect to see dozens and dozens
of sharks of varying species - grey reef, black-tip, white-tip, silvetip,
even hammerheads and tiger sharks. Expect to see graceful mantas and
eagle rays and maybe dolphins. If it swims in Polynesian waters, the
chances are you'll see it at Garuae Pass!
- CENTRAL PARK & OHUTU
Further east along the outer wall from Te Ava Nui are Central Park &
Ohutu, bustling reef habitats similar to their neighbour to the west.
Ohutu is well known for regular sightings of manta rays.
- TE MAU ROTI
At the southern end of Fakarava atoll, the reef here is dominated by
beautiful stands of lettuce corals. Hordes of basslets can be found
nestling amongst the twirling fronds of the lettuce coral. Marbled groupers
and jacks, turtles and large schools of tuna & barracuda, rainbow runner
and grey reef sharks are regularly seen along the wall.
APATAKI DIVE SITES
Located due east of Rangiroa and northwest of Fakarava, Apataki was discovered
in 1722 by the Dutchman Jacob Roggeven, who also discovered Eatser Islands.
380 people live on the atoll, making a living from copra, noni and, more
recently, pearl farming. The atoll is rectangular in shape approximately
15 miles from east to west and 25 miles from north to south. Apataki is
only accessible from either the Tahiti Aggressor or Aquatiki.
- TEHERE PASS
Apataki has one pass that is dived - Tehere Pass or, as it is also known,
Aimonu Pass. It is located at the north western corner of the atoll
and is about 00 yards wide. You can see from this image that when the
water pushes out from the lagoon into the open ocean the force of the
water creates huge waves about at 5ft-high. This is due to the amount
of water being forced out of the lagoon by the tide. The same thing
occurs on an incoming tide; the waves can be created for up to two miles
into the lagoon by the force of the water entering through the pass.
As you can imagine, a few billion tons of water trying to squeeze through
a gap 100 yards wide has to move pretty darn fast, and this creates
some incredible currents. More of that later! The first dive I did at
Apataki was along the reef wall on the southern side of the pass. This
was the best bit of reef I saw in my entire visit to French Polynesia.
It was almost interesting! However, the fish life was prolific. First
up we had a monster school of big eyes, perhaps a couple of thousand
swirling about us. Usually you find these in small caves and overhangs
during the day, but this lot was quite content to swim about in the
open; safety in numbers! Just past them we came upon a school of jacks,
which of course did the decent thing and swam around in a circle above
our heads We moved closer to the edge of the pass, but the tide was
pretty slack, so diving was easy, but visibility was down because it
was the end of an outgoing tide, so there were a lot of particulates
in the water. Here we came across a school of black surgeonfish. I have
never seen so many surgeon fish in all my life. There tens of thousands
of them swirling along the drop-off and on the top of the reef. You
could be totally engulfed by them. Awesome! We then went to the top
of the reef and hung around some holes in the top of the reef, where
we saw some nice butterfly fish. If you like butterfly fish, this is
a great place - lots of different species to see. The text below is
modified from a trip report I posted on the internet. I have included
it because it shows that the famous "Wall of Sharks" that are said to
exist in the Tuamotus really do! The second dive at Apataki was in Tehere
Pass on an incoming tide; the tide had only been running for about 1
hour, so was not up to full force when we dropped in at the outside
of the pass. We drifted through the pass at about 1 kt and slowly picked
up speed as we entered a channel perhaps 50ft deep and 20ft wide, sloping
gently upwards. We passed small schools of jacks, surgeonfish etc. I
was by coincidence at the front when I looked up along the edge of the
pass and saw about 20 sharks near the surface, by a small wall. I gestured
to everyone else and we then hooked in (Don't have a reef hook and want
to dive Tehere Pass? Buy one!) and slowly clawed our way up the wall.
No easy task in a 2kt current and holding a camera with an expensive
dome port! At the base of the mini wall was a cave, more like a slit
in the wall, with a wider entrance at both ends. The cave was stuffed
with grey reef sharks, 30 or 40 at least. Others were swimming in from
either end and coming out the front. The current picked up and when
you are as slim as I am you do create quite a "barn door effect". The
lump of dead coral I was hooked into, perhaps 4ft x 6ft x 3ft high was
quite literally lifted off the ground by me and the current! Myself
& my new found friend started bumping off along the reef! Unfortunately
the u/w videographers did not see this, but a few of us had a laugh
afterwards! As sort of proof, a couple of quotes from Paul Sloan, director
of Tahiti Tourisme in the US: "I'd especially like a shot of you dragging
a 2-ton coral head down the channel! (PADI Project AWARE is always on
the lookout for good eco-poster material...!)" and "U/W boulder-dragging
is truly an untouched niche...!" As you can imagine the current was
ripping! Most people were looking with intent at the cave, but on looking
down into the pass below I was amazed to see hundreds and hundreds of
grey reef sharks hurtling along the bottom on the incoming tide. There
were squillions of the things! I have never seen some many sharks in
all my life. Anyway, air was running out and we flipped over the top
of the wall and proceeded to drift over undulating beds of coral into
the lagoon shallows to be picked up by the tender. So, the third dive.
Well it had to be in the same place. And you thought the current was
strong on the previous dive? Pah! It took about 5 minutes to get to
the shark cave, whereas before it had taken about 20. We reckoned we
were doing 6-8 kts down the pass. Holy Smoke! And there, ahead of us,
was one of these famous "Walls of Sharks" The entire pass was blocked
by hundreds of grey reef sharks, swimming in a lazy circle up one side
of the pass, across and down the other. This is where Pierre's dive
briefing did not go quite to plan. With a 6kt current you haven't got
much time to think, so we hooked in and attempted admire the view. However,
we were hooked in up-current, so the only way we could see them was
to turn our heads. This did one of three things. 1) It ripped your mask
off your head or 2) It filled your regulator up with water or 3) It
ripped your mask off your head and filled your regulator up with water!
It therefore made looking at them very difficult and taking photos of
them next to impossible. You couldn't turn around enough and anyway
the current was running so fast your strobe arms just bent all over
the shop. Still, I managed to croon my neck round and look at them without
drowning! Some were breaking formation and swimming towards us, getting
to within at least a couple of inches of my fins before darting off.
It was almost impossible to take pictures, and I tried gesturing at
Pierre that we should unhook, pile through the sharks and hook on down
current of them. Then maybe we could get a picture or two of them, and
perhaps fire of a couple of shots as we charged through the middle of
them. In the end I unhooked and was flipped by the current over the
top of the pass and along the coral on the sides. There was no way I
could get back and no way to hook on as the hook just ripped the coral
out of the reef. By the time myself and the others in my vicinity surfaced
we were at least 2 miles into the lagoon!
TOAU DIVE SITES
Toau is located south-east of Apataki, north-west of Fakarava. About 10
miles long it was discovered in 1773 by James Cook. In 1983 its population
was just 5, but now it has a head count of about 25! It is one of the
most stunning and unspoilt atolls in the Tuamotus. Toau is only accessible
from either the Tahiti Aggressor or Aquatiki, but in perfect conditions
it may be possible to reach it from Fakarava. There are two passes at
Toau, Otugi and Fakatahuna, with a small island between them. Fakatahuna
Pass is known as "Fakatahuna Diabolique" by a French divemaster we had
aboard the Tahiti Aggressor on her inaugural trip due to the sheer
amounts of action to be had in the pass. Both are located in the SE section
of the atoll
- UTOGI PASS
The first dive we did was along the edge of the reef at Utogi Pass and
then into the pass itself. The usual stuff, with lots of schooling fish,
grey reef sharks, some mantas (too far away to photograph) and the like.
The pass was very interesting. A series of parallel channels running
into the pass, scoured almost clean of any living coral, and U-shaped
in cross-section. Every so often you would pass over a large bowl that
had been hollowed out of the reef substrate.
- FAKATAHUNA PASS
The second dive was at Fakatahuna, at the mouth of the pass. We saw
1 grey reef shark at a cleaning station and that was about it. The second
dive we went into the channel and did a very interesting drift dive
over perhaps the most interesting corals that I saw all trip - lots
of bommies sprouting from a sandy bottom covered in fish. We saw no
sharks! Pierre said that the reason there were no sharks about was because
there was probably a shark-eating shark out there - tiger or great hammerhead
- enjoying chow time. On neither dive was the current ripping! But that's
pass diving for you!
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