RANGIROA, THE TUAMOTUS, FRENCH POLYNESIA
The South Pacific’s Kingdom of the Pelagics
Season: Year-round diving
Visibility: 25-60 metres/80-200ft
Water Temperature: 26-28°C/79-82°F
The Tuamotus lie within the heart of French Polynesia and comprise almost 80 atolls stretching in an arc over 1,500 kilometres long and 500 kilometres wide. None of these ‘islands’ reaches higher than a few metres above sea-level. Each is individually shaped. Some, like Fakarava and Rangiroa, have their outer rings cut by passes. Some are square, some circular and some irregular. It is here, in the Tuamotus, that pearl culture dominates the economy. These lustrous ‘fruits of the sea’ range in colour from the palest shade of ivory to dark pewter (the famous black pearls) and are surely some of the most beautiful jewellery a woman can own. There will be simply no excuse for not bringing home a lovely gift if you visit the Tuamotus!
For lovers of pelagic fish and shark species in particular, Rangiroa has some unique and unforgettable dives. This classic atoll, with narrow passages, squeezes water in and out of the lagoon in rhythm with the tidal flow. At Shark Cave at Tiputa Pass divers are dropped at the edge of the reef wall and descend through intensely blue water to a cave entrance at 35 metres. Sheltering from the current in the mouth of the cave, a wondrous show unfolds. Grey Reef Sharks fill the water column from the surface to the sea floor at 45 metres. Claims of several hundreds of these elegant fish may be a little exaggerated, but divers are likely to witness between 30 and 60 individuals. At The Valley, another Tiputa Pass dive, advanced divers will be treated to a really unforgettable experience. Drop to the bottom of the pass at 45 metres and join the Scalloped Hammerheads. The current can whisk you along so that you glide with the sharks and join their procession, gradually rising until you reach some coral boulders where it will be time to leave the sharks and return to the boat.
If you have never had the privilege of meeting those elegant super-predators, Silvertip Sharks, then you should try and get out to La Passe d’Avatoru (Avatoru Pass) where several Silvertip Sharks turn up for a feed of fish brought by the local divemasters. Swooping in from the blue, these sharks will warily circle the bait and then lunge for a tit-bit, making a superb show to be captured as images by those with cameras or, for those without, to etch forever on the memory banks. On rare occasions (mostly during March-May) even Great Hammerhead turns up here!