Rangiroa is part of the Tuamotu islands in French Polynesia. On all the Tuamotus the main island no longer exists (erosion) and thus only the surrounding Motus are still there forming a giant lagoon where the island used to be (the Rangiroa lagoon is big enough to contain the entire island of Tahiti). Being just a thin stretch of old coral reef there are no mountains and hills and in places where there are no buildings or vegetation you can see water on both sides.
Not surprisingly most people visit to discover what is beneath rather than above the water surface
Open Water diving certificate for Noah
In Thailand and Egypt, you can walk into pretty much every dive-shop and start your Open water training the next day. Not so in French Polynesia and we were turned down by every single dive-shop in Huahine, Bora Bora and Rangiroa. Fortunately, Rangiroa Dive Center had a last-minute cancellation and with help from our new Danish friends (Janne, did a great job at convincing them to find time) they managed to squeeze Noah in.
We later discovered that certification (and especially Junior Open Water) is not a very attractive deal for most dive shops. We paid 51.000 CFP for Noah’s certification which equals around 10.000 per dive. Regular dives in French Polynesia are around 7-9.000 CFP and thus they make very little extra money despite the fact that Junior Open Water requires 1 instructor per child, they need to pay the fee for certification and need to set considerable time aside for the theory, debrief and “exam” (Junior Open Water exam is more a 1.5-hour conversation about the material)
Some people have dived for 30 years without getting up and close with dolphins. On Noah’s very first Ocean dive on the Eolienne Reef outside the Tiputa pass (after the two training dives inside the lagoon) a group of Dolphins came within a few centimeters of us. A fantastic experience and their eyes and facial expressions made you seriously question who was observing whom and was having the most fun.
We also saw dolphins on 2 other dives and Noah has put together a short video with the best footage.
Don’t touch the dolphins
Recent laws have made it illegal to touch the dolphins, but several dive shops ignore this and cater for the demand of tourists that want to be “up and close”. It is perfectly understandable, and to be honest we were very tempted too. But if the dolphins want you to scratch them and divers want to do it what is the problem and why are laws passed to make it illegal? First, disease can be transmitted both ways and second dolphins are wild animals and the whole point is to experience them in the wild. If they start to become domesticated, you might as well jump into an aquarium. But nevertheless, sharks and other fish are fed on snorkeling tours and dive shops break the rules and touch the dolphins. We can only hope that Rangiroa Dive Center is pioneering a different approach to wildlife encounters.
Dolphin watching from shore
If you want to see the dolphins but you are not too keen on going underwater on Rangiroa the Tiputa pass is about as easy as it gets. Whenever the tide is going out of the lagoon the waves get big and become one big playground for the dolphins. Sometimes we could see as many as 7 riding the waves at the same time and occasionally even doing a summersault or big jump. Janne managed to capture it on camera and we would recommend a drink on the terrace of Josephine (restaurant) and just enjoy the view. The pass is quite narrow and though the pictures below look like they were taken from quite a distance they do seem very close in real life.
Drift diving and drift snorkeling through the Tiputa pass and snorkeling at the “Aquarium”
As the tide shifts water makes its way in and out of the giant lagoon at Rangiroa. That makes for some exiting drift snorkeling and diving experiences. As the dive starts at 30 meters Noah was not able to participate in the drift dive (requires advanced open water to go below 18 meters). Once you enter the Tiputa pass the current really kicks in and you find yourself drifting at high speed through the pass observing several hundreds of grey sharks mating in the underwater canyon. Unfortunately, visibility was not great and the video from the dive is not spectacular.
We also tried drift snorkeling through the pass which is easier and less challenging than it looks. Niklas and Jesper did a test run to make sure it was possible and then Janne and Line joined on the 2nd run. You will be going extremely fast (at least 10 km/hour) but just relax and enjoy the beautiful coral and the rays and the many sharks. Make sure to stay reasonably close to shore and exit before you drift out to sea (or far into the lagoon depending on the current). Make sure to wear fins as they give you much more leverage and you will feel more secure. When you want to exit DO NOT try to swim against the current but swim towards shore at a 90-degree angle. There is plenty of time and many places to get back to shore going both in and out of the pass.
Noah and Savannah performing at the Local Market
There was a local market about 2 km. from the dive center and we went there to check it out. There were about 20 stalls selling anything from drinks to honey and a local guy with a guitar playing music at a stage in the middle.
Noah and Savannah went to ask if they could play a song and the proud parents could hardly believe they had the guts to do it. They were allowed and chose “I see fire” and “Here comes the sun”.
Not visiting the blue lagoon and reef island due to strong winds
As Line and Vitus were not diving, we had planned to go snorkeling on a tour to the blue lagoon or island reef when Noah had gotten his certificate (takes 3 days). Unfortunately, strong winds kicked in and since it takes around 1.5 hours by fast boat and the waves were starting to get pretty big within the lagoon, we decided against it.
Niklas and Jesper went to the “Aquarium” next to the motu just inside the Tiputa pass on a SUP board, but as the current was strong it was not really doable to bring the other 6 members of the two families out there. The Aquarium was nice, with pretty much every species of coral and lots of fish (unfortunately partly due to the illegal fish feeding done by the tour boats). Had the visibility been better we might have made a bigger effort to get a local boat to bring us all out there (we did ask a few but there were no takers)
Staying at Pension Cecile
We stayed at Pension Cecile for the full 8 days on Rangiroa. Half board was included and in general we really liked it. The food was delicious, and the staff was really friendly. They even drove us to the harbor a few times at no extra cost and bicycles were available for free. There was even a local dance show one of the nights there which most of the family enjoyed (Jesper has a hard time finding things he hates more than dance shows made entirely for the benefit of tourists). As there is no sandy beaches on that stretch of the island they have built a latter for you to get in and out of the water or you can choose to jump from the platform.
Staying at Pension Cecile you do however need to consider that it is pretty far from most of the diving activities on the Island and like everywhere else in French Polynesia 95 percent of the other guests are French. Not that the other guests were not friendly but you cannot help feeling a bit like an outsider when all the other guests share language and a common background.