While Tahiti is the most famous island in French Polynesia for tourism, Rangiroa is the largest atoll in the island nation — and second largest in the world — and could contain the entire island of Tahiti at its center. It’s also the most well-known island in French Polynesia for diving — and for good reason.
Rangiroa consists of a string of islets (about 415) around a large lagoon. The area is home to marlin, gray reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, and blacktip reef sharks. Divers may also see hammerhead sharks, bottlenose dolphins, manta rays and leopard rays.
There is no shore diving in Rangiroa, but all the dive sites are accessible by a short 5- to 10-minute boat ride. Sites vary in difficulty, with something for everyone from beginners to experienced divers. Reefs lay between 16 to 160 feet (5 to 50 m). The tides dictate which sites you can visit each day, and marine life changes on each site between low and high tide.
The dive sites near Tiputa Pass are especially popular, though only suitable for experienced divers. This area often has strong currents (especially as the tide rises), which make for an exhilarating drift dive. The currents bring in schools of bottlenose dolphins and sharks. Manta rays, turtles and humphead wrasse make occasional appearances.
Outside of Tiputa Pass, while the tide is falling, divers can visit the impressive underwater cliffs. During this time there is little to no current, and rays, turtles and dolphins are often about.
January to March sees large groups of eagle rays and great hammerhead sharks coming through the area, while manta rays usually visit between July and September.
The islands and lagoons also offer excellent snorkeling, petrified coral formations, the opportunity to visit pink-sandy beaches, and the only vineyard in French Polynesia — in the center of a coconut grove. Blue Lagoon is a must-see: a lagoon inside a lagoon, bordered by coconut trees, and with clear, blue water, of course.
When to go
The rainy season is between November and April, with the dry season running from May to October. The southeasterly wind, called the ‘Maramu,’ comes to the area from between June and August. This generally brings some rain and rougher seas, making diving a bit more difficult.
The water temperatures around Rangiroa range from 79 to 84 F (26 to 29 C). Visibility typically is between 50 and 130 feet (15 to 40 m).
Rangiroa offers many opportunities to visit untouched tropical islands with iconic white, sandy beaches and clear, blue water. The coral in the area is abundant, with plenty of chances to see megafauna while doing some excellent drift dives. You may want to stop over on Tahiti, but with world-class diving, Rangiroa belongs on every diver’s bucket list.