Before my July 6-13 Tahiti eclipse cruise I spent 3 days on Rangiroa, mostly for scuba diving. Rangiroa is the 3rd largest atoll in the world, with a circumference of ~120 miles, about an hour's flight NE from Tahiti. There are only two deep passes into the lagoon on its north side, so currents flow in and out swiftly with lots of sea life. The most touted diving is with a strong incoming current in Tiputa Pass, viewed here from the air:
The Six Passenger Dive Shop I used was located on the beach inside the curling land at top. You get in a Zodiac and they take you out through the swells and drop in outside that surf line at lower right. Same pass viewed from the road:
The current was incoming in the morning and outgoing in the afternoon. So I had one afternoon dive the day I arrived, staying on an outside reef, then 2 morning dives the next 2 days. Sorry, no dive pictures from Rangiroa. The highlight were the dolphins I saw on 3 of the Tiputa Pass dives. On the first one a dolphin approached me, flipped on its back and swam slowly under me, then circled above. On another dive we had a fairly close approach by 2 dolphins and on the last dive a pod of 8 swam by at a greater distance. One of the morning dives was at Avatoru Pass, which had no dolphins but had a white-tip shark much larger than the black tips that were nearly everywhere I was in the water in French Polynesia.
Most resort hotels in French Polynesia are very expensive, so I stayed at Pension Tuanake, one of several bed and breakfast type places that also include dinner. There were 3 other eclipse chasers at Pension Tuanake who were going to be camping on the Ana'a atoll for 4 days. Ana'a was one of 4 Tuamotu atolls within the totality path, but none of them are tourist islands, so most people who went to those places were there for just the day or maybe one night. Here's my hut at Pension Tuanake with solar water heater next to it:
I rented a bicycle for the afternoons after diving. The Gauguin Pearl Farm was right next door to Pension Tuanake so I took a short tour. Here are some of the black lip pearl oysters:
And here is one of the workers seeding an oyster:
The seed is barely visible if you look closely. I was surprised how big the inserted bead is. But even with seeding it takes 2 years to grow the pearls and only about 20% come out in the most valued round shape. The Tahitian pearls can be in range of colors.
Snorkeling in the lagoon near the pensions and hotels is not that great on Rangiroa. So I rode the bike to the town of Avatoru near the pass.
There is more sea life in that area but you need to be aware of the current that was sucking me toward the pass in the afternoon.
Since you're not allowed to dive on a day you are flying out, I took the all day excursion across the atoll to the Blue Lagoon on the west side. After an hour bouncy boat ride, the boat is tied up quite far off the motus because the water is so shallow.
As we get closer a large frigate bird (upper left) dived in for a look. The guides are floating a large cooler with our lunch on a broken windsurfer they keep out at the buoy.
One of the guides prepares lunch while the other one takes us in a small outboard to a different motu for snorkeling. Lunch motu viewed from inside the Blue Lagoon:
The bluer part of the Blue Lagoon with yacht at distance:
A ray in the shallow water:
Snorkeling around the coral heads had many colorful fish and clams. The coral in French Polynesia has been mostly trashed by the crown of thorns sea star. Fortunately the fish are still doing fine judging by both dive and snorkel trips.
The noteworthy feature in the Blue Lagoon is the high density of baby black tip sharks.
Here you can see a few other fish and sea cucumbers in the shallow water with the outboard parked on the lunch motu beach.
Picnic table in backgound here:
After lunch we walked back out to the boat anchorage. Where the water gets deeper, the black tip sharks get bigger and guides had some food for them, which we could watch both snorkeling and from the boat:
Back across the Rangiroa lagoon, they dropped us in for drift snorkel in the outgoing current along this motu in the inside of Avatoru Pass:
Despite the fun trip to the Blue Lagoon, Rangiroa is best for certified divers. The Pearl Resorts on Mahini and Tikehau reputedly have better snorkeling immediately accessible, and also have diving in the deeper entry passes.
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,318K in 2010-11
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12