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Rangiroa diving is the stuff aquatic dreams are made of. Located 192 nautical miles northeast of the Island of Tahiti, nearly smack dab in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, Rangiroa is the largest atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago and one of the largest on the planet. It is home to just 2500 people, and is quite flat with a high point of just 9 meters. Imagine stepping off the plane, checking in to your hotel, grabbing a quick lunch and a short nap, then jumping into the bluest of translucent turquoise waters in one of the world’s premier diving destinations. Yeah, I did that!
Good to know: Rangiroa, Tahiti is easily reached via a short, 1-hour flight from Tahiti Island or Bora Bora Island.
Local operator Top Dive did a great job of guiding us newbies in our introduction to scuba diving amidst the coral reefs and plethora of marine life. Most of the people in our group had never scuba dived before and this was only my second time. It was a fitting introduction to Tahiti, the country that consists of 99% water.
Note: The minimum age is 10 to start PADI scuba certification, but it’s up to the parent to determine whether your child is water-safe and mature enough.
Hotel Kia Ora
As you can imagine, a place as secluded as Rangiroa doesn’t have all that many hotels. Hotel Kia Ora is the only four-star property on the island. It’s a sprawling collection of private pool villas, family suites, beachfront bungalows, and iconic overwater bungalows set under coconut groves on the northern part of Rangiroa.
Tahiti is the home of overwater bungalows, which were first built in Tahiti in 1967 and modeled after local fishing huts. Most rooms sleep 3 adults, but there are a handful of larger beach bungalows which can sleep 4. The family suites feature two bedrooms and two bathrooms and sleep 5.
Kia Ora has a spa, infinity pools, an activity center, and an overwater bar. Its own Restaurant Te Rairoa serves up a delightful blend of Tahitian and French cuisine. The restaurant offers a BBQ buffet twice weekly accompanied by a Polynesian Dance troupe.
Swim with Sharks in Rangiroa
Has swimming with sharks ever been on your bucket list? Not mine. I’ve never been particularly scared of them, but it got added to my list of epic “done that”s. We met up with Oviri Excursions at the hotel dock and headed out to the Blue Lagoon, a pristine natural pool at the edge of the reef surrounding by motus (tiny islands).
As we pulled up and navigated through the coral, the telltale shark fins began to appear and soon our boat was encircled. Screams and delight tinged with a bit of hesitation ensued. The anchor was thrown down and in no time at all, we were wading with the black tipped sharks. As we headed through the shallow, clear water towards the nearby motu, we encountered colorful coral, fish of all shapes and sizes, and a billion leopard spotted sea cucumbers.
After exploring for a while and eating coconuts macheted open by our guide, I relaxed in the shallow water. I soaked in the sun and stared at a motu in the distance as black-tip reef sharks swam around me. I never knew I needed this! Our time on the motu was capped off by an open fire roasted barbecue of fresh fish, chicken, coconut, and plenty of lime.
Swim with Bigger Sharks
Not knowing what to expect sometimes works to your advantage. Like the time I took my wife skydiving as a surprise. You just have to do it. As we headed back on the boat, we stopped at a spot in the deeper part of the water and the guide yelled, “Look bigger sharks!”
He then smiled and told us to jump in. I responded, “What? Are you serious?”
A moment later, our guide leaped in and after some hemming and hawing with our masks, a group of us followed suit. The black tipped sharks were larger there and more plentiful. One of the other guides, a burly Tahitian with arms the size of tree trunks, excitedly pointed out a couple of even larger lemon sharks.
We swam to take a closer look and some of the more hesitant passengers dipped their toes in the water, contemplating what they’re about to do. My adrenaline was surging and after a while, I calmed down and started to try and take more photos.
The water was deeper and it was a bit more difficult to see. I noticed that as the large lemon sharks got closer, the guide hung out at the rear of the boat ladder and slapped the water periodically with his arms to scare them a bit further away. Hmm, I figured it must be okay since they take people out here all the time. Swimming with apex predators, gulp! Seize the day!
Eat like Tahitian Kings and Queens
When you’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you eat seafood. I took every opportunity to eat fresh seafood. Although after snorkeling, diving, and swimming to my heart’s content, I did feel a slight tinge of guilt as I enjoyed my dinner of parrotfish.
Poisson Cru is the national dish of Tahiti. It is made of fresh raw tuna sliced into cubes bathed in lemon juice, sliced onions, tomato, cucumber, garlic, spring onions, and fresh coconut milk. It’s similar in some ways to Hawaiian poke, or ceviche, but has a distinct Tahitian flavor.
Of course, there are plenty of amazingly delicious fresh tropical fruits such as papaya, mango, and pineapple, as well as various vegetables available. Most meats are imported, such as lamb and beef from New Zealand.
Les Relais de Josephine serves up meals ocean side, with a deck that overlooks the Tiputa Pass dive site. Get there early and you’ll be rewarded by pods of playfully jumping bottlenose dolphins. Our meal started off with a cocktail of pineapple juice mixed with the local organic sugarcane rum Mana’o.
The local coral grown white wine (Vin de Tahiti) complemented a ceviche of fresh oysters, local fish with rice and raisins, and finished with a slice of lemon pie. You can take a tour of both the winery and rum facilities on Rangiroa. When we returned to our hotel, the local Rangiroan Polynesian dance group was performing.
More Fun to Experience in Rangiroa Tahiti
While underwater fun is worth a trip to Rangiroa alone, there is still plenty more to do on this tropical atoll. Take a boat tour to a vibrant pink sand beach or head out and explore a bit on your own.
Paddle an outrigger or other watercraft
In addition to world-class swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving, there is all manner of watercraft available. Explore the endless reefs and lagoons in a kayak or an outrigger canoe available at Kia Ora. Visit the activities desk to arrange a guided boat or jetski tours of the lagoon. Guided fishing excursions are also available. If you’re looking to rent a standup paddleboard (SUP) you can find them at Rangiroa SUP Rentals Co.
Bike around Rangiroa
Hotel Kia Ora has a number of bicycles you can rent. The Rangiroa atoll is relatively flat, so it requires minimal effort to pedal around the small sections of the island. We grabbed bikes and took a leisurely ride down the road along the coast past Tiputa Pass where the dolphins frolic. Bicycles with infant seats in the back are also available.
Drive around Rangiroa
The Renault Twizy is a two-seater electric car. Grab one (your hotel can help you book it and have it delivered) and drive the road around Rangiroa. Be sure to look out for sea life along the way. We stopped a few times to check out the sharks visible from the bridge.
Visit a Pearl Farm
French Polynesia is home to plenty of oysters and pearl farms. Take a guided tour of Gauguin’s Pearls, where they show you how they produce the Tahitian black colored cultured oyster pearls from their 400,000 oysters. The full-length tour can be interesting for older kids, but it can get a bit long for younger ones.
Wine and Rum Tasting
Wine in Tahiti? The South of France, Italy, Napa Valley, Rangiroa? The Domaine Dominique Auroy produces Tahiti’s only wines, which consist of whites and roses. The unique tropical climate allows the vineyard to be harvested twice a year on coral soil. Stop by the cellar for a quick tasting tour and informational video on the vineyards for Vin de Tahiti and the sugarcane harvest for Man’ao, the local rum. Note that you won’t see the vineyards, as they are located on a small island which is a boat ride away but is not next to the cellar.
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Disclosure: The author was hosted by Tahiti Toursime and French Bee to facilitate this article. However, as always his opinions are always entirely his own.