You’d be hard-pressed to find a more stunning tropical backdrop for your next diving vacation than the emerald-green peaks, towering waterfalls, and sparkling turquoise lagoons that define the islands of French Polynesia. The region’s coral-fringed, crystal clear waters teem with an incredible variety of colourful fish and other sea life, making them an ideal scuba destination for new and seasoned divers alike. Enclosed by pristine stretches of pink, white and black-sand beaches, the calm lagoon waters of this 2,000 km stretch of archipelagos promise every visitor unique encounters with dolphins, rays, eels, and sea turtles, although French Polynesia is typically know for shark diving. And for those craving bigger adventure, numerous wrecks, underwater caves, thrilling vertical reefs, and the opportunity to drift dive in the passes of the many coral atolls will quickly have the more experienced diver sitting up and taking notice. As the undisputed crown jewel, Tahiti makes the perfect base for exploring the wide range of scuba diving packages available in this idyllic grouping of 118 islands known as “The Pearl of the Pacific”.
The Pearl of the Pacific
Owned by France, and located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, about halfway between California and Australia, the aptly-named French Polynesia has two official languages – French and Polynesian (Tahitian). While close to half of the 280,000 residents live in the capital of Pape’ete on the island of Tahiti, only 25 of the region’s 118 islands and atolls are actually uninhabited, and English is widely spoken in tourist areas. Divided into five distinct archipelagos, or island groupings, and spread out over an area larger than Europe, this dreamy and languorous paradise welcomes close to 250,000 visitors each year. Arguably, some of the best islands for scuba diving in French Polynesia include: Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Rangiroa, Tikehau, Tetiaroa, and Fakarava. And if it’s ever been your dream to experience diving with blacktip sharks, to explore the ultimate ocean drop-off, or to swim with more varieties of fish than you ever imagined existed, then this string of tropical jewels may be a strong contender for the top pick on your must-dive list.
Something for Everyone
The lagoons of French Polynesia are well-known for the enormous variety of marine life they contain, and encounters with sharks, stingrays and manta rays are common. You can check out scuba diving packages in the waters around Rangiroa or Moorea for your best chance to swim with silvertip, blacktip, whitetip, and gray sharks, as well as lemon sharks and hammerheads. And you won’t want to miss the opportunity to experience the exhilaration of flying when you “ride the rip” through the atolls of the Tuamotu Archipelago. For divers who have yet to encounter drift diving, in French Polynesia, riding the tidal currents through the various passes in the area has been paradoxically described as relaxing and exhilarating at the same time. And it’s an experience that’s virtually guaranteed to leave you with unforgettable memories.
Every Day is a Good Day to Dive in French Polynesia
With only two seasons to speak of – warm and dry, and warm and humid – and a daytime temperature that averages 28-29oC (82-85oF) throughout the year, scuba diving in French Polynesia is pure magic at any time. The water temperature hovers consistently between 26-29oC (79-84oF), and typical visibility is an astounding 100ft+. But for a more specific look at where to dive and when, you might want to consider the following highlights: Humpback whale season in the Society Islands Archipelago (including Tahiti) is between July and October. Whale-watching excursions abound during this time and if you’re lucky, you might get the chance to snorkel with these gentle giants and their offspring. If it’s hammerheads you’re after, you’ll find them in the waters around Rangiroa from November through February, and around Nuka Hiva from June through November. Nuka Hiva also happens to be home to the pygmy orca. If you happen to visit this island from January through April, you’ll want to keep an eye out during your dives for this rarely-seen cetacean that isn’t actually a whale at all. Manta rays are prevalent around both Tikehau and Manihi from June through December, and September is the best time to see them off Rangiroa. And finally, don’t miss witnessing the massive schools of groupers that congregate off Fakarava and Manihi for mating season during June and July.
Getting to Paradise
Faa’a International Airport in Pape’ete is the air travel hub for French Polynesia, and all international flights arrive at and depart from here. Air Tahiti offers inter-island flights to 47 of the region’s islands, covering all five of the archipelagos, and there are regular passenger ferries between Tahiti and its sister island of Moorea on a daily basis. Every corner of this tropical Eden has something special to offer the curious visitor, with all of the islands providing excellent scuba diving and snorkeling as a matter of course. In fact, you won’t have to go far at all to enjoy world-class diving at a wide range of sites. The barrier reefs are only a short boat ride from virtually every dive resort in French Polynesia, and excellent sites are so plentiful that it can be difficult to decide where to start.
Diving and So Much More
Scuba courses in the islands are easy to find, and the seemingly infinite, relatively shallow lagoons that brim with aquatic life are ideal for the avid snorkeler, the novice diver, or for those simply looking to revel in these natural aquariums, while brushing up on technique. With virtually all the dive resorts in French Polynesia either offering scuba diving packages, or providing easy access to the large number of diving centers that do, your only concern will be whether or not you booked enough dive days into your vacation itinerary. Fortunately, with its host of other activities that include surfing, kite-surfing, hiking, golfing and 4WD safaris, this jewel of the Pacific offers lots to keep you busy in your off-time, too.