Rangiroa. French Polynesia
Rangiroa. French Polynesia.
Sometimes in the world of marketing and sales, one is presented with a daunting challenge—the old saw of the ice man hoping to sell his product to Eskimos comes to mind. In an earlier job, Paul Sloan was presented with a slightly less onerous task—selling French Polynesia as a diving destination.
“I had initially come down to French Polynesia to be a dive instructor,” Paul began. “A few years later I returned to Los Angeles, and became director of marketing for French Polynesia Tourism. One of my personal mandates was to develop a niche for French Polynesia as a dive destination. The honeymooners that came to Tahiti and Moorea would certainly sometimes dive, but for ardent enthusiasts, French Polynesia wasn’t quite on the map. Considering all that the region has to offer—big animals, warm water, clear water, easily accessible dive sites—it seemed a natural. And if I were going to focus on one French Polynesian island for its diving attributes, it would be Rangiroa.”
French Polynesia encompasses 118 islands scattered across nearly one million square miles of the South Pacific Ocean, roughly 2,500 miles due south of the Hawaiian Islands. The islands—which vary from mountainous to nearly flat—are grouped under five archipelagos: Society, Marquesas, Tuamotu, Austral, and Gambier Islands. Tahiti is the most populated and best known island of Polynesia, immortalized in the paintings of Gauguin and generally celebrated as the prototypical tropical paradise (hence all those honeymooners); indeed, some refer to French Polynesia in its entirety as Tahiti. Rangiroa is part of the Tuamotu Archipelago, and is some 250 miles north of the island of Tahiti. It’s considered the second-largest atoll in the world, made up of 240 small islets (or motes in local parlance) that form a 110-mile circle around a forty-two-mile-long/sixteen-
“Rangiroa offers three distinct diving experiences,” Paul continued. “You can dive in the lagoon, on the drop-offs outside of the reef, or in the passes. The lagoon offers a very gentle diving experience—relatively shallow, clear water that’s very calm. The name of one of the lagoon’s better-known sites—The Aquarium—says it all. Outside the reef, along the walls, divers will see some of the big animals that Rangiroa is famous for—tuna, turtles, manta rays, Napoleon wrasse, sometimes bottle-nose dolphins.” Well-regarded ocean sites include Wrasse Plateau, The Big Blue, and The Wind Turbine.
If there’s one experience that divers equate with Rangiroa, it’s shooting the pass at Tiputa, considered by many as one of the diving world’s great adrenaline rushes. Each day as high tide approaches, water rushes through the two passes (where the lagoon opens up to the sea), Tiputa and Avatoru, which are named for Rangiroa’s two small towns. As the water charges in carrying baitfish and other goodies in its flow, larger animals take their places along the walls of the passage, looking for a meal … and divers follow to take in the show. Of the two passages, Tiputa is the most highly regarded. “A dive at Tiputa goes like this,” Paul explained. “A boat drops you off outside the reef, a little bit above the pass and outside of the main current. You swim toward the current, and once it grabs you, the current brings you through. Forty minutes later, you pop up in the lagoon. At the peak of the tide, it’s really moving—I’d say seven knots. When the Tahiti Aggressor dive boat was here, they established a PADI advanced certification for pass diving at Tiputa.
Avatoru, Rangiroa, French Polynesia
“Every time you go through the pass, you see different things. Some days it’s a multitude of sharks, some days manta or spotted eagle rays, some days big schools of jacks and barracuda. You’re just about guaranteed shark sightings on every dive—at least three or four, sometimes many more. The consistency of shark observations at Rangiroa has gained it a reputation as the ‘shark-diving capital of the South Pacific.’” Sharks regularly observed at Rangiroa include gray reef, silvertip, silky, whitetip reef, blacktip reef, milk, sicklefin lemon, great hammerhead sharks, and, occasionally, tiger sharks.
“Toward the bottom of the pass there are caves,” Paul added. “Sometimes you’ll find sharks and other fish hanging out in these caves, other times you can pull in and get a foothold to watch the activity as it unfolds. When you’re there gripping the bottom and you see dolphins and gray reef sharks swimming by, oblivious to the ripping current, you realize again how well suited they are to their environment.”
Tiputa Village Rangiroa
By the way, it would seem that Paul was successful in his efforts. French Polynesia (and Rangiroa) is now regularly ranked among the world’s top diving venues.
PAUL SLOAN learned to dive in the late 1970s while attending high school in the Monterey Bay, California area. He worked as a research diver for the University of California before becoming a scuba instructor in the late 1980s; he has managed diving schools in the Caribbean, in Mexico, and in the South Pacific. Paul formerly served as director of marketing for Tahiti Tourisme. He currently oversees the international marketing and distribution for the Gilbert Wane™ brand of Tahitian black eco-pearls environmentally grown in the pristine lagoon of Toau located within the Tuamotu UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Paul holds a master’s degree in tourism administration from the School of Business at the George Washington University, with specializations in marketing and sustainable tourism development, and a B.S. in environmental biology. He also holds professional certification in destination management from the International Institute for Tourism Studies (IITS), in conjunction with the World Tourism Organization (WTO) of the United Nations. Paul and his family currently reside in a marine protected area on the island of Moorea, French Polynesia, where he snorkels with his four-year-old son, Maui, every single chance he gets.
Tuamotu French Polynesia Coral Reef
Are You Ready?
Getting There: Rangiroa is reached via Papeete, Tahiti, on Air Tahiti (310-662-1860; http://airtahitinui-usa.com), which also provides flights from Los Angeles to Papeete.
Best Time to Visit: Diving is excellent year round, though certain species are more prevalent certain seasons.
Accommodations: Hotel Kia Ora Resort features bungalows near Tiputa Pass. Tahiti Tourisme North America (877-Go-Tahiti; www.tahiti-tourisme.com) can outline other options.
Dive Shops/Guides: There are six dive centers in Rangiroa, including Blue Dolphins (+68 99-60-301; www.bluedolphinsdiving.com) and Raie Manta Club (+68 99-68-480; http://raiemantaclub.free.fr/).