Bonjour! Or as Patrick likes to say: ‘Bonjourno!’ … to French people.
You’ve probably noticed that we’ve been a little absent lately – a part of that is the slow internet connection on our second island destination, but the primary cause for our absence is that we have spent the last week almost entirely underwater! With that being said – welcome to our post about the stunning beach island of Rangiroa!
Rangiroa is an island in French Polynesia with a population of around 3,500 locals and probably even more divers. The feel of Rangiroa is completely different from Mo’orea with its relaxed beachside vibe and less populated towns. As you bike down the one road on the island, you can see water on both your left and right – one being the ocean and the other the gigantic lagoon in which the island encompasses. This small island is home to the Tiputa pass, a small channel that is one of only two entrances and exits for hundreds of thousands of underwater animals to go in and out of the island’s lagoon and the ocean. Because of this, it is a top dive destination for divers all around the world!
On our trip over to Rangiroa, we took a flight from Mo’orea to Tahiti and then another flight from Tahiti to Rangiroa. On the day of our flight, we made arrangements with our rental car company (managed entirely by one person) to drop off our car 45 minutes before our flight. We woke up early with the gut feeling that there was no way we were going to make our flight, or if we were, it was going to be a close one. My how we were wrong – after a short lift from the rental car owner/sole employee, we arrived to the empty airport; and by empty, I mean EMPTY. One employee had shown up in the entire airport, and there was no sign of an incoming/departing flight anywhere. After checking in with the one airport employee, we sat in the “departure gate” waiting for our plane to arrive… or really anyone or anything to arrive. Time passed, and our flight time got closer and closer, but no-one joined us at the departure gate. We started to realize that we were about to be the only people on this plane. With that lack of other travelers, we came to assume that it would be a tiny pond hopper taking us over to Tahiti – WRONG again. We walk out to a full-sized plane with two flight attendants and only us as its passengers! Although there was a sense of luxury about being the only people on a commercial sized plane, we could not help but wonder the hike in our carbon footprint with this gas guzzling transport we were about to take.
When we arrived to Rangiroa, we were met at the airport by our incredible pension host, Jannie, who took us for a short drive to her quaint ocean-side pension, Miki Miki Lodge. Every morning we woke up to Jannie’s homemade bread and jams and fresh fruit, but that wasn’t even the best part of her cooking – we opted for half-board most nights, which allowed us to eat her cooking almost every night too! For dinner, us and the other pensions guests would meet up in Jannie’s kitchen where she would feed us a feast full of fresh fish, chicken curries, and rice, accompanied by Jannie telling us stories about the adventures of owning a pension in the one of the top dive destinations in the world – including hosting National Geographic photographers for Shark Week footage, and feeding all 15 of them every single night of their two week stay!! With the family-style atmosphere of pensions (and especially Jannie’s), you get to meet people from all over the world and reminisce on your days of diving and adventure on the island. Because Patrick and I were the longest standing tenants at Miki Miki Lodge, we got the opportunity to meet tons of people from France, Germany, and our now friends, Francesca and Felice from Italy!
When we weren’t eating at Miki Miki Lodge, there was a 9/10 chance that you could find us at Snack Puna, a cute little restaurant on the lagoon-side of the island with an assortment of fish dishes (cooked and raw), chicken curries, and burgers. The coolest part of the restaurant; however, wasn’t the food, but the crystal clear water surrounding it. From our ‘usual’ seats, you could see and array of sharks, rays, and fish any time of the day!
Although it may seem obvious to just about anyone else on the planet, it turns out French Polynesia’s primary language is French, and its tourists are almost entirely flown in from France. Patrick and I; however, did not internalize this before our adventure into the Pacific. On our arrival to French Polynesia, Patrick and I knew NO French – none. zip. zero. We’ve learned a few words here and there since out time here, but it wasn’t until one night when we were at a pizza snack, when the snack’s owner started to say commands to a few of the many island stray dogs that we realized the dogs on the island knew more French than we did! If the owner had yelled the same commands to Patrick and I, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have blankly stared back and responded with ‘merci!’.
Now on to the most amazing part of Rangiroa…. the diving!!
If you’ve never taken a breath underwater, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world beneath the surface is packed with sharks, dolphins, whales, and odd creatures of every combination. National Geographic, YouTube, and the dive industry loves to paint the sea this way. While the underwater world is packed with far more animal encounters than you’d ever find on land, the truth is more nuanced – encounters with the big and exotic are rare. Every dive with a big animal is hard sought and not easily won. It took some 30 dives before Patrick saw his first ‘big’ shark; 90 dives for a frogfish; 140 for a Manta Ray, 298 for a dolphin, 370 for an octopus… you get the idea.
And then you dive in Rangiroa, and that entire paragraph goes up in smoke. Diving here is concentrated in the Tiputa Pass, which is one of just two channels between the Pacific and the enormous blue lagoon of Rangiroa. The huge volume of water passing through this narrow channel brings the show! You jump right into the current, grab on to a rock, and watch what comes in from the deep blue. Just one dive in, and things started falling off the bucket list – Blacktip Sharks, Grey Sharks, Bottlenose Dolphins, Whitetip Sharks, and even a Great Hammerhead. Every dive here featured literally hundreds of grey sharks that form underwater walls (Side Note: walls made of sharks are the best kind of walls). Diving with dolphins becomes the norm – the pass is home to approximately 60 bottlenose dolphins, which regularly came up to ask for scratches (unfortunately, you have to politely turn down, since human contact interrupts their social networks). They are also HUGE… like one story high huge (10 feet)! You know the whole argument for why orcas shouldn’t be kept at sea world? It counts for dolphins trapped in pools on every resort-style island as well. I promise you that diving with wild, can do whatever the heck they want, dolphins is 1,000,000 times better than swimming with the ones essentially locked in underwater cages.
On our best dive, we ran into 20 dolphins that hung out and played with us for the better part of 15 minutes – they ate up Patrick’s bubbles from his ginormous ‘give him the biggest tank we sell’ exhales, and a baby and her momma came to show off their swimming and dancing skills.
So the moral of the story from our time in the charming island of Rangiroa: get your diver’s certification (all you need is open-water), book a trip to Rangiroa, stay at Jannie’s Miki Miki Lodge, and change your life by diving with hundreds of sharks and dolphins in the Tiputa Pass (highly recommend Rangiroa Plongee for a dive company to use).
Till next time, au revoir (I have no idea how to actually say this btw)!
p.s. – For more awesome pics, check out Patrick’s website: http://www.saltyshutterphotography.com/work