Snorkeling in French Polynesia

This item appears on page 32 of the April 2010 issue.
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My husband, Joe, and I decided to go to French Polynesia, Sept. 20-24, 2009, for our 10-year wedding anniversary.

Since I plan our trips, I decided to look at the usual suspects, such as Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea. However, in the guidebook “Frommer’s Tahiti & French Polynesia” I had read about drift snorkeling on Rangiroa. It sounded so exciting, we just had to do it.

I booked all of our internal French Polynesia flights through Tahiti Tours (Papeete, Tahiti; phone 689 46 40 46). Rather than buy individual tickets to each of the islands, I bought a Bora Bora-Tuamotu Pass, as it was much cheaper. The airpass included all the islands we were visiting.

By the way, I booked the airpass ticket for me in “Y” class (€471, with a baggage allowance of 20kg) and one for my husband in “Z” class (€613, with 50kg). This allowed us more overall weight for our luggage. My husband takes a lot of photographic equipment, and I read that overweight luggage between the islands can be very expensive to pay for at the airport.

Tahiti Tours is a good basic travel agency. However, if you want really personalized service, I would go for one of the smaller agencies. I thought Tahiti Tours was a small agency, but once I arrived I found that their services, such as pickup and dropoff, were done through Tahiti Nui Travel, which is the largest agency in French Polynesia. I dislike using large agencies because I feel lost in the crowd.

Flying into Rangiroa was exciting. This atoll is one of the biggest in the world. From the air, it looks like a miniature sea surrounded by a strip of land.

We stayed at Hotel Kia Ora because it was the only hotel on the island with overwater bungalows. Currently closed for renovations, this resort will reopen in May 2011. I highly recommend it.

At the hotel, we booked two activities (which can be booked through other hotels as well): drift snorkeling and the Blue Lagoon.

Unfortunately, on the two-hour drift snorkeling excursion through Tiputa Pass (about €40, or $58, per person), we didn’t see any large sea creatures such as manta rays or turtles. However, we did see a seven-foot blacktip reef shark, a lot of colorful fish and a beautiful coral garden. It was a wonderful sensation being pushed along by the ocean currents while looking at sea life below.

The all-day Blue Lagoon activity was definitely my favorite. Even though the boat ride across the huge Rangiroa Lagoon was rough, it was worth the trip.

The Blue Lagoon is a smaller, shallower lagoon colored an almost impossible turquoise blue. It was like a dream. The snorkeling there was not that great, but the baby sharks swimming next to our picnic area were a source of entertainment.

After relaxing on the beach for a couple of hours, we took the boat just outside the Blue Lagoon to deeper water where there were much larger blacktip sharks five to six feet long. We all jumped into the water with our snorkels, held onto a rope and watched as our guides proceeded to feed them. What a thrill! Sharks were everywhere, about 20 of them, fighting over the scraps.

We then went to Avatoru Pass and drift-snorkeled past coral gardens and a variety of fish.

The price for the day was CFP10,400 (about $130) per person and included the boat to the Blue Lagoon, lunch, diving with the sharks and drift snorkeling on the way back.

Overall, I was very happy we chose to go to Rangiroa. Even though it’s not as sophisticated and polished as Bora Bora and Moorea, that’s what gives it charm. It is the perfect place to cure any stress or anxieties brought on by the modern world.

SARA KRAS
Glendale, CA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My husband, Joe, and I decided to go to French Polynesia, Sept. 20-24, 2009, for our 10-year wedding anniversary.

Since I plan our trips, I decided to look at the usual suspects, such as Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea. However, in the guidebook “Frommer’s Tahiti & French Polynesia” I had read about drift snorkeling on Rangiroa. It sounded so exciting, we just had to do it.

I booked all of our internal French Polynesia flights through Tahiti Tours (Papeete, Tahiti; phone 689 46 40 46). Rather than buy individual tickets to each of the islands, I bought a Bora Bora-Tuamotu Pass, as it was much cheaper. The airpass included all the islands we were visiting.

By the way, I booked the airpass ticket for me in “Y” class (€471, with a baggage allowance of 20kg) and one for my husband in “Z” class (€613, with 50kg). This allowed us more overall weight for our luggage. My husband takes a lot of photographic equipment, and I read that overweight luggage between the islands can be very expensive to pay for at the airport.

Tahiti Tours is a good basic travel agency. However, if you want really personalized service, I would go for one of the smaller agencies. I thought Tahiti Tours was a small agency, but once I arrived I found that their services, such as pickup and dropoff, were done through Tahiti Nui Travel, which is the largest agency in French Polynesia. I dislike using large agencies because I feel lost in the crowd.

Flying into Rangiroa was exciting. This atoll is one of the biggest in the world. From the air, it looks like a miniature sea surrounded by a strip of land.

We stayed at Hotel Kia Ora because it was the only hotel on the island with overwater bungalows. Currently closed for renovations, this resort will reopen in May 2011. I highly recommend it.

At the hotel, we booked two activities (which can be booked through other hotels as well): drift snorkeling and the Blue Lagoon.

Unfortunately, on the two-hour drift snorkeling excursion through Tiputa Pass (about €40, or $58, per person), we didn’t see any large sea creatures such as manta rays or turtles. However, we did see a seven-foot blacktip reef shark, a lot of colorful fish and a beautiful coral garden. It was a wonderful sensation being pushed along by the ocean currents while looking at sea life below.

The all-day Blue Lagoon activity was definitely my favorite. Even though the boat ride across the huge Rangiroa Lagoon was rough, it was worth the trip.

The Blue Lagoon is a smaller, shallower lagoon colored an almost impossible turquoise blue. It was like a dream. The snorkeling there was not that great, but the baby sharks swimming next to our picnic area were a source of entertainment.

After relaxing on the beach for a couple of hours, we took the boat just outside the Blue Lagoon to deeper water where there were much larger blacktip sharks five to six feet long. We all jumped into the water with our snorkels, held onto a rope and watched as our guides proceeded to feed them. What a thrill! Sharks were everywhere, about 20 of them, fighting over the scraps.

We then went to Avatoru Pass and drift-snorkeled past coral gardens and a variety of fish.

The price for the day was CFP10,400 (about $130) per person and included the boat to the Blue Lagoon, lunch, diving with the sharks and drift snorkeling on the way back.

Overall, I was very happy we chose to go to Rangiroa. Even though it’s not as sophisticated and polished as Bora Bora and Moorea, that’s what gives it charm. It is the perfect place to cure any stress or anxieties brought on by the modern world.

SARA KRAS
Glendale, CA