Trip Report 25 Days in French Polynesia

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btscott

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Recently spent 25 days in French Polynesia. It was a good trip, not a great trip. Not great mostly due to Covid, island closures and French tourists not taking Covid seriously. I think the latter is due to several factors including the lack of need to test negative to return to France if they are not passing through the US to return home. This trip was a last minute scramble as our trip to the Solomon's on the Bilikiki was postponed to 2023 due to Covid.

We spent our 25 days divided between 3 nights on Tahiti, 5 nights on Rurutu, 4 nights on Moorea, 5 nights on Rangiroa, 3 nights in Fakarava South and 3 nights Fakarava North.

We flew non-stop from SFO to Tahiti and got in just as a total lockdown was being called. Covid rates had risen to over 2400 per 100,000. We had 1 day to drive around Tahiti and Tahiti-Iti before the lockdown went into place. So, we rented a car and drove around the island. We had planned on doing some hiking on the inside of the island, but due to the lockdown, that didn't happen. We stayed at the Intercontinental and while it is supposed to be the best that Tahiti has to offer, we weren't impressed. Suggest getting an Airbnb. I had wanted to do some diving with Tiger Sharks, but that is no longer happening as you can no longer feed to get the Tiger Sharks to show up. So, slim chance that you would see a Tiger Shark. Once the lockdown hit, we stayed at the Intercontinental and snorkeled. The snorkeling wasn't particularly exciting.

Next we made our way to Rurutu, to swim with humpbacks. Rurutu was not in lockdown when we went. We stayed at the Manotel, which I cannot recommend. While a nice pension, we did not feel safe with Covid as there was a French woman and her daughter quarantined while we were there. The daughter would make her way around the grounds and not wear a mask. When we called her on it, she stated her mom had Covid, she did not. She either gave her mom Covid or now had Covid, we were pretty sure. The French woman was taken away in an ambulance on our 3rd day there. Another French couple was there and one of them seemed to have a cold, so we asked if we could eat outside and were told by the owners that it was not possible. We asked if we could stagger the eating times so we were not eating at the same time as the person with the cold and again, not possible. Yves, one of the owners, never wore a mask. We gave the other owner, Helene an N95 as she was wearing a surgical mask when interacting with the quarantined family. She never wore it.

Regardless, we were there for the whales. We spent 3 days with Tareparepa Baleines and swam with whales every day. One day I had 5 whales, including a calf to myself. The whales were just at the break as they swim close to shore to protect the calf. It was an amazing encounter. Everytime we swam with the whales, the whale song in the water was incredible. I got some amazing photos and my wife took some great video with the Gopro. The water was a little chilly, but not too bad. Everyone wore a wetsuits. I wore just a rashy so I could free dive as they didn't have any weights for me to use with a wetsuit. I used my Canon 80D with a Tokina 10-17 and Kenko Teleplus HDpro with ambient lighting. The little extra reach with the Kenko was perfect. Wife had a Gopro 9.

Next we went to Moorea, which was in total lockdown. So, we spent our time at the Sofitel snorkeling the house reef. Much better snorkeling than Tahiti. We had no opportunity to explore the island or dive because of the lockdown. If you stay at the Sofitel, get a garden bungalow set one back from the beach bungalows. Best bang for the buck as you still have easy beach access and can see the water from your front deck. Overall this was our best accommodation in terms of service and bungalow. Very nice resort.

Next we went off to Rangiroa. Rangiroa was on weekend lockdown. So, as we traveled there on Sunday, we had the week days to dive. We stayed at the Maitai and dove with 6 Passengers. The Maitai is a nice place. We had a Lagoon Bungalow on the water and recommend you get one of those as a lot of the other bungalows were a duplex with a shared wall. We dove 3 days, 6 dives with 6 Passengers. Sadly, the night before, I setup my camera rig, blew it up to check for leaks and found I had a leak somewhere. I changed the o-rings, tested the housing in the pool, but could not find where the leak was. So, for the remainder of the trip I shot with my Gopro. 6 Passengers picked us up each day and took us the short 5 minute drive to their ops. They have a nice setup. We had our own gear and wetsuits. The gear they had seemed fairly new (combo Scubapro and Aqualung), though some of the wetsuits I saw people wearing were pretty beat up. Groups were around 6 people. They had a couple of boats, one with 6 people and another with 12. Dives were always at Tiputa Pass. You either dove the reef or the pass with current, depending on the tide. Each dive started with a dolphin encounter. Definitely the highlight of Rangiroa. Dolphins come straight up to you for 5-10 minutes to get a good belly scratch. While I am a proponent of not touching the reef and fish, there was no way around giving the dolphins what they wanted. The reef had decent fish life, but the reef itself was in decline. Diving the pass was a straight shot down the channel with a decent amount of current, but nothing like Nusa Lembongan. Divemasters were pretty good, though the last day I wasn't impressed with the one we had. He took us for half the dive, 20-30 feet on a completely dead reef. He seemed a little less experienced than the divemasters we had the previous 2 days. For our last day, I did ask if we could dive Avatoru pass and was told no, this was not possible. Seemed to be a standard French answer... So, if you would like to do something other than Tiputa, you might want to check out another dive center and make arrangements in advance. I heard good things about Y AKA. Every evening, we would take our gin and tonic mixings and head down to the little park next to Tiputa Pass and watch the dolphins swim in the surf. Nice way to end the day.

Next we were off to Fakarava. We spent 3 nights in the south at Tetamanu and then 3 nights in the north and stayed at the Havaiki and dove with O2 Fakarava. To get to Tetamanu, we took a 1/2 hour ride in a truck and then a 1 1/2 hour ride in a boat. Tetamanu is on its own little island and you truly feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. Accommodations are rustic with water front bungalows, soft mattresses that sink into hard wood underneath and a shower with cold brackish water spilling out of a pipe above your head. Diving is right out in front of Tetamanu, either straight off the dive deck or a 1-2 minute boat ride. Diving here is all about the sharks. The pass is fairly narrow, not much current and you move along as the "wall of sharks" hangs out in the channel. Personally I wouldn't spend more than a couple of days, but other people had a different perspective. I read mixed reviews of Tetamanu, but we enjoyed our time there and didn't mind the rustic aspect. We did have a negative encounter with the divemaster Helmer. Our first dive went without incident, as far as we were concerned. But when we got out of the water Helmer went at my wife about not caring about what the divemaster wants. She wasn't sure what he was talking about and asked him what he would have liked to be different and instead of answering, he just stormed off. Some of this may be due to culture/language. However, we no longer dove with Helmer and went only with Dominika from that point forward. I think Helmer is inexperienced and better suited to new divers that he can have at less than an arm's length away.
 

btscott

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Next and our last stop before going home, was Fakarava North. This ended up being our favorite stop. We loved Havaiki and really enjoyed diving with O2. Marion from O2 came by the night we arrived and gave us info on what to expect the next day. I had asked about going to Toau on one of our days, but Marion stated most of the reef was struggling with bleaching and not a good idea. So, the next day we were picked up and taken to O2. They have a small operation and a nice little dive center. Everyone was super friendly and we found O2 to be our best experience in French Polynesia. You either dive Garuae pass on the reef or in the pass or head to the South. We had dove the south, so dove 2 days around Garuae pass. First day we dove with Marion and had some good Manta Ray encounters. The reef for the most part was nice and fish life was abundant. By far the best diving we found in French Polynesia. On the boat that day was also 2 people doing their OWD class. We had been told by Marion when she came out to Havaiki that our last day would just be my wife and I with a divemaster and we would do a decent Nitrox profile for our 2 dives. When we got back after our first day, Marion let us know that they were sending a boat to Fakarava South the next day and we would be diving with the OWD class couple. I let her know that we weren't very happy about that and that it seemed pretty weird to us. They ended up working it out and getting another divemaster to take my wife and I. So, appreciated their willingness to make things work for us. I am really happy they did as we had an amazing 2 dives. First dive we had 2 Manta Ray encounters, one on our safety stop where the Manta Ray came straight up to us and glided by. Next dive was our first in the pass with significant current. We were down at 30m working our way to the corner where all the life passed by. Current was pretty ripping and needed to bite down pretty hard to keep my reg and drag ourselves along rock to rock. Visibility was amazing and a wall of sharks came out of nowhere and just hung out in the current for a while. As we worked our way in the current to Ali Baba, my wife had difficulty clearing her ears. I hung out getting video of the large schools of fish while the divemaster worked with my wife to clear her ears. She could clear when she went up, but then couldn't whenever she would go back down. Not sure why we didn't end the dive, but they took so long working on her ears that I went into deco. So, ended up with a very long safety stop. It ended up fine. At one point the other divemaster Thibault came along with the OWD class and wanted me to go with him and continue the dive. However, there was no f@#$ing way I was leaving my wife.

That's about it as we then flew home. Overall, as I said, it was a good vacation, not great. Not great due to Covid, entitled attitudes of some of the French and customer service being more a take it or leave approach. Also, sad about my housing leak. My wife and I are pretty self sufficient and made due with the limitations. French Polynesia is pretty expensive and this was one of our most expensive trips. We cut down on costs by bringing gin and mezcal from the US to make G&T's and margaritas. We made 2 stops at Carrefour when passing through Tahiti to reup on gin. This helped as cocktails were well over $20. We are vegetarian and had a little difficulty with food and at times ate some Ramen on our front porch wherever we were. Most mains were $20-$30. I really don't need to see Ramen for a long time though.

Getting a new computer tomorrow so I can edit my 4k video footage with Davinci Resolve. Will post photos and videos soon.
 

drrich2

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French Polynesia is pretty expensive and this was one of our most expensive trips.

Thanks for that. While it's fun to fall in voyeuristically with most any dive trip account, it's good to have some idea what the price tag for the trip looks like. It has a major bearing on who can follow in your footsteps. And thanks for sharing your report. How long did it take you to get there and back in travel time, and what was your longest flight?

I envy you the whale and dolphin encounters!

Do you think someone solely English-speaking would've had any hassles on your trip?

You hit 6 different places over the course of your 25 day trip. I imagine part of that was different sites for different things (e.g.: reef vs. whales vs. tiger sharks - which didn't work out), but was there any other reason? Did you just want to do the 'appetizer sampler' approach and check out more places? I ask knowing that packing back up and changing location is a hassle.

Richard.
 

divinh

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My input on price tag...

When I went in 2017, flights direct from SFO weren't available yet, or just recently so, so I had to fly in/out of LAX. That added another $220 to the airfare. I used airmiles, but didn't have enough, so had to buy more points, which resulted in about a $750 plane ticket for SFO to PPT. I think full price, at the time, ranged from $900 to $1400, depending on route, with the cheaper ticket having a long layover in AKL.

Inter-island flights via Air Tahiti, $660 for Tahiti->Bora Bora->Rangiroa->Fakarava->Tahiti, most difficult part was working out a flight schedule that didn't involve back and forth to Tahiti. There are direct flights between islands, but less frequent than back/forth to Tahiti.

Ferry ride to/from Moorea $30

18 days of travel, 1st time, so sampling islands

Diving

Bora Bora, Eleuthera $428, 6 dives
Rangiroa, The 6 Passenger $741, 11 dives
Fakarava North, Dive Spirit $295, 5 dives
Moorea, Moorea Fun Dive $242, 4 dives

18 nights accommodations $1427, which ranged from bungalows on the beach with no aircon (fine with breezes) to hostel (Tahiti) to a pretty nice apartment on Moorea which ran $220/night for up to 4 people.

Total budget: $5600 with diving, $3900 without diving
 

btscott

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It was always a great joy to get somewhere, unpack and settle in. It was always a bit of a struggle to pack up, though we got better at it as the tripnwent on. Weight is a consideration with Air Tahiti and we probably added $200 in excess baggage charges with all my camera gear. I got better about this with loading up my backpack with lots of heavy things. Not sure we would change the way we did this though as we got a good sense of FP and saw the highlights we wanted. Though we missed out on the hiking, but Covid.... nough said...

Price... well... we booked last minute with a travel agent. $15k later we had a trip. I never use a travel agent. We had a nice vacation and stayed in some nice places. I think I could have easily halved the cost with Airbnb and self booking. Bit, we are in healthcare, NEEDED a vacation and got one. So, that was most important. Our trip was all inclusive and was nice wherever we went to have someone with your name on a sign taking you wherever you needed. Just a total mindless vacation. Minus the assholes that refused to wear a mask on the Air Tahiti flights.

We live in the Bay Area. So flight was 8 hrs direct from SFO. Easy... Most Air Tahiti flights are 45 minute to 1 1/2 hrs.

Hit me up if you have any other questions.
 

TonRin

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Sounds like you had a good time. Shame you didn't make it this trip to the Solomon's. Bilikiki has been parked up since the pandemic started. Not sure why as there are plenty of expat divers here that would love to go out. We have been using the MV Taka which is the only other LOB here. Its been doing a 3 day trip every month. We don't have any covid here but country is closed. No on is coming in, which is great for us as it means covid won't spread (fingers crossed) but it also means holidays for us that live here is limited as well. We can leave, but we can't get back. I would say when you plan to come here once everything opens back up, do the Bilikiki tour and maybe plan a week or two in the Western province as well in Gizo or Munda. A lot of spectacular diving there. Be prepared, it is frighteningly expensive here too!

Cheers
Tony
 

btscott

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Hadn't heard of the MV Taka. How is it? Bilikiki will happen. All paid for, but postponed til August 2023. Will try and have some available for the other areas tou mentioned. Thanks.
 

TonRin

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Best Liveaboard Scuba Diving in Solomon Islands
You can check out the Taka here. Its a good boat, well equipped and a good set up. It's run through Solomon Islands Dive Expeditions (SIDE). I have to be honest, I haven't tried Bilikiki, but I will when it starts up again just to compare.

Also look up DiveGizo & DiveMunda as the two premier dive companies out West. They know where to go to get the best value for your money.

Cheers
Tony
 

btscott

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Someone PM'ed me about photos. In the process of learning Davinci Resolve, Capture One and Affinity Photo. So, have a long way to go with getting images properly tuned. Regardless here are a couple that are a long way from being fully processed.
 

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WeRtheOcean

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As with everything to do with this d**n pandemic, I get contradictory information. One source said that French Polynesia had stopped issuing tourist visas, and I can't find anything official to the contrary, yet obviously you were able to get in. I'm thinking of going there next year, and I know a lot can change in six months, but it is really frustrating not to know for sure. I never had that problem before the pandemic.
 
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