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Trip Report: 2 weeks in FP (Bora Bora/Rangiroa/Fakarava/Moorea)

Discussion in 'The Pacific Islands' started by jjmochi, Nov 2, 2019.

  1. jjmochi

    jjmochi Contributor

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Hong Kong
    What an amazing trip, we visited 4 islands over the course of 2 weeks, did everything by land, and felt this was more-or-less the right pace for an exploratory trip. Thanks to all on this forum who chimed in with suggestions in my prior threads.

    After much deliberation (cuz you know, FP is so expensive and you never have enough time to do everything), we did:
    -2 days in Bora Bora, did a sharks and stingrays lagoon tour with Lagoon Services instead of diving, 100% recommend
    -3 days in Rangiroa, did 3 days of diving with Y aka Plongee, for 6 dives total
    -3 days in Fakarava North, 3 days of diving with O2 Fakarava, for 6 dives total
    -3 days in Fakarava South, 2 days of diving with Tetamanu, for 5 dives total
    -2 days in Moorea, did a private humpback whale watching tour with Moorea Ocean Adventures instead of diving, 200% recommend.

    There were definitive highlights that defined each place for us:
    -Bora Bora: stingrays and lemon sharks
    Bora Bora - Oct 2019
    -Rangiroa: dolphins (everyday)
    Rangiroa - Oct 2019
    -Fakarava North: mantas (everyday)
    Fakarava North - Oct 2019
    -Fakarava South: the true wall of sharks (every single dive!)
    Fakarava South - Oct 2019
    -Moorea: humpback whales
    Moorea - Oct 2019
    And of course you will see tons of black tips, white tips, grey reef sharks, and nurse sharks everywhere.
    Water temperature was between 26-28 Celsius. We are skinny wimps and felt cold in a 3mm full+2.5mm shorty, would suggest a 5mm.

    It was a long journey getting there, we flew HK to Sydney (via Cathay) to Auckland to Tahiti (via Air New Zealand). Note if you transit through Australia or New Zealand you need a transit visa for both countries. From HK you could also fly direct to Auckland but we booked Sydney-Tahiti leg on points - it’s only 12.5k Krisflyer points one-way which is a bargain. HK to Tahiti booked on one ticket is ~$2000-3000 so this way we only paid $600 for HK-Sydney roundtrip and 50k in Singapore Airlines points. The downside is you cannot check your baggage all the way through and have to take it out / go through customs / recheck it in Sydney. We had a short (2 hour) connection so decided to forgo taking our dive gear and just took carryon luggage so we can stay airside at Sydney.

    We left at 9.30pm on a Friday and arrived at midnight on the same day due to the Tahiti being 18 hours behind. Spent the first night at Tahiti Airport Motel which is a short <5min drive from the airport, got some rest, and off we were on a 6.45am flight to Bora Bora the next morning. We bought the Air Tahiti Bora Bora-Tuomotu pass which was quite worth it as it was only slightly more than Tahiti-Bora Bora roundtrip. You cannot backtrack though hence why we did Bora Bora first (there is a direct Bora Bora->Rangiroa flight, but not in the other way, you have to layover in Tahiti which counts as the end of your air pass). No security at the domestic airports, so you just need to be there ~30 min before.

    Bora Bora

    So actually our decision to go to French Polynesia was solely driven by Bora Bora in the beginning. It was always going to be either Bora Bora or Maldives for our honeymoon and we did the whole over the water bungalow thing which was quite nice to experience once but not something I would pay for again. We were at the Intercontinental Le Moana which is located right by Matira Beach.

    The hotel is very nice and but the water beneath the bungalows is not very deep and snorkeling was kind of meh. As it’s right by Matira Beach there is a convenience store nearby and also Snack Matira which is a 10 min walk has the best (and cheap) local food (their poisson cru is the best). The OWBs are usually >$1000/night but we learned of a hint through tripadvisor which cut the cost to about half. You can buy the Intercontinental Ambassador membership for $200, then use the free weekend night certificate which lets you get your second night free if you stay at least 2 nights between Fri-Sun. You also get a guaranteed 1 category room upgrade which means you can book their cheapest room (beach bungalow) for 2 nights, and get a guaranteed upgrade to an over the water bungalow with the second night free. You can also skip their super expensive boat shuttle ($75pp one-way), take the free public ferry to Vaitape, and take a $20 taxi to the resort.

    We debated doing a 2 tank dive but ultimately decided against it as I wasn’t sure how tired we would be the first day and the one thing we definitely wanted to do was the sharks/stingray lagoon tour. No regrets here as we ended up seeing all of what we would have seen here (lemon shark, mantas) at the other islands. The lagoon tour is amazing, you are taken to 3 spots in a traditional Polynesian canoe. First is a stingrays spot, they do feed them so tons of stingrays started circling the boat right as we arrived. The guide will hold them and feed them, but they will come up to everyone looking for food and we got some fantastic shots. Second is a spot by the outside reef where you can see tons of black tips and also a few lemon sharks. Again they feed them and they come super close in large groups. The black tips are quite small, maybe 1-1.5m only, but the lemons were quite big and this was our first time seeing them. We also saw a humpback whale, mother and calf, on the surface breaching but we didn’t get close. Last stop was a coral garden, nothing too special, but it made for some good photos as tons of butterfly fish and other reef fish would swarm us for the food.

    The other thing we did was a self drive boat rental, which was a bit disappointing. The idea was you could take your time circling the lagoon, stop whenever you want, etc. In reality the boat was too slow (6hp as we didn't have a boat license) and the lagoon scenery doesn’t really change much. We did this the first day as we arrived at 9am and check in wasn’t available until 3pm.
  2. jjmochi

    jjmochi Contributor

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Hong Kong

    Rangiroa was honestly a bit disappointing for us and one we will probably leave off the itinerary next time. It wasn’t that the diving was bad per say, it was just Fakarava was so much better. If we do go back we will spend 100% of our time diving on the outside of the reef with the dolphins, and not waste our time diving the pass.

    We stayed in a beach bungalow in Kia Ora for 3 nights and it was a definitive step down from Bora Bora despite costing almost the same. We were also in the furthest bungalow from the main area, which was an annoyance initially but worked out quite well as we can just cross over the fence on our right and walk directly (5 min) to the Y aka Plongee pier. Top Dive is in between Kia Ora and Y aka Plongee but we wanted a smaller dive op so went with Y aka. The shop was top notch, groups of no more than 5 and very experienced dive masters (we dove with Collard and Eva). Equipment was in great condition, all scuba pro, and they had a wide range of sizes including my XXS bcd and kid-size regulator mouthpiece. 15L tanks with 210-230 bar. They dive in an inflatable raft so you put your fins on and your tank in between your legs, not very comfortable but boat rides are 5 min max. We saw dolphins on the surface every single dive. You come back to the shop in between dives. Y aka has 4 dives a day at 8am/10am/2pm/4pm.

    We arrived in Rangiroa around 12.30pm and it was a short 10 min ride to Kia Ora. We booked a 2pm and 4pm for the first day on the outer reefs. Most of the time was spent in the blue looking for dolphins and it did not disappoint! I’m still amazed at how close they got, one came right up to my husband to play and he almost touched it. Others in our dive group did touch them - it seems you have to roll on your back and do funky things to pique their interest and they will swim over. You can hear them all around you and while I normally don’t advocate for touching marine life no one chased them, the dolphins come to the divers to play, and it was better than any other dolphin encounter we did previously (we did one at Anthony Keys in Roatan). The 4pm and 8am dive is supposed to be the best time to see them but we saw them on every dive actually as you always start outside the pass. Other than the dolphins we did not find the reefs that interesting, everything was kind of the same color, no colourful soft corals like you would find in SE Asia, and while it was definitely fishy it wasn’t as fishy as other places we’ve been like Sipadan.

    The next 2 days we did the 8am and 10am dives which were supposed to be drift dives through the pass. However this is dependent on the tides and both of our 8am dives were spent in the blue/on the outer reef because the current wasn’t incoming yet. This turned out better as we spent more time with the dolphins. The 10am dive is almost definitively going to be a pass dive. It was probably the most disappointing part of our trip. There wasn’t that much to see, you do see tons of sharks at the bottom, but they are maybe at 40-50m and we only went down to 30m. So to us it was more like a carpet of sharks, still pretty awesome the first time you see it, but it’s just not the same as the wall of sharks you get to see up close in Fakarava. The current was quite strong, not sure how many knots but we certainly “flew like superman” which was quite fun. But again while we flew through the pass there wasn’t that much to see, the occasional shark or napoleon and the usual reef fish. We were supposed to go to the Canyons which are these WWII like dug out trenches at the bottom, but our group missed the divemaster’s queue and got swept away so maybe we would have seen more if we actually went to the canyons. The current was quite strong, I couldn’t swim back across to the canyons, so the divemaster and the group just drifted maybe 10m apart. We were supposed to end up at a white-sand beach which was supposed to be quite fishy but drifted too far away. I bought my dslr with a go pro and dual strobes mounted on top which was a bad bad idea. It was so much heavier to swim with against the current, and I ended up scratching my dome port pretty badly. Next time I would only bring a compact or a go pro for the pass dives and leave the dslr for the reef dives instead.

    The second time we dove the pass the current was much milder, as we drifted closer to the reefs and ended up at a spot they called the Aquarium. Much more enjoyable and we saw mostly the same things. The Aquarium was quite fishy and a bit more colourful, but still mostly hard corals.

    This board did recommend we get Rescue diver to be able to go down to 40m, which I think would have improved our enjoyment of Rangiroa, but we didn’t have time and you can get the exact same experience in Fakarava at 30m with more sharks and less current so other than the dolphins which are unbeatable I think Fakarava trumped Rangiroa in every other aspect.

    Kia Ora was also a bit disappointing, the food was quite good (although my husband did get food poisoning once from grilled emperor fish, which he said was quite good so strange) and it’s a very picturesque resort. But service is very very slow, and everything is quite expensive at Bora Bora prices without Bora Bora standards. Our hot tub for example would only turn on at defined times and when we wanted it on at night we had to call for maintainence and then it auto-turned off again before heating up fully. Room service is also non-existent, you have to go into the restaurant yourself to order. Definitely bring lots and lots of mosquito repellent. Next time we would try a pension.
  3. jjmochi

    jjmochi Contributor

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Hong Kong
    Fakarava North

    We stayed at Havaiki in a beach bungalow and overall quite liked the resort. It is more basic but still had all of the comforts that we look for (cleanliness, good food, hot water with good pressure). Mandatory half-board and the food is quite good, they do desserts really well. We got lunch at the Snack Requiem onsite, and saw a few of our dive buddies who were staying at other resorts eating there so must be one of the better places on the island. Everything was quite good (esp the raw fish options) but they do run out sometimes. They have free kayaks and free bikes for you to explore the island, although we saw most of it on the drive from the airport/to Tetamanu.

    We dove with O2 Fakarava which was only 800m away and we were picked up/dropped off every day. We chose O2 because they were number 1 on tripadvisor and quite a bit cheaper than Dive Spirit which was the consensus recommendation on scubaboard. We have nothing but good things to say about O2, we dove with a different divemaster every day and all were superb and very experienced at reading the tides/currents. Equipment was less new than y aka in Rangiroa (especially the wetsuits, we wore relatively new 3mm full wetsuits in Rangiroa and much older 3mm full + 2.5mm shortys at O2, and were still a bit colder with O2 wetsuits). They do have a good range of equipment including my XXS bcd and kid-size regulator mouthpiece. Again we usually only had 4-5 to a group. There is a resident nurse shark that swims by the pier like clockwork every time we get back. The only grip I had was being placed with open water divers on one of the days as they placed the non-french people together, normally I wouldn’t mind but this was the day I opted for nitrox so I can stay down at 30m to take pictures. We were told we can’t dive the same site as the day before - well they should have told me that before I paid for the nitrox because who needs nitrox at 18m!

    The first day we dove a site called the Drop Off and the moment we back roll in a giant manta glides past right under the boat. Then we descent to 30m and I see my first real “wall of sharks” - so many and so much closer than Rangiroa. Mostly gray reef sharks but also some black tips and white tips mixed in. They always dive at slack tide so there is almost no current. I was super impressed because we arrived at the site and they said the tide wasn’t right, so we waited ~10min and sure enough once we dropped in the water was crystal clear and super calm. We stay here for a while then drift gently (compared to Rangiroa drift) to the famous Alibaba. Oh my god it was fishy, on par with Sipadan which is my gold standard for fishiness. Giant schools of fish everywhere, and a good number of sharks as well. Sadly I was too excited and ran out of air so was buddy breathing off the divemaster and couldn’t take too many pictures, but it was easily one of the best dives of the trip.

    The second dive of the day they gave us two options, as the current was quite strong. They always do two tank dives (b/c it’s a 20min ride out) so surface intervals are always spent on the boat. We saw tons of dolphins (smaller ones than Rangiroa, they don’t come close, we heard them but didn’t see them underwater) and also a few humpback whales during the SI. They will serve hot tea and delicious pasteries during the surface interval and give you fresh towels. They offered up an adrenaline option for an intense drift dive to go back to Alibaba, or a relaxed option for a less intense drift into Ohotu. Being a bit scarred from my “advanced” drift into Canyons in Rangiroa I opted for the relaxed option, which still had a fair bit of current but was nothing compared to the Rangiroa drift. Ohotu which we ended up diving a couple more times was also quite fishy, but not as fishy as Ailbaba. Sadly for the next 2 days the conditions wasn’t right to go to Alibaba, if I had known I would have opted for the adrenaline option.

    The next two days we dove the north pass and Ohotu again, they don’t seem to have more specific names for the sites other than “north pass”. We had the best manta encounter on the last day, 2 mantas came so close the divemaster had to pull me back as I didn’t see the second one coming. Currents were quite strong again, I was actually starting to get quite comfortable in current at that point, but still burned through air quite fast when trying to hold position. Need to be in better shape or ditch the camera. Next time we go I’ll bring my smaller TG5 and leave my strobes at home, or I’ll invest in free diving fins which most of the guides were using. On one dive I went down from 1000 to 500psi in <5min! Maybe from mix of excitement and trying to fight the current - important lesson in staying sticking close to your guide, this was on the dive with the 2 open water divers and she said I could go down a bit deeper, but apparently the current was much less where she was in the blue than where I was close to the reefs. The other group was holding on to the reef so I should have either followed their example or been with my guide up at 18m.

    Overall we really enjoyed Fakarava North, it is definitely much less developed but in that way feels much more authentic. We will likely come back for a minimum of 5 days next time as over 3 days we only made it to Alibaba once. Overall fishiness >>> Rangiroa and mantas everyday were an unexpected surprise. That said the wall of sharks experience is definitely much better in Fakarava South.
  4. jjmochi

    jjmochi Contributor

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Hong Kong
    Fakarava South

    This was the part of our trip I was most apprehensive about, and the part that we ultimately ended up enjoying most/feeling was the most special. I asked my husband if he could come back to just one which would he pick and this was the one. You have two choices in Fakarava South, either Tetamanu Village right on the pass or Raimiti about a 20 min boat ride away. You can also dive the south from the north but it is a long 1.5-2 hour boat ride each way, you need to have good conditions, and so for us the only choice was Tetamanu right on the pass.

    Tetamanu is a very basic pension, you have a few bungalows on the pass (called the village) and a few on a nearby island about 15min walk away (called Tetamanu Sauvage). I would highly highly suggest getting one in the village, because it’s so much more convenient and you can see so much more (giant schools of fish, black tips sharks, napoleons, right from your balcony). We were booked into Sauvage b/c Village was sold out but lucked out and were put in Village on arrival. There is no internet (you can buy 500mb but it’s super slow and also quite expensive), no AC, and no hot water. We did not need AC in Oct but the water left something to be desired. It was a bit brackish and actually the water pipe broke on day 2 so we were left without running water at all for a few hours. The showerhead is basically just a pipe and water is quite cold if it isn’t sunny.

    It’s mandatory full board and the food is very very good, but you have to be on time. There will always be something to eat but certain things run out fast so you should be there 15 min before meal time. If you do the night dive you will have to eat the leftovers. It will depend on who else is there too - we had a large German group that got seconds before some people got firsts. Everyone eats around one table family style and there is always hot tea/coffee available to warm up after a dive.

    They offer 3 dives a day, 1 in the morning/afternoon/night. Morning/afternoon dive are drift dives via incoming pass and not capped. Night dive is quite special and capped at 7 divers so you have to sign up fast. The equipment is quite old, they have both 15L and 12L tanks but that’s kind of where the options end. Only men wetsuits, no womens. Only XS bcds and no XXS. Only one size regulators. My bcd inflator valve leaked the whole time. You set everything up yourself, no help at all from the staff (everywhere else is full service diving). Only 1 rinse tank for everything, no separate camera rinse tank. They don’t even rinse the gear, they tell you to set up your tank for the next day right after the last dive of the day. This was only place where I regretted not having my own gear.

    Groups are 8 divers max but it doesn’t really matter as all 3 groups drop into the water at the same time, so you have close to 30 divers in the water at one time and people just drift as one giant group. It’s not uncommon for people to lose their dive guide and end up with another group. No particular emphasis on safety, at least for our guide, he just acted as any other tourist and took pictures most of the time rather than look out for his group. For the night dive he actually went up on the boat first while the rest of us were still in the water, we got lost for a while before realising we were following the wrong group. So you have to be fully self-sufficient / not need any help to be able to dive here.

    If you can get past all of the above this is the best place to dive in French Polynesia period. I took more photos here than all the other places combined. Wall of sharks as far as you can see, often multiple walls per dive, sharks packed so much closer together and current is much less so you can actually take decent photos. As fishy as Fakarava North, but maybe slightly less variety. Hundreds and hundreds of sharks, it’s really hard to describe just look at the pictures. On the night dive they come so close you can pet them, and they will bump into you. You can actually see them hunting which is quite cool. Due to the cap of 7 divers you may only be able to do this once.

    The boat ride wasn’t that bad, 1.5 hours going there, very bumpy, and 1 hour coming back, very smooth (in the morning). The boat is much bigger than the dive inflatables you would take from the north. They offer a free pink sands tour every morning, it’s just 10 min away, and very beautiful and remote. They also offer free fishing in the afternoon, you don’t have to miss a dive to do it, and they feed the heads/bits to the sharks right in the lagoon which is quite fun to see.

    While this was the least comfortable part of our trip it was also the most special and we would definitively be back, which says something about the quality of diving/food/overall experience here.


    Moorea we added just for the humpback whales, and we took the ferry to get here as our air pass ended at Fakarava to Tahiti.

    We went with Moorea Ocean Adventures for a custom private tour and our focus was the whales. Matthieu was our guide and he is a marine biologist and truly knows the behaviour of the whales. He found us I think 6 or 7 whales in one afternoon, and we got to swim with 4 of them (would have been 5 but my snorkel had a malfunction on one). You do have to swim quite fast to get there, I couldn’t keep up due to my giant camera and the guide effortlessly pulled me along with his free diving fins. There were at least 3 or 4 other boats that just followed our boat around (they called them remora boats) and didn’t find much after we ditched them. It was really a very unique experience and you can only snorkel with them I believe, can’t follow them or dive with them. We saw two breach very close and the males all sing differently. Unfortunately the water wasn’t super clear so I only got a few good pictures, but they will also pull together a custom video for you which is quite nice.

    We did a 4x4 island tour on our last day before boarding the ferry back to Tahiti and it was quite nice, but nothing too special. Overall we felt Bora Bora was prettier and didn’t like Moorea as much, but Moorea is also much cheaper/easier to get to. Interestingly enough it seems the divers all have a similar itinerary, we saw a bunch of the same people at Rangiroa/Fakarava N/Fakarava S/Moorea.

    Overall Fakarava (both N and S) are a definite must return for us, Bora Bora most likely, Rangiroa maybe, and Moorea probably not unless it’s whale season.
    chillyinCanada and bcaderunr like this.
  5. peeweediver

    peeweediver Contributor

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Chicago area
    What an amazing report and pics. Thanks.

  6. Madacub

    Madacub Contributor

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Thank you very much for the time and effort to write this very very good report. One question, how did the currents you experienced compare to Sipadan? Or maybe other places you may have been to?
  7. jjmochi

    jjmochi Contributor

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Hong Kong
    The current was definitely stronger than Sipadan, especially in Rangiroa. I would say the worst current I experienced at Sipadan was probably on par with a middle-of-the-road dive at Fakarava South. Current at Rangiroa >> Fakarava North >> Fakarava South.

    That one dive at Canyons in Rangiroa was the highest current dive I've done so far, closest would probably be Nusa Penida. In both cases I tried and could not swim against/through the current. But I dived Penida as a fresh open water diver so part of the struggled was because I was new/unfit/had bad rental fins, whereas I came prepared for Rangiroa (spin classes for a year, 90 dives in, jet fins) and still struggled.

    That said there are low current options even in Rangiroa, our second drift through the exact same pass was much milder, you just have to be upfront about what you want.
    Madacub likes this.
  8. Madacub

    Madacub Contributor

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Thanks again. It´s a pleasure to read your comprehensive and thoughtful reports.
  9. Cali_diver

    Cali_diver ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: California
    Great report... we favored Fakarava over Rangi as well!!!!

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