When we heard that one of our Gnational Gnomads, Dr. Cacinda Maloney of PointsandTravel, was going to French Polynesia to go scuba diving with her son, we couldn’t wait to hear her take on that subaquatic world!
Known for its over-water bungalow hotels and abundant underwater lagoons, French Polynesia is one of the best tourist destinations for those visiting the South Pacific. Many honeymooners and vacationers alike come to relax and to enjoy snorkeling in the lagoons. But, in my opinion, the best of French Polynesia lies under the sea near the coral reefs. It is here where you will find a plentiful subaquatic world that will not disappoint. And since scuba divers can access this area of the underworld, I can completely recommend scuba diving in French Polynesia. In fact, scuba diving in French Polynesia is a diver’s paradise as the coral gardens are alive and teeming with sea life and fish in all shapes and sizes.
I recently returned from a 24-Day Polynesian Crossing which included 12 port stops in 5 countries, 7 of which were in French Polynesia. I had a chance to visit Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti, Raiatea, Rangiroa, Fakarava, and Nuku Hiva. Don’t worry, I didn’t know the names of all these islands either, other than the famous ones before I went on this trip! And although I did not get a chance to dive in all of these islands (there are many, many more), I can tell you that scuba diving in French Polynesia is outstanding! The French Polynesian reefs and coral gardens are in spectacular shape in most of the areas that I dove. And I have quite a bit to compare it to, as I have scuba dived about 150 dives in the Eastern Pacific, all over the Caribbean, and in the Mediterranean.
Here I would like to discuss with you dive operators, dive operations, pricing, some of the sea life that was seen, as well as what to expect when scuba diving in the South Pacific.
Scuba Diving in French Polynesia
The main islands in French Polynesia all have dive companies, but one shop, in particular, has dive shops on multiple islands. This makes it quite a bit easier to work with them from a cruise ship point of view, as I was able to book online for multiple dive days on many French Polynesian islands. The company’s name is Top Dive. I went diving with them in Bora Bora, Rangiroa, and Fakarava. In Tahiti, I drift snorkeled two underwater plane crashes (that was amazing). And in Moorea, Top Dive was booked out, so I went with Moorea Fun Dive.
Dive Operator: Top Dive in French Polynesia
For a two-tank dive in French Polynesia with Top Dive, you can purchase 6, 10, and 12-tank packages online. I purchased the 6-tank package which was 55,000 CFP francs (XPF), this comes out to about $92 USD per dive. When I added on additional dives, they let me purchase these dives at that same price. As mentioned, these packages can be used on multiple islands through their Top Dive locations in French Polynesia. That way you fill out the form once, turn in your dive card, and you are done, as your data gets put into their system. This makes checking in at their other dive shops a breeze. Additionally, I paid with my credit card instead of CFP francs (XPF), which was nice, as when you exchange money for CFP francs (XPF), you will be literally carrying hundreds of dollars!
As a side note, the atolls Rangiroa and Fakarava only offer Nitrox scuba tanks at their Top Dive shops. Simple certification material is given to be read and can be completed at the dive shop to ensure your knowledge of nitrox diving. The only drawback is that you do not get the official Nitrox certification needed to dive elsewhere. I dove with my son, who now needs to get his Nitrox certification, as I already have mine.
Scuba Diving in Bora Bora, French Polynesia
In Bora Bora, we met our dive boat crew leader Lorentz at the dock for a pickup. He and his crew were very helpful both in the water and on the boat. Top Dive crew courteously changed out our tanks in between dives (but of course, I double checked mine and my dive buddy’s). They do the French version of diving here — so everyone dives in a group versus only a buddy. The first dive site we went to was Hitia Bay at 40ft (12m). It was milky as far as visibility goes, but overall a good dive. At this dive site, there apparently is a 50% chance of seeing manta rays, but unfortunately, we saw none.
The next dive site was Tapu at 50ft (15m) which is just outside the Bora Bora pass. This was an excellent dive with abundant Blacktip Reef Sharks and giant Lemon Sharks. The visibility was amazing the day we went. We spotted massive numbers of colorful reef fish like bannerfish, triggerfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish, remoras, and surgeonfish.
Scuba Diving in Moorea, French Polynesia
Moorea was the next island we dove. This was the only island where we didn’t book with Top Dive but instead went with Moorea Fun Dive. They did not provide transport from the pier, so we grabbed a cab to the dive shop with other cruise passengers, which was located beside the owner’s house. The price was 12,500 CFP francs (XPF) or $125 USD. I loved the scuba dive master Jack-o, a humorous British expat, who fitted me with a wetsuit, BCD, a weights belt, and fins. He was very well-versed in scuba diving and a very thoughtful dive master. Diving with him was a breeze.
The first dive site was Eden Park at 65ft (20m). It was an easy dive with no current on a beautiful coral reef. A few of the animals spotted were angelfish, black tip reef sharks, sea turtles, lemon sharks, parrotfish, triggerfish, and wrasses.
Tao Toi was the second dive site and it is not always accessible due to the weather, so we got lucky. This dive site is known as a fish nursery, as there are no sharks in this area. I was able to see a lot of colorful baby reef fish here. Tao Toi was at 52ft (16m). Animals spotted were angelfish, crabs, eels, jackfish, lionfish, Moorish idols, parrotfish, squirrelfish, triggerfish, trumpetfish, and wrasses.
Scuba Diving in Rangiroa, French Polynesia
Rangiroa is for more experienced divers. Competent Open Water Certified divers can dive here, but you need to be ready for the swells and crazy strong current. I think it is the swells that make Rangiroa almost exclusively a drift diving island. This by far was the hardest of all the dives we did in French Polynesia.
We dove Tiputa Pass twice at 65ft (20m), which is a coral reef with a massive drop-off. We saw a lot of larger reef creatures here, including a Bottlenose dolphin, a massive ball of Barracuda and a few large pufferfish. Quite a few Napoleon Wrasses were also swimming around the reef as well. The first dive here was much better than the second one.
Scuba Diving in Fakarava, French Polynesia
Our Top Dive guide met us at the dock in a truck and took us over to the dive shop. They fitted us with gear and soon enough we took off on a panga boat from their nicely-built pier. They had great equipment for use, which included weight-integrated BCDs. Our French guide Jean was very competent and helpful. We dove Ohotu that starts at 40ft (12m) and dips to around 100ft (30m) before it drops off. There is a swell as you return to the coral garden, but not bad compared to Rangiroa.
In addition to the healthy coral, the reef also serves as a fish nursery. Alongside the drop-off, our group came across multiple shark species in a feeding frenzy, a school of Heller’s Barracuda, a Crown-of-thrones Starfish feeding on coral, two octopi, an eel, and tons of triggerfish and wrasses flying through the water. This dive site was my favorite in all of French Polynesia. I would recommend Fakarava to anyone looking to explore this vast underwater ecosystem that is teeming with life.
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