French Polynesia is an overseas collectivity of the French Republic. Situated in the middle of the South Pacific, it's composed of 118 geographically dispersed islands and atolls stretching over an expanse of more than 2,000 kilometres.
French Polynesia divided into five groups of archipelagos: In the west, the Society Islands which composed of the Windward Islands (Tahiti, Moorea...) and the Leeward Islands (Raiatea, Tahaa, Huahine, Bora-Bora, Maupiti…). Northeast of Tahiti, is the Tuamotu Archipelago. At the extreme South is the Australes Archipelago (Tubuai, Rurutu…). At the extreme east, is the Gambier Archipelago (Mangareva…). Close to the Equator, 1,500kms from Tahiti is where the Marquesas Archipelago (Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, …) located. These five archipelagos make for one wondrous dive destination.
French Polynesia is internationally known for diving, each archipelago offers opportunities for divers: diving Rangiroa’s reefs and channels you can expect to see grey reef hammerhead, black tips, silky, tiger and silver tip shark species cruising the reef, hunting on schools of snapper and fusiliers. Whilst drift diving through the 1,200m wide channel at North Fakarava Island, you can experience incredible shark action, see huge Napoleon wrasses and witness marbled groupers spawning. In French Polynesia, it's never so far to hundreds of hungry sharks gather in schools to be joined by manta rays and bottle-nosed dolphins.
Diving is year-round in French Polynesia : In Society Islands, the humpback whale season from August - late October, while from November - February here is good for hammerheads, in between, September is the best time to see mantas. In Fakarava area, June - July is the best time to see huge schools of groupers. In Tikehau area, July - December is the best time for mantas. In Manihi area, June and July is grouper mating season & June - Dec is the best time for mantas. In Nuku Hiva area: the best time to encounter the pygmy orcas is January - April, and from June - November, this area is good for hammerheads.
Liveaboard Diving Regions :
Tuamotu Archipelago located located some 300 kms north-east of Tahiti is made up of 76 islands and atolls forming the largest chain of atolls in the world. The major islands for diving are: Rangiroa Island, Apataki Island, Toau Island, Fakarava Island, Tikehau Island, Kauehi Island, Manihi island...
Marquesas Islands located close to the Equator, consists of a group of high volcanic islands. There are also a number of seamounts/shoals, located primarily in the area of the northern Marquesas. The major islands and seamounts/shoals for diving are: Nuku Hiva island, Ua Huka Island, Fatu Hiva island, Hiva Oa Island, Loson bank (Lawson Bank), Clark Bank...etc.
Typical dive sites in Tuamotu Archipelago
Rangiroa Island Dive Sites :
Dropping in at the outer edge divers can hook in to the reef wall and watch the amazing shark display. Hammerheads, tiger shark and huge schools of grey reef shark are the main draw. Drift on the incoming tide through The Canyons, where schools of big eyes hang out and mantas can be seen hanging in the cross current. End the dive at Shark Cave where white tips typically come to rest. Other common fish species are grouper and Napoleon wrasse.
On the ocean side of the pass the reef plateaus out at 20m into a magnificent coral garden. Schools of barracuda, turtles, white tip sharks, small wrasse and many colourful reef fish species can be seen. Mantas put in an occasional appearance, bottle nose dolphins too.
Deep Blue – Or simply “The Blue”
is the deep water on the ocean side of Tiputa Pass. Here we drop divers directly from the boat to descend to 20m and hang in the blue as the sharks are tempted up to the shallower depths by dropping stones. Expect to see grey reef, silky and silver tip sharks as well as bottlenose dolphins.
A shallow coral garden where angel fish, butterfly fish, anthias and all manner of small creatures can be spotted. Look out for leaf fish.
The coral reef acts as nursey for grey reef sharks in season, typically divers can see large numbers of marbled grouper and many anemones with resident clown fish.
Strong currents are to be expected but bring forth a wide range of pelagic species from reef sharks to tuna and the occasional sailfish.
Fakarava Island Dive Sites :
The northernmost channel of Fakarava Island and arguable the best site in the region for consistent shark sightings. The pass itself is 1600m wide and should only be dived at slack water due to the very strong currents. Starting at the outer wall we encounter the huge “wall of sharks” where hundreds of greys congregate. Black tip, white tip, hammerhead, tiger, silky and oceanic white tip are amongst the other species seen. Napoleon wrasse, surgeon fish and the typical schools of big eyes and yellow snapper swarm over the reefs, joined by turtles, morays and lionfish. In June and July, large numbers of grouper aggregate to spawn, a truly spectacular sight. Manta rays also visit.
The southern pass of Fakarava is just as dramatic as the north, though only 200m across, it can be dived with both incoming and outgoing tides. Big schools of grey reef sharks can be seen in the deeper water whilst along the shallower reef black tips dart about. Manta rays and leopard whiprays are also frequently seen.
A submerged plateau on the outer edge of the pass, levels out at 18m into a lovely hard coral garden. At the ‘drop off’ you can encounter shark activity, whilst over the reef paddletail snapper and barracuda form large schools. Manta rays and eagle rays come by for cleaning and a quick meal and there are plenty of smaller creatures including nudibranchs and crabs to spot amongst the corals and sponges.
The second plateau starts at 12m and drops to 30m with vibrant corals this is a superb place to watch manta rays.
This shallow site is perfect for an afternoon dive where schools of snapper, black tip reef sharks and Napoleon wrasse are common with a stunning atmosphere for photography.
Apataki Island Dive Sites :
The strong currents through the pass mean divers can literally hang like a flag in the breeze! Reef hooks are essential if you want to stay and enjoy the hundreds of grey reef sharks hunting on fusiliers. Tuna, dolphins and swordfish can also be seen. The seabed and wall is more rubble than coral reef so simply drift in the current and enjoy the large pelagics.
A more gentle drift than the Tehere Pass brings you through a pristine coral garden with table and staghorn corals. Silver tip and black tip reef sharks are seen darting in about the shallow corals, whilst numerous eagle rays are frequently sighted.[/toggle]
Toau Island Dive Sites :
The 400m wide channel is best dived on an incoming tide for the schools of grey reef sharks and silvertips.
The outer reef wall is where huge schools of snapper congregate. Reef sharks, Napoleon wrasse, barracuda, surgeon fish and big eyes join them, whilst manta ray sightings are possible too.
Tikehau Island Dive Sites :
A channel dive providing predictable encounters with grey reef and white tip reef sharks, schooling snappers in huge numbers and dolphins. Turtles and solitary barracudas are also seen.
The Shark Hole
Diving down a vertical break in the reef brings you through schooling sharks onto even bigger schools of snapper. The archway at 50m is adorned with anemones.
The Old Pearl Farm
Is THE place for watching mantas as they come to the reef for cleaning.
Kauehi Island Dive Sites :
The sloping outer wall of Kauehi Island is encrusted with huge hard coral formations and sponges. Butterfly fish, surgeon fish, banner fish and snappers all form large schools over the reef. Puffer fish, morays, tuna, barracuda, wrasse and lionfish are a common sight, whilst mantas, grey reef shark, eagle rays and the occasional hammerhead make up the larger visitors. Great for spotting leaf fish and nudibranchs.
Manihi island Dive Sites :
Drift through the shallow channel at incoming tide for a spectacular view of reef sharks, Napoleon wrasse, manta rays and eagle rays. Jacks, triggerfish, moray eels and grouper are also amongst the common visitors.
Dependent on currents this is a superb spot for consistent sightings of manta rays. Wathc as the graceful mantas come for feeding and cleaning. The visibility can drop to just 10m due to the plankton rich waters.
The Drop Off
On the Southwest of the Tairapa Pass this stunning wall drops to over 1500m . We of course don’t dive that deep! Staying at an average of 20m we encounter many white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks, large schools of tang and triggerfish and plenty of snappers.
This gentle dive with less current than at the channels, great for turtles, black tips, barracudas and groupers.
Typical dive sites in Marquesas Islands
The Hammerhead Sentinel
Named for the Scalloped Hammerheads that can be spotted here, this site offers a quandary for the photographer. Whilst there is always the chance of Hammerheads, as well as Grey Reef and other shark species, the macro life here is amazing too! Multiple dives will offer the chance to break out your lens collection to see dragon eels, boxer crabs and various Nudibranchs.
A must see for both divers and snorkelers alike, as long as there are calm seas. Though they can be seen elsewhere, this site on the east of Nuku Hiva is one of the best spots for seeing Melonheaded Whales (closely related to the pygmy killer whale). These playful and curious mammals leap in the surf and don’t take too much encouragement to investigate those in the water.
This rocky outcropping is on the western portion of Nuku Hiva. The wall drops away steeply from the island here and offers an abundance of masked morays, dragon eels and more. Manta rays are often seen here as well as the occasional shark cruising the reef.
Exposed to open sea currents, this site acts as magnet for large pelagic. Several species, in particular Hammerheads and White Tip Reef Sharks, come here along with schools of Trevally and Barracuda to hunt on the schools of Red and Black Snapper. There is also a great chance for Manta here in the currents!
Spectacular before even jumping in the water, this is a perfect place for spotting both pelagic and reef species in large active numbers. Currents can be strong here but you are rewarded with schools of Trevallies, Unicorn Fish and Barracuda. There are also often groups of Eagle Rays as well as a plethora of reef species and White Tip Reef Sharks cruising.
A large cave, with two chambers awaits here with not only groups of Stingrays and Giant Lobsters, but also interesting natural phenomena. There is a vertical tube filled with fresh water from above, as well as a large air pocket, large enough to take a break and have a quick chat before continuing.
Dulcinea is a rocky seamount that just brushes the surface in a protected bay. While the site is often covered with Snapper, Urchins, Lobesters and other Crustaceans there is a large tunnel joining the two sides of the site that should be investigated, if only for the huge groups of Soldier Fish waiting at each entrance.
The top of this large sea mount is at only 9m, thought the walls below drop away beyond 1500m so as you can imagine, this site boasts plenty of Sharks, Barracuda, Tuna and even passing Mantas. The reef is covered with healthy hard corals.
Another open sea shoal, far to the west of Clark Bank, Loson tops out at 17m before dropping away to depths of more than 1000m. Again, you can expect lots of pelagic action in the big open blue!
Fatu Hiva Island
Something a little more sedate after the high energy current and pinnacle diving, Fatu Hiva has some spectacular scenery, both above and below the water. The towering spires that encircle Hanavava Bay drop steeply into the water below leading to a rocky reef that is abundant with anemones, three-spot damsels, cowries and eels.
Ua Huka Island
Beginning with a rocky substrate, the bottom here transforms into sand in deeper water. Mantas are frequent visitors to this site and while you wait, on the sandy bottom, shrimp gobies stand guard as their blind shrimp companions diligently keep their hideaways clean.