Tahiti... Bora Bora... The Marqueses Islands... All of these conjure up images of pristine white beaches, famous black sand beaches, beautiful thatched hut villas on the ocean, and crystal blue waters in a tropical paradise. But what many people don't think of when they hear about French Polynesia is the mesmerizing world going on just beneath the surface. French Polynesia is made up of over 118 islands and atolls, with coral reefs encircling many of the islands. The five archipelagos that make up this incredible destination are spread out in the south central Pacific Ocean and take up an area larger than Europe. Finding the perfect dive spot is a lot like finding the perfect place to stay, you just can't go wrong with any of them. For beginner divers, there are numerous spots with calm, clear waters for your first glimpse into another world. For more seasoned divers there are dives such as the Tuamotu atolls' passes, which offer more serious drift diving.
After you select the perfect island for your diving adventure, booking travel is easy through most major airlines. There are 46 airports throughout the islands and five major airports on: Tahiti, Bora Bora, Raiatea, Huahine, and Rangiroa. There are now many nonstop flights from major cities, making travel easy. For those traveling to a smaller island, there are frequent hops or puddle jumpers available from these airports. French Polynesia has long been a travel destination for the wealthy and newly married, so there are many well developed tourist facilities available throughout the islands, and in particular on the larger islands. Crime in French Polynesia is very low, although there are those who target travelers with pick pocketing or purse/backpack snatching.
The climate throughout French Polynesia is warm, humid, and tropical year round, with summers (June through September in the southern hemisphere) as warm as 88° F. The rainy season is from November to February, which slightly decreases underwater visibility. In the late afternoons and early evenings you can often feel the trade winds as they blow a cool breeze throughout the islands. The water temperature stays a warm 82° F to a depth of 150 feet, which means only a light wetsuit or shorty is needed.
There are numerous great diving sites in French Polynesia, many of which still have the splendor of being almost untouched. The Tuamotu Archipelago is home to an incredible array of sharks and fish. The island of Rangiroa is noted for the volume of sharks they have, including Blacktip, Whitetip, and Silvertip. While these species are relatively harmless, there are hammerheads here as well in many areas, although they traditionally live outside the reefs. The atolls are famous for their adventurous riding-the-rip dives, where divers can ride the currents that pass into the lagoons. While this can be a thrill, it's necessary to note that hammerheads can also be seen here.
Manihi Island is the largest producer of cultured pearls in the world. In addition to being known for black pearls, it is also known for The Drop Off. This dive site is comprised of a wall, which falls from 10 to over 4,900 feet, appropriate for most intermediate divers. There are numerous gray sharks, wrasse, and schools of barracudas.
On Moorea, which is just several minutes from Tahiti, divers can find plenty of spots with stingrays and places to hand feed the local sharks. Taotoi is a popular site where you can also feed sharks as well as dive with moray eels. This magical island was the inspiration for "Bali Hai" in the book Tales of the South Pacific.
The island of Rangiroa is the second largest atoll in the world. The waters surrounding Rangiroa are called Peaceful Ocean and Wild Ocean. Rangiroa is about an hour's flight from Faa'a and home to some of the best diving in French Polynesia. In addition to an incredible array of fish, there are tuna, barracuda, turtles, manta rays, sharks, and even dolphins.
Regardless of the island(s) you choose to dive, you won't be disappointed with the abundance of sea life on any of the French Polynesian islands.
Even the stunning views of the Society Islands volcanic peaks can sometimes be shadowed by the splendor beneath the ocean. With excellent weather and underwater visibility around 130 feet, divers are coming more frequently to French Polynesia. With the influx of divers, there are increasingly more dive shops and liveaboards to choose from. Airports are now offering nonstop flights to Tahiti from as many as 30 cities from different parts of the world. The largest airport, Faa'a, is located in Tahiti and is where all flights first arrive. From Faa'a you can then take a hop, charter flight, or boat to your final destination. No travel visas are required in French Polynesia unless you are planning to stay more than 90 days in a six-month period. A standard passport is the only requirement.
For those diving on Bora Bora, the Bora Diving Center is a family run operation, which offers unmatched personal service that is fun and efficient with safety in mind. They are PADI certified and offer traditional dives, night dives, and a liveaboard, and they specialize in Manta Ray and shark dives. For those diving on Tahiti, Topdive is the scuba place of choice. PADI certified, they have locations on six islands throughout French Polynesia including: Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, RAngiroa, Fakarava North and South, and Tikehau. They have introductory dives through advanced, and their staff consists of highly qualified diving instructors or dive masters. Divers on Tahiti can experience diving with three of French Polynesia's species of shark.
Regardless of which facility you choose while visiting, divers should note that many of the pressure gauges used in French Polynesia use Bars instead of psi. It can seem tricky at first, but with a little practice and patience, divers will soon become accustomed to using the Bar system where 1 bar = 14.5 psi.
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