French Polynesia has been everything but short of exciting experiences. While a thatch-roof over-water bungalow is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about French Polynesia, there is an even more amazing image to set your Polynesian wanderlust on fire: the underwater life! Fish from all sizes and colours swim these warm South Pacific waters, including amusing shark species and elegant Manta Rays. These encounters will probably become some of your best holiday memories. Here are my TOP 5 experiences in French Polynesia.
5. WATCHING INCREDIBLE SUNSETS AT FAKARAVA
The secluded island of Fakarava in the Tuamotu Island Group has gifted me with 3 stunning sunsets I will never forget. Not only did the round fireball turn the sky vibrantly orange but also sparkled up the turquoise water, enhancing the beauty of the lagoon. Because of its remote location, there are not many visitors and its local population is less than 1000, allowing you to enjoy the most beautiful golden hour in privacy.
4. SWIMMING WITH STING RAYS IN MO’OREA
I had seen sting rays in aquariums before but never in their natural environment. I was a bit skeptical to swim with them at first but when I saw our tour guide being “hugged” by the many playful stingrays, I jumped in the water without further hesitation. Apparently, the stingrays of Mo’orea´s lagoon have plenty of food and they are used to people bathing around them, so they do not pose a problem to swimmers. Nonetheless, one should respect their space and treat them with care at all times.
I also had the chance to swim with these beautiful fish in Bora Bora as part of a snorkelling trip. Although I absolutely loved the experience of being outnumbered by the friendly stingrays at the time, I then became upset when I found out their stings had been removed to ensure tourists´safety. I highly disapprove of this practice and hence, I recommend enjoying the more natural encounters in the island of Mo’orea (where I saw their stings with my own eyes).
3. SNORKELING WITH BLACK TIP REEF SHARKS AND LEMON SHARKS IN BORA BORA
The one thing you need to do when you visit Bora Bora is to take a snorkelling tour to the outer reef, just outside the Pass, and be dazzled at the amount of black-tip reef sharks surrounding your boat. At one point, I counted more than 15 medium size sharks circling us swimmers. Although this might sound frightening, do not worry too much as the sharks mind their own business and like to keep a safe distance from humans. The large shark number is due to the abundance of food and also, to the controversial practice of shark feeding (apparently banned in the island). Some tour guides might also use bait to attract larger schools of fish, which in turn attract more sharks.
I was so busy counting the sharks around me and observing them as close as I could, I had forgotten to look down in the water, where 2 large lemon sharks were patrolling the seabed and reef. I had come very close to these sharks a few days earlier when diving in the outer reef in the island of Mo’orea, so I was well aware of their imposing size up close. The water clarity was fantastic and the visibility was beyond 25 meters, so I could see these sharks in their natural habitat very clearly.
2. SCUBA DIVING WITH MANTA RAYS IN BORA BORA
Being able to dive with the majestic Manta Rays is definitely in any diver´s bucket list. Not only their size and shape are attractive but also their way of swimming. I was able to see this beautiful fish for the first time in Bora Bora´s lagoon water.
We were probably 15 minutes into our dive, crossing the very murky water of the 20 meter-deep sand channel and trying not to lose sight of our diving partners when a giant Manta Ray appeared out of nowhere in front of us. Startled at this much awaited encounter, we forgot about the poor visibility and followed her along for a few minutes. Soon after, we were led to large coral patch with much clearer water where another couple of large Manta Rays were navigating around. They were so beautiful and elegant! We were lucky to watch them swim and feed for about 20 minutes very near us. This was definitely one of the most memorable experiences in the island of Bora Bora.
1. SCUBA DIVING AT FAKARAVA NORTH PASS
My top experience in French Polynesia has to be the one and only Garuae Pass dive, also known as the Fakarava North Pass. This is the widest pass in Polynesia (a pass is the natural ocean water path into and out of the lagoon) with sometimes very strong currents and great biodiversity. Among scuba divers, it is well-known for being one of the world´s finest drift dives with amazing fish life and pelagic encounters. This pristine ocean site is within a UNESCO biosphere reserve where the water visibility surpasses 40 meters and the underwater life is as lively and diverse as it gets.
This amazing experience deserves a blog post on its own, so I will leave the detailed information for later. Just let me tell you now; I have never been so close to so many sharks and large schools of fish in my life. The adventure blew me away and got me dreaming of it for several days after. If I had the chance to visit French Polynesia again, I would ensure to enjoy my mermaid time in Fakarava.
MY RECOMMENDATION FOR FRENCH POLYNESIA
Four out of five of my top experiences in French Polynesia were water-related including 2 fantastic dives. I am certain a few of my other favourite moments in these islands involved scuba diving. I highly recommend diving in French Polynesia, especially in the Tuamotu Islands for the expert divers and, in Mo’orea easier sites for the beginners. However, even if you do not want to submerge beyond 5 meters with an oxygen tank on your back, you will still enjoy a trip to these South Pacific islands. Simply, grab a mask and snorkel and swim over the shallow coral gardens of the islands´lagoons. You will most definitely fall in love with the aquatic life and leave your “shark-fear” behind, if you have any at all.