While researching French Polynesia vacations, I came upon Rangiroa. Also, called Te Kokōta, it is the largest atoll in the Tuamotus, which is a French Polynesian chain of almost eighty (80) islands and atolls forming the largest chain of atolls in the world. This archipelago, located in the South Pacific, extends over an area the size of Western Europe.
This spectacular natural aquarium is ideal for diving, snorkeling, and experiencing the wonders of the sea. Schools of neon-colored fish within these warm crystal clear waters amid gorgeous coral atolls and reefs present a most welcoming vacation experience.
A Brief Historical Perspective on Rangiroa
It is believed that this area was settled around ten (10) AD. The Dutch explorers were the first Europeans to arrive in the early seventeenth (17th) century (1615 to 1616).
Rangiroa was named “Prince of Wales“ in 1765 by the explorer John Byron. In 1839 the area was visited by the expedition of Charles Wilkes.
Fishing and the production of copra (dried kernel or meat of the coconut) were the main industries in the 1950s. Tourism took off as a result of the opening of the Rangiroa Airport in 1965. Soon thereafter several hotels and underwater diving facilities were constructed.
Some Interesting Facts About Rangiroa
- The population is around 2500 people with only two (2) islands on the northern end of the atoll that is permanently inhabited
- Diverse marine life and the lagoon’s clear blue water make this a prime destination for underwater diving
- While French is the official language and Tahitian is also spoken, English is quite prevalent especially in the tourist areas
- The currency is XPF (CFP or Central Pacific Franc) which is the official currency of four (4) French overseas collectives (Futuna, Wallis, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia). One (1) XPF equals 0.0099500 USD.
- Avatoru and Tiputa are the two main villages in the northern part of the atoll. You need to take a boat out to Tuputa, while Avatoru is on the same motu (a reef islet comprised of broken coral and sand surrounding an atoll) as the airport. Each village has a population of approximately seven hundred (700).
- The islands loop around and are surrounded by Moana-tea (Peaceful Ocean), the lagoon, and Moana-uri (Wild Ocean), and this is where you will find sharks, dolphins, whales, and manta rays
- Rangiroa is approximately two hundred and twenty (220) miles (354 kilometers) from Tahiti. Papeete is the capital city of French Polynesia and located on Tahiti. There are direct flights from Papeete to Rangiroa.
- Air Tahiti flies into Rangiroa from many of the Polynesian islands including Fakarava, Bora Bora, and Papeete with Rangiroa Airport on the main motu of Avatoru where the majority of hotels are located.
- Since there is only one main road in Avatoru that is only a few kilometers long, it is better to rent a bicycle than a car. To get over to the other motus you will need to go by boat. Another option is to rent a scooter as no driving license is needed.
- Although there are many sharks in the area and they do come close to shore, they are pretty much harmless. But as always, it is good to stay alert and get some advice from the locals.
Things to do in Rangiroa
* Scuba Diving — this is a world-class destination spot for diving as the two hundred and forty (240) islets extend through the ocean for one hundred and ten (110) miles (177 kilometers). and circle a very deep lagoon. The underwater scenery is utterly spectacular as the lagoon is configured so that powerful currents are created that allow the divers to actually surf. You can choose shallow, ocean, or drift dives. There are several exceptional dive spots in the area for both beginners and experienced divers. Both get to enjoy the multitude of colors within this natural aquarium. Manta rays, hammerhead sharks, turtles, dolphins, and multicolored butterfish are all just waiting for the divers to explore. There are several dive shops on the main motu such as Six Passengers, The Tia Ora Hotel Club, TopDrive, Rangiroa Plongee, or Raie Manta Club.
* Jet Ski while Exploring the Lagoon — jet ski over to the aquarium at Motu Nuhi Nuhi, do some snorkeling, and explore the marine flora and fauna
* Kia Ora Sauvage Resort — this is a four (4) star hotel where you have all the amenities, and you can just relax in a peaceful natural setting. You can enjoy the complete Polynesian experience. Lay in the sun or do some snorkeling in the warm waters.
* Avatoru and Tiputa — these are the main villages where you can get a good feel of the culture and meet the friendly locals. There are only a few roads to traverse that take you around the area. You will drive by craft centers, coral churches, local shops, boulangerie (French-style bakery), restaurants, wine tasting at the Dominique Auroy Estate that is located in the middle of a coconut grove [produces three (3) grape varieties], and black pearl farms for those who enjoy jewelry. A few places to eat are Vaimario that is near the airport and has some good local fare as well as pizzas, and Le Kaitai. There is no nightlife as the locals are up by 6 am and they retire early.
* The Blue Lagoon — this is a small lagoon within the large main one which is great for diving. Check out Reef Island which is an above-water fossilized coral garden. There is a tour you can take from the Kia Ora and lasts about an hour. You will see many blacktip reef sharks along the way.
* The Green Lagoon — located a few minutes by boat from Avatoru, this natural emerald cove is a great place to snorkel or just relax on the white sand beach.
* Pink Sand Beach — although the two hundred and forty (240) motus or islets each have their unique allurement and charm, Le Sable Rose is extremely beautiful with its pink sand beach. Located on the southern rim of the atoll, the white and pink sand emerges from the reef with the naturally crushed seashells giving the sand its pink tint.
* Boat Ride — check out and explore the area by boat. There are Silvertips and even hammerhead sharks in the Avatoru Pass dive site, while the Tiputa Pass is great to get sight of reef sharks and sometimes hammerheads, playful dolphins jumping out of the water swimming in the waves, tunas, many varieties of colorful fish, barracudas, manta rays, and eagle rays.
Reasons to Visit Rangiroa and French Polynesia
Beyond experiencing a simply gorgeous part of the world there is plenty to do when planning several types of French Polynesia vacations. In Rangiroa, you can snorkel above the fantastic coral gardens and experience world-class scuba diving, take in the beautiful sights, or simply relax in a very peaceful atmosphere. Experience the natural beauty of the lagoon and have a picnic on a desert motu. There are islets where wild birds nest that would captivate the interest of any nature lover.
As far as accommodations, I already mentioned the Kia Ora Sauvage Resort. The hotel’s restaurant is good and the seafood buffet is enticing. It also has a few overwater bungalows.
Actually, there are only two large hotels, the luxurious Kia Ora and the Novotel. Other than that, there are several smaller family-run pensions, like the Les Relais de Josephine.
The Novotel Lagoon Resort is located near the airport, and although not as upscale as the Kia Ora it is still a high-level resort. The Pension Bounty on Rangiroa has spectacular views and is a great place for some peace and quiet. It is close to the beaches of Ohotu Bay and is a great location for scuba divers. The property is surrounded by a coconut plantation. Tiputa Pass is close by where you can see dolphins playing around in the water.
For the budget-conscious, the Pension Loyna is one of the least expensive places to stay. It is a family-run pension, and the people are very friendly and helpful. The meals are delicious, the family knows everyone on the island, and they have free bicycle rentals. If you like to camp, there are camping facilities at the Pension Rangiroa Plange.
So for those who want a different type of vacation in a remote, but very beautiful part of the world, Rangiroa in French Polynesia may be just right for you. It is most definitely worth considering.
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