French Polynesia is an overseas collectivity consisting of a group of islands located in the South Pacific Ocean. Semi-autonomous from Frances, it has an area about the same as that of central Europe and consists of 118 picturesque islands and atolls grouped into five archipelagos, each with very unique characteristics.
My trip last September led me to Mo’orea (in case you don’t speak Tahitian or forgot the word, this means “yellow lizard”) and the Tuamotu archipelago which provided some fantastic underwater activities, along with stunning topside views! The natural beauty is just overwhelming at times.
During the season, Mo’orea and Tahiti are the home to humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), which can be found anywhere around the islands. I was pleased to see the level of respect the operators show towards the animals.
The diving in the Tuamotu archipelago takes place mainly in and around the “passes,” the channels through which water flows into and out of the lagoons in the centers of the atolls. Here, large animals can frequently be observed, including, but certainly not limited to, bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), grey reef (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), silvertip (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) , great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) sharks, along with oceanic and reef mantas (Mobula birostris and M. alfredi) and eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari).
The reefs are dominated by hard corals, which appear to be very healthy perhaps due to the powerful currents. While diving in this fast moving water is a huge thrill, it’s not exactly conducive to producing quality imagery. Thankfully, other passes offer phenomenal diving with very mild currents.
One of the main draws of French Polynesia is night diving with hunting sharks (mainly grey reef), made famous by Laurent Ballesta’s documentaries, or more recently, by this year’s overall winning image in the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition. There are hundreds of sharks, and the action can be very fast-paced. Nature at its finest!