Rangiroa Island: 8 things you don’t want to miss
Do I really have to present Rangiroa Island in reality? This mythical place, lost at the end of the world, is renowned for hosting “some of the most beautiful scuba diving spots in the world”. These are the words of Commander Cousteau who spoke then of an incredible richness, an amazing marine life, a true natural aquarium. I am talking about Rangiroa Island, which is not correct, because it is actually an atoll.
I have been living in French Polynesia for 4 years now at the time of writing this article, and I have had the opportunity to discover many islands and atolls in French Polynesia on a professional and personal level. Rangiroa is one of those places that I was able to visit as an individual in early 2018 during an extended weekend. Located only an hour by plane from Tahiti Island, the journey to this enchanting place is really easy.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do and see all the points mentioned in the article, but I hope to go back there at the beginning of the year to see the hammerhead sharks (which I missed this year). Here are, in my opinion, the 8 things not to be missed if you are going to spend a few days there. At the end of the article, you will find all the information you need to know for a trip to French Polynesia on the atoll. If you want to visit another atoll, this is the Tikehau atoll.
Rangiroa Atoll: a paradise on earth in the middle of the Pacific Ocean
I always find it interesting to know a little more about the place your going to, don’t you think? Maybe it’s a professional thing (I’m a geographer/geologist by training), but it seems nice to know some information about the atoll:
- Rangiroa is located about 1 hour north of Tahiti Island,
- This coral atoll is part of the Tuamotu archipelago, composed of more than 75 atolls,
- The others archipelagos are Society Islands, Gambier, Australes and Marquesas Islands,
- The place is actually an atoll, i.e. an ancient volcano, now submerged and only the motu (sandbank) outcropping at the water’s surface,
- There are a lot of inhabited small islets around the atoll. The Polynesians use them for copra culture (coconuts) and pandanus culture,
- It would be a great idea so discover the place with a catamaran or a sailboat,
- It is the second largest atoll in the world,
- The atoll was discovered at the beginning of the 17th century,
- Today, the two main activities of this paradise island are scuba diving and pearl farming,
- Many tourists spend their honeymoon trips to discover this idyllic setting, as there’s a lot of great places to stay
More information on Rangiroa Atoll
Here is some information from a geographical and geological point of view. Like all the Polynesian islands, Rangiroa has not always been a tropical paradise of white sand and coconut palms. Geologically speaking, the island is an ancient volcano that over millions of years, under the impact of land/marine erosion and the island’s subsidence under its own weight, has now disappeared. The current boundaries of the atoll correspond approximately to what the island had as an area at the time it was still emerging. Over time, corals develop around the island (when conditions are ideal like here) and then a coral reef appears. In the long term, the atoll (like all these tropical paradises) is therefore doomed to disappear.
For information, the atoll is so impressively large that you can’t see the other side of the atoll when you’re on it. You will tell me, an atoll is not high, but it is a real inland sea that can be found between the two sides. The atoll is about 80 km long and 32 km wide. On the other hand, there are quite a few small areas on the atoll at shallow depths that allow you to discover all the underwater fauna and flora.
The unmissable on the island of Rangiroa
As promised, based on my weekend spent there and the information gathered, here are the things to do or see on the atoll, both in terms of activities in Rangiroa, as well as visits, etc.. To clarify this from the beginning, it is possible to visit the atoll all year round, even if the best season remains (as on all the Polynesian islands) the cool season or the inter-seasons (roughly from May to September).
1) A diving trip on the Rangiroa atoll
This is obviously the main reason why the majority of tourists come to the atoll. Not all of them come for a dive trip, but if you like the clear shallow waters and the underwater life, is of course a must.
If you arrive for a dive cruise, everything will be managed by your organization. If you come on your own and visit the other islands in the territory, you can book your dives yourself by calling the island’s diving clubs (there are 7 to my knowledge in 2018). I personally chose the Yaka diving center, and everything was fine.
The best time to come and dive: remember that whales are generally present from August to October and that the preferred time to see hammerhead sharks is from January to March (potentially in the rainy/cyclonic season).
On the program: a multitude of sharks (tiger sharks, grey sharks, hammerhead sharks, white tips, etc.), manta rays (which you can get very close to if you are lucky) and the classic eagle rays, dolphins, various tropical fish, etc. For those who are not diving fans (but only white sandy beaches), don’t hesitate to put on a mask and snorkel to discover the wonderful underwater world.
2) Reef Island (“Ile aux récif »)
Here is one of the excursion I didn’t have the opportunity to do during my weekend on site. It was a choice on my part having already done a lot of boat trips of this type on other islands and atolls in French Polynesia, but especially because I had actually come to dive…
What can you expect then? This is a place, south of Rangiroa Atoll (1 hour by boat), where coral reefs are out of water and can reach 2m in height. The result is apparently splendid and you can walk and swim between the channels, open plains and turquoise waters. This is clearly known as one of the beautiful sites of the atoll. As a bonus, you sunbathe all day on the boat, usually eat a good local meal and return in the late afternoon. Generally, you never come back disappointed!
3) The blue lagoon, a guaranteed change of scenery
This is the other ‘must do’ on Rangiroa, almost world famous. To imagine the postcard, it is a site made up of 5 sandbanks (motu) that surround a kind of mini sea of almost 30 hectares, all are placed on the coral reef of the atoll.
Tourists know the spot very well, but I must admit that the site is superb, if only to relax in the middle of hundreds of black tip reef sharks that guard the site (you can see the fins in the distance!). It takes an hour by boat to get there and the sea can sometimes be rough! As with Reef Island, several providers offer this excursion. Just ask the guesthouse where you’re staying; they’ll arrange it for you. This is the opportunity to meet sharks up close 🙂
4) Surfing and fishing
Among the activities to do in Rangiroa, fishing and surfing on the atoll is very nice. It’s in fact possible to surf in the Tiputa pass, famous for its dolphin parades! Some service providers organize big game fishing days for those interested!
5) Dolphin watching at Ohotu Point
Among other very nice things to do in Rangiroa, take the time, by bike for example, to go to Ohotu Point which overlooks the Tiputa Pass. Feel free to have a drink on the terrace at Maitai Rangiroa or at the Teina and Marie pension. With some luck, you will have the opportunity to observe the dolphin broom in a beautiful light. A magical show 🙂
6) Go around the main motu
Even if Rangiroa atoll is particularly famous for scuba diving, I advise you to get on a bike and go around the main motu. It’s very nice, even if it’s hot, and you have great views of the lagoon and ocean. You can also swim in superb “hoa”, the water passages between the lagoon side and the ocean. Take advantage of the beautiful day to bring back some local souvenirs sold by the roadside.
7) Swimming in turquoise waters
And yes, because spending a few days on an atoll is also enjoying the white sand and coconut trees, right? Whether you are on the lagoon or ocean side, you will always have the opportunity to swim in crystal clear water. Of course, the best spots for swimming are always on the lagoon side, as in all the atolls of the South Pacific! However, you won’t find many sandy beaches on the atoll.
One of the most beautiful sites where I had the opportunity to swim is at the tip of Avatoru, at the other end of the motu. The water has an extraordinary color and strolling there for an hour is not far from paradise!
8) Visit of the villages of Tiputa and Avatoru
There is nothing great in the villages to do or see, but during your bike ride, take the time to stroll through the streets of both villages. An atmosphere of a ghost village prevails under the crushing heat in the middle of the day.
9) Taste the local wine
And yes, if you weren’t aware yet, there are many vines on the atoll that produce wine. Isn’t it too rare even to be mentioned? This famous Tahitian wine is produced on a small motu off the Avatoru Pass. Only white and rosé wines are produced. Depending on the season, visits are possible on the Estate with tastings!
That’s it for the things to do and see on Rangiroa Atoll. If you have time to go and you are in French Polynesia, don’t hesitate to go and spend a few days there! Here is some practical advice to prepare your trip on site. Do you want to discover something else? Here is the atoll of Mataiva!
Practical advice to prepare your trip on site
How to get to Rangiroa?
The trick is to look at the best flight comparator and determine “the cheapest month”. All you have to do now is set your holiday dates for French Polynesia. The Cheapest flights to Tahiti from the USA are here, starting at 500/600$. There are 4 main companies flying here : Air Tahiti Nui, Air France, Frenchbee and United Airline. Note there is no international airport for now.
Once there, it is very easy to jump from island to island, regardless of the cost of the ticket in relation to the distance. The airfare from Tahiti to Rangiroa is around 250€ round-trip with Air Tahiti company (the only one for now!). The island is served several times a week. You can also include your trip in a multi-island Pass with other islands in the archipelago – > You want to know everything about transport in French Polynesia? In any case, during your vacation in French Polynesia, air travel will be the main expense.
How to get around Rangiroa atoll?
Even if Rangiroa is the second largest atoll in the world, you will still spend most of your time on the main motu, where the airport, shops, restaurants and all the diving shops are located. In short, walking around the motu in very hot weather is not an option, but cycling is widely possible. No need to rent a car in Rangiroa. When renting bicycles, you can very often ask your pension directly.
The rest of the time, either you will go diving, and the club will pick you up at your pension/hotel, or you will eat at the local restaurant which is a stone’s throw from where you sleep. The same applies to excursions where the service providers will pick you up.
Where to stay in Rangiroa?
Rangiroa Atoll offers a wide range of possibilities to sleep on site, from a small local boarding house, to an Airbnb, to luxury hotels. Having only been there once, I can only recommend 1000 times the small unpretentious guesthouse (as I like them): at Olga’s (Pension Turiroa). It offers bungalows, double rooms and even dormitories for small budgets. The area is magical on the edge of the lagoon, and a stone’s throw from the small local restaurants.
For lovers of comfort, luxury and bungalow, you will find amazing rooms at Maitai Rangiroa and especially the very well known Kia Ora Resort & Spa.
Alternatively, if you are there during the tourism fair (or know someone here in Tahiti), you can use “Séjour dans les îles” to book the flight + guesthouse, which is cheaper than taking them both separately. But you have to be in Tahiti to book through this.
Where to eat in Rangiroa?
To eat on an atoll, there aren’t 30 options. Either you have a large budget and you are going to eat at the restaurant of your pension or hotel. Either you be a little careful and you can cook your own dishes. At Olga, you have access to a kitchen to cook directly for yourself. This is one of the tricks to make a trip cheaper to French Polynesia. A good little raw fish on the edge in this sumptuous setting is still not bad at all….
Is Rangiroa Atoll worth it then?
That’s a fair question, isn’t it? Honestly, I only spent four days on Rangiroa atoll, but I was pleasantly surprised. At first I was afraid of finding myself in a big tourist place, especially because of diving. But in reality, the main motu is big and you don’t really see many people.
At the same time, I was there in the middle of the rainy season (theoretically) in French Polynesia. So maybe that made a difference. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed my stay, especially at the pension which is very quiet and in a splendid setting. Spending a few days on the island is a real treat and I will undoubtedly come back to dive. I don’t know if it’s better to choose Rangiroa than Fakarava for diving. I know Fakarava, but I only went there for work for two days. I didn’t have time to get into the atmosphere. Fakarava’s main motu is huge and it is impossible to visit everything by bike. Many choose “Faka” for the famous shark wall, that may be a reason to go there anyway! By the way, do you want to know more about diving in Fakarava ?
That’s it, I’m coming to the end of this article with a tropical taste. Personally, I loved the weekend spent there, between relaxing, diving and boat trips. I will definitely go back to dive (as well as to Fakarava). In my opinion, during a trip to Tahiti, a trip to the Tuamotu is mandatory, if only to feel the tranquility of the place and enjoy the lagoon. So does this article make you want to live in Rangiroa? To go play Robinson Crusoe on the spot? Would you like to discover another paradise? These are the Gambier Islands, in the archipelago of the same name!
I look forward to seeing you soon for another Polynesian discovery.