Last updated on March 9th, 2022
Like giant pearl necklaces floating in the blue ocean, the massive atolls of Rangiroa and Fakarava are like nothing you’ve seen before. The main attraction here is the scuba diving, some of the best in the entire world. But there’s plenty more to these atolls than just underwater adventures. I spent almost two weeks exploring the largest atolls in French Polynesia while backpacking across the South Pacific Islands and have since returned to the archipelago on two additional visits. Here’s my personal list of the top things to do in Rangiroa and Fakarava.
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Happen to be in Fakarava over the weekend? Swap the sounds of the crashing waves for the sound of church bells, and head to Rotoava’s beautiful Catholic church. If you can’t find your way, just follow the locals – dressed in their Sunday finest. On the outside, the whitewashed church literally smells like heaven – with a huge gardenia tree blooming outside, while inside, the corals and shells from the nearby lagoon are used in decoration. You might not understand a word the preacher is saying, but you’ll definitely remember the beautiful a capella melodies and the grand finale when everyone holds hands in one final prayer before kissing each other on the cheek.
While the atolls themselves are enormously huge, you’ll be staying on one of the larger motu that together with hundreds of others, ‘join’ to form the magical atoll ring. The best way to explore is by bicycle. In Rangiroa, cycle from ‘pass to pass’, starting in Tiputa and finishing off in Avatoru. En route, stop for some snorkeling, a free pearl farm tour at Gauguin’s Pearl, and visit the ‘biggest’ village in the archipelago – Avatoru. In Fakarava, there’s lots more space for everybody, and you can cycle the entire day without seeing more than a couple of cars. North of Rotoava is PK9 beach (wait for number 3), while south of the village, there’s nothing but endless coconut plantations and wild beaches pounded by the ocean waves.
Separating Avatoru village and the coral vineyards that grow on the opposing motu, the Avatoru Pass in Rangiroa doesn’t get as many divers as its big sister down the road, but it’s where the mighty silvertip sharks like to grab breakfast every day. Hang on to some coral when the current is pulling you out into the blue and keep your eyes peeled for the predator!
Both Rangiroa and Fakarava have their versions of the ‘blue lagoon’, but the one in Rangiroa is meant to be out of this world. What’s not to like about it? A full-day tour to dreamy uninhabited islands, soft white sand beaches, and crystal clear waters. Oh, how about a picnic lunch on one of these small islands that wouldn’t disappoint the royal family!
Only four families live in the remote Tetamanu Village in Fakarava. Well over an hour away from Rotoava by boat, the village would probably have long been deserted if it wasn’t right by the legendary Tumakohua Pass – better known as the south pass. Divers who know a thing or two make it their life’s mission to see with their own eyes the walls of sharks that patrol its waters. The village runs on solar and wind power, and you can forget about wifi. With the oldest church in the archipelago, this used to be the atoll’s main village, believe it or not. While there are still enough worshipers to keep the church going since its construction in 1874, there aren’t enough students around to keep the school running, and not enough prisoners to keep the jail in operation… nature has taken over both!
As with the ‘blue lagoon’, there are quite a few beaches in Fakarava that have pink sand. But none are as beautiful (or famous) as the one not too far away from Tetamanu Village. Also known as Les Sables Roses, the only way to get here is on a long voyage by boat, but at least the good news is that you’ll probably be the only ones here. The color of the sand? Orange on a cloudy day and radiating pink when the sun is shining. In either case, is this place dreamy or what?
If you usually walk around with your camera all the time, add a mask and snorkel to the list in the Tuamotus. Pick a spot, on the side of the road, just off your lagoonside bungalow or… you get the point – and enjoy phenomenal snorkeling. Sharks are everywhere, the coral is healthy and visibility usually soooo much better than anywhere else. Consider yourself spoiled.
If dictionaries are still around and they have an entry for ‘dream beach’, it’ll probably include a picture of PK9 Beach in Fakarava. Just a nine-kilometer cycle north of Rotoava, you’ll probably have this dream beach all to yourself. The sand? Super white and so soft. The water? Crystal clear and comfortably warm. What to bring? A good book, lots of water and your snorkeling gear, dah!
Hardcore divers from the far reaches of the globe converge on this narrow and deep lagoon pass in Rangiroa. Why? The drift dives are thrilling and there’s a good chance of seeing ‘big surprises’. What do I mean by that? How about manta rays (in season), families of dolphins playing away and rare sharks like hammerhead and tiger a definite possibility. The more you dive, the more surprises you’ll see but for me, the best one was being escorted back into the safe comforts of the lagoon by adolescent dolphins riding the waves beneath our tiny zodiac.
Have a look at all the scuba diving highlights from Rangiroa
Though not as famous as the diving in Rangiroa, give it a few more years until the Garuae Pass, better known as the ‘north pass’, takes over as the best place in French Polynesia for scuba diving. A designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, every single dive will be engraved deep in your memory forever. Why? Picture this: you’re cruising along a coral garden, with incredibly healthy coral in all shapes, colors and sizes. All around you and in the deep blue, hundreds of sharks patrol the water in search of tonight’s meal. You spot a massive school of goatfish swimming in a perfect pattern and decide to have a look inside, as they simply adjust to this new annoyance. As you reach the end of the coral garden, you begin to ride the current and drift back into the lagoon-like Superman. On the way, you visit magical places like the Alibaba Canyon and the Nurse Shark Cave, where a ton of surprises await you. My best advice? Get here before the secret is out!
Check out the wonders of scuba diving in Fakarava
There you have it! The top things to do in Rangiroa and Fakarava. There’s plenty more to see and do in Rangiroa and Fakarava. If you plan on visiting these two atolls, be sure to read these travel guides.
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