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July 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 32, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Top Dive, French Polynesia: Part I

exciting diving for the experienced

from the July, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver:

The Zodiac motored slowly through the big swells of Rangiroa atoll's Tiputa Pass. When we reached the ocean, I back-rolled into the blue and followed the guide as he quickly descended to 130 feet, the deepest I had ever been. The visibility was stunning. I followed the guide toward the pass entrance, where row upon row of gray reef sharks rose from the ocean floor almost to the surface, seemingly perfectly spaced and in every row swimming in a separate direction: a wallpaper of sharks. The gentle current quickly increased until we were sucked through the channel, past bigeye jacks, barracuda, tuna, humphead wrasses and endless colorful reef fish. When we sought refuge in a cavern, I locked eyes with a great hammerhead shark passing just a few feet away. When the current finally relented, I was left gasping, breathing from my guide's octopus, my tank's supply nearly exhausted. This was 15 years ago on my first trip to Rangiroa. Would I feel the same excitement this trip?

Top Dive's Jetty, RangiroaFrom Los Angeles, it takes eight-anda- half hours to fly nonstop to Papeete, the capital, about three hours less than a flight to Fiji. After landing late at night, my partner and I made a hundred yards' steep climb to the Airport Motel; the following morning, I booked a $19 cab for one minute to carry my luggage down to the airport.

Enclosing a lagoon 50 miles long and 20 miles wide, Rangiroa is French Polynesia's largest atoll and the world's third largest. It is about an hour's flight from Papeete. When we arrived in the morning, owner Alain drove us to his Pension Bounty, between the famed Tiputa pass and Top Dive's shop. He offers four comfortable ensuite units set in a garden near a beach, each with a kitchenette, a small deck, and hot water showers. That evening, we dined with Alain on his veranda, his only guests. He served fried prawns in a lemon butter sauce followed by grilled white fish fillets with oven-roasted potatoes, followed by a caramelized pineapple tart with vanilla ice cream. The conversation turned to his love of diving and how he and his wife decided to leave France for a new life in the tropics.

Four times a day, one of Top Dive's two skiffs makes the five-minute jaunt to Tiputa Pass. Dives start in the ocean and proceed through the Pass only if tidal conditions allow. "We haven't been able to do this for several days," Yannik, the manager, told us. Because strong winds had been pushing water into the lagoon, failing to fuel an inbound current from the ocean, we could not cross the Pass and would have to complete our dive in the ocean. My disappointment, though, soon dissipated....


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