It is recognized as the largest atoll in the southern hemisphere and is home to the second largest lagoon on the planet. It is made up of just over 400 individual motu, small islands, and mere sandbars forming a slipper shaped rim around a turquoise lagoon so large it has it’s very own sunset.
The population of just under 2,500 people live almost exclusively on the two large islands at the north end of the lagoon near the Tiputa pass. The lagoon’s crystal clear water is only around 100’ at its deepest and is home to several different breeds of sharks, including Black tip reef, white tip reef, hammerhead, and the odd tiger shark as well as many rays, manta, turtles, jacks, hump head wrasse, or as some people know them Napoleon fish and so many breeds of smaller fish I could go on forever.
It is a pretty remote location but has its own airport and regular Air Tahiti flights bring adventure seekers several times a week.
Tourists are welcomed in hotels such as Kia Ora Village, the Novatell and also by many Pensions (bed and Breakfasts) located in the main town centers of Tiputa, Ohutu, Avatoru, Taeo'o, Fenuaroa, Otepipi and Tevaro.
There are several notable dive sites in Rangiroa and the site I am choosing to write about today is considered to be one of the top ten dive sites in the world.
The Tiputa pass is a channel of water that circulates the water in this lake sized lagoon. Currents in the pass can reach as much at 5 knots if the tide is at its peak. It is considered to be an advanced level dive for this reason alone. How we usually shoot the pass is leaving the lagoon go to the right hand side near the old Spanish church to exit the pass.
You can get some pretty serious waves and as I said the current is pretty harsh but if you hug the shoreline on the right hand side you can pick up a back eddy and it is a pretty smooth ride. Follow the shoreline out and around the corral reef still keeping to the right. Head down the outside of the reef until you are even with the remains of a large burned out building with the tallest palm tree on the atoll. This is maybe ¼ mile from the pass itself. Come in close enough to the reef that you can see the bottom is only about 40 feet below you.
The reef drops off pretty quick and depths get over 2000 feet pretty close to the reef itself so get in close enough so you don’t miss the wall. There are no buoys marking the drop point and we used this spot because it gave us maximum bottom time on the reef before you shoot the pass.
I would usually drop in negatively buoyant and get everyone together on the bottom. There can be strong surface currents and waves but you will be fine when you get below the surface. This is usually the hardest part of the dive. If you miss the wall don’t abort. You can still enjoy the dive in open water at a depth of about 60-70 feet. Dolphins frequent that area and it a great place to see dozens of sharks and giant Manta rays as well. Don’t worry you can not miss the pass if you tried.
If all goes well and you are on the wall it is a great drift dive at 50-60 feet. The coral here is relatively untouched by the crown of thorns and in very good shape. Turtles feed in the area and you will often see large schools of barracuda some as much as 65lbs or more. Big napoleon fish are usually present and this is where I saw my very first hammerhead, some marlin, and I even had a few dolphin encounters right along this wall. Remember not to just focus on the reef, look around you, look out to the sea and also look down as the wall drops deeper. This is where you will very often see giant manta shadowing you as you drift along.
It’s tempting to go a little deeper to see what is out there but this dive is so incredible that you really want to conserve air to get every last minute of bottom time you can. So essentially just let the current guide you.
You will see the wall level out and at the same time you will feel yourself getting pulled into the pass. Keep looking all around you, mantas, dolphins, sharks, I have heard you can sometimes see whales though I never saw any here myself, and schools fish numbering into the thousands. Triggerfish you name it and its here on this dive.
Keep watching your air and try to keep to your left as much as possible. You don’t want to have to surface in the middle of the pass. Large waves can be present and there is a lot of boat traffic above you so stay to the left as much as you can. I always brought a lift bag or sausage along with me and when I got to about 900 psi I would send it up so that the boat can find us easily. Some people use a flag for the entire dive but I like to keep my hands free as much as possible. Bare in mind you will have a local guide and he will worry about that.
Right about this point in the dive you will notice the current dissipates and if you timed it well you should be looking to do a safety stop anyway. Keep drifting on your safety stop and when you surface at 500 PSI (or more) your boat should be close by to pick you up.
Like I said this dive is on the list of top dives worldwide and if you get the chance do it. Timing is key here you need the tides working with you. I have done this dive at least 25 times and not always at the right time. It is still a great dive but if the tide is going out you will never make it through the pass and you can get caught up in currents that can take you out to sea.
It is an advanced dive but there are a few excellent dive shops on the island and they know this dive well and will take great care of you. I have seen divers with nothing more than the 4 open water dives they did during training do this dive. I would have to say that this dive is everything they say it is and more.