We recently went to French Polynesia to celebrate Lisa's birthday. The first four days of the trip were spent on Rangiroa. Rangiroa is an atoll 220 miles northeast of Tahiti. The atoll is made up of roughly 415 moths, islets and sandbars with only two of these harboring a portion of Rangiroa's 2,500 permanent residents. Being one of the largest atolls in the world, the topography of Rangiroa is essentially flat which starkly contrasts it from the classic volcanic islands one envisions when French Polynesia comes to mind - Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, etc. With that being said, Rangiroa has a natural beauty and serenity that is unrivaled by anywhere else we have visited. Lisa, having travelled to nearly 100 countries, puts Rangiroa in her top 3 favorite destinations.
The part of Rangiroa we stayed on is comprised of a tiny airport with one landing strip, a couple small local villages and one two-lane road that goes from one end of the island to the other. When riding or driving from point to point on the island, you can literally see ocean on both sides of you the entire time. There are only two resorts on the island and both are small with roughly 50 rooms. Thus, most of what you hear on the island is silent serenity occasionally disrupted by the light splash of a fish feeding in the glassy, clear water that fills in the atoll.
The choices for day activities are abundant - from laying outside of your quiet beachfront room all day to snorkeling with beautiful lemon sharks.
Our first day activity was a drift snorkel. A drift snorkel is where a boat drops you off at one end of a current so you can drift with the current and then picks you up at the other end. Despite the somewhat underwhelming description, this is possibly one of the coolest activities we've ever done. I think a lot of use have had dreams of being weightless and floating through space. Well, this has to be as close as you can get to that feeling while still being on Earth. The swiftness of the current not so fast that you miss anything cool but too fast to fight - the perfect speed to just float and watch the underwater galaxies pass below. By underwater galaxies I mean a long swath of one the most diverse, colorful and active coral reefs you will see. On top of every tropical fish one could ever imagine, the reef was teeming with turtles, mantrays, eels and any other type of aquatic life you can name. Most notably were the dolphins we were lucky enough to come across at the beginning of our first drift. We ended up doing the drift three times that day. Everyone on the tour agreed that we could spend the entire day doing laps and never get bored.
Day 2 was spent at the "Blue Lagoon". Blue Lagoon is within the atoll and is about an hour boat ride from the hotel. The name is essentially a brief descriptor for a part of the atoll where the water is turquoise and still and where a person can wade out hundreds of yards into a lagoon where the water doesn't even reach your shoulders. The lagoon is spotted with some small, uninhabited islands that look like something straight out of a pirate movie. The singular structure at Blue Lagoon is simply a tiny shack where the guides grill fresh caught fish and serve an array of fresh fruit. The real draw of this little adventure, however, was the opportunity to swim with two breeds of sharks - Black Tip and Lemon (disclaimer: there have been no recorded fatal attacks by these sharks on humans so we never feared for our safety). You are eased into the shark experience by being surrounded by the smaller, unimposing black tip sharks in the shallow parts of the lagoon. For us, this was an easy way to gauge if anyone in our party had even the slightest aversion to these beautiful sea creatures. It was clear early on that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience and we were all ready to swim with the big boys - the lemon sharks. To do this our boat guide took us about 3/4 of a mile from the lagoon to deeper water known as "Shark City". At first, we were greeted by some lemon sharks that were maybe 3-4'. They didn't show any interest in us whatsoever. Then, our guide gave us the go ahead to get our snorkel gear on and have a closer look. This is when "Big Mama", as so named by our guide, made an appearance. Soon Big Mama's friends and family joined in on the fun and we were surrounded by these incredible sharks that were close to twice our size. We had gone from the 4' variety to the 8-10' variety in the blink of an eye. While it may sound unnerving, these sweet, docile creatures paid us no attention and couldn't have cared less that we were there. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience that I never expected to have.
On day 3 we decided to partake in another snorkel excursion but this time near where we were staying in a reef called the "Aquarium". Like the drift snorkel, the Aquarium was a stunning coral reef filled with marine life and vibrant colors I never knew even existed. The second we jumped off the boat we were in the middle of literally tens of thousands of multi-colored, various sized fish. It felt as if we were living in Finding Nemo. The Aquarium is a protected marine park and much like a state wildlife park or preserve, there were dozens of signs posted throughout the reef containing educational literature on the multitude of aquatic flora and fauna. It was like stepping into another world and an experience we will never forget.
Despite the fact that Rangiroa has everything and anything a vacationer could ever dream of, the island feels very remote and very wild. While we would obviously see other tourists and other people on the island, there was always a sense of serene seclusion and peacefulness. On Rangiroa it genuinely feels like time stands still and there is not a care in the world to be had.