Published: February 6th 2013February 6th 2013
I waited 8 years to dive Tipuata pass. I first saw it on a nat geo Cousteau documentary. An insane drift dive in very sharky waters with lots of dolphins and big stuff. No dive for a beginner. Diving the pass makes you know you are alive...and life is a very tender, amazing and fragile thing.
Rangiroa had always been on my dive bucketlist since I saw the Cousteau team diving the pass. From my home, Rangiroa works out about a 19000km round trip if you add in all my little detours like Tahiti and Bora Bora and later Moorea and New Zealand. When I bought the vouchers that got me to Tahiti, it was a given that I would go to Rangiroa and dive the pass.
Polynesia looks after its divers, which is why the planes fly low. So low you can see corals for most of your flight. Sad to leave Bora Bora I was excited to finally make it to Rangiroa, this plane on time to be met by Frank from the dive centre and the ever hilarious Marie from my Pension. Frank suprised me with an introduction and "Well, if you like Marie will show
you to your bungalow and you can come up to the shop and we will dive at 3pm"...i had never dived and flown in the same day let alone in an hour and a half!.
While I wasnt too worried about the altitude as i had watched out the window during the flight I took in the differences between Rangi and the Bora Bora and Tahiti. All volcanic by birth, Rangiroa is a collapsed volcano with just the lagoon of sharp coral, the second in the world, remaining of the now extinct and sunken volcano. As the earth moved over hotspots these islands and atolls were formed and died within times command. The tuomoto atolls, are some of the oldest. Its sinking too. One day it will totally disappear, just as one day it came spitting and hissing fire into life. One day, millions of years ago, it would have stood tall like Tahiti and the mountainous islands, now there is just a ring of razor sharp coral and a lone palm tree at the edge of Tipuata Pass. I liked to think Magellin had taken one look at that bubbling ocean crashing over the coral and the lone
palm tree standing on the sandbar at the edge of the pass and shat himself and took a bead for Asia. These atolls remained largely untouched compared to others in Polynesia for this reason until a few hundred years ago.
From the surface, Rangiroa is well..a bit of coral ringing a large body of water in an even larger endless body of water with a few palm trees, some casuarinas imported to try and stabilise the erosion from the constant force of the rising ocean, and some gardens dotted round the houses on either side of Rangi's one road. Its the single cleanest place ive ever seen. Nature and man are cool with each other here, they have mutual respect for each other. The people have pride, mana, in their land and ocean, and so they should. Not many places on earth like this still exist relatively untouched.
I threw my stuff into my cute little bungalow and got my dive gear out and walked up to the dive shop along the wall that surrounds the atoll to protect it..you can see where its been heightened as the sea level has risen. And the
atoll has sunken. The dive shop is only a few minutes walk from the pier and Tiena and Maries pension where i stayed and i met with the other couple of divers who were diving with us, a couple from French Caledonia.
Lovely people, introductions made in the little english everyone spoke and Frank began a very comprehensive dive breifing, drawing the pass and the canyons and the drop off point and where we would end up at a deco stop in a little curve in the reef. Id seen footage of this pass and I knew what I was in for. The current was running at around 8 knots. We walked across the pier in our wetsuits and geared up in the zodiac which sped towards the pass, visible from my bungalow. We geared up everyone gave the Ok and a backwards roll into shark heaven.
I looked around me and giggled. There would have been a couple of hundred blacktip reef sharks hovering below me on the bottom, silvertips and white tips cruising beside me along with 50 or 60 barracuda schooling around. I got myself organised and dropped down to check out a beautiful 90kg
The lone palm tree
I can imagine Capn Jack Sparrow marooned here with a jug of rum.
napolean wrasse and breathed in the joy of ..well ok, i breathed in through my reg, but the joy of seeing BIG fish again. There is no real pretty reef at Tipuata, its a rocks and hard corals and sandy bottom site. Look to your left and theres red fin snapper..5 kilo each type size...in their thousands making clouds of grey and red as they school tightly together. I could hear dolphins clicking and calling but couldnt see them. In the distance something big loomed, perhaps a hammerhead, as a huge eagle ray came gliding by.
There are literally thousands of fish here. Too many to make out. On that first dive I had a beautiful lyre tailed wrasse fall in love with my mask and swim along with me brushing my cheek for a good 5 minutes. And then the current grabs you as you drop over the edge of the reef and into the canyon. On that first dive it was around 8 knots. At one stage we grabbed onto some rocks...you have no choice but to grab on, just as you have no choice but to stick by your buddy here..if that current grabs you and
its an outgoing tide...next stop...north america..and I could feel my glove start peeling off my hand. I could feel the current pushing me backwards and into the pass...and then we all let go and went flying. You can
Giant Travellys, Tuna, Mahi Mahi all in their giant schools flew through the pass too. It was worth every cent it took to get here, and the wait. I felt ready to do this dive. I love drift diving and I love sharks but i do not love washing machine currents. These currents tho were generally fun..they flowed in and out, draining the lagoon, flushing millions of gigalitres of water in and out daily. After flying through the canyons and up over the coral hill at the end of the pass I was blissing out. This truly is an amazing drift dive.We finished the dive up at the little lagoon and the boatman promptly picked us up ane we were all back in and i took a late lunch at Lilis, where the most beautiful girl in the world serves you and the absolute best ever Mahi Mahi in Vanilla and Coconut sauce is served with a smile. Even the
dogs have a late snack with you.
I went back and had a snooze in the comfy little cabin before Marie called us all for dinner..a lovely huge polynesian size meal of fish and salad from Maries garden...Fish is fresh, where did you get it from?..ohh, out the front. You will never eat fresher fish than you will in Rangi. Guaranteed.
I tried to sleep but sat on my verandah for hours watching the lagoon. Every now and then something would flip out, a flash of silver, or a school of fish trying to escape something..tuna maybe..hunting below would skip across the surface. A couple of either huge eagle or manta rays glided by, wings rippling the glassy waters every now and then. You could set a camera up on your verandah and catch hundreds of species of fish its hard to tear your eyes away from it.
The sunset that night on Rangiroa was probably one of the best I have ever seen. The island seemed happy. This is one of the more traditional polynesian islands. Rocky in Tahiti had told me some of these atolls had people who still practiced the
traditional ways. He said you knew them if they walked past you because you got chicken skin..which i assume meant goosebumps. Rangiroas people are different than those on Bora Bora and Tahiti. The french influence isnt as strong here because other than black pearls, the french found nothing they wanted here. The pearl farms are still there. I didnt do the pearl farm tour thing at all, just waited til I found the right pearl, which is how you should find your pearl. This island is more spiritual and in many ways..more ancient..than the others id seen. Money didnt seem to matter much, as long as you had food for your family and a coconut and a fish, life is cool. Sitting there contemplating life I came to realise that these people had it going on, they knew they were living life right.
Our dive the next morning was equally sharky and spectacular. At the beginning of the dive R's weightbelt came off, which his wife quickly spotted and grabbed his leg..i grabbed his other leg and Frank did his weightbelt up, good to go, and excellent team work. It was nice to be in the situation
where team work and quick response from everyone sorted a problem out before it became a problem. There were a lot of unicorn fish of all types with patterns i hadnt seen before, like the silly lookin lil fucker as i started referring to them as because no one spoke english anyway was a big hit and the standard masses of black surgeons along with those huge clouds of snapper. I was diving along happily and turned to see a giant barracuda probably 2m long but almost half a metre thick cruising along beside me. He was a very mellow dude compared to his cousins in PNG and didnt seem to want to play stupid games and suddenly flare his mouth open at me.
I couldnt believe the varieties of beautiful wrasses and parrot fish, including the big bumphead grand blue parakeet fish. Truly an impressive fish and when theyre in the 40 kilo range theyre certainly a sight to see. By the second dive I had stopped looking for sharks because theyre everywhere, theres hundreds of blacktips below you on every dive, and the silvertips cruise along the walls of the canyon with you. The current had settled
Can you spot the cruise ship out there?
a little for this dive but we still got to fly thru the pass, me doing my usual and diving deeper than every one else and sharing some of Franks spare air as punishment for my fascination with the deep.
The third dive was equally good, with the added bonus of a free swimming solo silky shark hovering in the pass. Theyre a solitary territorial species and he hung there for quite a while checking us out, deciding if this was his territory and if we were trespassers. He posed no threat at all and eventually got bored with us noisy bubbly creatures and swam off.
I had another huge serve of Mahi Mahi before a nap and dinner trying to converse in french and the little english R knew however Marie speaks really good english. I watched the videos from R and his wifes go pro camera and relived the dives. What awesome little gadgets, i must get one.
After dinner I did the same staring at the lagoon contempating life thing again and went to sleep a satisfied human.
When I woke up, Rangiroa had turned angry. A cruise ship
Much nicer pic than we have in australia
had snuck in through the night and a massive storm had turned on to let them know the island doesnt like being invaded by swarms of polystyrene wearing day trippers. R told me he had spoken to Frank and we were doing a 11am dive which gave me time to wander up to the pier and see the little stalls selling wood prints, carvings, pareos and shells to the cruise shippers. The rain started and settled in, big fat heavy hurt your face type rain.
I gave up and headed back for a few hours sleep before we dived. The storm really set in, lightning hitting the lagoon and thunder shaking my little cabin. Somehow through it all, i fell asleep. I woke up in a panic seeing it was noon and ran outside to see R and his wife getting ready. They had gone for a two hour cycle around the island but had given up in the storm and gotten Marie to come and pick them up. We laughed at diving in this weather. The cruise shippers gawked at us as we waddled across the pier to get in the boat in the pouring rain and thunder.
Bebe Uri taking his lunch at Lili Cafe
The dogs here have lunch when you do and eat lobster for dinner.
I had my lavacore hoody on under my 3mil and a borrowed shorty over the top ...stylish..oh and one glove of course.
Only committed divers who have travelled a long way would go out in this weather, but we all knew under the surface the storm wouldnt be a problem. Other than adding a bit of extra oomph to the current, we were battling through the 3m swells to reach the drop off spot clenching our eyes shut against the rain. Rangi indeed seemed angry that day. We thought finally seeing Dolphins playing around as we headed out was a good omen.
How wrong we were. We were only 5 minutes from what could have been a fatal incident.
There are more photos below