Rangiroa is a stunning archipelago of 78 low islands spread over several hundred kilometres of the eastern Pacific around 200 km north of Tahiti. This is the second largest atoll in the world, the coral-encrusted rim of an ancient submerged volcano encircling an enormous shallow inland sea with more than 240 islets or motu. The motu are separated by at least 100 shallow channels and three passes, two of which are big enough for ships to enter the lagoon.
The lagoon waters are sparklingly clear, and vary in colour from jade-green to purple, a real surprise for first-time visitors. The marine life here is truly astonishing, with over 400 varieties of rainbow-hued fish glinting in the iridescent waters among the brightly coloured hard and soft corals, and the gently waving sea fans. The lagoon is understandably famous for its unsurpassed snorkelling and scuba diving, while outside the reefs there are amazing numbers of eagle rays, sharks, barracuda and tuna along the walls of the drop-offs.
The main villages in the archipelago are Avatoru and Tiputa, which offer the visitor a unique look at the South Pacific lifestyle, with their coral churches, craft centres, restaurants and tiny shops. Tiputa is situated at the eastern end. Its picturesque houses are ringed with bleached coral and flowering hedges, and nearby is the bird sanctuary on Motu Paio, well worth a visit.
There were more settlements on Rangiroa during the 14th and 15th centuries, and the remains of these can still be seen today, including cultivation pits and coral temples. To protect themselves from the aggressive Parata warriors from the atoll of Anaa, the Rangiroa inhabitants took refuge on the southwest side of the atoll. The village they created there was destroyed by a natural disaster, probably a tsunami, in 1560 and the entire population disappeared.
The Blue Lagoon at Taeo’o, an hour’s boat ride from the village of Avatoru, is a natural pool of aquamarine water on the edge of the reef, and probably one of the most idyllic places in the world. This is like a gigantic natural aquarium with wonderful colourful corals and numerous reef sharks. The surrounding motu are home to rare birds, including the Vini ultramarine parakeet.
Population: 3.400 (2007)
When to go: June to October.
How to get there: Fly from Tahiti or Bora Bora.
Highlights: The bird sanctuary on Motu Paio.
Take a lagoon cruise in a glass-bottomed boat to see the wonderful corals, sea fans and multitudinous fish species.
The Pink Sands – at the far southwest of the atoll, the sands are a lovely shade of pink, a beautiful contrast to the turquoise lagoon and blue sky.
The Island of the Reef – here raised coral formations create a dazzling tidepool environment. Shooting the pass of Tiputa – here hundreds of fish, sharks and moray eels swim around you, swept along by the strong currents. You may even spot a rare black and white dolphin.
You should know: The numerous reef sharks in the lagoon will come up to investigate but they are nosy rather than aggressive.