We took a night passage from Toau to Rangiroa, because as always we were constrained by tide timings. We must be getting better at this, because we nailed the timing and came into the pass a few minutes before slack tide. The pass was calm enough, though we did have around half a dozen dive boats weaving around us, so Jazz entered the pass hugging the jib and staring at the water ahead of us for divers. We dropped anchor in front of the resort, then dropped the dinghy and made the rounds of the local dive shops looking for last-minute availability.
We found a slot at Top Dive for the next morning, then went on a walk through the tiny town by the pass. There were a bunch of tour boats making circles in the center of the pass, braving the rough water to get the guests closer views of the resident dolphins. That’s right: there’s a pod of dolphins that lives here, mostly hangs out in the pass, and is the major draw for divers coming to Rangiroa. We were starting to look nervously at the calendar as our 90 day visa ticked away, but we weren’t going to miss the chance to dive with dolphins. Doubly so because the dolphins here reportedly like being touched. There are plenty of places where you can swim with captive dolphins, but that feels cruel and we won’t do it. But actual wild dolphins, who happen to like to come up to you…
In the morning, we collected our gear and went for a dive on the incoming tide. It was… not the best dive we’ve done. We spent ten minutes hanging out in the blue at 90 feet, which would have been fine if the briefing had included telling us what we were looking for. (Hammerheads and dolphins.) We did not see either, though there were lots of sharks far below us, and we were passed by a giant ball of barracudas.
Then we got into the drift, and got whisked along at speed, fighting hard to keep ourselves moving at the same rate as the guide. Andrew was wearing his aging split fins, great for maneuverability but not so much for power, so he was was huffing and puffing trying to kick across the current. So we blew lots of air, but it didn’t matter because the current in the pass is too strong for much coral to grow, so there wasn’t much to see along the way. Not our favorite dive, but we did make some friends, so that was nice.
To redeem the day, we went for a second dive on our own, at the Aquarium dive site. This reef is situated in the lagoon, seemingly in the middle of the pass but protected from the current. There are a number of buoys to tie to, and an underwater path for snorkelers.
We hung out a bit deeper than the snorkel trail, though this dive never broke forty feet. And we saw lots of cool stuff, like this sleeping shark, and this little ball of sergent majors.
From the department of “so small the GoPro doesn’t want to focus on it but so cool we can’t leave it out”, we present two nudibranches mating, and some (reeftop?) pipefish. We were super excited to see both, and then as we swam around we started seeing pipefish everywhere.
There are a bunch of these yellowbar parrotfish here, with the stripe down the middle of their backs. Right, blue-spotted and red-breased wrasses. Probably.
Chevroned butterflyfish, moorish idol, and an eclipse butterflyfish.
Two of our favorites, the titan triggerfish and a pacific sailfin tang.
There were some big balls of fish, like these snappers and fusiliers.
Fun things on the ground, a coral colony that looks a lot like (but is not) a sea-cucumber skeleton, and this grouper.
It wouldn’t be the Tuamotus if we didn’t have a blacktip reef shark swim by. Possibly even bigger, though mostly hidden in the rock, is this absolute beast of a moray eel on the right.
There were also lots of puffers.
And of course, the ever-present Jazz-fish, accompanied here by a pair of manybar goatfish and a whitemargin unicornfish. Note also the crown of thorns in the background there, busily munching away on the coral.
That night, we had the other divers over for a sundowner. It was the last day of their vacation, after which Lou was going back to Boston and his son Teddy would be bouncing around French Polynesia for a little while. It was really nice to talk to non-sailors for a while; at least, the humans thought so.
Captain, BTW, is perfectly capable of entertaining himself while we go diving. Note the pullup bar in the left picture, which we’re trying to make a habit of putting up the moment we drop anchor because putting it up is the hard part. (It’s really not that hard.)
After our dodgy first dive, we’d managed to wheedle our way into another trip with Top Dive the next day. This one would be on the outgoing tide, so we had a little time in the morning for a big breakfast soup and to fix the surf board mount, which we’d discovered was not hanging on quite as well as we’d have liked.
We started our dive in the blue again, and swam slowly along the reef, listening to the dolphins in the distance and watching the occasional curious passing fish.
Eventually we moved over to the reef, where we saw much healthier coral than we had in the pass, and a nice assortment of fishes. Here are two arc-eyed hawkfish, and a yellowtail coris.
We were watching our dive time and starting to think we wouldn’t see them, when suddenly a trio of dolphins blew right by us. So cool!
And then they were gone just as suddenly as they’d appeared, and we thought, “well, at least we saw them” and turned our attention back to the reef. Our guide spotted a stonefish, so that was cool. And Andrew was taking pictures of this titan triggerfish and checkerboard wrasse when…
We heard them in the distance again, and this time saw them swimming towards us.
And they came to play! The dolphins recognized our guide, and seemed to really like him. But they came and said hi to each of us, in turn.
We had to make a weather decision: if we stayed longer, we’d be stuck for about five more days, with unpleasant wind in the anchorage. Instead, we opted to leave for Tahiti, maybe earlier than we’d have liked to, but we only have so long. Curse you, 90 day visa and impending cyclone season!