French Polynesia

Reports on our previous club dive trips and some of our day diving activities
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Maria H
Posts: 1599
Joined: Fri Oct 23, 2009 8:05 pm

French Polynesia

Post by Maria H » Tue Oct 16, 2018 11:10 pm

This was another of Geoff’s luxury tours to some far flung place that I had to look up on Google maps before we went.
French Polynesia is a group of islands and atolls in the South Pacific, scattered across an area almost the size of Europe. It’s about half way between California and Australia, so it’s not the easiest place to get to, but it was well worth the effort.

Sharks and lots of fish
We saw sharks on every dive, sometimes just a few and on other dives there were hundreds. One site had a “wall” of hundreds of sharks, and another had a ledge where we looked down in to a pool where we watched a group of sharks darting in and out of a shoal of fish as they attempted to hunt. For apex predators, they seem very inefficient at catching fish!
There were also a few mantas and eagle rays.
In other places I’ve dived, we might expect to see a Napoleon wrasse on the odd dive. Here we saw several on almost every dive, and the same with large groupers.
There is little commercial fishing and so there were huge shoals of fish such as paddle tail snappers and Hellers barracuda, as well as plenty of triggerfish, unicorn fish, African pompanos with their long trailing fin tips, and many other reef fishes. On one dive we passed a couple of jetties that were home to large shoals of fish.
The area is also home to humpback whales, and we were lucky to see a couple on the surface on the way to and from the dive sites.
The diving was generally in the channels that form the entrances to huge lagoons. I thought I’d dived in strong currents before, but this was on a different scale.
Some dives were conventional drifts across open reefs and through wide gullies but one in particular was more like the Olympic bob-sleigh run but without the sleigh and protective helmet! We didn’t so much drift as hurtle through narrow, twisting gulleys, and were then spat out in to a pool, where our heart rates returned to near normal and we calmly hung on to a ledge while we watched the shark action below. The dive guide was concerned about an ascent in twisting currents, and also about the lively surface conditions so he opted for a group ascent. He gathered us together in the pool, and instructed us to hold on to each other for a group ascent. The theory was fine, but once we were out of the shelter of the pool we had no control over direction and got swept backwards by the current. I hit the reef behind me with a loud clang and then realised that my cylinder was wedged and each of my hands was hanging on to someone else. I was about to let go and go it alone when the guide lifted my cylinder out and we were then on our way up (or rather up, then down, then up again – the dive profile is a clear example of what not to do). We hit the surface with screaming computers and dipped back down for a brief safety stop. I’d left a mark on the reef with my cylinder and it had made its mark on me, with a lost fin, torn DSMB and grazed ankle. We managed to stop shaking sometime after we got back on board! We estimated the current at around 6-7 knots, and our ascent rate touched over 30 metres a minute in the up-current. On reflection, it was at the risky end of what most sane people would choose to do, and I’m not convinced that the group ascent is the best idea in those conditions. I prefer to feel that I’m in control of my own destiny.
Dolphins - saving the best till last
The last full day of diving was at Rangiroa, the largest of the lagoons. As usual, we dived in or around the channel entrance to the lagoon. We saw eagle rays and a very engaging turtle on the first dive, but the real highlight was on the 2nd and 3rd dives here, with a couple of pods of dolphins. When I’ve seen dolphins before they’ve usually kept their distance but not these. They clearly wanted to play with us and one of them was keen to be rubbed or scratched on its belly. We had about 8 dolphins around us, and they stayed with us for 10 minutes or more until we had to leave.
Remote islands
Once we’d boarded the boat, we only went ashore 3 times: a pizza party hosted by an elderly man who seemed to live alone on an island with an impressive pizza oven; a beach BBQ where we gazed at the stars and observed coconut crabs scurrying around and then on the last day a shore trip was offered on Makatea. I was expecting the usual tour to show us a local house, and then try to sell us t shirts, sarongs and tourist tat, but I was delighted to be proved wrong. We travelled in the back of a pickup truck, and travelled through lush sub-tropical scenery to the far side of the island where we wandered on a deserted beach and saw impressive cliffs and caves. We looked like the rag-taggle bunch from “I’m a Celebrity”. The guide then took us to some caves where we swam in crystal clear water through the caves where saw stalagmites and stalactites. Apparently this is where the local teenagers hang out at weekend, bringing their boom box with them for an underground party. With a population of only 68 I doubt that it’s crowded. 40 years ago Makatea was home to a thriving industry mining phosphate. There were remnants of these days on the island, including a couple of abandoned steam locomotives, railway tracks, and an abandoned power generation plant. Today the island has only 68 inhabitants and isn’t on any ferry route. They get “occasional” supply ship visits, and so they are pretty self sufficient.
The cruise director was French, with an accent straight out of ‘Allo ‘Allo! He informed us of the day’s plans, including the timing of “lernch”. I was a bit un-nerved when he suggested that we would see large groups of “snipers” on the next dive, so was relieved to see a shoal of snappers They also have a wonderful word to describe the impressive overfalls and eddies that create rough water in the channel entrances: “le masqueret”
Fish & chips
The trip finished off with fish & chips and a drink or two in a nice bar in Auckland harbour. On reflection, 5,000 miles round trip is a long way to go for a chippy tea, and they didn't even serve mushy peas. 12 hours later we joined some of our fellow divers who’d taken the direct flight from Tahiti to LA rather than via New Zealand. It seems that we need to pay more attention to the proposed itinerary next time rather than just assume that the travel agent knows what he’s doing!
Every day is a school day (one for the nerds)
We’re used to large tidal ranges in the UK, and the frustration that slack is rarely at a convenient time for diving, but we do at least have the benefit of reliable tidal predictions.
In French Polynesia, the tidal range is only a few inches, and so the biggest influence on the currents is weather patterns in the roaring forties rather than the tide. Large waves cause a lagoon to fill up, and then it needs to empty via a narrow channel. On occasions, the lagoon will be trying to empty from the large swell, whilst there is an incoming tide.
Also, parts of French Polynesia have solar tides rather than lunar ones, and so high water is at midday and midnight each day. In effect, the lunar tide is cancelled out because of a phenomenon called an amphidromic point. As the lunar tidal swell passes around the earth and through the ocean basins, it gets broken up into lots of smaller swells, bouncing off continents and islands along the way, and it also gets affected by the Coriolis Force which bends it north and south. The ultimate effect is that there are places where a crest of the lunar swell meets a trough of the lunar swell, and cancels the tide out completely and these are the amphidromes. We’ll test you on this later!
I'm not sure how to embed photos in here, so I've loaded photos on Facebook

Angela Clewes
Club Member
Posts: 378
Joined: Thu Sep 01, 2011 11:24 am

Re: French Polynesia

Post by Angela Clewes » Tue Oct 16, 2018 11:23 pm

The photos look amazing. It sounds like a great dive trip

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