June 15, 2020 ; 9:06 PM
14°97’S, 147°64’W – Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa
Our time in Fakarava ended with a celebration of living through the storm with the rest of the Sailors of the Lost ARC. That meant beer and poke at our favorite beach bar (complete with in-water cabana tables). We literally drank the place dry of Hinano beer. It was excellent to spend quality time with Saorsa (hadn’t seen since Galapagos) and Celtic Star (hadn’t seen since Moorea).
Unfortunately, the Sailors of the Lost Arc are split up because of different timing leaving Tahiti once the restrictions were lifted. We are about a week ahead of a larger group of boats. Our time with Celtic Star and Saorsa was limited. And we only got one sundowner with Maximillian and Next Step before leaving on our next voyage. On our way out of the North Pass, we waved to Island Wanderer, Domini, Kari, and Amari, who were just entering Fakarava. What could we do? It was time for a new atoll.
And while it was sad to miss our friends in Fakarava, it was worth it for the time we spend in Rangiroa.
The sail wasn’t the best… we had to motor-sail a lot, but it was only about a 30 hour trip.
That was about perfect timing to transit through the passes at both atolls at slack tide. That’s right- our wave to our Lost ARC friends wasn’t exactly coincidental, as both groups were timing it perfectly to hit slack tide and avoid any dangerous currents.
Trust me, this is not an unnecessary safety precaution. There is a lot of turbulence within the passes, and the current can get up to 12 knots! We chose Avatoru Pass because it is wider and easier to navigate that Tiputa Pass- but once inside the atoll we sailed back to an anchorage outside Tiputa Pass, where the best snorkeling and diving is. We were delighted to see our friends on Zan (whom we met in Moorea) already at the anchorage! We were also lucky to make friends with Pain Killer and Ja Ja PaMe during our time there.
Just outside the anchorage, there’s a small motu surrounded by a reef, called “the aquarium” (although there of course aren’t any glass tanks or humans managing the wildlife). Best thing about the Tuamotus? There is so much sea life just off the back of your boat.
From black and white tipped reef sharks to enormous schools of fish and gorgeous coral, this was the place to be. We probably snorkeled it 5-7 times, and always saw something new. Highlights for me were schools of angel fish (who would adopt you if you just floated still for a minute), a camouflaged flounder, a 4-meter (sleeping) nurse shark, and an octopus. Unfortunately, I missed the octopus while he was out and swimming, but got to see him change color to blend in with his coral hole after he retreated inside. I swear, no matter how many times I snorkel it never gets old (although the kids aboard Ja Ja PaMe would disagree).
Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass is a world-famous drift dive, so our first order of business was to visit 6 Passengers dive shop. I 10/10 recommend these guys to anyone going to the Tuamotus. So professional and friendly, plus they have the best wifi on the island.
Our first dive was on the reef just outside Tiputa Pass. It’s normal for dive shops to take groups to dive somewhere without current before doing a drift, even if you have a lot of dives under your belt. Lucky for us, the dolphins were playing out in the waves, and another bucket list item was checked off.
They call this pretty girl “Touchez Moi”, which means “Touch Me” in French. It could not be more fitting. She swam right up to Teddy (our instructor) and stuck her belly out like a dog. She just wanted a little rub right in that spot she can’t reach!
It was immediately obvious that Teddy was best friends with this gorgeous, wild dolphin. She wanted to be anywhere he was, and her attention was rewarded with pets and play. As Teddy’s companions, we drafted off his friendship. We got to pet her all the way from her snout to her tail. We swam with her. We surface for a big breath so she could come back to spend more time with us. When I went upside down, so did she. IT WAS SO COOL. Don’t believe me? Check out some pics.
The rest of the dive was fun as well. Pretty coral, some barracudas, schools of fish, and a few more (farther) dolphin sightings. But the half hour we spent with Touchez Moi was magical, and we will never forget it.
The next morning, we timed our drift dive for incoming tide. We saw the dolphins from the dive boat, but missed them underwater. Instead, we observed schools of barracuda and a wall of sharks. We swam around the corner and into the pass, where the current swept us into the pass and kicking was no longer required. Halfway through the pass, we ducked into a cavern that runs perpendicular to the channel. As the current rushed overhead, we waited. A huge school of grey approached as we peered over the edge to watch them rule the ocean from below. It was surprisingly different, spooky, and wonderful to see them from a new angle. Unfortunately, the cavern was too deep for my underwater camera to capture them ☹.
As we exited the cavern, the current swept us shallower on the reef for our safety stop. We met a surgeon fish who bit our hands with his tiny mouth when we acted like we were going to touch his rock. There were more sharks, angel fish, and parrot fish, but eventually we had to return to the dive boat.
Talk about two completely unforgettable and totally different dive experiences right around the same pass. (But don’t think I’ve forgotten about my manta ray quest).
THE BLUE LAGOON
Unfortunately, the Blue Lagoon doesn’t have any sheltered anchorages, and we still have some PTSD from our storm experience on a lee shore. So, we paired up with Haiatua Excursions for a practically perfect day.
It began with a quick snorkel at the aquarium, complete with a live ukulele soundtrack. Then an hour boat ride to the Blue Lagoon was gorgeous (and so much faster than Gracie Girl could have done it- don’t tell her I said that). Unfortunately, we skipped the manta cleaning station (where they come to naturally be cleaned by fish), because there weren’t any mantas there that morning (I AM DYING TO SEE A MANTA). But the rest of the afternoon was filled with sunning on pink sand beaches, snorkeling coral heads (and Avatoru Pass), hiking an uninhabited island, and palm bag weaving.
And as if that wasn’t enough, we FEASTED. A snack of coconut held us over through the snorkeling. I learned that coconut goes through 3 delicious phases- starting with soft coconut meat (green coconut), then moving to hard coconut meat (we’ve found our brown coconuts particularly difficult to harvest on the boat without a machete), and finally coconut mallows (from a coconut that started to sprout a new tree). Or at least that’s what I call them, because they’re the consistency of the marshmallows in lucky charms, and magically delicious! All three have completely different tastes and textures. AND I LOVE THEM ALL.
Later, lunch was coconut bread, fish, chicken, Polynesian fried rice, and (my personal favorite) poisson cru. There was beer and juice and dancing and exploring and shark watching and treasure digging and hermit crab bothering and I loved every moment of it.
Want to join my pirate crew? No common language is required, only a love for dancing, giggling, and digging for buried treasure (ARRRRRRRRGH)! Spent the entire day playing with these girls, who stole my heart. Missing my niece and nephews big time!
As if the feast in the Blue Lagoon wasn’t enough, we also found our new favorite gourmet spot at Lili’s (located at Tiputa Pass). Lili is a wonderful chef from Madagascar. She went to Paris for cooking school where she met her husband, a Rangiroa native. They married and moved to Rangiroa where she has run her restaurant ever since. AND SHE MAKES THE MOST AMAZING FOOD. Seriously, we raved about every single dish we had here, and that was a LOT of dishes since she’s basically the only game on the island.
Ja Ja PaMe was in Rangiroa through the pandemic, so they’re besties with Lili and new exactly what we should order. VANILLA MAHI MAHI FOR THE WIN. Don’t let the captain or admiral tell you any different. The sauce? TO DIE FOR. Seriously.
We also ate an incredible number of ham paninis at Josephine’s during the week we were in Rangiroa. She was selling at local prices and has a breathtaking view of Tiputa Pass. Supposedly, spinner dolphins jump the waves in the pass daily- but we never saw them. Josephine probably thought we were going to move in with the number of times we showed up for some internet access. She even rented us some old, rusty bikes to explore the island one day! Fun to see the local culture through the schools, houses, hang outs, etc. But honestly Rangiroa is all about the water, so there isn’t a whole lot to see on land.
HANGING IN RANGI
Of course, there were nights of eating on the boat, brunch on Influencer, sundowners with our newfound friends, swims, walks, etc. mixed in with the more exciting sight-seeing. There were chores and even a couple rainy days that meant mostly reading on the boat. After about a week, we’ve seen what we wanted to see and it is time to move on.
And apparently, we just can’t stay away from Pape’ete. We are headed back to Tahiti to re-request our visa extensions in person (long story about Lost ARC paperwork issues). Influencer has some repairs lined up from the Fakarava storm and we could use a couple days to provision, clean, etc. Hopefully it will really be only a couple days and then we’ll be off to the Society Islands! WHERE I WILL SEE A MANTA RAY!
First mate, Amazing Grace
TLDR: My new best friend is a dolphin, and my old best friends are just going to have to deal with it. WAIT! Galapagos sea lions!– I didn’t mean it! LOVE ME!