Immerse yourself in a large school of silver barracuda when you go scuba diving in Tahiti’s clear aqua water.
There is something truly special about being at one with the ocean. Being within its depths and on its surface makes you feel alive.
In Tahiti, this emotion is brought to the fore as you’re faced with the undeniable beauty of this Pacific Ocean island nation.
Australian surfers and sailors flock to Tahiti for its reef breaks, calm lagoons and trade winds. But there is more to do here than ride waves and wind.
It’s a country so attractive above water yet there are treasures below as well.
Eager to find them, I meet scuba dive master Michel Cordero from Taha’a Diving at Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa, in the Society Islands group of Tahiti.
“Bonjour mademoiselle,” he greets me, before getting down to business.
Dive licence? Check. Fins? Check. Wetsuit? Check. Mask and BCD vest? Check. It’s the most professional dive introduction I’ve had in the Pacific and instills confidence.
And then we’re off down a short timber wharf to the dive boat, leaving the stunning five-star resort behind, headed for the reef that encircles this lagoon.
The bright blue of the sky is reflected in the sharp aqua of the sea. A light wind whips off the surface of the water, and salt gently sprays my face. I close my eyes as we head for the open ocean – absorbing the salty air and warm morning sunshine.
Soon, we’ve left the lagoon encompassing Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa and have positioned ourselves alongside the outer ocean edge of the reef. The boat engine is cut and the anchor cast overboard.
We kit up quickly and then, with a splash, Michel is gone, over the side and beneath the surface.
The water is incredibly clear and I’m excited to experience it.
I adjust my mask, hold the regulator in my mouth and follow suit, plunging backwards into the warm sea.
We swim to a rope leading from the boat to the anchor on the shallow ocean floor. With an OK signal from Michel, followed by a thumbs down, we deflate our BCD vests and descend.
There is no colourful coral here – it’s mostly mauve and tan – but there are occasional splotches of hard brown coral with stalagmite-like formations. Their tips glow yellow like mini underwater cities illuminated at night. Owl City’s whimsical song Fireflies enters my mind.
As we descend, the sea fills with fish. There are plump parrot fish, with mesmerising rainbow scales, angelfish and Moorish idols too, swimming about in their yellow and black jackets.
Michel points out a napoleon wrasse a few arm widths away. It’s green and large, with a protruding forehead similar to a grouper.
We move on. There is sand beneath us to our right and rock and coral gently climbs to the surface on our left.
One ear struggles to equalise so we remain at a comfortable 21 metres below, forgoing the final four metres to the seabed.
Here, we are amongst massive schools of jackfish. The silver bodies are like fine dinner plates glinting in the filtered sunlight, their tales hazelnut brown. They follow each other in a thick stream.
We look up and can barely see the water’s surface through another beautiful layer of silver fish. They’re barracuda and the school is so large it’s created a blanket of glitter above our heads. We float, bewitched by their beauty.
It’s moments like these that make scuba diving so special. You’re not simply viewing marine life from above, you’re immersed in its playground.
And that playground is all the more enticing when the clarity of the water is so good divers can see up to 35 metres into the distance.
Tahiti isn’t known for its scuba diving sites but rather the beauty above the water – the green mountainous jewels that make up this archipelago.
It’s known for those tourism brochure images of Bora Bora surrounded by a mercury-like aquamarine sea.
You may have heard of swimming with stingrays and dream of snorkelling with turtles, both of which you can do in Tahiti’s protected lagoons.
Out in the ocean, where I’m diving, you can expect plentiful fish and sharks (blacktip and whitetip reefies and greys).
Tahiti’s also known for its big-wave surfing, while paddleboarding is popular on the lagoons, as is kiteboarding when the trade winds arrive in winter.
All of that is why diving here is so appealing. Plus, a lot of diving is in only 10 metres of water, making it easy for beginners.
Michele, who has been diving for 30 years, says mass tourism doesn’t exist in Tahiti, especially around Taha’a.
That may mean business is sometimes slow, but, he says, it’s a nice way of life.
Back out of the water, stripped of scuba gear, clouds have gathered over the boat and the humidity of the morning has dissipated.
It starts to sprinkle and I sit on the back of the boat, eyes again closed, enjoying the gentle raindrops splashing my face. It’s refreshing and peaceful.
Moments later the rain stops and we begin our journey back to our luxury resort on a private motu just a hop from the larger Le Taha’a island.
As we cruise the outer rim of the reef, around small waves crashing on the coral, I witness a quintessential Tahiti sight. A small fish jumps out of the water and flies above the ripples.
Side fins flutter like a sparrow’s wings and the fish shoots across the sea at an impressive speed.
“Did you see that?” I exclaim.
“Oui, it’s a flying fish,” Michel says from behind the wheel.
It’s a beautiful, ethereal sight and one that makes you thankful for a life spent on and below the sea.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: The island of Taha’a is part of the Society Islands archipelago in Tahiti.
Air Tahiti Nui operates three weekly services from Australia to Tahiti (codeshare with Qantas for the Australia-NZ leg). Roundtrip fares from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Papeete via Auckland, start from $1370 economy and $3765 business class (conditions apply). For more, call 1300 657 190 or visit airtahitinui.com.au.
From Papeete, you can fly with Air Tahiti onwards to the island of Ra’iatea, and from there, you can organise a boat transfer to Taha’a or your resort.
STAYING THERE: Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa is a stunning five-star Relais & Chateaux property on a private island (Motu Tautau) not far from Taha’a. There are 57 suites and villas, including gorgeous overwater bungalows. Prices start at around 803 euros ($A1192) (inc. taxes) per night in a Taha’a overwater suite. The resort offers special honeymoon and anniversary rates. For more, go to letahaa.com.
Tahiti Tourisme also has accommodation and airfare packages. For more, call 1300 65 09 65 or visit tahitinow.com.au.
PLAYING THERE: Taha’a Diving is based on Motu Tautau, next to Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa, where you can book dives through the activities desk at reception. For details about the different dives available and for prices, visit tahaa-diving.com (partly in English) or the resort website.
The currency in Tahiti is French Polynesian Francs (XPF). $A1 is currently worth 82 XPF.
*The writer travelled as a guest of Tahiti Tourisme, Relais & Chateaux and Air Tahiti Nui