21 Juin 2012
Dive site : Tiputa reef, Rangiroa
Date : Monday, 12 September 2011
Editor : Mary anne - TOPDIVE
Divemaster : Nicolas Bernard
Companions : Ken & Maya From Los Angeles, Onishi San a japanese diver
The Rangiroa TOPDIVE base had just opened and logistics were still in the stages of refinement. The TOPDIVE divecenter is located in the central line of the 12 kilometer expanse of inhabitable island space. The divecenter takes up a strategic position in the middle of the 2 passes: Tiputa and Avatoru. Our divemaster, Nicolas Bernard, a tall gangly bloke, who looked more like a surfer than and instructor, also happened to be the dive center manager.
That morning, I was scheduled to join a divegroup composed of an American couple from Los Angeles, Ken and Maya, and a seasoned Japanese diver, Onishi San who has been coming to Rangiroa for ages. Unlike the Leeward islands, the Tuamotu atolls were known for rather inhospitable island conditions. Rangiroa is the classic stereotype of a desert island - dry, little vegetation, angry sea conditions however inhabited by friendly and helpful locals.
In Rangiroa, all dive briefings are conducted at the divecenter since most of the sites are found in and around the Pass and are mostly for the intermediate to advanced diver. A lot of the sites encounter heavy current and require quick reaction time to the instructions of your divemaster. After sorting out my gear, piled into the zodiac. The Americans complained of the limited room. Being seasoned divers themselves, they were used to, (and spoiled) with the large and spacious aluminium dive boats of most dive outfits around the world. Onishi San remained pretty stoic - being a regular of Rangiroa, he seemed to know the lay of the land after coming to dive Rangiroa for the last 17 years .
Due to the harsh sea conditions of Rangiroa diving, most dive outfits use semi-rigid diveboat of a "zodiac" nature. This seems to be the diveboat of choice in Rangi. A semi-rigid diveboat has better maneuverability in the event of conditions that are less than perfect – choppy sea, heavy surface drift all in the aim of easier and faster pick-up of divers post-dive.
At the Tiputa site, we were scheduled to do a reef dive that would entail skirting the reef at a quick descent of around 90 feet. This exercise was supposed to bring us into contact with a lot of Pass "traffic". Sure enough, it turned out to be a veritable undersea safari!
Descending into the blue was a little disconcerting. I never liked not having any reference points as a diver. I kept on saying to myself... “Just follow your divemaster and keep finning! He'll get us back to some kind of reference point.” The water was rather coolish, given the time of year and I was happy to have chosen a full suit as opposed to a shorty. My descent was quick and uncomplicated and I stayed as close to Nicolas like a remora. Ken and Maya followed, along with Onishi San who stayed pretty much solitary. On our way down, I glanced into the blue and spied some Whitetip reef sharks and a solitary Napoleon wrasse cruising in the distance. Our safari had begun! We slowly made our way to the side of the reef which was just bursting with life. As Nicolas says, sometimes you'll see 10x more than you expect and other times you don't see anything out of the ordinary but the usual reef dwellers. Just keep your eyes peeled and watch the show! This is, in fact, exactly what we did.
Cruising along the side of the reef on our left, we spy a manta in flight. The majesty of this creature just takes your breath away. Little did we realize that this same manta would make around 3 passes during our dive. All around us, are sporadic surges of activity: a school of Black triggerfish or "ume"(commonly known in the Tahitian dialect), a shoal of Bluefin jackfish, and countless little communities of colourful wrasses butterfly fish, Unicorn and Surgeonfish, Moorish idols, Stripped and Titan triggerfish, numerous parrots of different sizes and color and a couple of Grey sharks.
In the distance, a school of Chevron barracudas hurry past. We were still on the look out for the famous Dolphins that made this dive so famous. Suddenly, a few meters away, we spied several forms that would make this whole dive worth it ! Three dolphins darted past us. This was the moment we were waiting for and has made the fame of Rangiroa. The Bottlenose dolphin, a splendid species, has made Rangiroa a world renowned dive site. Not wanting to miss a single moment, we all froze waiting for their water ballet to unfold. After several playful minutes, the dolphins exited as gracefully as they came…and in a flash! For a minute, I remained completely immobile, in awe of the wonderful moment of nature that transpired. Nico snaps me out of my reverie signaling our little group to trudge on.
The reef activity absorbed most of our attention and as we veered left into a small shallow plain where the water movement picked up. We sensed that we were in the mouth of the Pass and it took a good presence of mind to deflate and remain quite negatively buoyant, lest the incoming swell carry us. We were at the tailend of our dive and were doing the customary safety stop. According to Nicolas, this was a cleaning and recovery area that a lot of fish come to get a grooming or to take a breather. No sooner than we settled into our stop, I spied 2 snow white surgeonfish being groomed by a couple of wrasses. Nicolas said that fish usually come into this area quite dark and leave all clean and white. The colourful wrasses did indeed animate the shallow area. Amazing how we can easily witness one of nature’s symbiotic relationships! Nicolas motioned to a lone great barracuda in the distance shallow swells that seemed injured and was just stationary in the incoming current. Curious to see a fish so imposing in one place…unmoving.
Up to the end of our dive, a brillant safari ! Now I know why divers keep on coming back to Tiputa. Each dive holds countless surprises and every dive is different! I certainly cannot wait for the next time.
© Photos Sylvain Girardot, Vincent Truchet, Gregoire LeBacon