The drifts into the atolls were amazing the closest I have been to flying under water.

Sharks everywhere huge tigers, silver tips and schools of eagle rays magnificent. Would love to do the trip again.

— Nick and Wendy Sargent, Founding Members since 2003

Resorts/Yachts/Dive Ops

Our Favorite Resorts in Tahiti

Some of our Favorite Tahitian Dive Operators

Our Favorite Resorts in Tahiti, Bora Bora, Rangiroa and Fakarava

We honeymooned in Tahiti, yes the epitome of romance. What we didn’t know back in 1994 was that it was also a pinnacle of diving. Within six months of our first trip to Tahiti, we had left our jobs, moved out of our house, put everything in storage and went to live in this south sea paradise. It remains today one of my two favorite places in the world (the other being Antarctica).

We had the opportunity to dive for over two years throughout the the Society Islands and the Tuamotus and have led countless expeditions back to French Polynesia since 1998. I have stayed at numerous resorts and dived with a number of operators. I will concentrate here on Bora Bora as well as my favorite areas in the Tuamotus, a necklace sand spit atolls to the northeast of Tahiti.

Rangiroa

Kia Ora Resort

Since 1995 we have been staying at the Kia Ora hotel in Rangiroa. Over the years, they have continued to upgrade the resort. They put in a fabulous pool and have always had a very cool overwater bar. But the resort has become tired and the dining room and public spaces needed upgrading. In 2009, it was announced that they would close and spend a year renovating. Then they decided to move it to 2010. It is currently closed.

After talking with people on the island, it looks like there are financial issues with the resort and not much work is currently being done on the hotel. It remains to be seen what the fate of the Kia Ora will be. Stay tuned!

Fakarava

Maitai Dream now under new ownership called the White Sands Beach Resort.

When I first arrived on Fakarava the Maitai did not exist and we stayed in a couple of little pensions. These are not for everyone. There was no air conditioning and it was VERY VERY hot and heavy with mosquitos (take your pick…bites or sweltering heat). There were no (and still are not) any restaurants on the island so we ate at the pensions which was mostly fish and rice (tough when you’re not a seafood eater). But we loved the diving and it was worth every uncomfortable night. The little grocery store offered some respite in the form of semi cold beer and Pringles. Here’s a great story about buying beer in Fakarava (add blog post url)

Then the Maitai Dream opened up and we stayed there in 2004 and it was very nice. The bungalows are spacious with nice bathrooms behind the sleeping area. It was still hot but at least there are ceiling fans. The “landscape” had not grown in yet but we didn’t care. We were out all day diving and then back at the resort for dinner and happy hour at the bar. The food was very good and we had a huge New Year’s Eve party there. I was pleased with resort though service was a bit slow.

It has now come under new ownership and I have not been there since it was taken over. However, it is still the only upscale property on the island. If you want to see the great diving that Fakarava has to offer, this is still the place to stay unless you want to brave the heat at the pensions.

Bora Bora, Manihi and Tikehau

Pearl Beach Resorts

From www.spmhotels.com

Our philosophy – The Combination of Luxury and Tradition

  1. Luxury of the destination Each hotel that was developed on the most isolated and remote of island in French Polynesia have maintained the beauty of the islands without sacrificing luxury.  
  2. Luxury of space These smaller, exclusive properties each have approximately 100 bungalows or rooms.  
  3. Luxury of service Personalized service combined with the quality and warmth of Polynesian hospitality.  
  4. Luxury of culinary experiences that blends all flavors and tastes.  A mixture of Polynesian and continental tradition provides a dining experience filled with unique aromas and tastes, creating an array of pleasures for the palate.  A dining experience becomes a true celebration for two and becomes an integral part of the entire Polynesian experience.   
  5. Luxury of the only Relais & Chateaux property in French Polynesia Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa.
  6. Luxury of the love of traditionEach hotel is constructed to fit in perfectly with its surrounding environment.  Exotic woods, bamboo, pandanus, palm leaves, mother of pearl and shells are the primary materials used in the hotels.  Each property offers a high-quality, refined cuisine created with both Polynesian and international flavors.

Overall Feel of the Pearl Beach Resorts

We found the Pearl Beach resorts quite a number of years ago and were quite impressed with the level of luxury, the stunning locations and the ease of ability to travel from one to the other. SPM operates four Pearl Beach Resorts on the island of Moorea, Bora Bora, Tikehau, and Manihi. I have stayed at all except the one on Moorea. Even if you do not choose an over water bungalow (though do if you can!) the rooms are breathtaking and give you a total south seas, warm clear water, salty air, tropical, and I dare say magical feel. Romantic? Absolutely. Fun for a group of divers You bet!

Resort Spec Highlights

  1. Remote locations
  2. On the beach
  3. Over water
  4. Swimming pools
  5. Steeped in traditional feel
  6. Fish out your doorstep!
  7. Blue Nui dive shop on premises
  8. It’s Tahiti, what else do you need????
  9. Moorea – 8 beach, 28 garden, 28 over water and 30 garden rooms & family rooms
  10. Tikehau – 13 beach and 24 over water bungalows
  11. Manihi – 21 beach and 19 over water bungalows
  12. Bora Bora – 20 garden suites with private pool, 10 beach suites with private jacuzzi and 50 over water bungalows

*NOTE- In the past number of years, French Polynesia has become almost prohibitively expensive. Because of that it has been a couple of years since our last return. We hope to return to the area in 2011 to give a complete up to date review of the resorts. I understand that recently the Bora Bora Pearl Beach experienced a fire in one of their restaurants and pool bar. I’m sure this has impacted the guest experience and hope that it will be repaired soon.

Bora Bora

The Pearl Beach on Bora Bora is located off the main island. This is important to know. You need to take a shuttle boat across to the main island. Being located on a small island or motu, makes the resort exclusive and even more remote and I like that….though you may not want the inconvenience.

Tikehau

The resort is on the main island not far from the airport. It is a smaller resort on the lagoon with a lovely infinity pool. It definitely has a smaller feel to the place and since Tikehau itself is remote, you really have a sense of being in the middle of nowhere. It is a place where you can get three days of diving maximum as there are not many dive sites. If you want to try a really remote location for a couple of days give it a go.

Manihi

There is a nice pool at Manihi and the resort, like Tikehau has a small, remote feel. There is really not much else to do here other than relax and dive but for me….that’s just grand! Like in Tikehau there is not a week’s worth of diving here but 4-5 days would be great.

Beach

Bora Bora

The sand and palm trees which the PB Bora Bora sits on is exquisite! There is nothing more to say than that! It stretches out past the bungalows in a sweeping sandy point at the edge of the main channel into the atoll and sits exactly across from Otemanu, the iconic and picturesque volcano, magnificent for photos.

Tikehau

There is a small beach at Tikehau but I didn’t spend much time on it. We were either diving or snorkeling the hoa ( more on that in the next section).

Manihi

I would stick to Bora Bora if you want sweeping white sand beaches. The resort at Manihi offers just a small beach.

Snorkeling

Bora Bora

You can snorkel by just going down the steps of your overwater bungalow or right out the front of the beach. However, do take an excursion out to snorkel with the black tip sharks and stingrays as well as some of the other great locations in the lagoon with a multitude of colorful reef fish. Late afternoon is when the octopi come out to play and in the months of September and October, manta rays can be seen at various cleaning stations in the lagoon.

Tikehau

I LOVE snorkeling here. But it’s a different kind of snorkeling…through the hoa. A hoa is where the water from the ocean runs over into the lagoon but the water is just a couple of feet deep. So I take my mask and fins and walk to the ocean side, lie flat on my stomach and let the current pull me through the hoa and dump me into the lagoon. It’s a riot!! I could do this all day.

You can also snorkel at some of the dive sites and off the over water bungalows.

Manihi

You can snorkel out from over water bungalows but otherwise you would want to join the dive boat for snorkeling at the pass or just inside the lagoon.

Bars and Restaurants

Bora Bora

With the recent fire, I believe that PB Bora only currently has one restaurant and bar. I found the food very good here though like everything in Tahiti, it is pricey.

Tikehau

Definitely just one nice little restaurant and bar. Food was pretty good though not five star in my opinion.

Manihi

We had some challenges at the restaurant in Mahihi. Service was very very slow even by laid back standards and the food was okay but definitely not the quality of that at Bora Bora. Wines were also not of great quality and often corked from the heat. Remember that on these small islands the choices of both staff and availability of food variety can be challenging. It may have since changed.

Spa

All three resorts have very nice, relaxing spas with various treatments available.

Accommodations

Bora Bora

You can’t go wrong with any of the accommodation types at the Bora Bora resort. It simply depends on how much you want to pay. The garden bungalows are beautiful and well appointed but do not have the stunning views of the lagoon or the mountain. 14 of them have private swimming pools in a tropical garden setting (premium).

There are 10 Beach Suites which offer the same level of luxury as the garden bungalows but with private jacuzzis and are located at the edge of the beach. All have king beds but with an extra sofa that can be opened into a third bed.

There are 50 overwater bungalows ( or fares as it is called in Tahitian) which offer your dream visions of a Tahitian paradise. This is what everyone wants when they come to the south seas and it doesn’t disappoint. These large fares all have king beds, and glass top tables for looking straight into the lagoon. You can even take the top off the coffee table and feed the fish from inside your room! Outside there is an upper and lower deck. The lower deck offers a shower and steps straight down into the lagoon. If you want breakfast room service, it can be delivered by dugout canoe!!! If you can afford it, take the plunge and go for the over water bungalow. 30 of them are considered premium with the best views.

Be sure to get a specific bungalow number when you book and check it out on the map. Some of them are a LONG walk from the main resort.

Tikehau

Nothing is a long walk in Tikehau. It is a very small resort. There are 13 beachside fares which are beautiful and offer air conditioning as well as indoor/outdoor bathrooms. This is where I stayed and I really enjoyed it.

Overwater Bungalows, 9 regular and 7 premium. Though I say “regular” they are still spectacular complete with the partial clear floor and removeable tabletop for feeding fish, you will love these. One thing to note, if you are fond of air conditioning, go with the beach bungalows. Overwater do not have AC due to the breeze that usually blows through in the evenings.

Overwater Suites. These are new to me and I have not seen them but I imagine they are simply larger with living room areas. My best guess would be that the upgrade to overwater is worth it but I would have to see a definite list of amenities to see the upgrade worth it to the suites.

Manihi

There are 4 beach bungalows that face the overwater bungalows and 17 premium beach bungalows that look directly out at the lagoon. They both have indoor/outdoor bathrooms and a small deck out front and are on the water. The difference depends on how sweeping you want your view to be. They all offer ceiling fans, no AC.

There are 14 overwater bungalows and 4 premium overwater which have more privacy. As with the other resorts they feature the ability to look down into the water from inside your room! They do not offer air conditioning only ceiling fans.

Overall

Yes, Tahiti is the stuff of legends and dreams and romance. It is really truly true. If you can, go…. If you can book an overwater bungalow, do it. But watch for specials and time it right. It is currently very very expensive but lately there have been some air inclusive deals. It really is magical…..go.

Some of our Favorite Dive Operators

There are many dive operators within the Tahitian islands, some are attached to resorts are some are not. All are French. We have dived with quite a number of them going all the way back to Bernard at Bathys who truly pioneered shark diving and feeding and who remains a friend to this day, some 16 years later. So of course, we have our favorites.

Rangiroa

Many years ago when we were running the diving operation for a cruise ship in the islands, we contracted with Raie Manta Club for our diving. The owner, Yves LeFevre was an up and coming underwater cinematographer. Now, Yves films are renowned in France. He was a cameraman for Jean Michel Cousteau’s latest documentary on the northern Hawaiian islands. He’s an amazing and very humble man. On occasion when Yves is in Rangiroa we still dive together, but we always use his shop.

It’s not fancy or probably even totally efficient but we love them anyways. They come by in an open air truck to pick us up and take us either to their shop or to their shack depending on where we are diving. The shack is literally a shack with a compressor at the base of the famous Tiputa Pass. We hang around, get geared up and load up the gear in an inflatable (the only type of boat to dive from in this area). They always do a thorough briefing and are very good with safety in the water. The dives are always guided and they pop a shoot as we scream through the pass so boats know where we are at all times. There is never any stress about time be it above or under the water, just pay attention to your computer. Depth is not an issue either as long as you stay within the limits of your computer and your comfort. Afterall, did I mention it’s French?

After the dive we drink tea out of sort of washed out mugs and hang around for awhile until it’s time for the next dive or to pile back in the truck to go back to the resort for lunch.

The only issue we have ever encountered with Raie Manta Club is that sometimes the air from the compressor from the shack has a bit of an oily smell to it. Hopefully, they’ve  got that all sorted but it’s been ongoing for a few years.

Fakarava

Jean Christoph runs Te Ava Nui dive shop on Fakarava and again, he is truly the pioneer of diving in the area. The dive shop here is not fancy either as it is a very small island without a lot of facilities. But his small shop is a clean, air conditioned concrete building with a long dock.

Jean Christoph does not babysit and unless you come with a group with your own instructor/divemaster like with Global Dive you need to be self sufficient. You rig and carry your own gear out the long dock to the boat. You need to check for “O” rings and be sure everything is in working condition before leaving the dock and heading out to the pass. His two large RIBs have a sun cover and get you to the dive sites quickly.
Diving is two per day one in the morning and one in the afternoon because the diving can be deep and long and it’s easy to do a little deco time if you’re not careful. Diving is all done around the tides so timing changes daily and is done around Garua Pass. If weather permits, a trip over to Toau Island with a picnic lunch is fantastic as is the diving down at the south pass. This trip south is about 2 hours each way and they recommend that you stay at the pension down at the south end of the island for a couple of days to do the diving. We managed it in one day and it was fine.

It’s important to be clear with Jean Christoph about the diving and your own level of comfort. On one dive at the south pass, his driver left us and took the boat to the dock and only when our boat rider insisted he go back out to follow our bubbles did he go. I’m sure he wouldn’t have done this if Jean Christoph had been with us but it’s something to look out for. We had to wait in the water for a time before he came to pick us up.

Bora Bora/Tikehau/Manihi

Bora Bora

Giles Petrehas put together a nice dive operation in conjunction with the Pearl Beach Resorts. He opened in 2000 when the resort opened on Bora Bora and has expanded to the other Pearl Beach resorts. He runs a safe and fun program offering two tank morning dives and afternoon one tank if you would like.

Giles uses two aluminum dive boats 28 and 23 feet both covered and well equipped for diving in the local conditions. The dive shop is large and comfortable and the dock is inside the lagoon so it’s calm, easy access on and off. All safety equipment is on board and up to date.

Giles easy going attitude shows in his crew and his operation. The longest run to a dive site is no more than about 20 minutes so the diving is very convenient.

Tikehau

Blue Nui operates the dive center at the Pearl Beach in Tikehau. Tikehau diving is all done just outside the pass across the lagoon which is about a 30 minute run. They use a 28ft covered catamaran style boat for up to 17 divers. There are really only six dive sites though they are so close together you really only feel like there are three. So Tikehau is a great stopping off island for about two days of diving, playing in the hoas and just hanging out on our island hopping journey of the Tuamotus.

Manihi

Similar to Tikehau, Manihi has about six dive sites though there is more variety within the six than on Tikehau. A small operation as well, they have one aluminum dive boat that holds up to 16 divers and it is a short ride out to the dive sites. I like to give about 4 nights and three days of diving to Manihi on my round the Tuamotus tours with a special multi island pass from Air Tahiti.

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