Riding the Riptide: Rangiroa, French Polynesia

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A view of the ocean

Let It Rip!

There are a handful of where, due to some fluke of geography, the are unusually large and strong. Most of those seem occur in cold, rocky, forbidding regions (, anyone?), but then there’s the tropical atoll of , the jewel of . This immense volcanic landform stretches like a coral necklace for some 110 miles, all surrounding a sapphire blue lagoon about as big as the entire city of Los Angeles. Despite its size, there are only two narrow passes through which the rising or falling tide can flow, and when the rip tide begins, a spectacular show ensues. Bottlenose dolphins frolic in the 12-foot-high, surging waves, while a marine menagerie flows past. Manta rays, several species of sharks, hawksbill turtles, barracudas, even humpback whales all call home, and they’re happy to welcome snorkelers and divers to their playground.

Most flights to this off-the-beaten-track destination arrive from Papeete, French Polynesia. Visitors expecting wild nightlife or deluxe shopping may be disappointed to learn that the two towns of and Tiputa really don’t offer much more than an incredibly relaxing tropical paradise and world-class watersports. There are exceptions, however; is home to Boutique Ikimasho, which specializes in exquisite black pearl jewelry, and other shops turn out charming handicrafts.

But it’s the water that draws people and other creatures to this Eden of the South Seas. Riding the riptide through the pass at Tiputa is a great rush, and makes “Rangi” one of the world’s premiere diving and snorkeling destinations. Rubber Zodiac boats drop thrill-seekers in the drink outside right before the tide is scheduled to change. When the tide surges, fish, dolphins, and humans alike are swept into the lagoon on the under-water ride of their lives.

The surge lasts several minutes, and if that’s not exciting enough for you, some tour operators will let you swim with the sharks. No, not in a protective steel cage—that’s for sissies—but next to a chum line where dozens of sharks, including those known to attack humans like hammerheads, tiger sharks, lemon sharks, and black-tips are engaging in a feeding frenzy just a few feet away from your unprotected flesh. If you still need more adrenaline after that, get an injection. —ML

Tours: Caradonna Dive Adventures ( 800/328-2288; www.caradonna.com). TOPdive ( 689/96-05-60; www.topdive.com). Dive Tahiti Blue ( 310/507-0211; www.divetahitiblue.com).

When to Go: Year-round.

$$$ Hotel Kia Ora Sauvage, P.O. Box 198-98775, Avatoru ( 689/96-04-93; www.hotelkiaora.com). $$ Lagoon Resort, P.O. Box 17-98775, Avatoru ( 689/96-02-00; www.novotel.com).

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