Sugar Shack at Tiputa Anchorage

Rangiroa, the 2nd Largest Atoll in the World

The weather gave us a nice window to get from Tikehau to Rangiroa.  It was a bit of a challenge to schedule our exit out of the Tikehau pass to the entrance of the Rangiroa pass during slack tide.  On top of that we had to calculate the approximate sailing time to get from one atoll to the other.  Not hard, just challenging.  The best time to leave and enter any pass is during slack tide.  Tikehau’s slack tide was at 1700 and Rangiroa’s was at 0800.  Which left us 15 hours to make 50 nm.  Typically, we could have made this passage during the day in about 9 hours.  However, the slack tides forced us to make the passage at night.

We had very little wind so we decided to just go with the flow.  This is a very typical sailor thing to do.  However, this is not typical for Matt and I.  Usually, we turn the engines on if we are going less than 3-4 kts.  But, since we were in no hurry we ran the jib and one engine at 1200 rpm.  

We managed to arrive in front of the pass at 0730 and decided to hang out for 30 minutes.  It was the first time we had timed the pass accurately.  It went smoothly and we dropped the hook near the Tiputa village.

Passage Details

Miles Traveled: 50.1 nm

Duration: 14.5 hrs 

Avg. Speed:  3.5 kt

Max Speed:  5 kt

Wind Speed:  3-8 kt SE

Sugar Shack at the Tiputa anchorage in front of the Kia Oro Resort.  They so graciously (unbeknownst to them) gave us their internet during our stay 🙂

Anchorage at Tiputa Village, Rangiroa

Anchorage at Tiputa Village, Rangiroa

Little Bit About Rangiroa

Rangiroa is the largest and the most populous atoll in the Tuamotus.  In addition it is considered the 2nd largest atoll in the world.  It has two villages, Avatoru and Tiputa that are located on separate, but connected motus. 

Rangiroa was discovered in 1616 by the Dutch, which is approximately 150 years before Tahiti.  It has a rather large lagoon at 45 nm long by 18 nm wide.    The atoll consists of about 415 motus, islets and sandbars.  Strung together in the ocean for more than 110 miles, completely encircling a deep lagoon

There are close to 2,600 Tahitians that live on this motu.  Which makes it the greatest population in this remote region.  There are only two passes that grant access to the interior lagoon.  Each town is located near a pass and the airport is located in between.

Rangiroa is quite possibly the world’s most immense natural aquarium. Blessed with an accessible yet secluded appeal and a large abundant lagoon, this is a renowned destination for diving.

12-Mile Bike Ride Around the Island

We rented bikes and cruised around, across 3 motus and over 8 bridges. It is a 5-mile route from Tiputa to Avatoru if you follow the main road.  Of course Matt and I went off roading a lot, stopping at many beaches and several magasins for cold beverages.

Exploring Rangiroa

Exploring Rangiroa

We found many gorgeous spots along the way.

Picturesque Spot

Picturesque Spot

A beautiful church made of coral and monument made of pearl shells.

Church on Rangiroa

Church on Rangiroa

Stop at a local pension (hotel)

Kia Ora Resort

Kia Ora Resort

Snorkeling the Aquarium

Just inside the Tiputa pass is a protected coral garden called the aquarium.  The local government has added wonderful informational signs underwater. It is a popular tourist destination, so we planned our stop around the down times.

Station 1 explains about the reef formations:

Station 1 Underwater Garden

Skyline Trilogy

The 2nd Station talks about the sea life

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On Station 3 it shares the relationship between the fish and coral

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Station 4 explains the fragility of the coral

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With Station 5 it explains how corals grow

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Station 6 talks about the communications between small fish and large fish

Station 6 Underwater Garden

Station 6 Underwater Gardengarden

More Things to See in Rangiroa:

  • Blue Lagoon
  • Dolphin Dancing Show
  • Pink sand beaches
  • Reef Island

We named this boat the mullet (business in the front and party in the back)

The Mullet

The Mullet

We had lots of little squalls come through, but we were often rewarded with a rainbow.

Rainbow in Rangiroa

Rainbow in Rangiroa

Typical atoll in the Tuamotus

The Tuamotu Archipelago

The Tuamotus archipelago is the widest of the five French Polynesia archipelagos.  Makatea and the 4 Gambier islands are the only high islands.  However, the remaining 83 motus or atolls are not actually islands.  Only 6% (roughly 19,000) of the Tahitian population live in this region, which is surprising considering it has the most islands and covers the widest area.

Tuamotus (Image from Google Images)

Tuamotus (Image from Google Images)

This region is famous for its colorful and perfect pearls (Gambiers).  However, its first quality is the purity and wealth of the underwater world.

The Tuamotus were named “the dangerous archipelago” because of their hazardous passes and abundant coral heads “bombies.”  The first European settlers aptly named the region because of the immense risks it presented to the ships during that era.  Alternatively, today, many vessels visit the area thanx to navigational charts and Google Earth.

Google Earth will give you high level images of the archipelago. As well as many other images (as you know).

Google Earth Image of Tuamotus

Google Earth Image of Tuamotus

In addition, you can zoom in to see a particular region.

Google Earth Islands

Google Earth Islands

Alternatively, you can zoom in to see a specific motu.  You can even zoom in enough to see the coral heads.

Google Earth image of Tikehau

Google Earth image of Tikehau

The archipelago is divided into the Western and Eastern islands.  The western islands were discovered long before the Society Islands.  The Spanish navigators discovered them in 1605 and then the Dutch in 1616.  However, despite these discoveries, it took an additional 230 years for the world to learn about this archipelago.  The whaling captains plowed through these seas refusing to talk about them.  Probably trying to protect their fishing zones. Because discovering an island was not a priority.

Easter Tuamotus

Explorers left the Eastern Tuamotus mostly undiscovered.  That is until the The French Government decided to put the Centre d’essai du Pacific Experimentation Center (CEP) in these atolls in 1960.  Which is just a fancy name for nuclear testing facility.  These tests continued for 33 years before it was shut down in 1996.

By way of example, a typical Tuamotu island will look like the photo below.  In particular, with a reef surrounding the motus and a lagoon in the center.

Typical atoll in the Tuamotus

Typical atoll in the Tuamotus

Islands we have already visited in the Tuamotus (as of 22 Sept. 2019)

  • Hao
  • Makatea
  • Tikehau
  • Rangiroa
  • Hao

Islands we hope to visit in the Tuamotus:

  • Apataki
  • Kauehi
  • Fakarava
  • Tahanea
  • Makemo
  • Ahe
  • Amanu
  • Manehi

Considering the above list, if we were to hit all of those islands, we would have visited all of the passable atolls in the Tuamotus.  The fact that it is the largest archipelago, that is a huge feat.

Tikehau Beach

Tikehau Full of Sea Treasures

Tikehau Adventures.  Our friends on Alrisha gave us the low down on the motu.  It did not take long as it is a super small village.  There are only two streets that run parallel to each other where everything can be located.  We left the boat the next morning to go exploring.

Not many decisions to make when it comes to directions.  We left Sweetie at the little marina, walked out to the first street and decided to go to the 2nd street.  Right on the corner is the bakery.  You can order your bread in the morning and pick it up at 1600h.  They also sell propane and fuel because why not get those while you are picking up your croissants and baguettes?  To the left of the bakery and about 100 meters down is the one and only magasin (market).  We walked in, picked up some coldish beverages and continued on.

Nothing left in that direction on the 2nd road so we turned around and walked the opposite direction.  At the first opportunity, we turned left onto a dirt road hoping to come to the end of the island.  Even their dirt roads are pretty.

Dirt road on Tikehau

Dirt road on Tikehau

We walked all the way around the island along the shore of some very pretty beaches.

Tikehau Beaches

Tikehau Beaches

The black tip sharks like to swim up to shore to check you out.  We saw a half dozen just hanging out and watching us.

Sharks in 6" of water

Sharks in 6″ of water

Sea Treasures

As we walked along shore, we collected lots of sea treasures.  The beach was full of shells and bits of corals and sea urchins.  I am hoping I can figure out how to make some jewelry out of the purple urchin shells.

Sea Treasures

Sea Treasures

We stopped and at a snack shack for lunch.  Matt had a fish burger and I had chicken.  We enjoyed the cover as a squall rolled in while we ate.

Snack shack on the wharf at Tikehau

Snack shack on the wharf at Tikehau

On the way back we went back to the beach to finish our circumference of the island.  Got this great shot of Sugar Shack at anchor.

Tikehau Beach

Tikehau Beach

Another pretty beach

Tikehau beach

Tikehau beach

Anchorage

Sugar Shack was anchored off of Tuherahera motu where the main village is located.  Originally, we had wanted to visit Ilse de Eden where the Garden of Eden is located, bird island, and a few other motus.

However, we were here for several days, but did not have much of an opportunity to explore the other motus due to bad weather.  During a maramu, we hunkered down and then decided to leave at a weather window.

We did motor over to Motu Mauu which is a known manta ray cleaning station.  A quick dip in the water allowed us to admire the fish.  However, we never came across any manta rays.  Maybe next time.

Motu Mauu Manta Ray Cleaning Station

Motu Mauu Manta Ray Cleaning Station

Tikehau History

Tikehau is part of the Tuamotu Archipelago.  The lagoon is rather large and spams 17 nmm.  There is only one passe that can be used by boats and it has to be used during slack tide to avoid damage.  This motu has an almost continuous barrier reef with numerous islets covered in vegetation and coconut trees.  One the south-west part, between the village (airport) and the pass, has a reef awash with no islets.

Tikehau map

Tikehau map

Jaques Coustea made a study on Tikehau’s lagoon during a visit in 1987.  He discovered that it contains a greater variety of fish species than any other place in French Polynesia.

Today, Tikehau is a tourist destination, popular for its pink sand beaches and its exceptional underwater fauna.

Only 500 Tahitians call this motu home where they mostly live on copra, fishing, tourism and a little pearl farming.  In 2001, Tikehau opened its first resort called Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort.