The Other Side of Paradise

Clients take in Tahiti, above and below the waves

By: Jad Davenport

It’s just shy of eight in the morning and already a dozen hotel guests are smearing on coconut-scented sunscreen at Bathy’s Club, a small dive shop in the Moorea Beachcomber InterContinental Resort. Owner and manager Juan-Pedro Duran Lopez is busy passing out wetsuits while his office assistant carefully checks diving certification cards. At the pier outside, two boats cough to life. Onboard, dozens of aluminum tanks reverberate like wind chimes as divemasters pack them in racks, making room for coolers full of bottled water and oranges.

Lopez is pleased with the bustle. When asked if it is always this busy, he nods.

“The secret is out, at least for most people,” he said. “Look around. We are on probably the most beautiful island in the world. But if you aren’t putting on a mask and fins, and you aren’t jumping into her lagoons, then you are missing out on the whole other side of paradise.”

Plunging through the looking glass to catch a glimpse of the other side of paradise is something that more and more visitors are doing these days. Captain Paul Stone of the Tahiti Aggressor, the only liveaboard dive boat that plies these waters, said his boat is booked months in advance.

“We are in one of the top diving spots in the entire Pacific, if not the world,” he said. “People come here for a dive vacation, not to do some diving on a vacation.”

His observation hasn’t eluded savvy travel agents who are fast discovering that where dives were once mainly a tag-on activity for Tahiti-bound travelers, they have since become the vacationer’s main objective.

The islands’ rising popularity as a scuba destination has as much to do with its warm, crystalline waters as it does the wealth of sealife. Tahiti is part of the vast Indo-Pacific coral reef system that spans the globe from the Red Sea, across the Indian Ocean and through the Pacific.

As an upscale travel destination, Tahiti and her islands also have a highly developed and efficient tourist infrastructure. Professional dive operations with the latest equipment are ubiquitous throughout the five island groups.

With so many operators to choose from, it’s important to help your client find a good fit that matches their skill level and enthusiasm. Find out whether your client is interested in simply sampling scuba during a one-day resort course, or whether they want an intense, weeklong adventure exploring unnamed reefs from a liveaboard.

Regardless of their plans, encourage your client to bring their own mask, snorkel and fins. There is nothing more liberating than an impromptu snorkel off the back deck of a bungalow. And while most hotels rent gear, finding a good fit can sometimes be a challenge.

Unless your client is a serious scuba enthusiast generally someone with more than 50 logged dives the best option is to book conservatively. Most clients will find that one or two diving trips per island is plenty of time underwater. A two-tank morning dive generally costs around $110, and rental gear like wetsuits, buoyancy vests and regulators cost an additional $20 per day.

Earning commissions on dive vacations can be done through accommodation bookings or dive packages, or a combination of both. Hotels and resorts usually offer commissions between 10 and 40 percent for accommodations, while associated dive shops give commissions ranging from 10 to 15 percent for dive packages. The Tahiti Aggressor pays agents commissions of 12 percent on individual bookings and 15 percent for six or more clients.

Most casual resort diving takes place in the Society Islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. Diving in the Societies is ideal for recreational divers and usually involves short boat rides (under a half-hour) across lagoons to explore shipwrecks and coral gardens. More advanced divers can join trips beyond the outer reefs of Bora Bora and Moorea where mantas and dolphins play.

About 200 miles northeast of these islands is the low-lying Tuamotu group a world apart, both above and below the water. Unlike the Society Islands whose verdant spires rise thousands of feet from the sea, the 77 Tuamotus necklaced across 700 miles of Pacific are true desert isles flat atolls tufted with palm trees are inhabited mostly by coconut crabs and seagulls.

Nobody, however, comes to these islands for the topside scenery.

“People come here for the sharks,” Mike Veitch said. “Lots and lots of sharks.”

A Canadian divemaster on the Tahiti Aggressor, Veitch has worked throughout the South Pacific aboard the Aggressor fleet, and he said he has never seen shark action like this.

“In Palau, which is known for shark encounters, we would have schools of 15 to 20 reef sharks at a time and that was pretty exciting.” Here, he said, divers are sometimes swimming through schools of 200 sharks.

The reason there are so many sharks in the Tuamotus is also the reason it has some of the most advanced diving in the world. Stone explains that the atolls are flushed twice daily by the tides, creating dynamic currents that draw bait fish, which in turn attract sharks. Divers here need to be comfortable with fast drift dives.

Despite or perhaps because of the high-octane diving, he said, guests keep returning. Perhaps they are discovering the secret to seeing the other side of paradise.

“After one week on the Aggressor,” Stone said, “they all say the same thing. ‘If we had known what the diving was like in Tahiti, we would have come much sooner.’”


Aquatica Dive Center
Offers several beginner dives and a number of more advanced excursions, including wreck dives.

Eleuthera Plongee
Also on the main island, it visits more than 30 different dive sites.

Bathy’s Club
Located at the luxurious Moorea Beachcomber InterContinental Resort, this is the island’s only PADI five-star diving center.

Bora Bora
One of the largest PADI-certified operations on the island with shops on Bora Bora, Moorea and Rangiroa.

Tahiti Aggressor
Runs the only liveaboard dive boat in French Polynesia. They offer weeklong journeys through the Tuamotus with stops at the Rangiroa, Apataki, Toau and Fakarava atolls.