In French Polynesia, the snorkeling in Tahiti offers stretches of lagoons protected by an atoll barrier reef. With the a smaller barrier reef system and more river runoff on Tahiti, the water quality and visibility is lower for Tahiti snorkeling dive sites when compared to other French Polynesian islands. In addition, the coral reef formations do not appear to be quite as healthy and the quantity of marine life seems to be lower when compared to the other islands. Even so, there are a few spots worth exploring. Surprisingly, most hotels and dive shops have little info about these snorkeling spots, even right off their own shores.
The main snorkeling zones within a protected lagoon are located on the northwest coast from the Fa’a’a Airport south to the village of Punaauia. Starting from the north, here are descriptions of the Tahiti snorkeling dive sites along that coastline.
First, located just north of the Fa’a’a Airport to the west of the main city of Pape’ete, the snorkeling at Les Trois Epaves offers up several wrecks and diverse reef fish to explore. Within the protected lagoon, the Les Trois Epaves (the three wrecks) dive spot has a plane wreck and a boat wreck to explore. The water depth ranges from 15 feet to 50 feet deep. During this dive, you may encounter butterflyfish, angelfish, wrasse, triggerfish and anemones.
Located just south of the Fa’a’a Airport, the InterContinental Tahiti Resort is home to the Tahiti Lagoonarium which is open to snorkelers. Also called Fare l’a Reserve, the Lagoonarium is a restored man-made isolated lagoon within the resort that has water fed from the main lagoon. There are over 800 transplanted coral colonies on a couple dozen lava rocks and 100 giant clams (up to 20cm), which provide habitat for reef fish. This monitored ecosystem is habitat for over 200 species of sea creatures, including parrot fish, Picasso triggerfish, trumpetfish, goatfish and angelfish. There is average water clarity up to 25 feet.
Also, off the InterContinental Tahiti Resort, there are two large reef formations. The first reef is located off the northwest end of the northernmost overwater bungalows. It has been informally marked by small buoys. The eastern edge of the reef is located in a shallow sand flat. The western end drops off a deep wall at the edge of a boat channel. It is home to reef octopus, a few giant clams up to 20cm and a few of the reef fish including sergeant majors, wrasse, parrotfish, bannerfish and butterflyfish. The water clarity is not particularly good and may be as low as 15 feet. There are unconfirmed rumors that the water in the region of the Intercontinental is polluted, so make sure to confirm water quality prior to heading out.
Offshore of the InterContinental Tahiti Resort, the best snorkeling in Tahiti can be found at the Aquarium dive site. The Tahiti Aquarium snorkeling spot is located about 3,000 feet to the west off the docks at the northern end of the resort. It is far out in the lagoon and is still protected by the barrier reef. The Aquarium offers sand flats with scattered coral heads in waters ranging from 10 to 50 feet deep. From the established mooring buoys, be prepared to snorkel great distances to reach the three main zones. To the north of the buoys about 500 feet away, there are scattered coral heads which do come within 5 feet of the water surface. These are the primary attraction of this dive site. There is some very healthy coral growth and plentiful marine life. To the east of the buoys, about 150 feet away, there are several small wrecks including two schooners and a Cessna airplane in about 40 feet of water. A little further to the east of the Cessna, there are a few coral heads that have large beautiful anemones. To the west of the buoys about 700 feet away towards the barrier reef, the are some smaller scattered coral heads in 15 foot deep water. The tops of the coral heads come within 5 feet of the surface and have some amazing growth, which are home to many juvenile reef fish schools. During Tahiti Aquarium snorkeling, you may encounter triggerfish, lionfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, moorish idols, damselfish and surgeonfish. While strong snorkelers do swim out from the Intercontinental Hotel, many of the snorkelers use one of the guided boat tours or rent kayaks (best in the morning on very calm days with little wind).
Continuing south of the town of Puna’auia, there is another stretch of barrier reef. At the Le Meridien Tahiti Resort, there is a house reef located around the overwater bungalows. The house reef has scattered coral heads in about 15 foot deep waters. The resort is located around mile marker PK15.
Just south of Le Meridien Tahiti Resort, there is good snorkeling at Plage Publique de Toaroto. There are very scattered coral heads in shallow water. Since this is a popular beach with limited parking, make sure to arrive before 9am. The parking area is located at mile marker PK15.5.
Further south, there is an underwater snorkel trail known as Le Sentier Sous-Marin that is operated by the Pa’e Pa’e No Te Ora Association since 2003. It is located offshore of mile marker PK17, but there isn’t a designated parking area. It has been marked by a series of easily identifiable in water buoys. The association will provide guided tours occasionally (call Amy 22.214.171.124 or Martine 126.96.36.199).
The most popular Tahiti snorkeling is at Plage de Vaiava, which has scattered coral heads located about 100 feet offshore. The beach is located about 3km south of Le Meridien Resort at mile marker PK18. Since Vaiava Beach is the most popular on the island, make sure to arrive very early to get some of the limited parking (before 9am). Oddly, there doesn’t seem to be much marine life here but the large coral reefs are very healthy.
Also nearby, there is good snorkeling at Plage Publique de Papehue. It is located at mile marker PK18.3 and has some limited parking. With its smaller beach, it is slightly less popular than Vaiava Beach. But, there are some nice coral heads in the sand flats offshore to explore. Similarly, there isn’t many reef fish here either.
After a long day of snorkeling on the west coast of Tahiti, grab a cool drink on the waterfront deck at Captain Bligh Tahiti Restaurant (PK 11.4), Pink Coconut Restaurant (PK7) or Blue Banana Restaurant (PK11).
To reach Tahiti snorkeling by air, you will need to fly into Fa’a'a International Airport (PPT) located on the southwest side of the capital city of Papeete on the island of Tahiti. The main international airlines serving Fa’a’a Airport are Air Tahiti Nui (Los Angeles), Hawaiian Airlines (Honolulu) and Air France. To continue on to one of the many islands within French Polynesia, the inter-island airline is Air Tahiti. In case you are coming from the Cook Islands, Air Tahiti also serves Cook Islands to Fa’a’a Airport.
Overall, Tahiti is the 2nd most popular snorkel dive spot of all 13 snorkeling dives in French Polynesia.