Yet the greatest perception-versus-reality conundrum probably relates to diving. I hear even savvy world travelers pontificate that “Tahiti is just sharks” or “Tahiti is just drift diving.” Well, French Polynesia certainly has plenty of sharks. And there are some extraordinary drift dives, especially through passes in the atolls where the flow of nutrients attracts huge schools of crimson bigeyes and, at times, walls of gray reef sharks. But these islands offer so much more, from big pelagics like manta rays and humpbacks to friendly reef tropicals in shallow water.
French Polynesia is one of the more misunderstood dive destinations in the world. The fact that many people know it as Tahiti is symptomatic of this confusion; Tahiti is just one of this country’s many islands, albeit the largest and most commercial one. This exquisite string of 118 islands and atolls is located in the South Pacific, halfway between California and Australia. The international airport on Tahiti is just a seven-and-a-half-hour flight from Los Angeles, and there is a 12-hour direct flight from New York. When you consider how exotic these islands are, that they are this accessible from the U.S. mainland is quite remarkable.