The more southerly reaches of the vast Pacific Ocean may seem a million miles away, but they are home to some of the world's most luxurious resorts and an array of stunning marine life. Fiji - the soft coral capital of the world - and French Polynesia - the hard coral capital of the world - attract divers from all over the world. As impressive as the pristine corals are, they are not the sole reason divers endure the epic journey to this part of the world; if you like sharks, you'll also love exploring the best diving in the South Pacific.
Lying a little over 1,000 miles north-northeast of New Zealand, Fiji consists of more than 330 islands and more than 500 islets rising out of the southern Pacific. Famed for its colourful soft-coral walls and up-close-and-personal shark dives, Fiji is home to some of the best diving in the South Pacific region.
The shallow, narrow channel that separates Taveuni from Vanua Levu in northern Fiji is easily one of Fiji's top dive destinations and home to many outstanding dive sites. Known as the Somosomo Strait, the channel is always stunning, but really comes into its own when the tide is rising. Nutrient-rich water wells up from the deep, flooding the channel, and the rainbow-hued soft corals engorge and sway in the current as manta rays, white tips, kingfish and barracudas cruise by. The strait is known as the Rainbow Reef, and the sections known as the Great White Wall and Purple Wall are particularly impressive.
While you can expect to see reef sharks enjoying the currents of the Somosomo Strait, shark lovers looking for close-up encounters will be best served by heading to Beqa Lagoon. Black-tipped reef sharks, white-tipped reef sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertip sharks, tawny nurse sharks, sicklefin lemon sharks, bull sharks and the occasional tiger shark are all regular visitors, ensuring the lagoon always gets a mention when discussing the best diving in the South Pacific...
Over 100 islands and atolls, dispersed over a large swathe of the Pacific Ocean's southern region, make up France's overseas collectivity of French Polynesia. It may be literally half the world away from northern Europe, but its diving is on another planet entirely. Fast-paced drift dives through shark-infused lagoon passes are the order of the day (as well as being one of the best ways to start your day).
Tikehau and Rangiroa are two locations famed for their pass dives. Tuheiva's Pass takes you into Tikehau's lagoon, which was described by Jacques Cousteau as being home to the richest fish life of any lagoon, and the dive is more accessible to less experienced divers than some of the country's other pass dives. Hammerheads, tiger sharks and grey reefs, as well as Napoleon wrasses, turtles, great barracudas and schools of jacks, are all there to keep you company as the current pushes you along the channel.
Rangiroa, to the east of Tikehau, is also often cited as being among the best diving in the South Pacific. Healthy numbers of turtles, dolphins and rays cruise past large schools of jacks and barracudas, all under the watchful eyes of the sharks. Grey reef and silvertip sharks are commonly sighted, but if you want to bump into the hammerheads, a trip between November and February would be the most fruitful. But it's not just about the sharks; Rangiroa is also a great place for manta ray encounters, which makes it even more worthy of being counted among the best diving in the South Pacific.