At first glance, Fiji and French Polynesia share many similarities. With postcard-perfect islands, coral-fringed lagoons and diving dreamscapes, both have long been considered the ultimate tropical escapes. However, dive a little deeper and you'll discover there are remarkable differences. With humpback whales vs. shark frenzies, ripping drift dives vs. calm coral kaleidoscopes and some of the world's top dive sites, the battle of Fiji vs. French Polynesia diving promises to be a close one. But there can be only one winner in the South Pacific…
Research any 'best dive sites in the world' round-up, and you'll likely find both French Polynesia and Fiji up top. In French Polynesia, Moorea is one of the only places in the world you can snorkel with humpback whales. However, the most famous dive lies in the Tiputa Pass in Rangiroa. Also known as the 'washing machine,' divers are whipped down a narrow passway alongside a resident pod of bottlenose dolphins and several species of shark, including hammerheads, grey reef sharks and the occasional tiger shark.
While French Polynesia is known for world-class big animal dives, Fiji is all about coral. The Somosomo Strait, which runs between the islands of Taveuni and Vanua Levu, has the best soft coral diving we've come across. One of our favourites is the 'Great White Wall,' a plunging coral-encrusted wall so bright it almost glows.
This round is too close to call, as it really comes down to preference. We're calling a draw. Fiji, 1, French Polynesia, 1.
Boasting sites such as 'Rainbow Reef' and 'Purple Wall,' it comes as no surprise that Fiji offers some of the most colourful dives in the world. For the cream of the crop, beeline straight to the Somosomo Strait for technicolour wall dives; Vatu-i-Ra Passage, located in Bligh Water, also deserves a standing ovation as Fiji's most colourful drift dive. While Fiji reigns as the 'Soft Coral Capital of the World,' French Polynesia is gaining a solid reputation as the world's hard coral capital. For an unmissable diving experience, head to Tikehau, where hard coral sites harbour blizzards of marine life.
In the battle of Fiji vs. French Polynesia diving, Fiji's technicolour reefs win this round. Fiji, 2, French Polynesia, 1.
Shark aficionados look no further than the world-famous 'Shark Encounter' dive in Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Here, witness up to eight different shark species in a single dive, including the rarely seen tiger shark. While this shark marine reserve is hard to beat, in the battle of Fiji vs. French Polynesia diving, French Polynesia - or specifically Fakarava - manages to steal the crown. Experience exhilarating drift dives in South and North Fakarava, alongside 200-strong schools of grey reef sharks. Insider tip: try and time your trip with the grouper spawning sequence to witness a once-in-a-lifetime shark feeding frenzy.
This round was a tough one to call. Although Fiji is home to all the big-ticket shark species, diving with 200 grey reef sharks in Fakarava is too good to miss. French Polynesia takes this one, making it 2-2.
Learn to Dive
When it comes to learning to dive, both French Polynesia and Fiji are excellent choices. Both countries are characterised by crystal-clear, calm lagoons, shallow coral gardens and colourful marine life. In Fiji, the private island paradise of Qamea has a delightful house reef for blowing your first bubbles. Once certified, fill up your logbook with the likes of 'Fish Patch,' 'The Playground' and 'Purple Wall.' Over in French Polynesia, beginner divers can spot manta rays, turtles and more in Bora Bora's shallow lagoons.
If you're comparing Fiji vs. French Polynesia diving for blowing your first bubbles, you really can't go wrong with either - it's a draw in this round. Fiji, 3, French Polynesia, 3.
The wonderful thing about Fiji is that most of the sites cater to both beginner and advanced divers alike. However, if you're an advanced diver looking for more of a challenge, look no further than French Polynesia. Some of the top sites - like Tiputa Pass and South and North Fakarava - are best suited for advanced divers, with ride-the-rip drift dives, deep channels and big animal encounters. In particular, Fakarava North Pass has seven currents at play, therefore we only recommend this spot for advanced divers with over 50 dives under their belt.
For advanced divers, both Fiji and French Polynesia have excellent sites. However, French Polynesia narrowly wins this round for its impressive roster of adrenaline-inducing drift dives. After five rounds, French Polynesia has come out on top with a final score of 4-3. If you're still not sure whether to go to Fiji or French Polynesia, our experts are on hand to help narrow down the options and tailor-make an itinerary full of underwater thrills.
Written by Lizzie Shipley