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Sat 1st - Sun 2nd Apr, Rangiroa, French Polynesia.

The sublime diving would have made this trip more than worthwhile, but in addition Rangiroa is a hundred times more laid back and friendly than Tahiti. Skinny Jacques, his ample wife and their friendly dog make a warm welcome.

The tiny plane from Papeete flew for an hour across the unbroken Pacific, finally sliding down towards the great ring of Rangiroa lying like a lone rubberband in the ocean.

Big steps further off the beaten track, the travellers are far more friendly and interesting. In the beachfront huts of Rangiroa Lodge (admittedly here being beachfront isn't all that special - there isn't much room on the atoll rim for anything to not be on the beach) I meet a Danish couple who have worked their way on ships across the Pacific for months, and Renaud and Nancy, Belgian/Mexican newlyweds on a years honeymoon round the world.

Surface intervals between dives are filled with lounging around, sporadic conversation and the occasional trip to the local shop to boggle at the prices. It is a little peculiar for your local South Pacific shop to always have a supply of fresh baguettes, but hey.

The sun shines, the beach is gleaming white (coral, not sand, but you can't have everything) and the lagoon is an incredible electric blue. Wide-screen sunsets spread purple and pink across the sky.

Mon 3rd April. Rangiroa, French Polynesia.

On my last day, letting the nitrogen seep out of my system before the flight back to Tahiti, hire bicycles with Renaud and Nancy. The highest point on the motu (reef islet - this section of the atoll rim) is an alpine four metres above sea level (this would not be a good place to get caught in a tropical storm) so it's an easy ride. There is basically only one road - with just one junction, where it makes a little loop at one end - so you'd have to be pretty incompetent to get lost too.

At the far point of the motu we prop the bikes on the end of a pier. Lying looking at the water and discussing going for a swim - how deep do you think it is - oh, seven or eight metres - do you think there are sharks? - when there is a gust of wind and an ominous splash. A trickle of bubbles rises from my bike, now lying seven or eight metres deep. Going for a swim is no longer an idle choice...

A friendly (and smirking) nearby dive centre ("Er, excuse moi, j'ai une petite probleme avec mon velo...") loans me a mask and fins, and off down I go. Now, freediving down to eight metres or so is all very well, but they never had to haul a waterlogged bicycle back to the surface in 'The Big Blue'!

Tues 4th Apr. Rangiroa to Tahiti, French Polynesia.

Back on the little prop plane to Tahiti for my international departure. I don't like it any better than last time. In the airport waiting for the flight out, meet the British corner - Gita and Simon, also headed to Auckland, Annie, headed to Australia, and Mary, back home to Ireland. Makes the long wait til our witching-hour flight infinitely more bearable.

On to New Zealand: Auckland.

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