I HAVE SPENT A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT of my professional life frustratedly watching the departing rear ends of many species of fish.
The Tiputa Pass in Rangiroa and Tumakohua Pass in Fakarava, Tahiti, have just given me a refreshingly different perspective. There, all life seems to gravitate towards you.
If your thing is stationary sharks en masse and dolphins as tame as poodles in Richmond Park on a Sunday morning, then save your pennies and get on that long, long flight west.
My time there, at least as far as diving was concerned, was spent on the atolls of Rangiroa and Fakarava, both north-east of the main island of Tahiti. Both are havens of peace and tropical beauty.
However, before the pleasure came flights to this South Pacific nation lasting more than 24 hours, with stopovers first in Paris and then in Los Angeles before the final leg to Papeete.
It was more than welcome to have the Intercontinental Resort near the airport as a restful cushion between the travelling and the diving, because it’s a plush hotel in sumptuous surroundings.
Enormous bemuscled men (Tahiti’s national sport is kayaking) greet you off the transfer coach wearing creations made of grass, and brilliant smiles greet you wherever you go.
Rangiroa is a small string of coral encircling mini-islands – a pearl necklace laid out in the Tuamotu archipelago. My buddy was Thomas, a plain-speaking Frenchman who works for local centre Top Dive, and who had married a Tahitian, settling down on Rangiroa with his family.
The Tiputa Pass is a world-famous dive site and I had come a long way, but this was of necessity a whirlwind press trip, so I would have to make the most of four dives there.

I NOTICED THAT THE VISIBILITY WAS DOWN as soon as I entered the water, the result of an outgoing current from the pass and some bad weather carrying all the dirty water out to sea.
I knew that the pass was renowned for offering a unique diving experience, yet my natural caution tempered my expectations.
I had been briefed to look out for dolphins, mantas and sharks that would supposedly arrive like clockwork, but with low vis, and little by way of coral to look at, I wondered at first if I would see anything at all.
I needn’t have worried. Within 10 minutes, two giant manta rays sauntered past me without a care in the world.
In the fog I didn’t see them coming until they were on top of me. A large shoal of juvenile barracudas eased by next, followed quickly by a second.
So where were all these dolphins and sharks On surfacing, a fellow-diver was talking quite calmly about how, on the same dive, he had just seen a whale shark. Consumed with envy, I was treated to the proof, because he had filmed it on his videocam.
Next morning the current was flowing in from the sea south-west towards the lagoon. This would mean clean water and good visibility. And on the three dives I did that day, the sort of experiences I racked up were the sort of which I dream.
We started with a drift dive in the Avatoru Pass, slightly west of where we had been the previous day. Here huge Napoleon wrasse swim close to the reef, and barracuda and giant mantas pass by every few minutes, interspersed with whitetip reef sharks.
And just when my jaw was wide enough with disbelief to let seawater in, two bottlenose dolphins swam by with their young.

AS THE DAY PROGRESSED, we found ourselves on a dive-site called the Angle.
I remember gazing out into the big blue as advised, looking for dolphins. Large shoals of barracuda swam lazily by, and three giant mantas formed part of the picture, too.
Then, suddenly, a bottlenose dolphin sped past me from behind. Just to emphasise how clumsy he thought I was, he circled me three times, ensuring that I couldn’t fail to get
a few good shots of him. You would have thought he knew what I did for a living.
On the few occasions when comparable extra-special marine encounters occur, all you can think is that it’s all going to end very quickly, wondering whether you can do the experience justice. However, my bottlenose just kept on coming.
He came so close that my 17mm lens wasn’t wide enough to fit him in at times. He was nudging me, and showing me who was in charge.
A final dive that day back at the Tiputa Pass, and another large bottlenose dolphin arrived to
trump the previous one.
I was nudged from behind, heralding an incredible sight as he circled me two or three times before playing with Thomas in an aquatic Pixar-type dance.
Thomas knew the dolphin well, and the two flirted and spiralled around one other for at least two minutes.
Man and dolphin seemed to share a mutual affection, and when the dance was over I left the scene a little numb with happiness.
Time was ticking by on our ambitious schedule. A very short local flight took us to Fakarava, an atoll south of Rangiroa, where I would meet my next buddy Nicholas, another Top Dive manager. My temporary home was the White Sand Beach Resort, a first-class establishment with beach-front chalets.
Hotel manager Rudolf took control of affairs, and we knew all would be well. He is a charismatic Swiss fellow with very definite ideas and high standards. If you can bag time to talk to him over dinner, it’s an experience to remember!
I had four dives under my belt, but must confess that I was feeling a little concerned that, dolphins apart, I would not return with nearly enough photographic material.
Most assignments give me the chance to do between 12 and 20 dives. So I was seriously focused next day, which would be the last diving day of the Tahiti trip.
To add to my worries, it would take us two hours by boat to drive from the north-east to the south-west coast of Fakarava Atoll. I could see my precious last day ebbing away fast.
However, our destination was the famous Tumakohua Pass, a fast-running channel between Parehehava and Tetananu at the southern tip of the atoll. I knew that large numbers of sharks gathered there, but also that you had to time your dive to catch slack water, because the currents can resemble a tumble-dryer.
Our first dive was a south-north drift where the ocean swelled into the atoll, hugging the east side of Observation Passage. As soon as I entered the water, I could see dozens of grey reef sharks.
The direction of the incoming water rendered the visibility fantastic, and the current was just enough to move us along at a slow-to-modest pace.
Before long, vast numbers of grey reef sharks were in view. They were moving slowly but appeared to be motionless, waiting for something.
My camera was overheating. Everywhere I looked I saw not dozens but hundreds of sharks. Right in the middle of the pass was where most of them clumped together.
It was the most exciting thing I had seen since the dolphins!
For a brief time the sharks actually obscured the sun. I remember turning up my flash settings to compensate.
They seemed uninterested in me, swimming a couple of metres away. The experience lasted until we were into the lagoon, and our air almost exhausted.

AFTER A SHORT SURFACE INTERVAL, we plunged in again at the Drop-Off (the southerly mouth to the entrance of the lagoon).
This was a mild dive compared to the last one. I had seen little coral up to now, but this site revealed large expanses of colourful hard corals.
Silvertip sharks circled, and glasseye fish and yellow snapper were much in evidence.
If you follow in my diving footsteps in Tahiti they will take you on a fabulous picnic on a nearby atoll off Parehehava. I was probably in an over-excited state, but the boatman calmed me down with fresh tuna salad and lime-infused rice, and cut a coconut down from a tree, leaving me to enjoy its milk in the cool shade of a palm-tree, enjoying the spectacular view.
But the day was set to get more perfect still. Soon we were swimming from south to north up the centre of the pass. Lagoon water was now flowing out to the sea, which meant that the visibility was down from the morning, though still essentially good.
There were too many sharks to fit into any picture, and many other kinds of fish too. The current started to flow with a bit more venom, and I was bouncing off rocks as we progressed oceanwards, enjoying every minute.
My Tahiti trip was ridiculously short but incredibly sweet. Thomas in Rangiroa and Nicholas in Fakarava guided me through my breakneck big-animal tour with professionalism and smiles.
Nitrox was recommended on both atolls and I used it exclusively. The equipment and boats were top-rate.
The boat crew were charming local men who understood exactly what was needed for divers in the water.
Tahiti felt exclusive and tranquil, and there is plenty to do – or perhaps not to do – for a non-diving partner.
My uptime included a visit to a local farm in Fakarava where vast stocks of live oysters were busy producing fantastic pearls for sale. Yes, I did buy a modest necklace for my wife.
Realistically you need to set aside two weeks to enjoy this kind of diving experience, and then it can be as busy, rich and action-packed or as relaxing as you want it to be.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Air Tahiti Nui flies from London Heathrow to Papeete in Tahiti via Paris and LA, and provides all domestic flights in Tahiti and on the local atolls.
DIVING: Top Dive Rangiroa, Top Dive Fakarava, www.topdive.com.
ACCOMMODATION: Tahiti: Intercontinental Resort, www.tahiti.intercontinental.com. Rangiroa: Maitai Resort, www.rangiroa.hotelmaitai.com. Fakarava: White Sand Beach Resort, www.whitesandfakarava.com.
MONEY: Pacific Franc (XPF). Euros and dollars are accepted
LANGUAGE:Most Omanis speak English but most staff working in the tourist industry come from Sri Lanka, India and the Philippines and speak most European languages.
PRICES: Dive Worldwide (0845 130 6980, www. diveworldwide.com) offers a 14-night package with all flights, seven nights’ half-board each at the Maitai Resort and White Sand Beach Resort and six boat dives at each resort with Top Dive, including equipment rental and nitrox, for £4799.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Tahiti Tourisme, www.tahiti-tourisme.pf