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Punaauia’s shoreline is the busiest part of Tahiti Island’s West Coast. Its beaches open up to a gorgeous lagoon with calm, crystal clear waters that are ideal for snorkeling. We recommend you to explore the lagoon from Mahana Park. Underwater, you will come across stingrays, small sharks, angelfish, clownfish and dozens of other colorful species typical from Polynesian reefs. Add wonderful sunsets over Moorea Island and whale spotting during winter (July to October) and you will understand why these beaches are so popular.
The spot is located within Punaauina township, on the West Coast of Tahiti Nui, about 4mi/7km south of Papeete. The lagoon fringing the coast can be explored from Kilometric Point (PK) 17 to PK18.5. There are two beaches in here, Vaiva (PK18) and Papehue (PK18.5) where the marine preserve begins. Park your car at Mahana Park (parking is free but the lot fills up quickly during weekends, consider arriving early). From there, walking to the beach takes a few minutes.
Enter the water anywhere you like from the salt-and-pepper beach.
You will explore the internal lagoon area, covering 300 to 450 meters from beach to reef. Shortly after PK18.5, a small channel is cutting the lagoon (see map below). Avoid this area: currents can be strong there.
The closest areas to the beach (↕3-6ft/1-2m) are covered with sand, rocks and seaweed patches. Coral is poor here. You will have to swim to mid-distance for a coral-covered seabed. Coral grows denser as you swim away from the shore (↕6-12ft/2-4m).
Coral quality is uneven on this spot, but the aquatic life is exceptionally varied and settles until a dozen of meters from the shore. Juvenile black tip sharks and spotted eagle rays like this lagoon, as well as small stingrays that often rest over sandy areas. Many reef fish species can be seen on the coral reef area, such as angelfishes (royal angelfish and bright yellow lemonpeel angelfish can be seen here), about a dozen of different butterflyfish species, parrotfishes and rather intriguing sixbar wrasses. Look into sea anemones for orange-fin anemonefish, the most common clown fish in Polynesia.
Like many lagoons in Polynesia, this one is perfect for snorkeling with its calm, shallow waters. However, never try to swim past the coral reef into the open sea: strong waves and currents make the external area very dangerous.
This spot is part of a marine preserve and attracts few snorkelers, hence it is very preserved. Take part in this preservation and don’t damage corals nor leave anything behind you.
Snacks and food carts are set on the beach. If you’re looking for accommodation close to the spot, several family pensions are located inland.
These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.
This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.
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Snorkeling spots are part of a wild environment and their aspect can be significantly altered by weather, seasons, sea conditions, human impact and climate events (storms, hurricanes, seawater-warming episodes…). The consequences can be an alteration of the seabed (coral bleaching, coral destruction, and invasive seagrass), a poor underwater visibility, or a decrease of the sea life present in the area. Snorkeling Report makes every effort to ensure that all the information displayed on this website is accurate and up-to-date, but no guarantee is given that the underwater visibility and seabed aspect will be exactly as described on this page the day you will snorkel the spot. If you recently snorkeled this area and noticed some changes compared to the information contained on this page, please contact us.
The data contained in this website is for general information purposes only, and is not legal advice. It is intended to provide snorkelers with the information that will enable them to engage in safe and enjoyable snorkeling, and it is not meant as a substitute for swim level, physical condition, experience, or local knowledge. Remember that all marine activities, including snorkeling, are potentially dangerous, and that you enter the water at your own risk. You must take an individual weather, sea conditions and hazards assessment before entering the water. If snorkeling conditions are degraded, postpone your snorkeling or select an alternate site. Know and obey local laws and regulations, including regulated areas, protected species, wildlife interaction and dive flag laws.
Tahiti and the Society Islands
Shallow lagoon with coral, sharks and stingrays
Shallow lagoon with coral and reef fish
Shallow sandbank with blacktip sharks and stingrays
Shallow lagoon and channel with turtles and eagle rays
Shallow channel with reef fish and stingrays
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