Fantasy Islands Week: Rangiroa, French Polynesia

It’s cold, gray—the best time to put on a bathing suit and commune with fish.

Here are five of the world’s best places to do it.
Ah winter, that magical time of year that compels hordes of otherwise well-adjusted folks to shop for bathing suits and sarongs, jet to far-flung isles, don masks, fins, even oxygen tanks, all to hang with the fishies. Nothing chases away garden-variety seasonal disorders like getting up close and personal with some colorful creatures. Deluxe resorts are rolling out their (waterproof) red carpets to divers these days. Better yet, many resorts have gotten wise to the fact that divers do not live on plankton alone. We also crave some activity where the air comes free. With that in mind, we’ve selected five of the world’s top diving spots this week. Ones that also offer great above-water activities, from trekking in Mayan ruins to sea kayaking along secluded beaches to kicking the coconut shells. 
First stop, Rangiroa, French Polynesia. When Requin! Requin! (French for Shark! Shark!) is shouted in these waters, swimmers do not speed to shore fearing for their lives. The snorkelers and divers who come to this oval-shaped coral atoll stay in the water for a face-to-face encounter. Grey reef, black-tipped, and hammerhead sharks peer at divers in Tiputa Pass, a channel that connects the island’s lagoon with the open sea.  The perfect place to recover after your adventure with Jaws is Kia Ora Village, Rangiroa’s premiere hotel. Stay in one of the overwater bungalows along the lagoon. Or if you’re looking for a bit more seclusion, retreat to Kia Ora Sauvage, a private island about an hour’s boat ride away. The island has just five basic bungalows and two cooks, who prepare all the meals. That’s what we call getting away from it all.