Rangiroa is the largest atoll in the Tuamotus and the second largest in the world. It stretches a really insane 40 miles west to east and roughly 17 north to south at the widest bit. The atoll is so large, it actually has an atoll within it. There are two main passes into the atoll, both found on the north west corner roughly five miles apart. The atoll is so large that in big weather, fetch and wind can build across the lagoon offering little protection to the boats huddled along the north west edge. However, in even the most reasonable and seasonal weather, there is a good chance you'll find a comfortable spot somewhere.
We arrived at Rangiroa very early in the morning after leaving Ahi the night before. The distance between these two atolls is a bit awkward for many boats. From pass to pass is about 80 miles and both passes absolutely require precision on arrival and departure. So either you can make the 80 miles in the roughly 12 hours you have between tide cycles, or you can't. More probable is that you'll do as we did with Loose Pointer -- leave one evening and find yourself skidding along way too fast during the night. You'll end up either hove to or reefed into oblivion just to keep yourself from running into Rangiroa in the middle of the night.
Entering Rangiroa on anything but a slack tide is not an option for either pass. We went in via the eastern and wider Passe Tiputa (S14 58.051 W147 37.355) at what we figure was slack. Winds and wave had been running high for some time prior to our passage, however, so the pass had an outbound current of about 3 knots even during slack. There were standing waves, leaping dolphins, dive boats, and a nicely well formed whirlpool not to mention the obvious and nasty looking tide rip just outside the entrance. That's the bad news. The good news is that Tiputa is relatively wide, very deep, and other than the waves and current, not particularly difficult. Do make a point of heading all the way in past the little motu to your right before turning to curve into the anchorage. I suppose technically you can cut through, but I wouldn't do it personally.
We anchored in the lee of the motu off the resort in 35' of pure sand, no bombies (S14 57.974 W147 38.411). During our week long stay in Rangiroa, there never appeared to be much wind/wave advantage to anchoring any closer to the small dock which serves the village (S14 58.315 W147 38.063). It is true, however, that most of what we wanted including the services of the small magazin, the dive shop, and the Aquarium were all found closer in. The motu and the pass point do provide some wind and wave protection from the prevailing east and southeasterly winds. I wouldn't want to be in Rangiroa if the wind were blowing from the south or south west. On the other hand, the locals are in the process of building a nice park on the motu to serve boaters. Thus far, there is just a small concrete dock, a fire pit, and a single table, but we have hopes (S14 57.775 W147 38.420). Our understanding is that the somewhat infamous anchorage fee for Rangiroa is in part going to pay for construction of the park.
As for the anchorage fee, it is true. As far as we know, Rangiroa is the only place in Polynesia where you pay to anchor. The gendarmerie make this very easy. They will come out to your boat to collect your fee. It was 150 CFP per person per night. This works about to roughly $1.80. Children are free. For your fees, you can assume that some are going to the park. Other bits must be going to maintain the dinghy mooring balls which are conveniently located adjacent to the best snorkeling spot. Also, the gendarmerie are somewhat indifferent tax collectors. If you're there long enough, they will come out. Some boats pretended they were not at home and never paid their fees. Don Quixote felt the fees were sufficiently small and the comforts of our location sufficiently great, we just paid.
At the dock in Passe Tiputa, you'll find a few dive shops and a snack shop that operates only during the lunch hour. The meal prices are reasonable (for French Polynesia), the beer is cold. The magazin is open mornings and afternoons, not during the day. As with most Polynesian magazins, either get there early or pay for bread the day before if you want fresh baguettes. Otherwise, there isn't much for to see in the village north of the pass.
For more information on the snorkeling, see a previous post entitled "The Aquarium."
Airport - S14 57.379 W147 39.366
Pearl Farms - S14 57.276 W147 40.492
Landing Beach near western town - S14 56.684 W147 42.222
Marina - S14 56.717 W147 42.383
Bank/ATM - S14 56.688 W147 42.493
Air Tahiti - S14 56.688 W147 42.493
Clinic and Pharmacy - S14 56.683 W147 42.529
Church - S14 56.666 W147 42.561
Magazin S14 56.685 W147 42.531
Grand Magazin S14 56.703 W147 42.332
Laundry - S14 56.673 W147 42.170
Restaurant Pizzaria Filippo S14 56.675 W147 42.140
Shell Station S14 41.833 W147 41.833