An early start for all as today is one of our three tender days and ensuring that we start our independent tours on time is always a key requirement to see everything we hope for on our trips.
As we awoke, the ship was still en-route to Moorea, as we had departed from Papeete at 4am this morning. Given that Moorea is only 18 nautical miles away, it only took about 2 hours for us to get from one location to the next and to get positioned in one of the two bays for tender service to shore.
Moorea is a green covered island of jagged mountain peaks and volcano cut valleys that presents an amazing backdrop for many of the Hollywood films that have been made here. Honestly, if the TV show Lost couldn’t pull it off in Hawaii, this would probably be the next best thing.
The ship arrived into Opunohou Bay and tender service began early, around 7:45am. We were about to get on the first tender and made our way out onto the island in just a few minutes time. Upon arrival, we were met by a member of Albert Tours and we were quickly picked up by our guide for the day, Eloy.
Now, we always like to go with independent tours for the smaller, more intimate group sizes, and so we don’t have to be herded around on gigantic passenger buses, so this trip was perfect! When Eloy arrived with our vehicle, we were both excited and a little nervous. The vehicle for the 4×4 photo safari was a small Toyota pickup. The back of the pickup had been converted with bench seating and a canopy was covering the back of the vehicle. The bench seating provided 6 seats, and another 2 in the cab with Eloy meant that we had 8 people total (6 + us) for the day. At first, the thought of driving in the back of a pickup with 4 other people seemed a little crazy, but once we picked up our traveling companions for the day from the Hilton Moorea (the famous hotel with the over-water bungalows), we knew we would have a great day. The two couples were totally cool and celebrating their 25th and 40th wedding anniversaries and were generally a lot of fun. So the 6 of us spent the day together on bench seating in the back of a pickup… Seriously — it was a blast!
First stop — the black sand beach at Opunohou Bay. The black sand means volcanic sand, and it was one of very very few on the island as there is very little usable land for housing and most of that is right to the waters edge as the hills and mountains almost immediately thrust up to the skies just behind. From here, we had a great vantage point of Bali Kai (the arrowhead shaped mountain that is prominently displayed on the 100 franc coin.
The views in the bay were nice as palm trees swayed in the wind and the bays are protected as national parks. No hotels, no resorts allowed. From here, we made our way to Belvedere, the lookout point for the island of Moorea. The weather provided a picture perfect view, and our group took dozens of shots of the view that includes both bays in a single frame, and along with the cruise ships in port, you could look out on both the island and the ocean at the same time.
From the Belvedere, we traveled a short distance further and arrived at the Polynesian temples or Maraes. These simple round stone structures (platforms with elevated components) served a wide variety of purposes for the Polynesians, from religious ceremonies to recreational to family based activities. Once the missionaries brought other faith practices to the islands, most of these Maraes were dismantled as more of the Tahitians moved from the hills and valleys towards the shoreline to congregate in towns as parishes.
After this stop, we continued into the pineapple plantations, once of the chief sources of jobs and revenue on the islands (beyond tourism) and we learned how the pineapple is actually a member of the cactus family, needs very little water, takes 5 months to mature, and that the plants need to be essentially destroyed and replanted once every 4 years to avoid choking the plants as they will mutiply to the point to starving one another without intervention.
From here, we continued to Pao Pao, the capital of the island. Though very small, this village, nestled in the valleys carved out of the volcano, provides rich farmland to cultivate crops, including the noni, the only major export out of Polynesia. The noni is a strong antioxidant and noni juice is meant to treat/cure/support the immune system and key functions of the body.
From here, a quick stop at the pearl shop (yes they are everywhere) and we had our introduction to the 4 C’s of pearl selection (similar to diamonds) and got to see a small variety, nothing that really jumped out at anyone in the group.
From here, we continued to the Juice factory, where all of the varieties of fruit end up at the one juice producing plant on the island and becomes the famous Rotui brand that is well known on the islands. We got to try a number of options including Island Drink (pineapple alcohol based punch), along with Corosol (Soursop) juice that was really good as well. In addition, there was tries of various creams including coffee, coconut, and vanilla (liqueurs that top ice cream, coffee, and other desserts). Following the juice factory, we headed to the botanical garden and got an introduction to greenhouse vanilla work and enjoyed a nice stop at the snack bar on the top of the hill overlooking a beautiful bay. We shared three scoops of Sorbet made fresh including Vanilla, Pineapple, and Corosol. Plates of freshly cut pineapple were also presented and we had a great break with our 4×4 trip-mates.
As this was the final stop, we slowly began to return everyone to their original locations, and we were the last to be dropped off to the tender pier. We made our way back to the ship and crashed as we slowly began to adjust to the powerful and draining tropical sun of the Polynesian islands.
We departed Moorea at around 5pm and began our travels towards Raiatea and headed to the dining room about 8:15pm to meet our table-mates for the first time. Waiter Samai and his assistant Noah would be taking good care of us, along with the support of head Waiter Alfonso, who is a great guy who stops by as often as he can, which is always appreciated.
We had a party of 4 join us at the table and we got to know one another. Though we have almost 2 weeks to cover all of the bases, we learned that we were traveling with a well published author from Quebec and her family. Though she is not yet published in the US, that should change soon and we got along well.
Back to the room and time to settle into bed… Tomorrow — Raiatea and Taha’a