18 March, 2024

Mo'orea, one jump from Tahiti...

Now in the Windward Islands, Mo'orea is another iconic destination in the South Pacific. Frommer's travel guide described Mo'orea as "the most beautiful island in the world". Like Bora Bora, the first thing that strikes you is the startling skyline of the island. The highest point is Mont Tohive'a at 1207m. Moorea is a volcanic island (2M years ago), only 17km from Tahiti. Mo'orea, and the Society Islands generally, was first settled by migration from Samoa and Tonga around 200AD. The early settlers separated into tribes or clans divided by the various enclosed valleys of the island. Alliances developed, including with nearby Tahiti, but there were bloody conflicts too. Current population on Mo'orea is 18,000. Most access to Mo'orea is by regular ferry - it's only a 5 minute flight from Tahiti.

The setting sun shines on the NatGeo Orion at anchore in Opunohu Bay on Mo'orea. [1062]

Mo'orea's most impressive Mt Tohive'a has jagged a cloud, early in the morning. [5907]

Mo'orea is triangular shaped, each side being scarcely more than 10km. As our Lightroom photo-map shows, Moorea is surrounded by a fringing reef, enclosing a shallow but narrow lagoon, with numerous entrances. Wikipedia says that "Charles Darwin found inspiration for his theory regarding the formation of coral atolls when looking down upon Mo'orea while standing on a peak on Tahiti. He described it as a "picture in a frame", referring to the barrier reef encircling the island."

The NatGeo Orion anchored in beautifulOpunohu Bay and we Zodiac'ed about 2km to the village of Papeto'ai, the birthplace and childhood home of our cultural specialist Matahir. He was visibly happy to be here. We explored the northern part of the lagoon, and were able to bus into the highlands at the centre of the island. The map shows a road right around the island, and it's plain that there will much more beauty on Moorea than our brief visit exposed.

Captained by an able seaman, a Zodiac makes its way to Papeto'ai. [5913]

One with a wind-turbine, two waterfront houses in Opunohu Bay. [5906]

Selfie, a reflection in the sunnies of a willing guest. [5917]

We made landfall on Mo'orea in the village of Papeto'ai. [5923]

A welcome reception for us at Papeto'ai. [5924]

Mahati, the NatGeo Orion's cultural specialist feeling at home here, having been born and bred in Moorea. [5777]

Once the site of a marae founded with a stone from the most sacred one in Ra'iatea, Protestant missionaries established a home here in 1808. [6005]

The bus from Papeto'ai climbed into the hills behind Tohive'a affording a spectacular view. We called in at a local school, the Lycee Agricole but the main reason for this stop was to visit the bathroom and buy ice-cream! It was hot, so hopefully the school raised some needed funds. The bus tour included a flying stop at what the guide said was the "most beautiful view of Mo'orea". It was indeed breathtaking, a great view of the reef, the lagoon and the Sofitel Hotel's overwater bungalows.

Mont Tohive'a as seen from Belvedere de Opunohu on Moorea. [5932]

View of the Agricultural School on Mo'orea. [5974]

Supposedly Mo'orea's best view with the Sofitel's over-lagoon bungalows. [5987]

Our physical activity for the day was to "swim with stingrays" near a sandbar at the northwest corner of the lagoon. This was certainly a different experience! We were ferried to the location by catamaran and were instructed to don snorkel and facemask but no flippers. The water was chest deep, so we stood on the bottom but there was a ferocious tidal flow which seemed somewhat dangerous. (Mahati told me he had to rescue someone here on a previous visit.) In the water, the guides somehow attracted the stringrays (food in their pockets?) which swam all around us, so close we were able to pat them (watch out for the barb!), but it was hard to get far enough away to take good photographs. We managed not to lose anyone either due to sweep-away or sting.

Crowded in the water where we tried to resist a tidal current and look at the stingrays. [1037]

Pair of stingrays in the shallow waters of the Mo'orea lagoon. [1034]

Just how does that guide attract the stingrays? [1043]

What's in that pocket that makes the stingrays so interested? [1025]

After all that excitement, we adjourned to a private motu for a cocktail party. There was good shade, fortunately, and the water was so inviting that no-one could resist a swim in the turquoise water. It got a little crowded in the obvious spot, so we found a secluded place around the corner where we could enjoy the peace and quiet and have a nice chat in the water with Jill Hilty, the ship's doctor from Colorado, a professor of medicine and a volunteer in third-world situations, and her buddy, another, Jill. Jill, the doctor, was very conscientious on this expedition, never losing touch with her radio, but we don't think she had that much work to do on the NatGeo Orion.

The Papeto'ai welcoming committee transformed to live entertainment at our cocktail party. [1058]

A boat parked in the pristine waters next to the motu where we enjoyed a NatGeo Orion cocktail party. [1055]

Lightroom map of Mo'orea showing where photos were taken.

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