Sunday, March 16, 2014

Chill out at the South Pacific island of Moorea

For our South Pacific cruise, we flew into Papeete,Tahiti, the only city in French Polynesia with an international airport, and the ship set sail during the night. Well, we only had 12 miles to go to Moorea, second most popular tourist attraction in the Society Islands.
Moorea is a laid-back South Sea island (think Bali Hai), but it has white-sand beaches not common on Tahiti. It’s a triangular-shaped island encircled by a protected lagoon  fringed by the blue ocean. Tourism is concentrated along the north coast around Papao (capital) and Hauru. Visitors love the relaxed ambience of the island and its inherent beauty. 

The breakers indicate location of the coral reef--inside is a
turquoise lagoon and beyond is the deep blue ocean.
A little background: The Territory of French Polynesia consists of five archipelagoes: Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu Islands, Austral Islands, and Gambier Islands—all under French administration. The cultures and traditions of each island group are generally specific to the home archipelago and island, yet modern transportation, education, and communication have resulted in an ongoing blending towards a national identity.

Jagged mountain peaks formed from volcanoes eons ago.

Moorea was first settled by Polynesians from islands to the west who arrived in canoes from South Asia over 1,000 years ago. Marae, stone rocks shaped like pyramids with carvings telling about sacrifices, provided ancient landmarks.
The first settlers from Europe arrived in the 18th century.  Cook’s Bay is named for Captain James Cook, although he never visited the bay. Supposedly it is the place where he settled, but the guide on our snorkeling excursion said Cook actually  went  to Opunohu Bay. Still, it’s a scenic highlight.  After the French won the war with its sister island Tahiti, Moorea was considered part of French Polynesia.

Lush tropical landscapes with interior mountains are a hallmark of Moorea.

Our discovery begins on a slightly overcast morning, but the scenery is breathtaking from our balcony on the Oceania Marina. Jagged peaks, covered with lush greenery frame the deep blue of Opunohu Bay where the ship is docked. In addition to the dramatic volcanic mountains, which includes shark-toothed Mount Rotui and towereing Mount Tohivea, stories of Polynesian history and lore attract visitors to Moorea.

For our Snorkel and Stingray Safari we took the tender to shore, then boarded a catamaran and sailed the lagoon for almost an hour. We stopped at a four-foot deep sand bar inhabited by large stingrays for an encounter with these flattened mammals, that range up to three feet in diameter. It’s cool to stroke the soft skin of these fearless rays who are looking for a handout of fish. Just be careful not to get your hand underneath its mouth as it can suck in a finger or leave a mighty bruise on your arm. Also swimming in the water with the rays were a host of sand sharks.
Beautiful coral species make up the reef around Moorea.
Then we went snorkeling in the cool turquoise water. Because the currents were very strong at the reef, we stopped short in calmer water, although there was still enough current to keep us moving over many beautiful varieties of coral. The formations were mostly large, lumpy, and colorful. Some had crevices and bridges through which the fish swam. We saw many varieties of fish —blue, yellow, white, black, and a few striped—but no large schools of fish.

After 45 minutes of observing coral and fish, the catamaran headed back to the pier. Along the way we were served fresh tropical fruit--sweet pineapple, passion fruit, guava, kiwi, grapefruit, and papaya. What a treat!
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier 


No comments: