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This, my friend, is the stuff that dreams are made of! I took my lovely bride to French Polynesia to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We initially flew into Papeete, Tahiti and then took an old ferry across the Sea of the Moon to the island of Moorea. The Tahitians pronounce it (Mo--o--ray-ah). They pronounce every vowel. The little village where the airport is located in Papeete is called Faaa. Its pronounced FA--AH--AH.
How beautiful is Moorea? I was interviewing travel book writer Arthur Frommer and told him that we had spent our 20th anniversary in Moorea and asked him, in his opinion, which island he considered to be the most beautiful on the planet and he fired right back: Thats it. Youve been there. Moorea!
Moorea has incredible mountains---very green and lush and beautiful water. The people are very nice and in fact will not accept tips because its against their custom of hospitality. One reason why they are nice must be because they have NEVER been hungry (theres plenty of fish and fruit), they have NEVER been thirsty (theres plenty of fresh water on the island) and theyve NEVER been cold. Id wager to say the coldest temperature in the history of that part of the world has probably been no lower than 60 if that!
Our accommodations were at the Bali Hai hotel. What a place! It offered fares (pronounced far-ays') or Tahitian thatched-roof huts under palms, fares on the beach and...like we enjoyed...overwater fares. The Bali Hai is no more. As of summer of 2002 it became the Moorea Pearl Resort. More in red at the bottom of this page.
Our room was a thatched-roof hut on stilts sitting right over the lagoon! It had an open rear and deck with a break in the deck so you could jump right into the water. It had stairs so you could climb right back into your hut. Our hut was one of 6 or so in a chain connected to the mainland by a wooden walkway. Each hut was very nicely decorated on the inside (although not posh by any means) and featured a queen size bed, and two couches which turned into beds at night. It also had...and this was fabulous...an inch thick plexi-glass window in the floor so you could watch the fish cavorting under your room. It even had a light you could turn on at night to observe the night time fish action--which was entirely different from the daytime characters down there.
Our room was supposed to have hot water but the water heater (a propane job located right behind the throne) in our bathroom was on the fritz. I didnt relish the thought of the hot water heater blowing up while we were on the thrown so we didnt say anything and just took cold showers. It wasnt that bad.
It seems like just about everything in Tahiti French Polynesia is linked to coconuts. Youll find coconut soap in a coconut soap holder (a real coconut shell on a string holding your soap!), coconut lip balm, coconut shampoo, etc., etc.
The Tahitian people (and when I say Tahiti I mean Tahiti Polynesia which means the islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea and several other islands in the area) are proud and handsome people with BIG FEET. My daughter called em Fred Flintstone feet! Many males have a ton of blue tattoos all over their bodies. Theyre sweet people and when speaking Tahitian, they kind of sing it. Maruru (pronounced just like it looks) is thank you in Tahitian and, like I said, they kind of sing it. Each morning I was welcomed to the restaurant by a woman who called me Big Pa-pa!
Breakfast at the Bali Hai Hotel (served on the mainland or in the hut) was a real treat and always started with wonderful slices of French bread and a ton of croissants--regular and chocolate. We always had fresh papaya and pampilmoouse or something like that. Its French for grapefruit. In Tahiti Polynesia they speak French or Tahitian and some English. Tahiti is actually a part of France although the locals HATE the French because of their H-Bomb testing in the South Pacific.
Moorea is surrounded almost entirely by a protective coral reef which harbors a beautiful lagoon. If it was not for this ring of reef big rollers would make the surf nearly unmanageable along the shore line. The reef serves as a break and creates this peaceful, calm, aquatic paradise.
Interestingly there are a couple of breaks in the coral reef and its a good thing because otherwise boats would have no clearing to use to head out to sea in the South Pacific to fish. There are times in Moorea when it rains for two or three straight weeks! The fresh water comes roaring down the mountains and forms a fresh water underwater river. Once this trough of fresh water hits the reef it KILLS the coral because coral cant stand fresh water. Thus the few breaks in the reef! You can clearly see these underwater river troughs when youre snorkelin the reefs.
The snorkeling is tremendous with all kinds of fish. The moorish idol is especially beautiful, which we had seen before in Hawaii. A new one for us was the lionfish that features feathery poison barbs.
Our hut was so neat. Wed bring home scraps from dinner or lunch and then just sit there early in the morning and throw the stuff into the lagoon and feed the fish. It was like one giant aquarium. People who see the video we shot cant believe that we were out in the wild and not in some aquarium. One night Cindy tossed in a chicken leg bone and a reef trigger appeared from nowhere, grabbed it like a dog would grab a bone, and retreated under some coral!
There was one little blue chromis fish which I labeled the little bastard. Every time we approached the little steps to climb back up onto the deck of our hut this little guy would start nipping at our fingers, arms and legs. The blue chromis is a little guy--probably no more than 3 to 4 inches long--but it was always a surprise to feel that little bump. I finally snapped a picture of him and I could tell it was him because his dorsal fins were raised--which meant he had a hard-on for us! Actually ya cant blame the little fellow. It was obvious that he was just protecting his turf...and in fact probably had a nest around there somewhere.
The hotel provided free outriggers (little long, skinny boats carved out of wood with an extended arm for balance) and the family enjoyed paddling around the lagoon.
Food was interesting on the island but nothing to write home about. We dined primarily at the hotel because we had paid for MAP meals and there werent really that many restaurants on the island near our hotel.
Dinner consisted mainly of mahi mahi prepared in a zillion different ways with a zillion different sauces. Tahitian lobster was also on the menu and we found it interesting because these particular clawless lobsters carry their roe (eggs) on the bottom OUTSIDE of their shell. When I went diving one morning carrying the spent lobster shell I thought I was gonna loose a finger---there was an absolute frenzy of fish trying to get at those little eggs under the shell!
One thing I was hesitant to try but Im glad I did was a local favorite called Poisson Cru. Its the Tahitian version of ceviche and the recipe goes something like this.
You get the freshest fish you can find....chop it into small but not tiny chunks. Then you marinade it in FRESH lime juice for about a half an hour. Squeeze the lime juice off and then add some freshly sliced cucumber, tomato and onions. Top it off with some fresh coconut cream (from fresh coconuts and NOT that sickening sweet stuff used in the cocktails) and let it fester for an hour or two in the fridge and its ready to eat. It really was good and Ive made it at home a few times...but only when I ABSOLUTELY trust the fish counter guy. You wouldnt want to make this with anything less than the freshest of fish.
One interesting thing we heard from the locals was about coral cuts. Should you come into contact with coral (and any diver worth his salt wont because it really damages the coral) the Tahitians urge you to immediately douse it in FRESH lime juice. Coral is a living colony of animals and can actually grow under the skin. So if ya get coral growing in your skin it makes for a nasty infection. The acid in the lime juice kills the coral animals.
One problem that just about everybody runs into sooner or later if they spend a lot of time in Tahiti is dengue fever. Its carried by a mosquito that roams around during the day and it knocks you out with flu like symptoms for a few days. Most make a fine recovery. We did NOT get it while we were there. Another thing we were cautioned about was infection. In that moist, tropical part of the world (south of the equator) infections can really take off so locals take even small cuts pretty seriously.
The view from the mountains above Cooks Bay or the village of Pao Pao was stunning. Youre standing in the ring of an ancient volcano. The biggest edge of the crumbled ring of the volcano is known locally as sharks tooth. But you would instantly recognize it as the famous BALI HAI from the musical South Pacific.
If you have the coinage (and we really didnt but charged up a storm!!) you should at least consider investing in a black pearl while in Tahiti Polynesia. We visited a guys store on Moorea and he was a real character. He had sailed over there with actor Peter Fonda decades ago and decided to make it his home. He had a huge selection of black pearls and as we looked around he said: Folks, I really dont care if you buy any of these or not. We have Japanese tour groups who come here each year and they come here for one purpose--to buy black pearls and take em back home and sell them for a huge profit. So I will sell every pearl in the shop this year no matter what! In fact, I will guarantee Americans that the moment you get your black pearl back home to the states that the value will DOUBLE. And I think he was right. We couldnt afford very expensive ones but I did pop for one for my wife and daughter and when theyre not being worn they stay in the bank safety deposit box (even thought they didnt cost all that much).
I asked the pearl guy if they were durable (figuring that my wife and daughter would have them broken before they even got on the plane to head back) and he said watch this. He then took an expensive black pearl ring and heaved it against the wall. He explained that black pearls are not as fragile as regular white cultured pearls and consist of around 900 layers of coatings. As for care...he warned us not to get them around hair-spray and stuff like that...but otherwise all ya have to do is KY em up with a little olive oil now and then and they age just wonderfully.
As a kid watching a t.v. show called Adventures in Paradise about a guy who sailed the South Pacific, I just KNEW that someday Id go there and hopefully take the girl of my dreams with me. This is one fantasy that we were able to pull off and well never forget it. The ONLY negative I can think of associated with Moorea is this. If you require non-stop action, this is definitely NOT the place for you. There are no casinos, there arent tons of restaurants and the place virtually goes to sleep at 6:30pm or 7pm. The major entertainment at the hotel consisted of a guy strummin a ukulele. Oh yeh, they also had a movie showing on a VCR in one open air area and the most popular entertainment by far was--a ping pong table. The balls were so scrunched up that they took funny bounces! A slight irritant were the roosters crowing each morning around 4am! Peace and quiet this place is for the most part. Action packed it is not.
UPDATE: The Bali Hai is no longer the Bali Hai. It is now known as the Moorea Pearl Resort (web site here). Thanks to Geri Miller for that update. You can still find John Hogan and some of the old gang at the Club Bali Hai Cook's Bay Resort here.
Currency on Moorea is the French Pacific Franc. Driving is on the right (and pretty sane). Youll need a passport but no visa.