Moorea, French Polynesia
When I last traveled to French Polynesia, I only explored Tahiti. This trip, I ventured beyond the gateway of French Polynesia. Tahiti has the only international airport in the country so it’s compulsory to visit this beautiful island. Also, layovers between flights can be notoriously long here.
I arrived early in the morning so I had hours to kill before my 3 p.m. check-in time at my hotel. I made the day of it by wandering the city of Papeete and I did a day pass at the beautiful Le Tahiti by Pearl Hotel, located right in front of a black sand beach. It was a great way to relax after the long flight.
I took the 2:55 p.m. ferry to Moorea, a much more economical option than taking the twenty minute flight that cost $350 round trip. The ferry is only $30 for a 45 minute cruise in a clean and comfortable ship. I made it to my modest, and locally owned, hotel and my little bungalow that overlooked the ocean. Hotel Kaveka was exactly what I was looking for. It didn’t have the amenities the larger hotels had but it didn’t have the large prices those hotels had as well. Night came and I was treated to an amazing sunset (see video) which was an everyday occurrence.
The next day, I went on a day tour that took us to the reef full of black tip sharks and sting rays. They had become familiar with humans with fisherman discarding their unwanted portions of fish in these waters. Now, tour guides feed them so tourist can get a closer look at them. And, in the case of sting rays, even pet them like a little puppy. We moved on to the coral garden where we snorkeled freely. I was amazed at the number of fish and how alive the corals were. In most tourist infested reefs, the coral are dead and the number of fish species is low. I was in heaven, so much so I was still snorkeling while the rest of the tour participants were already back on the boat eating pineapple and other snacks. We moved on to a tiny island where we would enjoy a local lunch and we were treated to an exhibition on how to husk a coconut and break open the coconut down the middle. After lunch, the guide showed some more local tricks like how to make a hat from palm fronds, among other things. I spent my time on the beach and in the water.
The next day would be the one I was looking forward to. I went on a whale watching tour which allowed us to swim with the humpback whales if the situation allowed. These whales often rest here as they go back and forth from Antarctica to the Pacific waters along the equator. The females also birth their calf’s here. We took a boat out of the reef and after a short time we spotted three whales, a female with a calf and a large male following along. It was interested in courting the female. Everyone’s excitement peaked as we looked intently at the whales and listened intently to our guide waiting for his instructions. If the whales were stressed, we weren’t jumping in the water. Ideally, you want to join then in the water when they are resting. They seemed to be performing for us by breeching playfully out of the water, which could also be a hazard. We watched for about 10 minutes and they seemed to settle down and the captain, our guide, gave the word. We were going swimming with humpback whales. In actuality, we were going to swim in front of them so they would swim past as. Our guide told us not to make to much noise with unnecessary splashing which was wise guidance. There sonar can pick up the noise and they’ll avoid you as to not run into you. We swam to a spot then were directed to another direction and it was another wise move. The whales swam right passed us. It was like seeing a 20 ton angel being illuminated by the occasional rays of sun in the deep ocean. Don’t let their size full you, they can swim and cover ocean pretty quickly. And, in about two minutes they are out of view. It was time to swim back to the boat and get in front of them again. The next interaction with them, the whales swam beneath the group as we bobbed in the water. They swam through the dark depths of the ocean past us for another moment I’ll never forget and thankfully got on video as well. We were able to swim with them three times in two hours. This was the single best experience I ever had but it doesn’t come without danger. Not only do you need to be a good swimmer but you can’t be afraid of the deep ocean. It can be overwhelming when you jump in for the first time. On a calm day, the open ocean can be a little choppy and swimming against the current can be taxing. I’ve swam in the open ocean with whale sharks and large manta rays and it still takes my breath away when I first jump in.
Can you believe it, this all happened before lunch. I was dropped of at my hotel and since I still had my swim shorts on and my snorkel gear in hand, I decided to go snorkeling in front of the hotel. There is a reef along the shore with a great view of Cook’s Bay in the background. I even saw a turtle. It was another plus for the hotel. The next day would be a travel day but I had some time to take in the view from my hotel one more time, including that view of Cook’s Bay.
My stay in Moorea would be one of the most memorable moments in my life. But, it was time for me to move on through these wonderful islands of French Polynesia.