Moorea is without a doubt my favorite of the South Pacific Islands. It is small enough not to have been as heavily affected by tourism as the others, and the people there just seem a bit more friendly. The surroundings are beautiful, and unlike Papeete, it doesn’t have a “big city” feel at all. It is truly a quaint island community where the population is small and the locals all know each other.
Since there is so much to see and do in Moorea, I had a difficult time choosing an excursion. I was stuck between a photography tour via 4 x 4, or a sailing onboard a luxury 43-foot sailing catamaran called the Margouillat. Since I was having such a difficult time choosing, I just opted to do both, with only an hour’s time between the two. Oh, boy. Talk about a recipe for disaster.
The morning started off with a 4x4 photo safari. This was without a doubt the most educational excursion I did on this trip, and it was worth every penny of its somewhat higher than normal price tag. Heading out in a four-wheel drive vehicle, we visited some of the most photogenic areas on the island. We were accompanied on our travels by a professional photographer, in addition to our driver.
He offered us some excellent tips about how to frame photos and also how to use the capabilities of our individual cameras to the best of their capabilities. For example, I found that I had the ISO setting totally wrong on my camera, and that was probably why several of my photos weren’t coming out properly. I was allowing too much light to reach the lens, thus causing several of my photos to have a bleached out look.
We started out in the interior of the island. We viewed miles and miles of pineapple fields and were able to get photos of the lush vegetation. Our guide/photographer then critiqued our shots, giving us pointers on how to better set them up. One interesting thing that I learned was that you don’t necessarily want the subject of the photo in the center of the shot. Sometimes it is better to have another object in the center – something that will present an interesting point of contrast. I played around with this and was able to get several interesting photos that I will upload to CruiseMates once I get home.
We then headed to the waterfront, and the quaint fishing villages that dot it. Here we were able to try our hands at shooting photos of the bay, along with the sky and the many palm trees along the coast line. Some amazing photos could be had here, and it didn’t really matter a whole lot whether you had an SLR camera set-up worth thousands of dollars, or a simple point-and-shoot. Either way, you could get some wonderful shots. I also learned about the settings on my camera, and how for certain shots I want to use the close up, or “flower” setting, and for others a more panoramic view.
We also got a chance to specifically photograph flowers, when we went to a botanical garden offering a wide variety of lush flowering trees. This was a working farm where these flowers were being harvested for shipment to locations all over the world. We also made a stop at the Belvedere lookout point, and this is the only portion of the tour where I had some serious trouble. To get to the lookout point required a bit of a hike, and it was one where you had to be in fairly good shape to manage it. One of the people in our group opted to stay with the driver, but I – like an idiot – didn’t realize there would be a problem. After all, the tour was only listed as one with “two men walking,” one that historically I could handle. This portion of the tour clearly was mis-classified – at least in my “humble” opinion. It should have clearly been three, or more, men walking – as it involved a trek through a lush forest complete with natural dirt steps and uneven, and often slippery terrain. The path was narrow and if you were unlucky enough to lose your footing, it would be quite easy to topple over into the underbush, falling many feet down a cliff. Needless to say, I was in trouble from almost the get-go. My legs are not good due to my parachuting accident, and the orthopedic hardware in both of my legs that I carry to this day. The poor guide had to literally hold my hands and guide me around the path to the lookout point. This path was not short – it involved, I would guess, about a quarter of a mile of hiking each way – over what I would say was a rather treacherous path. True, those in good shape didn’t seem to have too many problems, though some did encounter a few. Our guide was a saint, literally holding my hands and guiding me up and around each of the “steps” required to negotiate in order to get to the lookout point. He kept encouraging me – assuring me that the view from the point would be worth all the effort.
He was right, it was worth the effort, but I still felt badly that I had clearly held up the whole group and shouldn’t have even attempted such a hike. After spending several minutes at the lookout, snapping many photos of the amazing views from that vantage point, it was then time to head back. Once again, I required significant help and had much difficulty. I practically burst into tears upon arriving back at the vehicle and apologized perfusely to everyone else on the tour whom I slowed down. I can’t help but wonder if a stop had to be skipped because of my slow progress.
After the hike, we made a refreshment stop where we could purchase fresh fruit concoctions, as well as sample some fruit delicacies before reboarding our vehicle for the trip back to the cruise ship dock. I can’t praise our guide enough, both for his informative photography tips as well as his kindnesses shown to me on this tour. I just hope I didn’t inconvenience my fellow tour participants to badly on the Belvedere Looking Point part of the trip. I will mention the classification of this tour on my comment card at the conclusion of this cruise, and my belief that it should be rated as a “three man walking” tour.
After getting back to the dock, I had about 45 minutes to get to my next excursion – which was right there at the dock. To pass the time I wandered in and out of the various vendors stalls right there on the dock trying to see if there was anything worth spending a mint on. Since nothing really caught my eye, I decided to head over to the Margouillat, the venue for my second excursion of the day.
The Margouillat, named for a friendly Polynesian gecko, is a 43-foot sailing catamaran. This tour promised to be a very relaxing one, combining sightseeing, sailing and a bit of snorkeling or swimming for those who were interested.
To board the vessel, one is required to remove their shoes. This is truly a casual sailing adventure where nothing but a comfortable bathing suit is necessary. Once onboard, we were offered water and juice, along with fresh fruit. We started off using the ship’s motors, but it wasn’t long before the crew raised the sails, and then the fun started. Our captain clearly enjoyed a good ride, and he was riding the waves – bouncing up and then back down on each. It was truly a wonderful ride, though not terribly rough for passengers who maybe preferred calmer seas. We got to view some wildlife out in the bay, as well as a variety of coral formations. We stopped for a bit of snorkeling, but it was a deep water snorkel not involving any feeding to attract a proliferation of sea life. There was an area not far from the boat where one could view some submerged tiki figures, but most people opted to remain closer to the boat due to the current.
After the snorkeling was complete, we got underway again, as mai tai refreshments were served to passengers.
The boat itself was very comfortable and offered seating both outdoors and in a comfortable salon area. There were cabins below deck in case anyone felt the need to lie down and the salon provided shelter from the blazing sun for those concerned about too much exposure. Up on deck, there was a comfortable netted area where passengers could view the sights from high atop the ship.
There is just something wonderful about being on the water, under the power of the unfurled sails, enjoying the beauty of the South Pacific. It’s the kind of environment that makes one want to stow away and never disembark. Our pilot told stories about captaining such a ship from France, across the open seas, to deliver it to French Polynesia, and he told us that the Margouillat too could be taken out on the open ocean, though he had not yet had that opportunity.
Unfortunately, once we arrived back at the tender pier, there wasn’t much time for shopping or stopping for any sort of refreshment from the vendors set up along the dock. Last tender was scheduled for 4:30, and it was now close to 4:00. It had been a full day in Moorea, and perhaps the best thing to do would be to head back to the Statendam for a shower and a bite to eat.
Moorea wrapped up our stay in French Polynesia, and most of us were sorry to pull up anchor that evening and head onward to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Island Chain – a full two days away. The sail away party on the navigation deck was not quite as festive as earlier ones had been, probably because we knew that as we pulled away from the beautiful island of Moorea, that our cruise is slowly nearing its end. But, there are still some adventures to be had, including two relaxing days at sea before a full day at Nuku Hiva. Then we’ll have another full six days at sea before our cruise will really be over and we dock back at San Diego to face disembarkation.
I’m sorry I’ve been slow lately with these blog entries, but it is very difficult to stay up-to-date while exploring these exciting ports of call. With sea days, plenty of time is afforded for these journal entries, and I promise to keep you well sated with tales from the sea. For now, blue skies and sweet dreams – and, of course, bouncy seas!