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Moorea

Written by Cathy Siegismund
August 2001


  

Moorea is another one of the Society Islands, a short sail from Tahiti in French Polynesia

Sunset over Moorea from our anchorage at Maeva Beach, Tahiti

After almost five weeks in Tahiti, we finally left for Moorea. We decided to head out the smaller pass to the west of the anchorage at Maeva Beach. It is marked, but can have fairly large breakers on either side. It was a relatively calm day, but there were still large waves, with local surfers enjoying them.

The popular Maeva Beach anchorage on Tahiti

Leaving Tahiti

Breakers on the west side of the pass and Moorea in the background

South side of the pass, with a surfer enjoying the breakers

Our route through the Windward Society Islands

We left Tahiti heading for Moorea. The winds had been quite calm in the anchorage, so we mistakenly thought we would have a light air motor across to Moorea. We had been at anchor a bit too long; when this happens, we cruisers turn our boats more into homes and less into vehicles. We thought we had adequately stowed the boat for our little day sail. However, as soon as we got out of the lee of Tahiti, the winds increased, and short steep beam on seas soon has us chasing our belongings around the cabin. I also, foolishly, had not taken a Stugeron for our little day sail and was soon lying below feeling queasy. 

Despite our disorganization, we were soon comfortably motorsailing along Moorea's spectacular coast. Moorea is the most dramatically beautiful island we've visited to date. Two deep bays mark the northeast coast of Moorea, Opunohu Bay and Cooks Bay. A point of trivia is Cooks Bay is a bit of a misnomer, as Captain Cook actually anchored in Opunohu Bay when he was in Moorea.

Approaching Opunohu Bay

Opunohu Bay

Anchored behind the reef in dramatic Opunohu Bay

We met Layla and Eleftheria, another Northwest boat with Milo and Kimberly aboard. We enjoyed hanging out with friends and Kimberly, Vernita and I made a long dinghy ride down the reef to the Beachcomber Hotel, where we enjoyed a little luxury at the spa and had massages. 

A highlight of our stay on Moorea, was a trip down the reef to feed the sting rays. There is a shallow area inside the reef, where a school of sting rays congregate to be fed by tourists. As soon as we dropped the dinghy anchor, the hungry rays swarmed us. The water is only about four-feet deep so we could stand next to our dinghies. We brought raw fish and fed and pet the rays as they swam around us and crawled up the front of us begging for fish. 

The hungry rays start to descend on you as soon as you drop the dinghy anchor

Ray hovering near the bottom

Pair of rays coming in for lunch

Vernita swimming with a ray

Rays climbing up the front us looking for food

More Pictures in the Sting Ray Photo Gallery

After a few days in Opunohu Bay, the weather started to turn and it was very overcast and rainy. The weather was forecasted to have heavy rain and high winds with sustained 25-30 knots and gusts to 50 knots. We decided to move the boats to Cooks Bay which is better protected and had more room to anchor further from other boats.  

The morning we moved the boat, we woke to torrential rains, cold temperatures, and a light fog. It felt like a sailing vacation in the Northwest.

Ken looking for the pass markers to Cooks Bay in the pouring rain

We were wet and chilled by the time we had the hook down in Cooks Bay. I made some soup and hot chocolate - not one of our usual meals in the tropics. Layla came into the bay and anchored behind us, just after we finished lunch, so I ran the rest of our soup over to them.

Cath on soup delivery in the pouring rain

Cath returning from Layla on a cold and rainy day

Green Ghost, with Nick and Jen, from Vancouver had arrived from Huahine at about the same time and we were all securing the boats for the big expected blow. Although we had a record rainfall - even for the tropics - the big winds never hit our snug bay on Moorea. That night we had a birthday party for Vernita on Layla with Green Ghost and Eleftheria.

Milo and Drew in Layla's galley preparing dinner

Kim showing off a canvas bag she made for Vernita

Jen and Nick showing off their beautiful homemade birthday cards. Nick's will be treasured, but Jen's are turning into collector's items among the cruisers

Drew and Vernita left the next day for Tahiti. They still had to check out and run some errands. We hung out for another day, waiting for the weather to clear. 

Weather finally starting to clear in Cooks Bay

The clearing weather did give us a fantastic rainbow within Cooks Bay

On our third day in Cooks Bay, the weather looked promising, so Nick, Jen, Ken and I headed to shore to find some scooters to rent. We had thought we would have to hitchhike to another bay where the large ferry docks, but we lucked out and found a scooter rental place about half a block from where we tied up the dinghy.

Nick and Jen rented one scooter to share, but Ken and I being speed demons and control freaks - each rented a scooter. We were off like a biker - gang to explore Moorea. However, once we rented the royal blue and red scooters with our matching helmets Jen decided they couldn't be called hogs, so she dubbed them the piglets. 

The roads on Moorea are good, but there aren't too many of them. There is a coast road that goes around the island and then two roads that head from Cooks Bay and Opunohu bay respectively up to a scenic vista called the Belvedere. 

Looking down from the Belvedere to Cooks Bay on the right...

...and Opunohu Bay on the left

Nick and Jen at Belvedere

Ken and Cath at Belvedere

We headed back down the switchback road that lead us to the Belvedere to the coast road. We had climbed quite high and were surprised at the fields and pine trees. If you ignored the palm trees, it would have been easy to forget you were in the tropics.

Grazing fields with one of Moorea's peaks in the background

Jen, Nick and Cath -- The Piglets

Cath in her best biker-pose

Back on the coast road, we headed to the Beachcomber to check out a dive shop. Nick and Jen are certified divers as well and we were all considering signing up for a dive. We parked the piglets at the Beachcomber and explored the lovely resort. We stopped to watch the Dolphin Quest - a similar program to what I did in PV. We then went to Bathy's Scuba Shop. It seemed like a really first rate dive operation; and after a great deal of indecision, we all signed up for a two-tank dive for the following day. As I recall, we made a unanimous decision to do a 8am shark feeding dive, followed by a 10:30am dive off the reef. However, there seemed to be some buyers' remorse on the part of Nick and Ken, as they realized they'd signed up for a shark dive. They claimed I'd employed some sort of coercion. This is of course untrue!

We stopped at at a roadside restaurant for a great lunch of fresh tuna (Ken had a cheeseburger), before the piglets continued their circumnavigation of Moorea. 

Beautiful turquoise water inside the reef on Moorea

We had to make a stop at Cathy's Pareo shop were Nick, Jen and I made purchases.

Cathy's Pareo

Ken, Cath, and Nick on a quay that jutted out into the water

Ken and Nick - the biker dudes: Nick showing off his very cool Polynesian tattoo and Ken... his Polynesian weather induced freckles

Fisherman's nets hung in a tree on a small bay

The east side of Moorea overlooked a small motu with Tahiti in the background

View down the coast of Moorea

One of the many hotels that offer private bungalows over the water -- if anyone's interested they seem to range from $250 - $500/night

The turquoise water inside the reef, the deeper blue outside, and Tahiti in the distance. 

As we were coming down the homestretch to Cooks Bay where we returned the scooters, we stopped at one more Pareo shop, an ice cream shop and took a few more pictures of this wonderful island.

The White House Pareo shop

Some very tall palm trees and a lovely view up one of the valleys - yes, this a view from the side of the road!

The day on the Piglets exhausted us, and the fact that we were going to pick Jen and Nick up in the dinghy at 7:15am the next day to go diving, we made an early night of it.

The next day was even nicer. We picked Nick and Jen up in the dinghy and dragged all of our dive gear over to a dock by a mobile station, where the dive shop had agreed to pick us up and take us back to the shop. The dive shop was really professionally run. The gear Ken, Nick and Jen rented was very nice, as was the dive boat. Every 5-6 divers had a divemaster to lead them around, so we weren't diving in huge groups.

The first dive was the shark feeding dive. The visibility was great at over 100 feet, and the water was in the low 80's even at depth. I had done a shark dive before in the Bahamas, where the feeding had pulled in up to 30 reef sharks and nurse sharks, but little else. This dive was actually prettier, though a little less 'sharky'. We all sat on the bottom in about 80 feet of water, while one of the dive masters held an enormous dead tuna. A number of small black tip reef sharks and hundreds of other small colorful reef fish came in for a nibble. It was like being in a crammed salt water aquarium. 

On our next dive, we went just off the reef. The visibility was still about 70 feet. We saw rock fish, several lion fish, Napoleon fish (which is an enormous type of wrasse), clown fish, parrot fish, trigger fish, banner fish, etc. The highlight of this dive were three moray eels. I'm not sure of the type, but they were brown with a beautiful black pattern along their bodies. Nick and I even got to pet one. The last one we saw was huge. Hugo, our divemaster, said she was the largest moray around Moorea and was 10 years old - which I gathered was old for a moray - and she was completely blind. However, she was still a capable hunter, as they use their sense of smell as much as their vision. 

After a great time diving, the shop gave us a ride back to Cooks Bay, where we all had cheeseburgers in paradise. 

That night we celebrated our second birthday in Moorea. Wendy from Velella had her birthday. Nick and Jen hosted on Green Ghost and we celebrated with Wendy & Garth (Velella), Milo and Kim (Eleftheria), and Paul and Suzette (Altair). It was a treat to spend some time with Paul and Suzette, as we hadn't seen them since Zihuatanejo. 

The next day we had planned to head to Huahine, but the convenience of Papeete called to us, and we were sucked back one more time to Tahiti. I wanted to do a last minute shop at the great supermarket there, and one of our propane tanks had run dry on our second day on Moorea. The great fresh meat and produce of the supermarket, the ability to have our propane tanks filled easily (not all places can fill tanks with US fittings), and one more stop for Ken at McDonalds made a one night stop in Maeva beach irresistible. 

Although it required a four hour round trip in the opposite direction from Huahine, it was good to make one more stop on Tahiti. We said some goodbyes to some cruising friends we may not see for a while who where finishing up their cruise in the Societies (Terry & Gayl on Tamarac II) and Tina and Dennis (Alli Kai) who are laying their boat up in Tahiti for the cyclone season and picking up here again next year. 

The next afternoon, August 3, at about 1400 Layla and Felicity motored out of Tahiti, for an overnighter for Huahine.

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