Resorting to relaxing

Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
Trip End Nov 30, 2011

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Flag of French Polynesia  , Society Islands,
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We arrived in Tahiti late Wednesday evening after our flight from Easter Island. We had a few nervous moments after we cleared customs as our guest house pick-up was again nowhere to be seen – not something you want to happen at 11pm at night, having just landed in a new country. Fortunately a few minutes later our guesthouse host finally appeared to take us to our accommodation. With it being after 3am in Easter Island where we'd just come from, and having not slept on the plane, as soon as we arrived at our excellent guesthouse we headed straight to bed.

It was daylight much earlier in Tahiti than it had been in Easter Island, so Thursday morning we were both awake before 7am – the five hour time difference between Tahiti and Easter Island probably didn’t help either. After breakfast at our guest house, we had enough time to hit the local supermarket for a few supplies, before being dropped off at the ferry terminal to head to the neighbouring island of Moorea.

As soon as we had collected our bags off the ferry in Moorea it was onto 'the Truck’ – the local public bus service – with all of the locals. The Truck rattled around the island, and after 30 mins dropped us right outside our fare. Upon walking through the front gate we were shown directly to the fare’s only waterfront bungalow - a benefit of being the only guests for the first two nights. It didn’t take long either before we were provided with coconuts for a refreshing drink of coconut water – very welcome relief from the Moorean heat.

Our hosts, Phillipe and Corrine were incredibly helpful and provided us with a heap of information about what to do and where to go in Moorea. But after travelling solidly for the past four and half months all we really wanted to do was to rest, relax and do nothing. Having organised ourselves in our lovely room, we lazed away the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the sun loungers overlooking beautiful Opunohu Bay.

One thing that we didn’t really understand until we arrived in Moorea is that because the accommodations and restaurants are spread all along the coast, there aren’t necessarily many restaurants, if any, within walking distance of most of the guesthouses, including ours. With taxis being ridiculously expensive, and without a rental car or scooter, both of which are also expensive, there are very few options for dinner. Fortunately our hosts understand this particular issue, and regularly cook for, and eat with, their guests. An excellent three-course meal at the fare, while not cheap in itself, was cheaper and much better value than the alternative of eating out. Having just arrived in the early afternoon, and not wanting to have to worry about dinner that evening, we agreed to dine with Phillipe and Corrine – just the four of us. We had a lovely dinner of tuna carpaccio, chicken curry, with roasted bananas and ice cream for dessert.

Friday morning we woke up early to go snorkeling before breakfast. Barely 15 metres from the shore in front of our bungalow, the bay floor drops right away down to almost 200ft, creating a shelf where loads of colourful tropical fish bask amongst the corals. Almost all of the coral had died off due to the effects of a large storm a year or so ago, but there were still plenty of small tropical fish to see.

Breakfast was served outside overlooking the water – a selection of fresh tropical fruits, and the traditional french baguette with a variety of tropical flavoured jams. Having wiled away the afternoon on the sun loungers yesterday, we were in the mood for something a little more energetic. We took one of the double kayaks, and kayaked nearly 2km along the coast to take a look at the Hilton resort where we had booked to stay on Valentine’s Day. It was hard work kayaking into the steady breeze, but after turning around we were basically able to drift back to our fare with the wind behind us.

Our morning was rounded out with a demonstration of how to make coconut milk – how to peel coconuts, how to split coconuts, drink coconut water, grind fresh coconut, and finally how to squeeze fresh coconut milk. It was quite interesting, but nowhere near as easy as it looks. There’s definitely a technique to the peeling, splitting and grinding of coconuts, but even with an experienced teacher I made it look incredibly difficult. After our somewhat active morning, we were again quite happy just spending the rest of the day relaxing by the water.

After a nice dinner at the fare the previous night, we decided we would have dinner at a local restaurant that Phillipe had recommended. Given the issue with transportation in Moorea, the restaurant kindly sent a car to come and collect us from our fare. Service was pretty snappy – restaurants generally close around 9pm in Moorea – and the food was OK, although I think I missed out a bit ordering the lobster ravioli. It turned out to be very different to other lobster ravioli I’ve had before. Kerry enjoyed her meal though, and we had some fantastic profiteroles for dessert, before being dropped back at our fare. A nice meal, but unfortunately it struggled to match up to the home-cooked meals available at our fare.

Realising that we weren’t going to be able to see much of Moorea without any transport, we booked to go on a 4x4 tour on Saturday morning to see some of the island’s highlights. First stop was the Magic Mountain lookout high above the entrance to Opunohu Bay. And what a magical view it was, with the bay below us and beautiful turquoise water stretching along the coast in both directions – simply stunning! From the heights of Magic Mountain it was then down to the water’s edge for another quick photo stop at the end of Opunohu Bay. Having taken our photos, we were just about to get back in the truck when we saw a small hammerhead shark swim past us only a few metres off the shore, basking in the shallow waters at the edge of the bay. Our guide, the very funny and cool Frankie Frank, said that it was only the second time that he has seen a hammerhead shark in Moorea – he had goosebumps!

From Opunohu Bay we made a stop at a pineapple plantation, where we got to taste pineapple straight off the bush – amazingly good – before continuing on to the Belvedere lookout for the views over both Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. I had been looking forward to seeing the view from the Belvedere lookout, but having just been to the Magic Mountain, the view didn’t quite match up. After short stops at a marae for a short history lesson and an agricultural school to taste tropical fruit jams, we made our last stop at a local distillery, where we got to taste three different local concoctions, only one of which really appealed to Kerry and I.

After an excellent morning taking in some of what Moorea has to offer, we spent the afternoon relaxing at the fare, before joining Phillipe & Corrine again for dinner - a lovely meal of seared tuna, mahi-mahi with spices and sweet potato, and coconut pie and ice cream for dessert.

Sunday morning we headed out on a lagoon snorkeling tour with our host Phillipe, and some of the other fare guests. It was a beautiful, clear and relatively calm morning as we headed off across Opunohu Bay. We made a short stop to see eight stone-carved tikis sunk in the lagoon, before heading further around the lagoon to swim with sting rays and black-tipped reef sharks.

As we arrived in the sting ray feeding area I counted maybe a dozen sting-rays swimming over to the boat as we pulled up, knowing that the sound of the engine meant more food arriving. As we all got into the water and pushed away from the frenzy going on around the boat, I was able to count at least twenty black-tipped reef sharks swimming around. Then just as we were beginning to get comfortable with the sting rays being in such close vicinity to us Phillipe began his feeding, creating a frenzy of interest from the sting rays - and only slightly less interest from the reef sharks. It was quite funny to see the way the sting rays reacted to Phillipe’s hand feeding, with them all pushing up against him, up out of the water, almost as if they were gang-tackling him, in order to get some food.

Kerry was more than a little freaked out by all of the sting rays continuously pushing past and rubbing up against her – I seem to recall some squealing being involved - even more so than for the reef sharks. The reef sharks were actually incredibly docile – if you swam towards them, they would actually turn and swim away from you. After leaving the sting rays and reef sharks behind, we move off to a sheltered area between two motu for a final snorkel – a relatively shallow area with lots of small colourful tropical fish and crystal clear water, where conditions for viewing the fish were better than the much deeper bay in front of our fare.

Having enjoyed our morning’s snorkeling, as we prepared to leave our final snorkeling stop the sky was getting very dark to the west of the island. Then just as were pulling away we heard the first clap of thunder. As we pulled out from between the two motu, and turned to look in the direction of the storm, we saw a massive waterspout touching down, churning and twisting, not more than a kilometre away – unbelievable!

After escaping the storm and getting back to the fare safely, we again spent the afternoon relaxing, before joining Phillipe and all of the other guests for dinner – tonight comprising a tuna & mahi-mahi starter, a swordfish main course, and chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert.

Monday morning we woke early again to go snorkeling before breakfast – it was nice, but after snorkeling in the protected waters between the two motus the previous day, you could really see the damage inflicted on the coral by the storm in 2009. After eating breakfast and packing our bags, we walked up to a tropical garden just across the road from the fare. It was situated at the top of a steep hill, so had a very nice view down over Opunohu Bay. Unfortunately when they tried to give us a short tour of the vanilla plantation they couldn’t answer our questions, or really explain anything to us. Their English wasn’t great at all so Kerry and I aborted our very brief tour, and instead had some nice tropical flavoured ice cream and enjoyed the view out over the bay.

After returning to the fare and checking out, Phillipe kindly gave us a lift to the Hilton just a couple of km down the road – the local shuttle company had wanted to charge us the equivalent of US$15 for the short journey, which even Phillipe objected to, so he took us himself.

We had decided while planning our Moorea visit that we would stay at the Hilton for one night on Valentine’s Day – something nice for us both. Upon checking in we received a complimentary upgrade courtesy of my membership – thank you, Hilton! We were promptly spirited away to our own little piece of paradise. Entering the room, Kerry and I both had the same reaction…..oh my goodness! We had the most amazing hotel room - beautiful king size bed with flowers laid out in the shape of a heart, a small lounge area with big flat screen TV, a massive bathroom with a separate bath and rain shower, a private deck with two sun loungers beside our own plunge pool, and to top it all off, a few minutes later we were treated to a complimentary bottle of wine by the hotel. I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in a number of nice hotels, but the Hilton Moorea is up there as one of the very best I’ve ever stayed in.

We spent the next few hours just relaxing in, and by, our private pool, sipping on the ice-cooled wine – there can be nothing better. It was such a great afternoon. We finished the day with dinner at the hotel restaurant, which we both thought was strangely quiet for a resort like Hilton on Valentine’s Day. Nevertheless dinner was very nice, sitting on the balcony overlooking the beach – until the shock we both got when we received the bill. Kerry had unwittingly managed to order a US$13.50 glass of fruit juice to drink – ouch! It better have been an amazing glass of fruit juice for US$13.50.

Tuesday, we woke to another beautiful hot sunny day in Moorea. We enjoyed a fantastic breakfast on the restaurant balcony overlooking the beach, compliments once again of my Hilton membership – a meal that would have set us back $80 otherwise. After checking out of our beautiful room, and vowing to come back one day for a longer stay, we sat down on the beach, enjoying the beautiful turquoise lagoon, snorkeling, and lounging in the sun – this place is heaven….ahhhhhhh! But by mid-afternoon it was time to leave the beautiful island of Moorea behind, and get our ferry to transfer back to Tahiti to catch our flight the next morning.

We had a quiet night as Wednesday we had an early morning start to get our flight to New Zealand – a 5.45am transfer to the airport for 7.40am flight to Auckland.

Next stop for us is Wellington for one night, so that we can see friends and organise our visas for China, and then off to see my parents in Palmerston North on Friday.

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