After a two-day sail from the Cook Islands, the Paul Gauguin arrived in Opunohu Bay at the ruggedly beautiful island of Moorea in French Polynesia. The iconic peak, Bali Hai, dominates the mountainous landscape of the island’s interior and inviting, crystal clear waters in the lagoon provide splendid swimming and snorkeling opportunities.
Actually no Polynesian ever named this mountain Bali Hai. James Mitchener made it up when he wrote Tales of the South Pacific after he was stationed in the New Hebrides Islands during World War II. The song, Bali Hai, from the Rogers and Hammerstein 1949 musical South Pacific was a big hit and when you actually see the mountain in person it’s a big hit too.
On the ride in on the tender, this guy surfed the boat’s wake all the way into the inner lagoon.
Moorea means “Yellow Lizard” and although Kongo didn’t see any he’s pretty sure that somewhere on the island there are a few of these little guys hiding out. The island was formed by volcanic eruptions a few million years ago and the island itself is slowly sinking back into the sea. In another dozen million years or so all that will be left is the surrounding reef that will become an atoll so you need to book your trip now while there is still plenty of time.
Like the other islands in French Polynesia, Moorea was settled about 900 A.D. by voyagers from the west. Legend says that the voyagers were guided to these islands by a giant sea turtle. Except for yellow lizards and birds, the early settlers brought all the animals and many of the tropical fruits and plants with them. They call them “canoe” plants. Bananas, plantains, breadfruit, papaya, yams, pineapple, chickens, pigs, dogs, and so forth were all brought to the islands by Polynesian pioneers.
During Kongo’s two day visit to Moorea he travelled about the island and went on a guided photography shoot a local photographer who knew where all the great spots were.
There aren’t any real towns in Moorea but there are several villages scattered along the 37-mile long road that circles the island. If you venture off the highway you need to be in a 4-Wheel to navigate the steep trails and winding paths that go into the interior.
The First Christian Church, built by missionaries in the 1870s, is an octagonal landmark in the title village of Papetaoi. Nearby is a small outdoor market that offers souvenirs to tourists arriving from the cruise ships. Fortunately for tourists the missionaries put an end to human sacrifice on the islands.
In the interior are the remains of temples where human sacrifice was practiced. Many times sacrifices were of the slave class but sometimes warriors would offer themselves up voluntarily.
Other ancient sites, known as a “marae” were used to conduct councils of elders, decide conflicts among the people, and to make big decisions that affected the entire community.
The beaches in Moorea are beautiful. Filled with soft coral sand they stretch all around the island and provide a great place to relax or go swimming.
Of course this is Polynesia so visitors are welcomed with ukulele playing groups with Tommy Bahama lookalike shirts. Interestingly, ukuleles originated from Portuguese immigrants from the Azores to Hawaii in the 1800s. Now these instruments are forever linked to Hawaii and other tropical islands.
Of all the islands Kongo visited on this trip, Moorea was his favorite. Friendly people, spectacular scenery, and plenty of things to do. You can get here from Tahiti via ferry that takes about 30-40 minutes or come on a cruise ship.
Travel safe. Have fun!