The next part of our journey was a short one, a few hours to Moorea. We were fortunate to have a favourable wind and we hoisted our new sails and blasted across the body of water. Moorea is an island of sharp peaks, deep valleys, emerald/turquoise waters and is the “getaway island” for the Tahitians. Their idyllic rustic retreat, leaving the hub bub of chaotic life behind in Papeete.
Almost six years ago we briefly anchored in Cook’s Bay, Moorea with Jaz on board but this time we intended to stay for a few months, exploring, hiking, snorkelling, diving, partying and swimming.
Moorea’s ancient name was Eimeo but the name Moorea, meaning yellow lizard, has been in existence for a few centuries. Moorea was occupied around 800BC and by the 16th century the Spanish, British and French had introduced western influences predominantly via the missionaries who made their headquarters in Moorea. This island was where Christianity started and spread throughout the Pacific. Today, the London Missionary Society retains it’s Pacific headquarters here. The first book printed in the South Pacific was on Moorea in 1817. Captain Cook on his third, final and ill fated expedition anchored in Opunohu Bay and took longboats around into what was later named Cook’s Bay, in his memory. These two bays are separated by Mount Rotui, an imposing beautiful mountain, often veiled in white cloud with vibrant green slopes. Moorea is the pineapple growing capital of the French Polynesian Islands with vast expanses of land taken over for the cultivation of this fruit. The pineapples are the sweetest that we have eaten, consequently we’re eating quite a few of them.
We anchored in Cook’s Bay via Avaroa Pass with the wind howling kicking up a slight fetch. The hook held fast in the renowned muddy seabedand we lowered “M” to check in with the Gendarmerie, who weren’t interested but extremely welcoming. We were visited by Silvio and Sunny from Barbarossa who suggested a hike to the Three Pines and down to Belvedere, circling back to the dinghy dock during our stay. Early morning, the four of us plus Mikael and Lena from Fortune Light enjoyed an energetic five hour, 11 km hike, with breathtaking views of the two bays from 300metres above sea level, hardly meeting any other walkers until we arrived at the Belvedere. This lookout is the highest point accessible by car….ATVs, bikes and lots of tourists. Close by, on the hiking trail, are several beautifully maintained Maraes. These maraes were even more impressive than the Marquesan ones, but after a while, once you’ve seen a few….. Throughout our hike we came across old foundations peeping out from the vegetation of ancient settlements. Ginger, Avocados, Passionfruit and Tahitian Limes were in abundance, growing wild along the trails. Birdsong followed us throughout the hike, although we struggled to view the choristers as the forest canopy hid the chirpers. We slipped through muddy paths, zig-zagged our way along the steep parts, circled around grand old trees in our way and then reached the coastal road that led us back to our dock. Tired, aching but extremely happy of our achievement, we retired to Amelie, plunging into the sea to cool down and then dried in the sun, reading our books. We’ve recently heard the sad news that Lena drowned in north Fakarava….RIP, Lena.
Apart from the birdsong, drumming and singing from the school, another form of “music” was from the many dogs ashore. Without fail when darkness fell, one by one howled and the noise was repeated over and over again. Could this be casting for a new “101 Dalmatians” film? Even the Cockerels got confused and joined in.
We experienced a lot of low lying cloud and rain whilst we were in the bay, although it was stifling hot. During sunny breaks we would zoom over to the shallow coral areas by the pass and snorkel, primarily for Stephen to try out his birthday present, an underwater compact camera. The visibility wasn’t perfect but each coral had a huge number of fish, sponges and anemones. The odd Tahitian Stingray glided past and typically a Black tipped reef shark, came out of the gloom patrolling his “hood”.
The best snorkelling was to be found between Motus Tiahura and Irina, beyond Opunohu Bay, a long dinghy ride inside the reef. The water was crystal clear with healthy coral and masses of fish. The quality of the underwater photographs were much better. Holidaymakers on jet-skis and tour boats were nearby squealing with delight at a Ray feeding station. Allegedly the Rays are so used to humans that they cosy up to people, maybe sloughing off their parasites!!!
Another surprise was the ample stock in the local supermarket but with elevated prices.
On the overcast days we explored the coastline by foot, with Moorea slowly giving up a little more of its beauty.
The eastern coastline of Cook’s Bay is lined with coconut palms, Papaya, Mimosa and Tamarind trees and instead of a glut of shops in one area, a multitude of grocery, gift, black pearl, banks, pharmacy shops dot the length of the roadside. Various eating establishments nestle in between the stores with the odd opulent hotel resort making a big statement along the way.
Lunch at the Moorea Beach Club was an unexpected treat together with a glass of Veuve (Debbie’s first in 31 days…..Sober October). Stunning views across the lagoon, the waves lapping the beach below the terrace with catchy music in the background…..it felt like a Nikki Beach experience, together with the price.
We met a wonderful couple in the bay, Kim and David on Maluhia, who are spending extended time in the FPI and like us, live on board. They introduced us to the Magellan Polynesian Net on the SSB which is a friendly radio net where we can share knowledge and recommendations.
The Distillerie et Usine de Jus de Fruits de Moorea is located in Cook’s Bay and our second attempt to visit was a disappointment. The tastings of juice, liqueur, Tahitian Punch and a vile dry white wine made from pineapples was swift with very little information and the gift shop was extremely pricey. We were told that the pineapples are grown by the local farmers throughout the year and processed at the distillery. Mangoes only grow for three months of the year so they import mangoes from Asia and India. Unfortunately we were not allowed to taste their rum, which we may have bought. Instead we left with two cartons of fruit juice. The reasonable walk there and back made up for it, passing an experimental house which was portrayed as being eco friendly, a tiny version of the Devon County Show-ground and the roadside was abundant with brightly coloured flowers.
Following a swift visit back to Tahiti for the generator’s 50 hour warranty service we anchored in Opunohu Bay, Moorea, via Passe Tareu, a farprettier, “clearer” water and opportunities to do more hiking, snorkelling and diving. We caught up with the lovely Kim and David on Maluhia, who introduced us to various hikes on this part of the island. Firstly, we kayaked ashore, parking the kayak on the beach, tied to a coconut palm and walked several kilometres to the Cook’s Memorial. Thank goodness Kim had given us directions as there was no indication of this monument. We passed between two ship containers, walking through undergrowth until we reached the shoreline and there amongst swaying trees overlooking Robinson’s Cove, stood a concrete plinth with a sculptured globe commemorating Captain James Cook’s three voyages. Searching throughout the guides we couldn’t find anything regarding this site - quite sad but maybe the Polynesians didn’t revere him as us Europeans. Debbie has been reading and listening to audiobooks related to Cook’s presence in these islands and during his final voyage, he didn’t make many friends with his behaviour being erratic and cruel. Retracing our steps back to the kayak we passed a small fruit stand selling reasonable priced fresh produce from the farmer’s garden opposite……you can’t get much fresher than that.
Doug and Maureen from Sophrosyne, together with Kim, David and ourselves hiked to the tropical gardens, passing fruit trees and bushes, carrying on towards the cascade. Vanilla is grown in a hothouse in the gardens with “orchid” like blooms.
Our favourite hike was an epic, challenging, 20.3 km, ten hour hike from the ferry port at Vaiare, over on the east of Moorea, originally to Cook’s Bay, on the north of the island. An early morning bus ride to Vaiare with Jaye and Irwin from Winsome, got us on the trail by 7am and after a 90 minute steep, muddy climb we reached the Col Vaiare, (275 metres) with views of Tahiti in the distance to the south and the two bays plus farmland and mountains towards the north. We ventured off to the left and ended up on a slippery, treacherous, tree root impregnated trail with every step carefully placed. This adrenaline soaked, mosquito infested, exciting trail led us inland with amazing views of the internal monster peaks. Crossing various streams and hearing roosters and music floating up to us from the depths we knew that we were not far fromcivilisation…..but our trail which should have been going down, was ascending.
Eventually we came to the “Three Pines” which we had done before and as the afternoon passed, we plodded through the muddy undergrowth of an ancient forest. Jaye mentioned that it felt spiritual in the forest and we couldn’t have agreed more. The easiest route back to our kayak was via the Belvedere, snacking on fresh tropical fruit salad and drinking chilled coconut juice. Following the tarred road to the head of Opunohu Bay, the late afternoon sun was beginning to sap our energy levels but the thought of homemade ice cream at the Lycée Agricole kept us going, unfortunately the shop closed early that day because of the students’ Christmas party. We were invited to join the students to watch the various dance performances, which we did for a short while. Continuing down along pastures with grazing cows, passing the fresh water shrimp farm and beautiful views we eventually met our path home, stopping at the friendly fruit vendor, to buy some sustenance. Boots and socks off, the first step into the ocean was delicious and by the time we had kayaked back to Amelie and off loaded our gear, a dip in the sea fully clothed was much needed. Tired, aching but with huge smiles on our faces, we looked back on our day’s achievement. Irwin’s face when we reached the beach said it all, his face was alight with relief and we believe happiness, a huge undertaking of a man who had undergone a double bypass graft the year before……a real trooper.
The next day we counted our mosquito bites, rubbed our tired limbs and set about a day of Christmas shopping via the internet.
We were entertained in the anchorage with constant visits from turtles of all sizes. The anchorage was also exceptionally friendly with many cruisers joining together on the beach for a barbecue, each boat bringing a dish to share and food for grilling. This event was organised by the comical Joe and Annie from Little Wing with Boules thrown in to keep everyone entertained.
A beautiful, energetic hike up Magic Mountain with views across the farmlands on one side and clear views of the pass and the numerous reefs below us, took our breath away. We had moored “M” at a sturdy pontoon in Papetoai, a small village with several shops, the oldest church on the island, pharmacy, post office, government building and clinic. Once again the walk along the roadside to the entrance to Magic Mountain, was abundant with tropical fruits. Luckily Annie, who is a professional gardener, pointed out various trees that we wouldn’t have noticed.
Last year we were in San Diego and the Thanksgiving experience left us cold. This year we became honorary Americans, although we refused to acknowledge the US president and we celebrated on board Amelie with Kim, David, Annie, Joe, Ryan and Nicole. We cooked the turkey and potatoes with the others producing mouth watering traditional pies, vegetables and stuffing. We played games and had a totally different experience with people that we enjoyed being with. Kim did some homework on the history and facts of Thanksgiving, one of which stated that 8 out of 10 Americans preferred left overs the next day, so it was proposed we extended our American privilege and ate up the vast amount of leftovers…….delicious.
We shook out our dive gear, initially to clean the bottom of the boat which took us four gruelling attempts, then we decided that we deserved some recreational diving. The clarity of the water, huge populations of different fish and corals were staggering. During several of our dives we were charged by a vicious Titan Triggerfish, attempting to chase us away from what we presumed was her sand nest of eggs. This huge fish with it’s huge teeth had us moving off her patch quickly but not before Stephen got her photograph. On another dive we abandoned the dive after 29 minutes as a 3 metre Lemon Shark swam close to us making us realise that we were in its environment and certainly not at the top of the food chain during that short spell. Lemon Sharks are generally solitary creatures and are considered dangerous. We later learned that this shark and others were local to the area and were not interested in divers, we believe that the size of it and its disinterest in humans is due to being fed by means of “chumsicle”, a fish parcel to attract sharks for a tourist attraction!
Snorkelling is exceptional in this bay and particularly early in the morning when you can swim with Tahitian Stingrays and sharks without it being crowded. Once again these creatures are normally fed by the tourists so when they hear your boat coming they think food. Alas they weren’t getting any from us but they hung around in hope. One ray got quite cosy with Debbie, very gently nudging her mask while the others glided majestically around us. They are definitely fair-weather friends because as soon as a couple joined us with frozen sardines, they were off like a shot. We shared this experience with David, Sheila and their son, Cory from Shorleave (this isn't a spelling mistake). We last saw them in Ua Huka, Marquesas so it was fun to catch up with them, particularly as Sheila and Debbie have a similar sense of humour and often end up howling with laughter together, the men look on in bemusement!
Stephen is notorious for doing his Christmas shopping at the last minute but this year he was “super” (an Americanism that we’ve picked up. I’m sure our American friends have picked up a lot more from us, particularly our quirky British sayings) organised taking the early morning bus and ferry transfer back to Papeete, Tahiti and enjoyed a day mooching around the shops getting inspiration. He was obviously successful as Debbie was banned from certain areas of the boat where he hid his gems. A week later he was meeting a stranger in a hotel reception to collect his package!!!!!
Two miles from our anchorage is Tiki Bay, with room for four to five boats. Alerted by Ryan and Nicole, several of us up anchored and resettled in this sandy bottomed, clear water and tranquil anchorage. Fish and Rays glided beneath our hull, the anchor was visible from looking over the guard rails and we were surrounded by a horseshoe reef with a deep gulley. We often had Tahitian Stingrays under the keel but one evening we spotted an enormous Spotted Eagle Ray, nosing up crustaceans in the sand. His/her wingspan was larger than Debbie’s arms held out. He wasn’t bothered that Debbie was above him/her and 20 minutes was spent following this feeding tour. The coral health was varied near us but further towards the main reef the coral was pristine, colourful and extremely shallow. The SUP barely travelled above this underwater world. Close by sculptures in the form of Tikis nestled in the depths, clearly visible from the boat. Despite searching throughout our books, we couldn’t find any information regarding these Tikis. Obviously a tourist attraction, with lagoon tour boats bringing in hotel and cruise liner guests to view them. We had a man like Tiki in 5 m of water under our keel. The legs and grotesque head was very clear.
What we have noticed here is an influx of scratchy, teasel like weed which is a harbour choker together with blocking our inlet through hull fittings. Daily, Stephen clears the debris from our strainer baskets and hoses in order to use the generator, toilets and watermaker. After a week in this pretty anchorage we decided enough was enough so we re-anchored in our original spot, a couple of miles away.
Back in the fold in Opunohu Bay, we hung out with Shorleave who had returned with more of their family and friends (Shawn, Alison, Evan, Darcy, Steph and Saba) and enjoyed a Mahi-Mahi feast caught by their son, Cory and as it was the weekend, alcohol flowed from lunchtime onwards. This bay is probably the friendliest we’ve ever anchored in, most cruisers introduce themselves and we’ve spent many hours sharing stories, consequently we plan to stay in the bay for Christmas and New Year. Linda and Chuck from Jacaranda introduced themselves, offering to dispose of our rubbish and as they are active founders of the Tahitian Cruisers Guide, helped us with various projects and we discovered that they knew Sadie and Andy from Wildberry, small world.
Traditionally on Amelie on the 1st of December, the Christmas tree is brought out of the depths of a cupboard, Mike’s lights and ornament were dusted off and sentimental trinkets from over the years saw the light of day. Stephen played some airy fairy Christmas music but this was quickly rectified with Mariah, Slade, Wizard, “Mel and Kim” and Pentatonix blasting throughout Amelie.
Most of December was taken up with eating, drinking, playing board games and diving with various cruisers. The Christmas spirit was alive in Opunohu Bay with Stephen organising a barbecue ashore for Debbie’s birthday with a supper on board Amelie later with the crew of Shorleave. They were “Amelie'd”, quite an accolade. Christmas morning found both boat crews with hangovers but we still managed to get ashore to have our beach Christmas Carols, with Jaye on the Mandolin and Evan on the Ukulele and Alison harmonising with the rest of us trying to keep in tune. It was jolly, festive and the odd stranger walking the beach joined in. Christmas afternoon was an active one for Jaye, trying to climb over the post office fence in order to call her Mum from the public payphone. Her acrobatic skills were a little off and she managed to impale her leg on the spikes at the top of the fence. Stitched up and a shot of Tetanus medically improved things but the hefty gin and tonic back on Amelie helped the pain together with the support of many cruisers in the anchorage. Jaye, like our friend Ju (after her accident in Grenada) remained cheerful, jokey and both being fit and healthy, recovered quickly. Jaye was sore at not being able to hike and dive but that didn’t keep her down, she was frequently seen flitting off in her kayak with her affected leg aloft.
New Year celebrations saw a repeat performance of Shorleave and Amelies’ Christmas antics, rendering New Year's Day as a restful one!
Communication with the family back in the UK was a huge improvement on last year, we even saw Charlotte opening our presents, with Elizabeth mainly interested in the wrapping paper. Currently we’re on standby waiting for the call that Sam and Abby’s baby has arrived. Every time the ‘phone rings we rush to answer but our third grandchild is not in a hurry…….he/she will make an excellent sailor!
2018 has been a great year for us. We have met some very special people, visited beautiful places, enjoyed many activities, become fitter and in 2019 we look to do even more.