Moorea, French Polynesia Part II (Nov 4-18)

Continued from Part I. We found no shortage of fun places to see and interesting things to do on Moorea and Tahiti. Here are more photos from activities and scenery on both islands. This was a short trip for us, but we packed a lot into it!

Scenes like this were everywhere on the island!

Along Cook's Bay

The island was mountainous and formed by volcanoes, so the terrain was always interesting. We enjoyed going up the winding road to "the Belvedere" or lookout, affording spectacular views of Mt Rotui, Opunohu Bay and Cook's Bay. There was also some very good birding in this area.

On the road into the Opunohu Valley

Panorama of Opunohu Bay, Mt Rotui, and Cook's Bay, taken from the Belvedere

Opunohu Bay, Mt Rotui, and Cook's Bay

We stopped to sample fresh juices and marmalade at the agricultural school on the way up to the Belvedere.

Agricultural school on the road to the Belvedere

Along the road to the Belvedere are several marae or ancient archeological sites dating back 500-600 years.

Restored archeological site of ancient communal marae

Archery platform archeological site used in ancient competitions

Coming down from the Belvedere we decided to take a dirt road which turned out to be a nice shortcut, and also took us into the agricultural areas of the Opunohu Valley.

Off the beaten track in the Opunohu Valley

In the Opunohu Valley

Here's a selection of photos taken on our drives on Moorea.

Eglise de la Sainte-Famille, (circa 1891) near Haapiti

Protestant church near Haapiti (circa 1916)

Sunday morning outside the church near Haapiti

Green cross for pharmacy

There are several high end resorts on the island which we visited for activities or meals, or just to look around. Our first one was lunch at the Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort. The over-water bungalows were very inviting.

Our lunch spot at the Sofitel

On another very nice day we went to the beach at Hotel Les Tipaniers and rented a kayak, which we took out to an itu (small island).

The beach and pier at Hotel Les Tipaniers

Susan on the deserted beach of "our" island

We also paid a visit to the Intercontinental Resort and Spa, as they have the Moorea Dolphin Center and the Turtle Clinic for rehabilitating green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles. 

Intercontinental Resort and Spa
Parrot Fish

Swimming with the dolphins was an option, but we chose not to

When we travel we're always on the lookout for interesting (if not off-the-wall) cultural or scientific activities, and Moorea didn't disappoint. One evening at Allo Pizza, we spoke with a couple of young American women who were picking up about a dozen pizzas for what she called "Gump Station." It turns out the University of California, Berkeley operates the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station on Moorea. They invited us to stop by and talk to faculty and staff about various research projects, so we did.

UC Berkeley's Gump Station on Cook's Bay

We spoke to a couple of German researchers who were studying the Crown of Thorns sea star (starfish), which periodically damages the coral reefs around Moorea and other areas of the South Pacific. Another researcher was investigating a type of very small sea slug.

Susan watching Crown of Thorns sea star research
A researcher takes a photo tracking the movement of a sea star

Another popular attraction on the island was driving up the private road to "Magic Mountain" to get a spectacular panoramic view of the island and ocean. The road was very narrow, with sometimes just two concrete paved tracks for your tires, and it was steep in places, with a lot of switchbacks. Most people probably would do this on a tour truck, but since we had a 4WD car it was a no-brainer.

Entrance to the private road to Magic Mountain

Susan walks up the final few steps to the Magic Mountain viewpoint
Panoramic view from Magic Mountain

The same day we drove up Magic Mountain we also visited the island's very small Tropical Garden. There were a variety of interesting plants, and we saw vanilla being grown, too.

The steep road up to the Tropical Garden

Mike posing with bananas


Azure-tailed Skink

One of the highlights of touring Moorea was the boat tour we took out of the pier at Hotel Les Tipaniers. It was too late in the season to see whales, though the boat captain made a huge effort, almost going around the entire island. We'd hoped to see more of the sea birds, but only really saw the noddys and a white-footed booby. The real treat though was the chance to safely get in the water with sting rays and reef sharks.

Susan with the boat's captain

Sting Ray on the shallow bottom
Reef Shark, probably 5 ft long
Susan with string rays
Sting Ray being mouthy

Waves hitting the reef
Mike snorkeling in deeper water with reef sharks. He survived, but the iPhone in his pocket did not.
Spinner dolphins came near us and put on a good show

We did the obligatory tourist evening at the Sofitel, which included a Polynesian buffet and show. 

We spent another evening back at the Hilton and an all crepes meal, with a savory crepe for dinner and then a delicious dessert crepe. All the while we were entertained by the sea life swimming under our dinner spot. 

A meal of crepes at sunset

Crepes for dessert!

On another night we dined at the Moorea Pearl Resort and heard a really great French jazz-fusion band playing.

Moorea Pearl Resort

Great live music!

Perhaps our favorite resort experience was the morning we had a multi-course brunch at the Legends Resort Moorea. Situated on a hillside, we ate outside by the infinite pool which overlooked the ocean.

The lobby at Legends Resort

The view from our breakfast table

After we ate, we drove up to the "top" of the hillside cottages to take in the views.

View from the "top" of Legends Resort

Before we knew it, our time on Moorea was up. On our last morning we woke up to almost a full moon setting.

Our home exchanger hosts returned and we greeted them in their own home and got to know them in person for an hour or so. One of their friends helpfully suggested a rental car on the island of Tahiti to allow us to tour the island while we killed time waiting for our late evening flight to LAX. She even booked the car for us!

Soon we were on our way to the Moorea ferry terminal, but not before we saw the Grey-Green Fruit Dove, our last new bird of the trip on our last day.

We took the ferry over to Papeete where we were met by someone from Avis who took us straight to our rental car. After we walked into town to visit the city market, we hit the road and drove clockwise around the entire island, stopping for pictures, and to do a short walk to some waterfalls.

Arriving at Papeete 

Papeete City Hall

Susan at one of the black pearl stores

Papeete street scene

On our way to the market

Inside Papeete's bustling and colorful municipal market

Monument to the HMS Bounty at Point Venus

Point Venus lighthouse (formerly an observatory) near the HMS Bounty monument

Along the shore on Tahiti

Susan at the last of the Three Waterfalls

The Ara Ahoaho trou du souffleur (blowhole)

Near the blowhole

PK0 at the end of the road at the famed Teahupoo village and surfing spot

As it got dark, we topped off the tank on our rental car, found our way to the airport, turned in the car, and then checked in at the Faaa airport for our flight home.

Last minute shopping before boarding

After an long, but uneventful flight to LAX and then Denver, we got our car from the long-term lot and drove home via Boulder to pick up a new iPhone for Mike, then comfort food at Smokin' Dave's BBQ in Lyons, and then home. We didn't last very long before crashing after over 24 hours of travel. What a fun trip! Many thanks to our home exchange partners in Moorea; we can't wait for your visit in 2014!

Almost home!