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

Fall wasn't much fun in Estes Park this year, and we fully expected our previously arranged home exchange to French Polynesia would be cancelled because of the flooding.

But when our home exchangers heard of our situation they insisted that we stay at their house as planned, and they would come to Estes Park at a later date. Our journey to Moorea began November 4 by traveling to DIA via Highway 36, just three hours after it reopened from flood damage.

Location of French Polynesia, about 5,000 miles from Colorado

Moorea (upper left) and island of Tahiti

Distracted by flood news, we hadn't spent much time researching the place that we would call home for the next two weeks. The first detail we might have paid more attention to is check in time for our flight beginning 3 hours before flight time, and ending one hour before. Our plane landed in LA just 2 hours before our Air Tahiti Nui flight, so we enjoyed a brisk walk to the international terminal with our bags.

The flight was as good as a long overnight flight can be. Even in economy class, each seat had a monitor with games, movies, music and movies. We were fed a light dinner and breakfast, and appreciated the little bag of goodies which included an eye mask and ear plugs. Not a big surprise, many of our fellow passengers were young newlyweds. We were each given our first Tiare blossom, the fragrant white flower that is symbolic of Tahiti.

Each seat had its own TV and USB connection

We deplaned just as the sun peeked out above the Faaa Airport on Tahiti. The line for non-EU passengers was long, but we had no trouble grabbing a cab to the ferry terminal in time for the 7:30AM boat to Moorea.

Getting off the plane in Papeete

The Aremiti ferry ready to take us to Moorea

At this point we were pushing 20 hours of travel and didn't think to have binoculars handy to try to identify the birds we saw on the 12 mile crossing. There were many shearwaters of some sort and gannet-like birds that we figured out later must have been Red-footed boobies. We were also preoccupied trying to contact our neighbor who would pick us up at the ferry terminal in Moorea. Our phones didn't work as expected, so some very helpful crew members made the call for us and helped us connect with Alain at the dock.

Arriving at the ferry terminal on Moorea

Moorea was beautiful in the early morning light, as we came through the pass between coral reefs entering unbelievably blue waters. It was a short ride to our new home and it was good that we had a driver, as our road was barely noticeable off the main road that encircles the island.

The "wow" view from our home on Moorea

Our house was just perfect. The large open great room had fantastic views of the ocean from the front with natural vegetation surrounding us in the back.

Mike checks out our home's "owner's manual" :-)

The setting was very private with only one neighbor visible. We spent the next couple of hours sitting on the veranda, looking out and saying "Wow!"

The house and private pool

Susan relaxes on the veranda

We also enjoyed meeting and spending time with our two home exchange pets, the friendly cocker spaniel Doudousse, and the cat, Ylang, both outdoor pets.



After settling in and napping, we ventured out late in the afternoon to pick up some groceries at Champion, the largest store on the island.

Panoramic viewpoint on the way to the "supermarche". The island of Tahiti is 12 miles away.

A nearby public park and beach

There are very few roads on Moorea besides the main 36 mile road that goes around the island. Points of interest are noted using the PK (Polynesian Kilometer) system. Starting near the ferry terminal is PK0. Then the PK numbers increment going in both directions until meeting roughly on the other side of the island. This means there are two of each PK number, one going clockwise, and the other going counterclockwise.

Along the island road. Note the guy on bike with a palm frond.

Signs all over the island, including PK signs, were small and easily missed. Mike became proficient at turning around the car on narrow roads, while avoiding other vehicles, scooters, bicyclists, pedestrians and chickens.

PK 33, near Haapiti

The short road to our home "paved" with volcanic rock

We never tired of the changing view from the veranda

A cruise ship heads for Tahiti

Motu Ahi island just off Moorea, with Tahiti in the background

Our exchangers were very thoughtful and left their guidebook for local birds, and we started noticing new birds right away. Although there is not a large number of different species on Moorea, they were almost all new to us except a handful we had seen in New Zealand. As always, birdwatching dovetails (pun intended) nicely with all our explorations of Moorea. Although we saw many of these birds from our home, some of our most productive birdwatching was done at the wastewater treatment ponds near Opunohu Bay. Here are some of the unique birds we added to our "life list".

Common Myna

Red-vented Bulbul

Red-browed Firetail
Chestnut-breasted Mannikin

Fairy Tern

White-tailed Tropicbird

Grey-green Fruit Dove

Pacific Reef Heron

Brown Noddy
White-footed Booby

We enjoyed being on this small, easily navigated island with plenty of time to see all the sights and attractions. We had planned to do some hiking, but we didn't do very much as we were pretty unprepared for the heat and humidity, and in some cases, bugs and mosquitoes.

Bougainvillea just growing along the side of the road

It was interesting to live on Moorea as a "local" and as some locals told us, there isn't a lot to do on the island. We enjoyed some good restaurants (almost always with views of the ocean) and snack shacks, and also enjoyed the restaurants and environs of most of the major vacation resorts on the island. We ended up driving completely around the island three separate times!

We very much liked being near the ocean all the time, and it was fun to see how the locals (and tourists) enjoyed the full range of beach and water activities.

Locals with a young Brown Noddy they had rescued
Kite-surfing was very big on Moorea
A kite-surfer gets big air

View of our neighbor's house on a moonlit night

Continued in Part II...


  1. Glorious place! Reminds me rather of Hawaii.

    You've not seen mynahs or red vented bulbul before? The mynah lives in NZ from Auckland and north, and they are currently undergoing strenuous extermination efforts to stop the red vented bulbul from setting up home in the same territory. Both are aggressive and destructive. Also, both were fairly prevalent in Hawaii. Are they native to French Polynesia? Or have they been introduced there, similarly?

    It looks like a beautiful, glorious escape from poor Estes Park. I hope all is well back at your home.

    1. Thanks, Angela! Pretty sure we didn't see a myna on the South Island anywhere or the bulbul. I believe both were introduced to French Polynesia.

      It was a fun trip! Thanks for stopping by! :-)

  2. Nice photos! I went took a cruise down there in Feb and Mo'orea was the island I felt most strongly that I would like to return to. I love your photo of the Brown Noddy!

  3. I found this web looking for Chestnut-breasted Mannikins for my collection. Great photos of birds you did!! What camara bave been used?