Tahiti and Moorea – Feel the Sting!
Sun-kissed beaches, mild luxury, a simple Polynesian way of life. That was what we were after. We went to the wrong place!
Ten days in Tahiti, what could be better? I recall Alison asking how long we should visit and me, excited, saying: “let’s do ten days, have a proper rest. It’s Tahiti!”. Mistake #1.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is some beautiful scenery, you can stay in a high-end resort and be pampered to death. But, if you are trying to economise a little; well forget it and go somewhere else. Tahiti and Moorea are expensive, very expensive. Everything we did (renting snorkels, renting kayaks for a day, taking a taxi in Moorea, eating out, buying two bags of groceries) stung and that just takes some of the fun away.
After a late (2am) arrival from Easter Island, we stowed ourselves away for the remainder of the night in a B&B and the next morning found the first ferry to Moorea for a few days. Our accommodation was at the other end of the island. No problem, there’s a bus, nice and cheap. But it doesn’t leave for two hours. OK, we’ll jump in taxi… and ouch, our first of many stings! To be fair the driver was lovely and told us a lot about Moorea. But that was one expensive taxi ride.
Our cabin was cute and private. The property on which it is located was formerly part of Club Med, or some such clone. It’s now owned by a local family who rent some of the cabins out and live in others. The rest have fallen into decay, as have all the facilities. Very shabby chic. But we didn’t expect a resort, we knew the score beforehand. The family that run it are lovely and the views amazing. Perfect. In front of the cabin the lagoon stretches out, crossed by a deeper channel, before reaching the reef and a small motu. Palms fringe the shore, the lagoon is a perfect azul. Unfortunately you can’t just jump in, there are stonefish, so you need to wear shoes to avoid a major sting! Funnily enough, none of the locals seem too concerned. Alison and I, however, were extremely wary.
A few restaurants and bars were nearby, as was a small supermarket. And we can rent a scooter for the price of a decent rental car at home…sting again, forget it. We’ll manage on foot.
So we stay local, rent snorkels (sting), rent kayaks (sting) and paddle across the lagoon. We spend a beautiful afternoon, snorkelling hand in hand around the coral, marvelling at all the bright fish. That was fantastic. One of the most tranquil experiences available and we could do it all day. Well, if the rain hadn’t threatened.
Just outside the reef that surrounds Moorea, Humpback whales can be found with their young. No way we could miss the opportunity to see them (despite the cost). A neighbouring hotel ran tours and we signed up. On the way out, we stopped in the channel to snorkel with sting-rays and sharks. The sting-rays are like velour-covered rubber and very friendly. They have evolved a kinesthesiology designed to make you feel relaxed and sleepy.
Next, outside the reef, to a specific spot noted for black tip sharks. In we jump again for a bit of a swim with them. Their movements are not quite so soothing. Even with benign sharks, you tend to keep your eye on them.
Finally we found the whales. Two humpbacks, diving deep then resurfacing. We followed at a distance and entered the water when we could. Hand in hand, we looked into the darkening blue. In the depths two huge shapes performing underwater ballet, small, white and scalloped fins guiding them. All too brief. As we tried to keep pace, we saw them emerge time and again, a tail slap. Absolutely magical.
On the down side, there were plenty of boats and people around. Whilst an amazing experience; it also felt intrusive, both to us and, probably (sadly), to the whales as well. We’ll have to investigate further as to whether this type of tourist activity really is benign.
We didn’t see all we could have on Moorea, a car is necessary here to be honest. But we relaxed, we saw the marine life, tickled stingrays, swam with whales and it was pretty cool on balance.
Back to Tahiti and Papeete, the very French capital. We managed to hitch a lift off Moorea with the gracious owners of our next AirBnB apartment who had also spent the weekend there. The next apartment had just one issue, it was not in walking distance of anything. Our amazing hosts took us grocery shopping (sting) and next morning we headed off to the airport to rent a car (sting). Tahiti’s road systems is as simple as Moorea’s: The hire car lady solemnly informed me I wouldn’t need GPS since there was only one road that was a circle round the island. [Somehow this didn’t prevent us from getting lost one day.]
Over the next few days, we did the circuit, saw the highlighted sights (a blowhole, some small caves, a famous surf break, a tower) and were increasingly underwhelmed. In the end, we stuck to the beaches and snorkelling. Even the beaches were not as expected; it turns out that my stereotype of beautiful Tahitian beaches stretching for miles was seriously unfounded.
We did head out for a lovely evening meal with our hosts, and the centre of Papeete does have a certain charm but …. .
Tanner, but with the feeling of having been fleeced, we took leave of Tahiti. For us, it wasn’t worth the price, except for the whale-watching excursion and snorkeling off of Moorea. We didn’t need 10 days for that. There are many places in the world just as beautiful, cheaper and somehow more open. Writing this today and looking back at the photos, I know it looks beautiful, but we should have done our research better. Still, it made sense at the time, as it was exactly halfway between Easter Island and our next destination: New Zealand.