Moorea! Wow! Moorea!

October 31st, 2007 at 11:17 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Day 6 of our Pacific Journey – October 25, 2007

Our first night on board the Pacific Princess went smoothly (now that we had our luggage), although we all woke up pretty early – around 6am, due to the increased rocking of the vessel. The Pacific Princess is a pretty small ship as cruise ships go, and that means it is more prone to ocean motion than a truly large cattle boat cruise ship would be.

Today’s stop was an exciting one for us – the island of Moorea. Moorea is actually the center part of an atoll. An atoll is basically a volcano that at first poked up through the water, and then gradually over hundreds of thousands or millions of years sank back down, while at the same time coral reefs grew at the outer edges. The end result as far as places like Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora are concerned is that there is now a big ring of coral encircling a lagoon, and in that lagoon are chunks of land – some large, some small (the small ones hereabouts are called “Motus” – more on those in the Day 7 installment). And Moorea is one of those big chunks of land. (I uploaded a wide panorama to the photo gallery showing the part of Moorea we anchored near, in Opunohu Bay – see link at bottom of this post.) Incidentally, “Moorea” means “Yellow Lizard”. We did not see any live yellow lizards on Moorea, however.

From the ship, Moorea looked lush and green, again no surprise considering the volcanic soil and ample rain fall. And, as with Tahiti, fires to burn off excess trimmed vegetation were visible and odiferous noticeable in numerous places (see photo in link at bottom of this post).

We partook of the large buffet breakfast, walked about the ship a bit, and then like good little passengers, found ourselves in the Cabaret Lounge along with all of our other fellow “Tour C – Moorea Island Tour” participants, waiting for someone to tell us where to go next.

That turned out to be a few flights of stairs down to where we boarded these little mini-ferry boats which have been given a delightfully touchy-feely name – “tenders”. I’m not sure of the origin of the word in this context, but undoubtedly it stems from the idea that its passengers are well tended to, tenderly so, that they tend to get off in a different place than they got on, and perhaps some other double entendre. Note to those who get motion sickness easily – do not, I repeat, do not, sit in the very front of the tender. Bad idea – I barely survived.

Once back on stable, solid land, in the coastal village of Papetoai (means “Water which does not move”), we milled about a bit until our cattle herders tour leaders pointed us to a couple of buses to board. As we lagged the rest of the crowd, which was mostly geriatric, we ended up on a smaller bus with only six other people. Sweet!

I should mention here that we estimate the median age of our fellow cruisers to be around 62. The few exceptions to that are a few sets of younger honeymooners, and another family with a baby. When we boarded yesterday, we did encounter a pair of 8-year British twins, but they must have been part of the out-going crowd of former-passengers-to-be. As best we can tell, outside of the one or two babies (they all look alike to us), Bas and Krystyana are the only other passengers below the age of 25 (those being the honeymooners). It’s also been a long time since Linda and I felt so relatively young in a crowd.

The downside to this lopsided age distribution is that everyone else moves really, really slow. The upside is that they are all very nice and polite, and actually appreciate the kids, including Bas, as they remind the older passengers of their grandchildren or even great-grandchildren.

Our bus driver was a native Moorean by the name of Sandy, and whose Polynesian name was Heimana (pronounced “Hey Mah-nah”) and rarely used.

Tiki Theatre Village

Our first stop was the Tiki Theatre Village, a recreation of sorts of a tribal Polynesian village. Here we encountered the tribal gift shop (where I ultimately purchased a nice Tahitian Shirt made in Indonesia – in contrast to nice Hawaiian Shirts made in China), the tribal tattoo parlor (yes – tattooing was in fact something that was part of tribal culture – each island has its own distinctive designs), the tribal tiki carving hut, the tribal pareo making hut, the tribal basket and hat weaving hut, the tribal pearl jewelry store, and the tribal live performance amphitheater. All guaranteed to be original and authentic, of course. Oh – and there were authentic tribal bathrooms too.

The first place we visited in earnest in the Village (other than the authentic bathrooms) was the tribal pearl and jewelry shop, run by a company called Virgin Pearls. Here we met Tihoni, a very nice young gentleman who told us he sold pearl jewelry by day, and danced at the Tiki Theatre by night (photos of Tihoni are in the photo gallery – click the link at bottom of this post). Tihoni explained that Polynesian pearls are graded when harvested based on luster, color, shape, and imperfections, in grades ranging from A to D. Grade A pearls are the best and most expensive, with only 2% of all pearls being graded that highly. Grade B pearls account for 7% of harvested pearls, while Grade C make up 53% of the mix. The rest are Grade D pearls and used for cheap jewelry.

Tihoni shows the different grades and types of pearls found in local watersPolynesian pearls can range in color from a rosy opaque to a dark shade reminiscent of the mineral hematite, and take up to six to eight years to be harvested. A lot of transplanting of mother of pearl from the inside of the pearl oysters occurs, to be used as the “seed” for new pearls, and typically the color of the mother of pearl will be similar to the color of the final pearl when harvested. In terms of shape, there are round (rond), semi-round (semi-rond), semi-baroque (round with a slight tear drop shape), “cercle” (almost ovoid, egg shaped), and baroque (more full tear drop shaped). A photo of these differences is also in the photo gallery.

After this educational lesson on pearls, we headed out to the nearby theatre and watched a number of musical and dance performances, as well as a pareo making demonstration followed by a pareo wearing/tying demonstration. A pareo is a large sheet of brightly dyed fabric, akin to a sarong. And in case that’s not clear enough, a sarong is a brightly dyed fabric akin to a pareo.

A lovely pair of coconut shellsPareos can be worn by men or woman (although frankly, I think they look better on women – just my opinion). Also worn exclusively by women at this tribal experience were coconuts – or more specifically, one coconut per woman, cut in half, with each half used as the cup of a primitive brassiere. No doubt this is where the term “a lovely pair of coconuts” stems from.

The dance numbers featured fire dancing – quite impressive. A female tourist in the audience commented on how the guys doing the dancing were hot! And no doubt they were, especially if their grips on their flaming torches slipped. And, of course, we had the obligatory dance-with-the-tourist-dance, where nubile (or at least more flexible) female native dancers plucked unlikely male tourists from the audience and got them to gyrate in amusing ways. At least we were amused (especially since they had not picked me to gyrate with them). It’s always easier to laugh at the foibles of others, right?

One of the lovely coconut-clad lasses took us back over to the pearl shop, and we were shown how to cut open a pearl-bearing oyster, and find the pearl. It was a small dark colored pearl (photo in gallery), of which Bas ultimately became the proud owner. That would be because his mother became the proud owner of a beautiful necklace featuring three Grade B pearls in three distinctly different shades, with diamond chips, on a gold chain, and his sister received a gold charm with mother of pearl backing in the design of a turtle. We were told that the turtle symbolized “Arenui”, which means big wave from the deep ocean (a tsunami?). Bas received the pearl from the oyster that was opened for us, while I got a polished oyster shell for my troubles (troubles which involved proffering my American Express card and signing the cheque).

After a few more native demonstrations and another examination of the authentic tribal restroom facilities (to ensure they were authentic, of course), and a pass through the gift shop, we were back off on our way around the island of Moorea.

Moorea, Moorea, We Love You Moorea (or at least like you a lot)

Moorea reminded us a lot of our home island of Bonaire, at least in terms of the ambiance and the people. Everyone was friendly, traffic was light, the water was beautiful, and there were no stop lights anywhere (at least as far as we could see). Of course differences arose too – the natives spoke French (and did not speak English well for the most part); Moorea is lush and green and tall, while Bonaire is mostly flat, arid, and filled with cactus and thorny plants; and it’s possible to drive across Bonaire instead of only around it, like on Moorea.

Close up of the lagoon cottages at the Sofitel hotel in MooreaThe beauty of Moorea made our hearts ache, and filled us with remorse that we had not known to bring our snorkel gear, for we truly wanted to explore the amazingly clear turquoise waters of the lagoons of the atoll of Moorea (check out the pictures of the Sofitel resort’s on-water cottages in the photo gallery – breathtaking!)

We also learned that “Bali Hai”, a place which was made famous in the musical South Pacific, was a mountain on Moorea. Made the place seem even more idyllic.

Fruit Juice Ferments Well

Our tour with Sandy nearly over, we stopped in at the Jus de Fruits de Mo’orea (Moorea Fruit Juice Factory), where, with Sandy’s help we sample several kinds of fruit punch (rum laden, of course), coconut cream liquor, coffee cream liquor, vanilla cream liquor, ginger liquor, banana liquor, pineapple liquor, and several more things we no longer recall (but are sure they tasted good). They even had some non-alcoholic fruit juices for the kids. We left fully loaded (in more ways than one).

A Lack of Dining Options For Lunch

As previously indicated, we try to check out local eateries wherever we go. And we tried to do that on Moorea too for a late lunch, but unfortunately, in Papetoai we had no options (other than a place that served hamburgers from a small wheeled trailer). We then looked to try and rent a car to drive ourselves around the island in search of better fare, but the only car rentals were from AVIS, for a paltry sum of US$104 for a four hour rental. We sadly decided that was not worth the effort, and joined our fellow cruise ship tourists in heading back to the Pacific Princess for a buffet lunch. That, combined with our great unfulfilled desire to snorkel or dive Moorea’s waters, left us a bit saddened.

As penance, we spent the remainder of the afternoon doing laundry, and then attended the mandatory safety drill, where we were taught where to go during an announced emergency on board the ship, as well as how to don our life jackets. They tried to make it as fun as possible for us, interjecting jokes about style and other things into the lecture, but it still was a bit tedious. But safety first, they always say.

The Evening

We had booked for the first seating for dinner (there were two – one at 6pm and the second at 8pm), and had the pleasure of meeting three of our four dining companions for the rest of the cruise. Joanne and June were merry widows from Wisconsin, while Richard was a retiree from Florida. Richard’s wife Rhonda was unwell, and so did not join us.

I followed dinner with my first spa treatment, a 50 minute reflexology delivered by Cecilia from South Africa. Oh my.


In case it was not apparent, we all were enthralled with Moorea, and it is now definitely a place we must visit again, for a prolonged period of time. Sandy, our driver, told us we could rent a waterfront home for around $600/month, much better than the $1500/night for an on-water cottage at some of the hotels. Now we just have to figure our when and how we can get back.

Thus ends day 6 of our Pacific Journey.

Photos from this day can be found here.


One Response to “Moorea! Wow! Moorea!”

  1. The European Richters Says:

    Hi travelling Richters – mom and I enjoy your anabase (this means travelling in French). Jake – your story-telling style is SOOO funny, I am laughing almost at every sentence. You are really a talented writer. In Prague we have Indian Summer and auntie Alena for weekend. Menu: Pork knee, Bohemian dumplings and sauerkraut and the next day – spareribs, red bean salad and baquette (another French word) with garlic and blue cheese.

    Kiss kids and Linda (the pearl neckless is wonderful!!!)

    Love, dad