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PAPEETE TO MOOREA
Iaorana! We left off last week after just touching down in Papeete, Tahiti. Natalie and I spent Saturday night at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort, then ate at their fantastic breakfast buffet before taking the 9:05am ferry to Moorea. We wanted to see the market and the city but supposedly everything is closed on Sundays so there was nothing to do. The island of Moorea is 12 miles away and travelers can either take an exciting eight-minute flight (Air Tahiti or Air Moorea) or take a ferry across. The slow ferry takes an hour and the fast one cuts the time in half. No reservation is needed and I just walked up to the ticket window and bought a one-way adult ticket for 1,050 CFP ($TK USD).
Our ferry left two minutes early -- how's that for island time? Actually, I was very surprised that pretty much everything (guides, vans, boats, planes …) all left when they were scheduled to, which is unusual in a tropical place. Usually, the locals are so laid back they take their sweet old time and create their own schedules. But that doesn't seem to be the case here. The name of the high-speed car ferry was Aremiti Catamaran 5. It was much larger than I'd expected and had comfortable seats, air conditioning and a snack bar. The top deck had open-air seating and these seats were the quickest to be taken. It was so nice outside that even the passengers who couldn't get a seat either stood or sat on the ground to enjoy the view. Those folks had checked their luggage but the ones running late (like moi) carried it on so we had too much to lug up the stairs. Natalie and I sat in the cabin and took turns watching the bags while the other went out to see the view. Unfortunately, the windows on the ferry were so dirty you could barely see out of them. For those worried about getting seasick, the boat did rock a bit but it's only a 30-minute trip. To combat this, the best thing to do (besides taking medication or using gadgets) is to sit upstairs and stare out at the horizon. FYI: I didn't see anyone get sick so I wouldn't really worry about it.
DID YOU KNOW? Tahitian and French are French Polynesia's two official languages. To give you a quick lesson in Tahitian, check out some frequently needed words below. But don't worry ... English is widely spoken, especially in the tourist areas.
ia orana (heeyah- orah - na) hello
nana (nah-nah) good bye
parahin (pah-rah-hee) farewell
ia orana ite matahiti api (ya orah-na itay mah tahiti api) happy birthday/happy new year
fare (fah-ray) house
fare-moni (fah ray-monee) bank
fare pure (fah-ray-pu ray) church
fare toa (fah ray toah) supermarket
fare rata (fah ray rah tah) post office
fare ma'i (fah-ray mahi) hospital
pia (hinano) beer (hinano local brand)
tane = man
vahin = woman
Moorea is a Windward Island and part of a larger archipelago of islands known as the Society Islands. It's simply one of the most beautiful places on earth with its jagged, lush green mountain ranges, palm trees, flowers and of course, the incredible shades of blue water. It's not only breathtaking; it's surreal.
THE PROBLEM WITH TOURS
When we arrived in Moorea, sure enough my last name was written on one of the tour operator's message boards. What's great about having a tour operator is that you don't have to do any thinking, mapping or arranging for taxis or rental cars. What sucks is that you are at the mercy of the driver. We waited over 30 minutes (it felt longer) for everyone to collect their bags before going. Then we stopped at the Sofitel Hotel and the airport to drop off and pick up other passengers before continuing on to the other hotels. We stayed at the Pearl; it was the third stop. When you arrive at the hotel with a bunch of other guests, they don't just check you in one at a time. Instead, they have everyone take a seat and they come around to check your name off a list and make you fill out a registration form before breaking out the goodies: flower leis, pineapple juice and best of all … the key to your room!
THE MOOREA PEARL RESORT AND SPA
The Moorea Pearl Resort and Spa, which is one of the nicer hotels on the island, is on 7.5 acres and has 95 rooms and bungalows. They have four room categories that range from motel style (30) to overwater bungalows (28). We spent a night in one of their 28 garden bungalows, which some honeymoon couples told me they prefer since there's more privacy. Each one has its own backyard with a deck and plunge pool. But if it were up to me, I'd take an overwater bungalow any day of the week.
FYI: The overwater bungalow was created in French Polynesia by three guys from California (Jay, Muk, and Hugh). They built the first one in 1968 on the island of Raiatea. Now, you will find them not only all over the South Pacific but all over the world.
We arrived just after 10am and the hotel receptionist explained that check-out wasn't until 11am and they were full to capacity. Who says the economy is suffering? We were told that they would try and get our room cleaned by noon (which they did) but normally, check-in isn't until 3pm. They offered us a drink at the bar and while we sat there, gazing out at the pool and the water just beyond, I realized that this was where the Wi-Fi was. An annoying French woman in her bikini bottoms gave it away as she talked much too loudly on Skype without using a headset. The Internet is free but it doesn't work in the rooms.
OVERWATER BUNGALOWS Fortunately, we were also able to spend a night in an overwater bungalow. The overwater bungalows are just like the garden bungalows except that ... they're over the water ... duh! They both have high thatched roofs, air conditioning, a big ol' bed and a nice bathroom. But what the overwater bungalow has that the other rooms don't is a back deck that looks out at the South Pacific. Room 405 rocks! The overwater bungalows also have a swim-up ladder and an outdoor shower. It's incredible. Every day, I would just wake up, open the curtains and jump off the deck. The water was so warm and the fish and coral below were amazing. Oh yeah -- I can't forget about the glass floor underneath the coffee table for those who want to see the fish but don't want to get wet. The sun goes down around 5:45pm and it was like watching a major sporting event. Everyone is either out on their deck or on the community dock to fully appreciate how special this place is and how lucky they are to experience it. TIP: Bring bug repellant because when the sun goes down, out come the noseeums. They aren't too bad but you'll probably be better off covered in Deet.
OTHER HOTEL NOTABLES
The room has an outlet for both North American and European electrical plugs but there aren't too many of them so bring a power strip if you want to charge multiple electronics at once. I use a Belkin Mini Surge Protector. The hotel offers free use of snorkel gear, kayaks and ping-pong paddles. If you really want to unwind, make an appointment at the Manea Spa but book early -- it fills up quickly. I had a Monoi Maitai Relaxing Body Massage. The masseuse was a beautiful young Tahitian woman who must have been doing some quiet ritual chanting but it was more like whispering sweet nothings in my ear so it was kind of turning me on. I was just glad I was lying on my stomach. Yikes! A full-body, 50-minute massage cost 13,000 CFP ($144 USD). The rack rates at Moorea Pearl Resort and Spa begin at $318 but you can get a much better deal by booking through a tour operator or travel agent. I use Jean-Louis Delezenne from FlyTahiti.com. He's basically Mr. Tahiti. He's a French guy who lives in L.A. but has a house in Moorea and knows and loves the island(s) so much it's contagious. Jean-Louis' email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Almost all the restaurants will provide transportation to and from your hotel free of charge. One night, Natalie and I dined at the Pearl's gourmet restaurant, Le Matiehani, which is good, convenient and expensive. Then again, it is French Polynesia so pretty much everything is expensive, though I hear there are some incredible food trucks nearby with great food and prices. Also, some guests told me that to save money, they would walk to the grocery store every morning (take a right out of the hotel and it's 10 minutes down the road) to buy fresh baguettes and provisions. BTW: Most supermarkets are owned by the Chinese. For lunch one day, Natalie and I took a left out of the hotel and walked 10 to 15 minutes and dined at La Mahogany. They serve a combination of Cantonese and French food. I had Chow Mein 1,750 CFP ($19USD), which was pretty good and Natalie loved her sautéed scallops 2,950 CFP ($33USD). However, our room was so nice that some nights, we didn't even want to leave it, not even to go to the hotel restaurant, so we ordered takeout from Chez Luciano. The front desk brought us a menu (seriously, within two minutes of asking) and they called in our order. They were so quick that we joked that what if the pizza was ready now (just 10 minutes later) and guess what? The phone rang seconds later; our pizza, two large bottles of water and one Diet Coke were ready for us at the front desk. The bill, including the 300 CFP delivery charge, was 2,050 CFP ($23USD). I was so surprised.
OTHER DINING RECOMMENDATIONS
There are plenty of places to eat on the island. This trip, I didn't make it to Alfredo's, a popular Italian restaurant with live entertainment but our new friends Jeremy and his wife Julie from New Jersey did and loved it. Here's their detailed review. A good book to buy, besides your Frommers South Pacific Guide Book of course, would be Jan Prince's Tahiti and French Polynesia Guide.
My travel agent Jean-Louis also sent me an email with these recommendations: Aito restaurant next to the Sheraton Hotel preferred by the locals on Friday and Monday night for the live entertainment;
Arii Vahine at Sheraton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa; Fare Nui at the InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea;
La Perouse at Sofitel Moorea Beach Resort. In Cook's Bay: Te Honu Iti and Le Cocotier for French cuisine. On the island's west side, try Le Pitcairn and La Plantation for romantic settings and Tiki Village for an authentic Tahitian feast. The fun roadside grill at Painapo Beach offers the perfect stop during a circle-island tour. A final stop in the morning at Carameline in the mini mall of Maharepa near the Pearl Resort for the most sinful chocolate coconut filled croissant.
SEEING THE ISLAND
Most people who come to the Society Islands are not going to want to do a lot of sightseeing. There's not that much to see and besides, your hotel and room will probably be so nice, all you'll want to do is relax and enjoy the view and the water. However, Moorea might be the exception. You definitely want to spend a few hours checking it out. The island is easy to navigate since it basically has one main road that circles the island and hugs the ocean. It's appropriately called Round Island Road. On my first trip here, I rented a car and made the loop around the 36-mile island, which took about four hours, taking my time and stopping at some scenic spots and stores. This trip, Natalie and I did an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle or sometimes called a quad) excursion, organized by Albert Transports (Tel: 77 47 21).
Albert Tours charges $200 USD for the four-hour tour, which is $100 cheaper than the competition's prices. They are so much cheaper because they just began offering this tour and their machines are brand spanking new. It's run by a young, half Swiss, half Tahitian man who used to be a champion Thai kick boxer, hence the tattoo on his arm, Guilty For Being The Best. His wife picked Natalie and me up and dropped us off promptly after the five-minute drive to and from their facility. After taking a quick loop around their parking lot to get familiar with the sturdy beast, I followed our guide out onto the open road. The first 15 minutes or so, we cruised along Round Island Road at the speed of traffic; at one point I hit 62km or 38mph. It was incredibly beautiful to see the blue water and the lush green jagged mountaintops. When we went inland, the outrageous scenery got even better. It was surreal and I almost felt like I was in a movie. In fact, a number of movies have been made here. The most famous South Pacific, Mutiny on The Bounty, Love Affair ... Actually, we drove right by the field in which Katharine Hepburn's house was supposedly located, on our way up to the Belvedere Lookout.
The Belvedere Lookout is a must-see and I thought the guidebook was right when it stated it has views that are unmatched in the South Pacific. But then our guide took us for a roller coaster-like ride up to Magic Mountain on the Smith's private property, which is insane. The most difficult part was paying attention to the road and not the scenery, nor the fact that there was no guardrail. The concrete path was laid out like a railroad track. It's not designed like that for fun; it's because cement is so expensive here that it's much cheaper to leave the middle unfilled. We made plenty of stops along the three-hour tour: Our guide stopped to show us every different fruit (coconuts, papayas, mangoes, grapefruits, local apples ...) and tree that they use for food, shelter, medicine and crafts. We saw lots of pineapple plantations, which is Moorea's largest industry behind tourism. Just below the Belvedere Lookout, we stopped to use the loo and try some homemade jam and ice cream (250CFP = $2.66USD for a scoop). Our last stop was at the juice and alcohol factory to try some samples and pick up some postcards and souvenirs. The best part of the tour, besides the breathtaking scenery, is smelling the different fragrances of the island -- flowers, fruits, trees, ocean, even small fires from the yards. It's unreal.
DID YOU KNOW?
Just like in the U.S., only the rich folks live on the water. Everyone else lives inland. Moorea has just 15,000 people and it's so safe (there aren't even any dangerous animals or insects), that the island has just 15 cops.
Food is so expensive here, it's cheaper for them to buy New Zealand-grown fruits, veggies and meat. And Auckland is a five-hour flight away! Tahitians also have to pay the same prices as tourists; they don't get local discounts like many other island destinations.
The Tahitians I spoke to gave me the impression they don't like the French that much because they take the good jobs and they make everyone speak French.
DR. POOLE'S DOLPHIN/WHALE WATCHING TOUR
My Tahiti Islands travel agent Jean-Louis said I had to do Dr. Michael Poole's Dolphin and Whale Watching excursion. NOTE: Be sure to make reservations in advance. Dr. Poole is an American marine biologist who's been working and living in Moorea for the past 21 years. He arrived in 1987 to do research for his PhD from the University of California Santa Cruz; UC Berkeley has a lab on the island. Dr. Poole is an amazing guy and he's the one responsible for French Polynesia's policy of protecting whales and dolphins. He's been on The Discovery Channel, The Travel Channel and helped with the blockbuster series Planet Earth. He does the three and a half hour tour (8:30 to noon) in a 44-passenger, open-air boat, in both English and French. The tour operates two to three times a week and there's a 95% chance you'll see animals. If you don't see any animals, he will give you a free pass for another day. There are 75 different species of whales in the world and the waters around Moorea have 25 of them! I had no idea. It was a relatively calm day and we hugged the island, looking to spot Humpback Whales. Sure enough, they were cruising, breaching along the reef. FYI:They don't go too far out because the killer whales will get them.
SWIMMING WITH WHALES
After 30 minutes of following these guys, we went further out, this time into the deep ocean. It was calm and when we came across a pod of pilot whales and rough-toothed dolphins, Dr Poole got all excited and told everyone to put their snorkel gear on. (Bring your own gear.) I was like, "What? You want me to go out there and swim with these guys?" Dr. Poole jumped in first, to make sure there were no oceanic whitetip sharks. These guys are known to accompany pilot whales and have killed more human beings than any other kind of shark. Yeah, that made me feel great. Dr. Poole assured us the coast was clear but I couldn't stop thinking how crazy this was. The first time we all went into the water, we stayed close to the boat, holding onto a rope. It was amazing to see these animals swim right by us. We followed them for a bit and Dr. Poole made sure that everyone on the boat got a chance to see them before letting us go back into the water for a second time. I was able to go in three or four times and the water was so beautiful and warm, I wasn't scared -- though I kept an eye out for those sharks. Out of 22 people on-board, only one guy got seasick; I didn't feel it at all. The tour costs 7,400 CFP ($78USD) for adults; it's half price for kids and it includes pickup at most hotel docks. Dr. Poole's website is not currently working but it's Drmichaelpoole.com and his telephone numbers are: 56.23.22 or 77.50.07. TIP: Bring water, sunscreen, snorkel, hat, towel, bathing suit and an underwater camera.
By the way, if you're wondering how I got so many great underwater pictures and video clips, it's because just before I left home, I bought an Olympus Stylus 850 SW underwater, shockproof camera. After calling around the local electronic stores like Best Buy and Circuit City, I found Fry's to have the cheapest one at $270. I'm sure I could have found a better deal on eBay but I didn't have time to really shop around since I was leaving in 22 hours. I got the last one they had in stock (a yellow one) and I probably wouldn't have gotten it if I knew I needed to buy an XD card for $35. Have you ever even heard of one of these? What a joke! I guess Panasonic and Olympus created it just for their cameras. And then there's the fact that the battery charger comes with a long cord and to download the pictures, it requires a USB cable. I'm seriously running out of room in my carry-on with all these electronic gadgets and their respective chargers! However, I'm glad I didn't know all that in advance because I might not have bought it and the truth is, I'm really happy with the camera. I will say, though that this camera doesn't have a two-second timer (I use this function to get the quick and still pictures), the battery doesn't last long and it takes a long time to charge.
*If you heard about us somewhere else or have the link to the story please email Johnny Jet media and let us know where!
SOME OF LAST WEEK'S READER AIR-eMAIL
I’m really glad I discovered your website and all the other ones. I’m really going to use it when I travel and have told my friends about it too. Walter O - New York, NY
"You da man! What a life you've got. Enjoy every minute. Great video! Michael M – Washington, D.C.
"Wow!" This must have been a truly surreal experience. I loved the story and the photos. You guys have a very helpful website, but this Qantas flight was extra-awesome. Lea M - Nashville, TN
I just sat here enchanted as I read and watched the videos from Tahiti. Wonderful! I went five years ago and watching your video brought back those warm and happy memories of our trip there. I will never forget the joy of that trip - the blues and greens - the end-of-the-earth feeling and seeing it with him. We took the Paul Gauguin cruise around the islands for seven nights and got off each day - rented jeeps on the islands, took a sunset champagne catamaran that six of us got together from the cruise ship. It came complete with three shipmates/musicians. My husband plays Texas country guitar so after their charming island tunes, he played the country swing stuff and everyone sang as the sun slipped away. So thank you for making all those videos with the great music. It certainly made my day. Cynthia C - Atascocita, Texas
I must disagree with your comment about getting off the big island of Tahiti as soon as possible. When we went to Tahiti, everything we read beforehand said that too. But we didn’t listen and I’m glad we didn’t. We stayed on the island for 2 days/1 night. We rented a car and drove around the island. It is beautiful. Lot’s of waterfalls within view of the road. That Saturday night, we went to the main dock where all the locals go for dinner. It was packed with mobile restaurants and locals. The food was delicious and it was great people watching. Can’t get any more local than that. Caroldean H - Dallas, TX
You devil…..got a call from John Travolta this morning asking me if I thought you could help him get some media exposure…nice job…. Roy L – Bradenton, FL
“This has to be one of the most convenient city airports I have ever been to. The only one I have been to that possibly compares is the Reykjavik Airport (RKV).” What about San Diego airport (SAN)? Right next to downtown… (I was going to say something about RKV, but then I realized I flew in/out of Keflavik (KEF) which is not so close to the capital…) Cheers, Jan – Seattle www.jantrabandt.com/travel
Very cool, Johnny Jet! I am officially jealous! Chris – New Orleans
I'm green with envy! Beverly C- Santa Monica
You get to have all the fun!!! Shelley – Maui, Hawaii
Holy CRAP! Very cool! A camera on the tail to watch take off! Must have been a silly flight! Chris L – NYC
So I’m sitting down last night to feed my twins and the channel 4 news is running a story on the new Airbus....and I see your mug RIGHT on my 50” plasma laughing at Travolta!!! Had to rewind the Tivo to get another look and show the wife but we had a good laugh. Keep up the great work! Sean L- Los Angeles
Wow what a trip! Great photos with you, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John! Lucky bugger! Jennifer T – Honolulu, HI
Wow! We just got back on 10/20 from a trip to French Polynesia: Tahiti, and a Star Clipper cruise to Huahine, Raitea, Tahaa, Bora Bora, and Moorea. It truly was incredible. Our nicest surprise – Le Meredian outside of Papeete. We stayed in the over-the-water bungalows. There was lots of coral there for some great snorkeling, a sand-bottomed lagoon pool, and a super view of Moorea – and lots cheaper than the over-the-water bungalows on the more exclusive islands.
I’ll look forward to reading the next newsletter.
Karen S - Holland, OH
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