In January 2018, we traveled to French Polynesia to sail on the m/s Paul Gauguin for an 11 night voyage to the Cook and Society Islands. This series is a journal of our experiences and observations so that you, our reader, can see what it's like to experience Tahiti/French Polynesia. We hope this inspires you to travel to this and other destinations.
Day 10 & 11: Moorea
The morning started out with a wonderful breakfast out on deck as we pulled into Opunohu Bay. The island features many active excursions and tours and is just a stone’s throw away from the Island of Tahiti and the capital city of Pape'ete. In fact many of the 18,000 residents of Moorea ride the 30 minute ferry twice each day to get to work on the island of Tahiti.
Our group took a tour of the InterContinental Moorea Resort and Spa. Check out the full report here for more details. The resort was very quaint and featured rooms for those on a budget in the Lanai buildings with both garden and ocean view categories. These rooms are great for families or large groups since adjoining or connecting rooms can be arranged by working with us. We got a chance to view the private garden bungalows as well as the over the water bungalows. The bungalow rooms are all the same size and will sleep either 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 children. The garden bunglaows offered a small private plunge pool and complete privacy with the lush vegetation growing around the patio. The over the water bungalows are half on land and half over the water due to the age of the resort and the technology available at the time of construction. The over the water bungalows feature a private patio with access to the lagoon. There are those that are over deeper water and those over water as shallow as 6 inches that suit a varying range of preferences.
On site at the resort there is a dolphin center where 3 “retired” dolphins that were born into captivity are kept in a massive sea water enclosure (by US regulations, you could fit 45 dolphins in the same size space). Excursions to pet the dolphins and learn more about these beautiful, intelligent animals are offered via the local marine research center where a team of volunteers care for the dolphins 24/7. There are minimum ages for children to encounter the dolphins that vary with the water depth of the encounter as it ranges from very shallow 1-2 ft. to mid-deep 6-10 ft. Additionally there is a sea turtle rehabilitation center where guests can view these gentle creatures as they are nursed back to health by the marine center volunteers. Unfortunately, no swimming with the turtles is allowed.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch at the resort where I sampled the traditional dish of French Polynesia, Poisson Crou, a ceviche like dish where tuna is marinated in lime and coconut milk then served cold with a variety of vegetables. The InterContinental Moorea had the best Poisson Crou in all of French Polynesia in my opinion. For dessert, we enjoyed a lovely creme brulee made with local Tahitian vanilla.
After our tour wrapped up we headed over to Maharepa on the other side of the island for some shopping. This is the best place to get your souvenirs in Moorea. My wife found her perfect pearl charm at a place called Pearls & More. I’d recommend them if you are looking for a large selection of different colors of pearls as well as some authentic wood carvings made in French Polynesia.
After returning to the ship, we enjoyed the Polynesian Night festivities onboard the Paul Gauguin. The Local Mamas from Moorea aboard teaching guests how to make their own Hei (head dress made of flowers) and Lei (necklace made of flowers) with local flowers. A musical troupe was hanging out in La Palette, treating guests to some local authentic Polynesian music before dinner. Dinner in all three of the restaurants aboard featured a special menu with local Tahitian delicacies, including Poisson Crou and locally caught spiny lobster tails. The evening entertainment was a local dance troupe that danced in the traditional fashion and even included members of the audience for one of the dances (Liz and I were among those guests led to the stage to participate). The dance show, "TE MAU MAMA NO FA'ATO'AI TO'A," was fantastic and there was an opportunity to get photos with the dancers after the show.
All things must come to an end, but I really did not want to leave this paradise and get home. The second day in Moorea, we went diving to two of the more well known sites for spotting lemon and black tip sharks, The Canyons and Rotui. The dives were epic. There was a huge lemon (10 feet by my estimate, though that could get bigger the more I tell the story) as well as several black tip reef sharks at The Canyons, We also spotted three sea turtles braving the large swells below the waves at this spot.
Our second dive at Rotui was incredible. The visibility was a bit better as we were farther out from the surf and the water wasn’t as churned up as it was at The Canyons. The reef was alive with a variety of fish especially trigger fish. It happened to be mating season for the trigger fish so the males were swarming about and competing for spawning rights with the females. This made them a bit more aggressive than normal. We were warned to steer clear of the gatherings as the fish could suddenly attack you if you were deemed to be a threat to the courting competition. Luckily no one in our group was bitten.
We were disappointed to receive the news that, as can happen on small ships, due to a lack of interest in our afternoon excursion in Moorea, the slow paced e-bike tour of the island had been cancelled. The islands of French Polynesia are not like other more visited places like Hawaii or the Caribbean in this way. There are only a small number of tour providers and they don’t have much capacity. Tours have to have the right number of guests to provide the best value to both the tour provider and the guests. I guess we’ll just have to come back another time, oh darn ;).
After returning to the ship it was time to get packed and ready to disembark the next day. We sadly started to pack up our clothes and souvenirs in time for the Captain’s Farewell Party at 5:00 PM. We had the diver’s farewell cocktail party where we all filled out our log books and got them signed off by the dive staff on the ship. It was a great time to remember all of the wonderful dives we experienced on our trip. The Paul Gauguin is a great opportunity for those interested in trying SCUBA for the first time as well as more advanced divers. I would recommend this type of dive vacation to a diver traveling with non-divers or someone interested in doing more than just diving on their vacation. I personally love to dive, but feel like I would have missed so much had I just chose to spend the entire trip diving as some other vacation experiences like live-aboard dive boats can be.
A word of advice… Don’t miss the show the last night of the cruise. On the m/s Paul Gauguin, the show on our last night was incredible. A dance troupe O Tahiti E came aboard and wowed us with their very well-choreographed, authentic Tahitian dancing and music. The costumes, the precision with which they danced, the music and drumming performed by the band, and the fact that there were no breaks in the show at all were simply amazing.
Stay tuned for the final chapter in our voyage. Have any favorite memories of the Cook Islands, Tahiti, French Polynesia, or Paul Gauguin Cruises? Leave a comment and share your story. If you would like some additional information, or to reserve your trip to the Cook Islands or French Polynesia, contact us here.