My first love when I travel is to visit the mountains but I also enjoy going to the ocean. Since neither Sandy nor I likes to ski, it's not practical for us to go to the mountains in the winter, unless we're going to New Zealand or somewhere else in the southern hemisphere. Instead we prefer to escape the cold weather by taking beach vacations.
We've been to a lot of tropical islands in both the Caribbean and the Pacific and I would say that none we have been to are prettier than the Society Islands. If the name isn't familiar, they're a chain of islands in the South Pacific, part of French Polynesia. The most well known of the group is Tahiti but it also includes incredibly beautiful islands like Moorea, Bora Bora and many others. When you think of Tahiti, it conjures up images of Polynesian dancers, Paul Gauguin's paintings and the Mutiny on the Bounty. It sounds much more exotic than going to Hawaii - probably because it is. Sandy wanted to do a tropical trip this winter during her break between semesters. When we found a good deal on a package to Moorea, we booked it right away.
Tahiti is the most heavily populated island in the Society group and it's where FA'A'A International Airport is located. It was an eight hour flight from Los Angeles to Papeete, the capital and largest town. It was a red eye, leaving LA at midnight and arriving at 6 am. We were met at the airport and taken by bus to the ferry terminal. It's only eleven miles from Tahiti to Moorea and large ferries run back and forth between the two islands most of the day. The crossing took about half an hour. The ferry ride was kind of fun and we got a great view of both of the islands from the boat.
When we reached our hotel it was still only 10 in the morning. Naturally our room wasn't ready yet but they let us use a transit room. It was very small, just large enough for us to bring in our luggage and change our clothes. There was a bathroom attached and we were both glad to take showers after traveling all day and all night to get there. Since it was sunny and in the low eighties, it was nice to get into shorts and tshirts too.
We took a walk around to check out the grounds. It turned out that we were at the same hotel we had been the last time we visited Moorea, fifteen years ago. Back then it was called the Beachcomber but had since become the Intercontinental Moorea. The different name fooled us but as soon as we looked around it was obvious that it was the same place, although it had been substantially remodeled (which was a good thing).
By the time we finished our walkaround the bar was open and we could order lunch. We were definitely hungry. A guy came to take our order but seemed completely stumped when Sandy ordered tea and I ordered a Diet Coke. We didn't that would be tough! Then when we wanted to order food, he didn't know if they served yet. Then he didn't know how to input our order. He eventually had to ask another lady working at the bar to come over to get our order straight. I think it was his first day on the job and we were his first customers. We eventually got it all sorted out and when the food did come it was very good. We ended up eating most of our meals at the bar for the rest of the time that we were there.
After lunch we checked at the front desk again and found out that our accommodations were ready. We were in a Beach Bungalow. It was a standalone building made to look like a traditional Tahitian hut, complete with a thatched roof. Inside it was a modern and nicely furnished hotel suite, with a bedroom, bathroom (with tub and shower) and a sitting room.
Our bungalow was right on the water and had a beautiful view. It was on an isolated section of lagoon, separated from the main lagoon by a motu (Tahitian for small island) about a hundred feet away that had more bungalows on it. It was an ideal place for swimming and snorkeling. The water was only ten steps from our patio. It wasn't very deep, maybe eight feet at the most and it was perfectly calm because it was doubly sheltered from the surf, by the barrier reef and the motu. There was some coral and quite a few colorful tropical fish. The Overwater Bungalows, which were actually built out over the water on the main lagoon, were more expensive but we liked our place better. We enjoyed sitting on our porch in the shade of a palm tree admiring the beach and the beautiful colors of the water.
Since we had been to Moorea twice before we didn't really need to explore the island. The resort was wonderful and we were content to spend most of our time there. In the morning we would often go for a walk along The Road, which is the only one on the island, circling all the way around its perimeter. It was only a five minute walk to a minimart where we could get drinks and snacks. About a half hour walk away was a small village (Le Peite Village) with a few shops. Although they didn't have a lot, I still showed great restaint by not buying anything there, not even a single tshirt.
One day when we were at the village Sandy bought something at one of the stores. I noticed that the clerk had a tshirt that said "I hiked the Grand Canyon". I asked him about it and he said that he had been to Grand Canyon National Park and had hiked down to the river and back. Not what I would have expected to run into in French Polynesia. I told him that I had done it about two months before as well.
We spent a lot of time just hanging out at our bungalow. It was very relaxing just sitting on the patio, chilling in the tropics. Sandy had her PC and did work for school while I spent some time on the Dog Blog. Ok, not very much time and that was why I was still so far behind on my posts when we got back home. I went snorkeling just about every day and Sandy came along a few times. We were using masks supplied by the resort and she was having trouble with hers leaking, so it wasn't as much fun for her. One day we got a two person canoe/kayak and paddled around the lagoon. The guy at the water sports place seemed worried that we were going to be swept out to sea by the current but we managed to get back without incident.
There was a large infinity pool at the resort that was absolutely beautiful. We went for a swim just about every day. The water was so warm, it was just like getting in the bathtub. There was even a swim up bar so we could enjoy a tropical fufu drink or a glass of wine or a Hinano (the local beer).
In the evening, after it got dark, we watched some tv. I was clever enough to bring an HDMI cable so I could connect my PC to the flatscreen tv in our bungalow. I had a DVD with the first season of Numb3rs on it. It turned out that the wifi was good enough that we could stream my Amazon video too so we watched several episodes of Castle during the week.
Our only serious problem of the trip showed up the very first night. Sandy was really tired after our all night flight so she turned in very early. I sat at the desk in the sitting room for a while with only a table lamp on. I noticed a small flying insect with lacy wings by the light. It was slow and I killed it easily. Then a minute later another one showed up. I got that one too. This went on for about fifteen minutes. Wait a minute, bug shows up, kill it, repeat. Finally I gave up and turned out the light and went to bed too. As long as it was dark, we didn't have any more bugs show up.
The next night while we were watching tv we kept the lights off. Later, when we were done watching and I turned on the desk lamp, the same thing happened as the night before. It was obvious that the bugs were attracted by the light. After a while I gave up again and just went to bed. Although not terrible it was getting to be annoying.
The next morning we talked to the hotel people and they sent someone to check out our bungalow. It looked like there was a major gap around the door and that was where the bugs were getting in. The maintenance guy said that he couldn't fix it easily while we were staying in the room so they moved us to the bungalow next door. After that we had no more problems with bugs. They even sent us a nice bottle of wine for our inconvenience so we were happy.
Besides problems with insects I also got attacked by a tree. Yes, that's what I said. Walking from our bungalow to the main building for breakfast one morning, as I passed under a tree I got hit by a falling piece of fruit. It was no big deal. It wasn't a coconut or anything that would hurt. It was a very weird fruit, one that neither of us had ever seen before. On the tree it looked like a big pineapple, but it actually came apart and it was one of the segments that had fallen on me.
I was curious and looked it up. It was a pandanus tree, also known as a screwpine. Since we had never seen anything like it before we thought that it was unique to Tahiti but it is actually common on tropical islands in many parts of the world. Even though the pieces weren't big or heavy we gave the tree a wide berth after that.
We did rent a car for one day and traveled around the island. I thought the rental car was fun to drive because it had a manual transmission, something that is pretty rare these days in the US.
Sandy spent the day doing some serious shopping. One thing Tahiti is known for is black pearls and there were a lot of jewelry shops. She ended up getting a beautiful necklace with three pearls, each one a different color. I thought it was stunning. She also got earrings to go with it. We spent quite a bit of time talking to the guy at Pai Moana Pearls, where Sandy bought her jewelry. I asked him about his accent because he sounded American to me. Turned out that his father was American and his mother was Tahitian. He went to high school in Hawaii so his English was flawless and his accent was American. He said he also spoke French and Tahitian. He did do a good sales job. Sandy was really happy with what she got.
While Sandy was shopping for pearls I wasn't idle. I did get two tshirts. For me, for a whole week of vacation, that's almost nothing. I thought that I showed a lot of restraint. I was saving my money so I could buy more wargames when I got home. I will admit that I did buy a few small items for future birthday and christmas gifts for friends and family but I don't think that counts.
After shopping we did drive all the way around the island. There isn't much to see. There were beautiful beaches but none prettier than the one right in front of our bungalow. There are only sixteen thousand people who live on Moorea and they are very spread out. There isn't really a sizeable town on the island. It's quite rural. I can't remember seeing a single building that was more than two storeys tall. There are only about five international hotels. They aren't that big and are quite far apart. The island's not very developed and there aren't many tourists.
Our hotel wasn't very crowded either. When we were at the pool or in the bar there might only be half a dozen people around. Not your typical "get up early so you can grab a chair on the beach or by the pool" vacation. That was part of what made it so nice. It was very relaxing and overall a wonderful tropical vacation.
I would really like to go back to the Society Islands next year. I'm proposing that next time we visit some of the more remote islands like Huahine or Raitea for an even intense South Pacific island experience.