Words by Bryson
Latitude: 17 deg 29′ S
Longitude: 149 deg 52′ W
After leaving the tropical coral paradise of the Tuamotu’s, we all were feeling the need to find a location with food and water supplies, a good anchorage, some people to chat to and hopefully a couple waves. The next obvious location was the Windward Society Islands of Tahiti and Moorea. Most cruisers spend a great deal of time in Tahiti; repairing, re supplying, relaxing and really get a feel for the place. Most make a quick stop on Moorea before heading to Bora-Bora and the other Society Islands. We decided to do think the opposite way, head straight to Moorea and then backtrack to Tahiti to do our repairs.
Moorea’s distinctive heart shape, deep lagoons and white beaches have long distinguished it as one of the most beautiful islands on earth. Moorea was named after a yellow lizzard which appeared to a high priest in a dream; “Yellow” – rea and “Lizzard” – moo. Long overlooked as Tahiti’s little sister island and a substitute for Bora-Bora, Moorea is closer to the laid back south sea paradise than the other two islands. Moorea has a population of approximately 14 000 and most inhabitants live a quiet relaxed lifestyle. The inner valleys of the island are excellent growing grounds for coconut, pineapple, vanilla, bananas and nearly every tropical fruit imaginable.
Moorea is the remaining southern rim of a giant volcano. Two deep bays (Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay) formed in the flooded center of the island while the raised core of the volcano, Mt. Rotui, separates the bays with it’s impressive shear walls and vegetation draped valleys. In the centre of the island, the shark-tooth shaped Mt. Mouaroa is pierced by a distinctive hole near its summit. According to local tradition, this hole was created when the demigod, Pai, threw his spear from neighbouring Tahiti to prevent the island being carried off by the the god of thieves, Hiro.
Moorea was first discovered by Europeans in 1767 by Captain Samuel Wallis, who named the island “Duke of York Island”, before continuing on his way without making landfall. Captain Cook was the first European to make landfall and his visit was brutal. He smashed islanders canoes and burned their homes in response to the islanders not returning a stolen goat. One stolen goat = Burning your house and canoe. Such is the way of the early explorers. Moorea was traditionally a refuge for defeated Tahitian warriors, and many attempts to take control of negihbouring Tahiti where planned and organized on Moorea.
Our stay on Moorea has been nothing short of idylic. Long morning and evening surfs in the numerous reef passes that surround the island, hikes into the mountains to get a visual of the entire island, swimming at the pool of the lovely Sheraton resort (We are currently staying in room 12), and fresh baguettes in the morning. Since much of the coastline of Moorea has been staked out by local plantations, houses or resorts we have been having a hard time finding a beach of beach which isn’t constantly cleaned by these ever friendly and conscientious people. Today we are off to another anchorage on the south side, where we hope to find an undisturbed beach to perform another garbage study.
Much of the South Pacific still falls under French rule and the clash of cultures is still evident. It seems the two cultures, the French and the traditional Mooreaian people, are still two very different groups. On many of the islands we have visited the rift between the groups is very evident. When wandering by large groups of local islanders, we get a limited response to “Bonjour” but as soon as we say the equivalent, we get huge smiles. We questioned people about this and apparently the locals prefer not to use French and try to avoid it.
Another example is Pascal. One evening out, getting away from the boat, a single man started chatting to us, and we invited him to join us for a drink. Middle aged, tanned, and could speak the local language, we expected to be able to get some local lowdown from this fellow. Pascal joined us and immediately had a warning for us; “Stay away from the local ladies !”. “Hmmmm….. Ok, Why ?” we asked. Pascal proceeded to tell us all the issues he has had with the local ladies over his 25 years in the Windward Islands (Tahiti and Moorea). Some of the things he said were completely unforgivable and he truly believed the locals were not the same humans as you and I. They were a inferior species. “So why stay here then, go back to France” we questioned. Then we discover that Pascal has been stationed in the Windward Islands by the French Government to report back on the situation here ! With his distorted view, I can only imagine how the reports back to France must read.
The French heavily subsidize French Polynesia and it’s people. They provide lighting, wharfs, and many many other facilities to the local population, given them a “standard of living” that is definitely beyond what they could manage given what the islands have to offer. However, the French Government’s track record with nuclear weapons testing, local land and civil rights is atrocious.
Add all these issues together in the very definition of a tropical paradise and you have a very interesting mix of peoples, ideas and outlooks. These issues make Moorea, Tahiti and French Polynesia very very interesting to visit and learn more about. Take a trip down to the local bookstore or library, grab a book about it and you will both be appalled and intrigued. Then take a vacation, buy a plane ticket and come and see what it is all about.