Posted on Wednesday, March 20, 2013 by Peter Knego
Peter Knego wraps up his latest trek aboard Paul Gauguin Cruises’ intimate MV PAUL GAUGUIN with an overnight in magical Moorea.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2013 unless otherwise noted.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
I awoke as PAUL GAUGUIN entered Cook’s Inlet at Moorea, whose jagged green silhouette resembled a much-enlarged, less-tamed Bora Bora. After a quick bite on my balcony, it was off to the Grand Salon to join the Trails of the Ancients shore excursion. Our guide was Moorea-based anthropologist Mark Eddowes, whose wit and ironically infused narrative promised an interesting morning.
As the mini-bus pulled out of the parking lot near the tender landing, Eddowes pointed out French Polynesia’s oldest Catholic church and, nearby, an ancient sacrificial stone (yes, the human kind) between two parked Toyotas. The petit monolith, despite the incongruity of its modern day surrounds, lays undisturbed for fear of stirring up bad “juju”.
Our first stop was the landing site of Captain James Cook in 1777, where we had a striking view of Moua Roa, the 2,880-foot volcanic plug that is often referred to as Mt. Bali Hai. Apparently Mt. Otemanu in Bora Bora was not spectacular enough on its own to form the backdrop for “South Pacific”, so the movie’s scenic designers morphed in Moua Roa, as well. Eddowes shared that few locals climb the spire for fear of disturbing the remains of ancient tribal leaders. So sacred were its burial grounds that the poor fellow assigned the task of entombing his leader’s bones crowned his honorable achievement with a suicide leap in order to keep the location secret. Apparently, very bad things could happen should an enemy locate and misuse those powerful bones…
Innocuous by comparison, our next stop was a homemade jam shop at the Opunohu agricultural center, where we sampled palettes of local flavors ranging from pineapple, ginger and papaya to banana and vanilla.
At the Belvedere Lookout, we enjoyed a panoramic view of Moorea, then it was off to hike the Trail of the Ancients.
Although I tend to overheat in humid places like Moorea, if I could do the excursion all over again, I would have worn light pants instead of shorts. Two different types of industrial-strength bug spray were no match for the resourceful mosquitoes and blood-sucking flies my legs would host during our jungle trek.
During our downhill hike, we visited several marae (open air temples and religious sites). Eddowes has spent a considerable amount of time studying and restoring these sacred sites, where many modern Tahitians still commune with their ancestors.
We trekked along a stone and dirt path, stopping at a number of posts, our collective attention diverted only by the occasional bug swat or slippery stone.
At one point, an afternoon squall did its best to penetrate the protective canopy of treetops, fizzling just as we reached an opening in the jungle.
At the end of the trail, the vegetation transitioned drastically from dark green forest to wide open plantation. All around us were neat rows of prickly pineapples and in the distance, the even-pricklier peaks of Moorea.
We returned to the ship, ate a speedy lunch in La Veranda, then raced to the marina where a zodiac propelled us across Moorea’s heavenly waterscape, where, in the shallows of the reef, our craft came to rest. Beneath us, graceful, charcoal-colored “discs” were anticipating our arrival. Despite their bony, whip-like tails, their infamous barbs and their somewhat otherworldly appearance, a school of stingrays greeted us like anxious puppies. Hesitantly at first, we jumped in and were soon enveloped in their silky embraces. Fortunately, the harmless but more ominous-looking black-tipped sharks are not fond of stingrays and kept their relative distance from our (only slightly terrified) huddle.
Back on the zodiac, we had a few moments to enjoy a synchronized ballet of sharks and rays before we sped back to the ship.
PAUL GAUGUIN’s hotel manager Nelson Trinidade is a seasoned veteran of the sea, the savvy sort whom luxury cruise lines so depend upon to make all the elements work. Hardware is one thing but it is a certain instinctive “je ne sais quoi” that elevates a cruise ship from four to five or more stars and Trinidade knows how to extract it from his hard-working and devoted staff. And, oh yes, the PAUL GAUGUIN has three galleys that serve each of its dining venues.
At 6:15, Nelson mysteriously instructed us to meet at reception for something special. We were led to the marina where a zodiac took us toward the edge of the reef for an unencumbered view of the sunset, one of the most vivid I have ever witnessed.
Special groups or guests yearning for this unparalleled view or even just a nice romantic backdrop can arrange for a sunset zodiac during PAUL GAUGUIN’s overnight.
Another option is to book a marina dinner during the ship’s Moorea or Bora Bora visits. Utilizing the platform for a table of guests with a pre-arranged, fixed menu is probably the world’s ultimate shipboard al fresco dining experience.
Selections ranged from a traditional Tahitian poisson cru starter (marinated fish) to a fillet mignon main course. And, of course, all the champagne and included-in-the-fare wine (in my case, a Bordeaux) we could drink.
We were serenaded by Les Gauguins et Gauguines as the constellations of the southern hemisphere slowly transitioned across the inky sky. It was nearing the end of our last full day on board the PAUL GAUGUIN and in its course, we had lived and experienced at least three.
Friday, March 8, 2013
After breakfast, we had a chance to visit one of the ship’s trio of owner’s suites on forward Deck 7, all of which vary in size and layout.
Tendering in Moorea for the final time, we bid farewell to the comfort and hospitality of PAUL GAUGUIN. She looked especially radiant in Cook’s Inlet, bathed in an early afternoon sun with Moua Roa looming over her “shoulder”.
Our next stop was the Intercontinental Moorea Resort, where we took a property tour. Somewhere in between the “mod-luxe” of Bora Bora’s Thalasso and the “homey-tiki” of Bora Bora’s Le Moana, it boasts a wide range of rooms (over-water bungalow; bungalow with private plunge pool; or “condo” style in a bloc).
The Intercontinental Moorea has its own enclosed lagoon with dolphin and turtle sanctuaries, a highly acclaimed spa and a beautiful pool area. Kayaking and snorkeling equipment is available daily until 5:00 PM.
I would spend the night in a magnificent over-water bungalow with ladder access to the lagoon surrounding the property.
From my terrace, I watched as PAUL GAUGUIN motored out to sea before rounding the northern tip of Moorea on her way back to Tahiti.
Before dinner, I donned mask and snorkel and climbed down to the reef where I encountered all sorts of wondrous creatures, from flute fish to giant sea cucumbers and spiny urchins to even spinier lion fish. Then, as the latest sunset did its best to rival its immediate predecessor, we were off to a delightful dinner and a good rest.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
In the brief span of a week, we had done a fortnight’s worth of exploring and savoring some of the best aspects of French Polynesia and its glorious sea-going emissary, the PAUL GAUGUIN. After breakfast, we were on a shuttle for a ride around Moorea, then clambered aboard the catamaran AREMITI FOUR for a short crossing to Papeete.
Unlike the similar AREMITI FIVE, which has an observation deck, the FOUR is all enclosed. Nonetheless, our transit was smooth, if not necessarily photo-conducive.
From Papeete harbor, we headed off to the Intercontinental Tahiti to enjoy a wonderful lunch and a comfy day room before our flight back to LAX. Real life beckoned once more.
End of PAUL GAUGUIN In Paradise
With Special Thanks: Vanessa Bloy, Martin Cox, Captain Ante-Toni Mirkovic, Nelson Trinidade