Captain Hugh and the Reluctant Navigator
The Voyage of Vega

Mo’orea – stingrays and sharks

Thursday 20th to Tuesday 25th July 2017

It was only a 15nm sail from Tahiti to Mo’orea but, with waves hitting Vega from both sides, it was a rather unpleasant rolly trip under just the genoa until after 3 hours we turned to port to enter the pass through the reef into the shelter and calm waters of Cook’s Bay (despite the name Captain Cook never actually stopped in this bay but dropped anchor in neighbouring Opunohu Bay).

The name Mo’orea means ‘golden lizard’ in Tahitian – the name of one of the former ruling families of the island. It is mountainous, formed by a volcano a few million years ago, and almost heart-shaped which is appropriate as it is a popular honeymoon destination. At one point the island was heavily populated but, like all the islands here, the Polynesian population was decimated by disease after the arrival of the Europeans.

 

There were only a few boats at anchor in Cook’s Bay and we were near to the Bali Hai hotel. By buying a coffee at the hotel we obtained the password to their wifi and so were able to get online on the boat for a few days whilst admiring the beautiful surroundings and tall mountain peaks, often draped in cloud. When deciding where to anchor the scenery and sights are important of course, as well as security, nearby shops and fresh water, but whether there is good wifi comes near to the top of the desirable features of an anchorage. Although we have a satellite system, Iridium, for emails it is too extortionately expensive for surfing and for Facebook etc.

From Cook’s Bay we hired a scooter to see more of the island. The road runs around the outside with a few roads up into the interior which is mountainous and lush, as are most of the Society Islands. As we headed down the west coast the traffic became more sparse. We found an unmade road running inland and, leaving the scooter by the side of the track, walked up a steep rugged trail through forest for a few kilometers to find the waterfall. I managed a quick dip in the muddy water. From viewpoints above we could see honeymoon resorts of bungalows on stilts, sheltered within the surrounding lagoon.

After a few days in Cook’s Bay we moved west along the coast to Opunohu Bay to meet up with Ian and Steph on Nautilus who were sailing over from Tahiti, and dropped anchor in the crystal clear water. From here we could dinghy over to join tourists from the nearby InterContinental Resort and swim with the stingrays which gather to be fed fresh fish – they didn’t seem particularly interested in our tinned sardines although they come right up close to find out what you might have for them. They didn’t appear to mind being touched and felt smooth and leathery. There were dozens of black-tip reef sharks swimming about too amongst the people wading in the shallows.

 

Hugh’s legs and stingray

 

Black tip reef shark
With Steph and Ian

Another day we walked up to Le Belvedere (the lookout) with views down to both Cook’s and Opunohu Bays, separated by the high peak of Mount Rotui, then hiked on through forest of mape, the gigantic chestnut trees of Polynesia, to another viewpoint at Three Pines. The trail led down through pineapple plantations.

Most of the islands of the Society Islands group are surrounded by reef built up of coral in the shallow waters surrounding the islands. There are usually a number of deep passes through the coral reef, most of which are well marked with buoys. Whilst in Moorea we heard the dreadful news that a family travelling on a catamaran, Tanda Malaika, had gone aground at night on the reef surrounding the next island Huahine, and had been airlifted off by a helicopter sent over from Tahiti. We had met the American family of parents and four teenage children on several occasions, firstly in Shelter Bay marina in Panama, then in the Galapagos, and most recently they had been moored next to us in the marina in Tahiti. We were relieved that they were all safe but shocked by the horrific event that, despite all our modern navigation equipment, is still a real risk of sailing. There was hope that their catamaran could be floated off the reef and towed away for repair.

Our next destination was Huahine and we left Opunohu Bay, along with Nautilus, just before sunset for an overnight sail to arrive there in daylight.

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