Monday, March 14, 2011

Moorea Excursions

While on Moorea, we did three excursion-like trips, as well as quite a bit of shopping.

4x4 Safari Tour
Our 4x4 tour in Moorea was longer than our one in Bora Bora, and included more sites, but it was also busier and didn’t have very much actual 4x4ing.

Still, it was worth the trip and I would recommend doing it. We did plenty of sightseeing, including getting some wonderful views of Moorea’ two bays. We also visited a pineapple plantation, a vanilla plantation, an ancient temple where cannibalism was practiced and the fruit juice factory where we got free booze (and ended up buying this amazing vanilla liquor).

The trip ended at a pearl shop, which was a bit annoying and awkward since clearly no one was going to buy anything, but our guide didn’t care.

And speaking of our guide, we had a great one. His name is Tom and he was quite informative as well as funny.

Our tour was with Albert's and while this write-up mentions visiting a waterfall, we didn’t do that (and to be fair, we were never told that a trip to the waterfall was part of our tour). If you really want to visit it, make sure to ask specifically if the tour will be going there.

Snorkelling at the Hilton
I’ve already told you that the food at the Hilton sucked, but how was the snorkelling? Honestly, not as good as I was hoping.

Several people on the forums raved about how great the snorkelling at the Hilton was so one morning we headed out there, even though getting out there was a bit of a pain (basically, you have to take a cab unless you feel like hitchhiking).

I guess that because this area had been so consistently hyped on the forums that I was expecting a super-fantastic snorkelling experience. Instead what I got was good, though not mind-blowing, time.

It was at least a bit different than the snorkelling we had at our resort, the Pearl. There, you snorkel alongside a wall, which can be a much colder and (for some people) scarier experience. However, walls usually have a much wide variety of life, particularly big life, like sharks and turtles.

 At the Hilton, the snorkelling was in shallow water that was warmer than at the Pearl, as well as clearer. There was also plenty of fish and coral though I don’t think we saw anything there that we didn’t see at the Pearl.

 We were told that there was also great snorkelling at by a public beach that was past the airport. If I was to go back to Moorea, I would skip snorkelling at the Hilton and instead check that spot out.

Moorea Blue Diving Centre
The dive boat; photo from Moorea Blue Diving Centre
One morning we did a two-take dive with the dive centre that operates out of the Pearl. While our second dive, inside the lagoon, was nothing remarkable, the first dive we did, just outside of Moorea’s coral ring, was easily the best dive I’ve ever done.

It was great for a bunch of reasons. The first two have to do with the two things I hate most about diving: getting into a wetsuit and putting together my gear. Here, I didn’t have to worry about either of these things. The water’s warm enough that you can just wear an easy-to-put-on shorty and for reasons I’m unclear on, the dive guide assembles and unassemebles all your gear; he even threads your weight belt.

Actually, I suspect the dive guide does this because it’s probably quicker and safer for him to do and because in French Polynesia, they use steel tanks, instead of the lighter aluminum tanks that are generally used in North America and the Caribbean.

I have to say that I was a bit concerned to hear that we’d be diving with steel tanks because they are much heavier than aluminum but really, the only times I noticed a difference was when I tried to move  my back some strange way while swimming and of course when I got out of the boat. Thankfully, we were on a small boat and I could quickly ditch my gear.

Safety is always a big issue when diving and overall, Moorea Blue Diving Centre did a good job here. We had a safety briefing at the start, the guide was regularly checking our air levels and we had the mandatory safety stop, even on our shorter, shallower, second dive. One interesting thing: we just had one guide (there was six of us diving) and there was no one else on the boat.

Oh, I need to mention the third reason was the first dive was my best dive ever: I saw sharks, lots of sharks. We saw over a dozen black-tipped reef sharks, bigger than the ones we saw in Bora Bora, as well as a couple of six-seven-foot grey sharks.

The sharks showed up as soon as the boat moored and because I was the first one in the water, I got to spend some quality alone time with the sharks, which was quite fun.

Besides sharks, we saw some turtles and a very big clown fish.

This is store called The White House
I think we visited every open shop in Maharepa. While there’s not a ton to visit, there are more shops here than in Bora Bora though a lot of the merch is the same on both islands (expect to see the same limited variety of t-shirt designs).

While many of the items are the same, the prices do vary so check everything out first and then buy.

Besides a t-shirt, we picked up some massage oil, postcards, a mug and of course pearls.

We bought cheaper pearls from the local crafters who had tables set up at our resort. While the quality of these pearls isn’t that great, they are pretty and work fine as costume jewellery.

We also bought one “good” pearl, in the form of a pearl pendant. While Moorea has several high-quality boutiques, we went with Ron Hall's Island Fashion Black Pearls. We’d read many great things about this shop, including this review, and I’m happy to say that this place is worth all of the positive press.

We dealt directly with Ron Hall himself and after educating us about pearls, he helped us pick one that was both budget-friendly and beautiful (and that’s not just our opinion. I had two separate people ask me where I bought it because they liked it so much). I definitely recommend checking out this shop if you’re planning on buying quality pearls on Moorea.

I also recommend doing most, though maybe not all, of your souvenir-buying on Moorea. With the exception of cheap pearls and local crafts, which can be found for similar prices at the Bora Bora craft market, souvenirs are generally cheaper on Moorea than Bora Bora.

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