|Scenes like this were everywhere on the island!|
|Along Cook's Bay|
The island was mountainous and formed by volcanoes, so the terrain was always interesting. We enjoyed going up the winding road to "the Belvedere" or lookout, affording spectacular views of Mt Rotui, Opunohu Bay and Cook's Bay. There was also some very good birding in this area.
|On the road into the Opunohu Valley|
|Panorama of Opunohu Bay, Mt Rotui, and Cook's Bay, taken from the Belvedere|
|Opunohu Bay, Mt Rotui, and Cook's Bay|
We stopped to sample fresh juices and marmalade at the agricultural school on the way up to the Belvedere.
|Agricultural school on the road to the Belvedere|
Along the road to the Belvedere are several marae or ancient archeological sites dating back 500-600 years.
|Restored archeological site of ancient communal marae|
|Archery platform archeological site used in ancient competitions|
Coming down from the Belvedere we decided to take a dirt road which turned out to be a nice shortcut, and also took us into the agricultural areas of the Opunohu Valley.
|Off the beaten track in the Opunohu Valley|
|In the Opunohu Valley|
Here's a selection of photos taken on our drives on Moorea.
|Eglise de la Sainte-Famille, (circa 1891) near Haapiti|
|Protestant church near Haapiti (circa 1916)|
|Sunday morning outside the church near Haapiti|
|Green cross for pharmacy|
There are several high end resorts on the island which we visited for activities or meals, or just to look around. Our first one was lunch at the Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort. The over-water bungalows were very inviting.
|Our lunch spot at the Sofitel|
On another very nice day we went to the beach at Hotel Les Tipaniers and rented a kayak, which we took out to an itu (small island).
|The beach and pier at Hotel Les Tipaniers|
|Susan on the deserted beach of "our" island|
We also paid a visit to the Intercontinental Resort and Spa, as they have the Moorea Dolphin Center and the Turtle Clinic for rehabilitating green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles.
|Intercontinental Resort and Spa|
|Swimming with the dolphins was an option, but we chose not to|
When we travel we're always on the lookout for interesting (if not off-the-wall) cultural or scientific activities, and Moorea didn't disappoint. One evening at Allo Pizza, we spoke with a couple of young American women who were picking up about a dozen pizzas for what she called "Gump Station." It turns out the University of California, Berkeley operates the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station on Moorea. They invited us to stop by and talk to faculty and staff about various research projects, so we did.
|UC Berkeley's Gump Station on Cook's Bay|
We spoke to a couple of German researchers who were studying the Crown of Thorns sea star (starfish), which periodically damages the coral reefs around Moorea and other areas of the South Pacific. Another researcher was investigating a type of very small sea slug.
|Susan watching Crown of Thorns sea star research|
|A researcher takes a photo tracking the movement of a sea star|
Another popular attraction on the island was driving up the private road to "Magic Mountain" to get a spectacular panoramic view of the island and ocean. The road was very narrow, with sometimes just two concrete paved tracks for your tires, and it was steep in places, with a lot of switchbacks. Most people probably would do this on a tour truck, but since we had a 4WD car it was a no-brainer.
|Entrance to the private road to Magic Mountain|
|Susan walks up the final few steps to the Magic Mountain viewpoint|
|Panoramic view from Magic Mountain|
The same day we drove up Magic Mountain we also visited the island's very small Tropical Garden. There were a variety of interesting plants, and we saw vanilla being grown, too.
|The steep road up to the Tropical Garden|
|Mike posing with bananas|
One of the highlights of touring Moorea was the boat tour we took out of the pier at Hotel Les Tipaniers. It was too late in the season to see whales, though the boat captain made a huge effort, almost going around the entire island. We'd hoped to see more of the sea birds, but only really saw the noddys and a white-footed booby. The real treat though was the chance to safely get in the water with sting rays and reef sharks.
|Susan with the boat's captain|
|Sting Ray on the shallow bottom|
|Reef Shark, probably 5 ft long|
|Susan with string rays|
|Sting Ray being mouthy|
|Waves hitting the reef|
|Mike snorkeling in deeper water with reef sharks. He survived, but the iPhone in his pocket did not.|
|Spinner dolphins came near us and put on a good show|
We did the obligatory tourist evening at the Sofitel, which included a Polynesian buffet and show.
We spent another evening back at the Hilton and an all crepes meal, with a savory crepe for dinner and then a delicious dessert crepe. All the while we were entertained by the sea life swimming under our dinner spot.
On another night we dined at the Moorea Pearl Resort and heard a really great French jazz-fusion band playing.
Perhaps our favorite resort experience was the morning we had a multi-course brunch at the Legends Resort Moorea. Situated on a hillside, we ate outside by the infinite pool which overlooked the ocean.
|The lobby at Legends Resort|
|The view from our breakfast table|
After we ate, we drove up to the "top" of the hillside cottages to take in the views.Before we knew it, our time on Moorea was up. On our last morning we woke up to almost a full moon setting.
|View from the "top" of Legends Resort|
Our home exchanger hosts returned and we greeted them in their own home and got to know them in person for an hour or so. One of their friends helpfully suggested a rental car on the island of Tahiti to allow us to tour the island while we killed time waiting for our late evening flight to LAX. She even booked the car for us!
Soon we were on our way to the Moorea ferry terminal, but not before we saw the Grey-Green Fruit Dove, our last new bird of the trip on our last day.
We took the ferry over to Papeete where we were met by someone from Avis who took us straight to our rental car. After we walked into town to visit the city market, we hit the road and drove clockwise around the entire island, stopping for pictures, and to do a short walk to some waterfalls.
|Arriving at Papeete|
|Papeete City Hall|
|Susan at one of the black pearl stores|
|Papeete street scene|
|On our way to the market|
|Inside Papeete's bustling and colorful municipal market|
|Monument to the HMS Bounty at Point Venus|
|Point Venus lighthouse (formerly an observatory) near the HMS Bounty monument|
|Along the shore on Tahiti|
|Susan at the last of the Three Waterfalls|
|The Ara Ahoaho trou du souffleur (blowhole)|
|Near the blowhole|
|PK0 at the end of the road at the famed Teahupoo village and surfing spot|
As it got dark, we topped off the tank on our rental car, found our way to the airport, turned in the car, and then checked in at the Faaa airport for our flight home.
|Last minute shopping before boarding|
After an long, but uneventful flight to LAX and then Denver, we got our car from the long-term lot and drove home via Boulder to pick up a new iPhone for Mike, then comfort food at Smokin' Dave's BBQ in Lyons, and then home. We didn't last very long before crashing after over 24 hours of travel. What a fun trip! Many thanks to our home exchange partners in Moorea; we can't wait for your visit in 2014!