Sitting on BART (the train) on the way to the airport to meet Lisa and Lilia for our flight to Papeete, the capital city of Tahiti, I received the text message from Southwest Airlines: your flight to Los Angeles has been delayed by two hours due to the storm battering the San Francisco International Airport runways. That’s okay, I thought, we allowed four hours in Los Angeles to switch terminals and check in for our flight to Tahiti. To cut a long story short, by the time we actually reached the airport all the Southwest flights for the afternoon had been pushed back a minimum of three hours and given the delays there was no way for us to make our connecting flight to Tahiti that night. After 90 minutes running around the airport trying to find another flight we hopped back in the truck and headed home, forced to wait one more day to begin our adventure. To make matters worse the Bakkers had driven to Los Angeles International and were on their way to Tahiti without us. I had all the confirmations, ferry timetables, directions and contact details relating to our destination in Moorea. We eventually made it to Moorea, albeit 22 hours later than we had originally planned and quickly forgot about the feelings of despair from the previous day as the ferry pulled into the port in Vaiare.
Moorea is one of the roughly 130 islands that make up French Polynesia. Tahiti is the main economic hub of the country, Moorea is a much smaller island neighboring Tahiti, home to a lot of locals who commute to Tahiti’s main town of Papeete to work as well as a small number of upscale resorts. Our trip to Moorea actually started as a vacation to Panama, but when the makeup of our travel group changed and I stumbled onto a deal from Air Tahiti Nui offering two free children’s airfares with each two adult fares we changed our destination to the South Pacific. An added bonus to the change was the fact that it was a convenient destination for the Rudloffs, the third family in our group, to fly to from Australia. We rented a four bedroom house with the Bakkers for our week in French Polynesia, a beautiful open-air abode a few steps from the ocean and a short walk to the center of the sleepy town of Maharepa. The house was great: we ate dinner and breakfast at the long table outside with the sound of the South Pacific in the background, and the yard was a great place for the five munchkins to expend energy. We ate out one night at a disappointing French restaurant called Le Sud, preferring to cook at home and have somewhere to put Lilia to bed while the adults whiled away the evenings with drinks on the deck. Kevin was quite the pro at pancakes on the BBQ for breakfast and I made the most of local fare: mango-stuffed whole roasted chicken was a popular dinner one night and some of the local taro root gave us a taste of the islands with dinner. On a boys trip around the island earlier in the week we discovered a couple of local fishmongers that would sell their daily catch at one of the wharves in Cook’s Bay each afternoon, so on a couple of occasions we bought fresh fish for dinner from them. One day was bonito and the other fresh marlin. I braved my fish allergy (it’s not anaphylactic) to sample some of the bonito, it was worth the stomach cramps I had for 20 minutes or so. The mangoes and pineapples were in abundance when we were on the island, we’d walk a few driveways down the road from our house and buy baskets of pineapples and mangoes from the locals. Some of the best fruit I’ve ever tasted, store-bought fruit is just not going to cut it after our trip…
We didn’t really need a car for our time on the island: there was a supermarket and pizza parlour within a minute’s walk of the house, and central Maharepa was a short (but sweaty) 15 minute walk down the road. But we all wanted to explore the island so for three of our days in Moorea we rented a car from the owner of our house, a tiny Peugeot hatchback that the seven of us squeezed into. We ventured eastward one morning to the largest public beach on the island at Temae, the girls took Mark out to explore some of the colorful coral toward the outer reef while the kids hung with Kevin, Mel and me enjoying the beach. We also explored a portion of the center of the island, driving up to Belvedere Lookout for a breathtaking view of Moorea’s two natural harbors. The Bakker girls and Lilia were up at the crack of dawn one morning – which is 5:00AM in French Polynesia – so we also took an early morning trip around to Afareaitu on the island’s sleepy southeastern coast to the trailhead to Atiraa Falls. The trailhead isn’t much more than a overgown path through the jungle at the end of a dirt road, fortunately I’d printed out directions prior to leaving the States so we had some idea of where to go. We hiked through the steamy foliage for about 20 minutes, me with Lilia on my back, until we reached the 100 foot high waterfall emptying into a plunge pool below. The water felt so good after our walk and a lot of fun to have the place all to ourselves. It’s like we were in Lord of the Flies!
By the end of our stay we had our daily routine organized well: a snorkel or some other form of adventure in the morning, leisurely lunch at the house while Lilia (and sometimes the Bakker girls) took a nap, followed by a steamy stroll down to the Moorea Pearl Resort to spend the afternoon in the picturesque ocean side swimming pool with cocktails. Life was good. Emily and Anna both took quite an interest in mothering Lilia, they both have jobs as teenage babysitters in the Valtenbergs household, although Lilia was a little too confident in the water for our liking by the end of the week. On our last night in Polynesia she waded into the deep end of the pool all by herself, something she definitely wouldn’t have done at the beginning of the week and an act that sent both Lisa and me plowing into the pool to the rescue!
The snorkeling in front of our house was great, beautiful coral gardens brimming with fish in the shallower sections and deep channels filled with rays and sharks in between. Kevin and I had been hoping to feed our families with our spearguns during our time in French Polynesia, but unfortunately the hunting wasn’t as good as we’d hoped. After a couple of days we realized that there were quite a few extremely proficient spearfishermen in residence in Maharepa, so any larger fish we did happen to see in the water were very skittish. We instead spent most of our time exploring the reefs rather than hunting fish, enjoying the schools of rays and the occasional reef shark that passed us by. Our house came supplied with an outrigger canoe and kayak, both of which we were thankful for as the most interesting parts of the reef were a few hundred yards offshore and quite a swim in some of the currents. Great to see Anna Marie (aged six) take to snorkeling like a fish to water, a beautiful place for her to learn to snorkel! The photos and video below are all from the GoPro we had on us a few times we ventured out, a HD version of the video is here.
Kevin and I have been texting each other all week since we’ve been back in California, reminding each other of how much we both wish we were still back on Moorea. Lilia has been missing her new girlfriends in Emily, Sophia and Anna, as well as repeatedly asking for “Kebin,” with whom she formed quite a bond during our weeklong trip. It’s always the way with vacations: you look forward to them for so long and when they finally arrive they seem to fly by in the blink of an eye. A very memorable vacation for us, so much fun to have three families from different sides of the global together with all the kids running about. I’m already thinking about the next adventure!